The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Protestant Prison of the "I"

“Should I have found joy? No ... only my joy, and that is something wildly different ... The joy of Jesus can be personal. It can belong to a single man and he is saved. He is at peace ... now and always, but he is alone. The isolation of this joy does not trouble him. On the contrary: he is the chosen one! In his blessedness he passes through the battlefields with a rose in his hand”
Henri de Lubac, Catholicisme. Aspects sociaux du dogme, 1983

Our Holy Father uses the above passage in Spe Salvi to highlight the tendency for many to abandon the communal nature of salvation and cling to a terribly isolated understanding of the Christian experience. While the Pope does not specifically single out any one particular group, the hard reality exists that this realm of thinking frames nearly all of Protestant theology. For those separated from the one Church Christ gave to humanity, man has a direct, one on one, relationship with the Savior that supersedes anything that might be offered by the community at large and certainly trumps any kind of perceived, man-inspired authority. In essence each human is an island unto himself and while he may share Jesus as a focal point with his Christian brother, there can be no room for any sort of communal relationship.

Hope then becomes greatly watered down under this system of belief. Saved by faith alone in an individualistic relationship with Christ, hope gets diluted by certainty. So sure of one's salvation by the proclamation of faith, hope may be seen as little more than wishful thinking. Political entertainer Rush Limbaugh made this point the other day on his radio program when he unabashedly proclaimed that hope never did anything for anyone as he quoted Frederick Nietzche who asserted that "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man." The idea being that man wastes his time sitting around hoping in things when he could be going about the business of solving his problems. Limbaugh likely expresses the sentiment of many a cultural Christian who having solved the problem of salvation by her one time acceptance of Jesus as "Lord and personal savior" now must get down to the business of running one's life with Christ as a neatly compartmentalized character trait.

This kind of thinking reflects a soul where faith remains unleavened. For true hope is not an aimless desire for something. It is not a sitting around waiting for something to happen. Hope must be coupled with action and a very real expectation and even anticipation that the thing desired will be firmly grasped. For the Catholic, hope, this theological virtue, persists as a longing for God and the assurance of His company through His only son, our Lord Jesus Christ. No better realization of this hope is found then in the communal, Eucharistic meal shared by Catholics in the mass.

This company with our creator is not an individualistic phenomena. As Pope Benedict writes in Spe Salvi:

...salvation has always been considered a “social” reality. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a “city” (cf. 11:10, 16; 12:22; 13:14) and therefore of communal salvation. Consistently with this view, sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. Hence “redemption” appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Salvation as a social reality presents more than a leap of faith for the Protestant believer; it requires a swim across the Tiber leaving behind the lonely walk with self and joining the mystical communion of the saints. It means a proactive effort on the individual to rejoin with that which man fractured by his ego, frustration, and most often benign ignorance.

Continuing in this vein, the Holy Father writes:

This real life, towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a “people”, and for each individual it can only be attained within this “we”. It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our “I”, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself—to God.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

As the Lenten journey continues, let each Catholic realize the joy that awaits one who continuously donates self to the mystical Body of Christ, and in the spirit of ecumenism, reach out those who walk in a self-imposed solitude yet earnestly desire the higher gifts of Our Lord. The more excellent way that St. Paul describes (1Corinthians (RSV) 12:31) is not found in the many members of many bodies of many ecclesial communities, but rather in the the one body with many members that comprises the Bride of Christ...His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.


Blogger bilbannon said...

Sounds nice but does not sound true. And I thoroughly believe that the Catholic Church alone has the fullness of the means to salvation. Here is what I mean. Catholics tend to theology talk rather than history or reality talk, and as long as they are in this mode they feel satiated by their position.
Reality is that in some Catholic parishes you are not alone to a great degree and in others you are far more isolated than an Amish person whose house has burned down and now all his church brethern build him a new one. I know of an unfortunate case wherein an elderly Catholic woman was dying for 7 weeks in a hospital and the Mass going Catholics next store did not visit her once because they were afraid that if that did, they might be asked to check in on her now and then if she lived (they did not forsee that she would actually die as she did).
That's reality-history and theology can cover that up and can ignore the superior community of some not all Protestant groups.

