Chapter 10 – An Institution

In the section on the Church as the Sacrament of Salvation, there is the explanation that the Church is mystery, being both visible and spiritual and going on