Toynbee said that growth in a culture comes from challenge and response and a subsequent challenge and a further response and he gave examples throughout history. We are too satiated in being intellectually correct about the truth of the Church to meet our challenges. For example, our diocesan press utterly failed to detect the sex abuse scandal and be a watchman and a prophet on the matter. Instead they were reporting the anniversaries of this priest or that nun.
That failure is a challenge that we are not facing at all and there is no investigation of our press and why it failed. We simply moved on without digesting that in your life time, you will see more failures in this area.

7:32 AM  
Blogger David Jackson said...

Good comment.

I would say that the challenge rests in walking a theocentric reality versus an egocentric one. History does a great job of laying out our failures in past tense, but does not change the truth about the reality we are called to live in the present.

The examples you put forward are saddening and disappointing, and glaring examples of human failure. They do not define who we are called to be, nor do they define the Church only the failure of her members.

I would dispute that it is the role of the local, Catholic press, to be the watchman of anything. Given their shoestring budgets, it seems a bit of a stretch to anticipate Bob Woodward style reporting. What is more, most to the investigative journalism seen today is little more than veiled exercises in calumny to benefit the reporter's/publisher's political agenda.

11:08 AM  
Blogger bilbannon said...

Keep in mind that Vatican II actually included the Church in the sins whereas Pope Pius XII did not in Mystici Corporis...
However... an Ecumenical Council supercedes a previous ordinary encyclical (not the extraordinary ones of which there were only two..the IC and the Assumption).
The Council made more sense and did reiterate that the Church is Holy in her dogma and sacraments but not in her behaviour which includes all laity and clergy of whatever rank.
Lumen Gentium toward the end of Chapter I, “ The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” Here the Council, it will be noted, is using the same image of Church as Mother that Pius was using as sinless and yet the Council said this mother, like the bride in Ephesians, stood in need of purification.

Further in Chapter 7 of Lumen Gentium it is written, “ The Church ..will receive it’s perfection only in the glory of heaven when will come the time of the renewal of all things (Acts 3:21)…and…“ ..for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect”.

Subconsciously Pius may have been seeing the Church as Mary who was sinless..but Mary is the mother of Christ and thus Mother of God but the Church is not and is merely the Bride of Christ and our Mother....two distinct realities.
An example of sin in the Church in my opinion is our handling of funerals. If you don't have family, you are going to have few people at your funeral Mass and burial whereas in one protestant church I know, the entire choir came to this funeral of a man who had not even attended for years due to sickness and the entire choir went to the funeral home and the burial and the diner afterward. Such a tradition is really community and would need to happen from the top down and I realize that in inner city parishes where there is crime, it would not work since people would know how long others would be away from their apartments with a system like that and they would be robbed. But in low crime areas, it would be real community when it counts to the several friends that would be alone otherwise.

2:23 PM  
Blogger David Jackson said...

Interesting comments.

Perfection should be what the Church strives for knowing that she will likely never get there due to the fallen nature of her members.

I would disagree that we are sinful based upon our funeral attendance. Though the Protestant church you reference certainly offers a nice sentiment, I find it difficult to imagine that the mass is more efficacious for the deceased based upon the number of people who are present.

Happy to continue the discussion with you via e-mail or at the forums section of

6:04 PM  
Blogger bilbannon said...

Just one short comment then I'm gone: the efficacy of the Mass at funeral is not what I was talking about but rather I was speaking to the delivery of love which Christ's sermons and ours are always talking about and which consoles the few survivors rather than seeing an empty wake. Imagine a daughter seeing 4 people at her father's wake....and having to pay the pall bearers who are strangers which I saw recently.

7:19 AM  

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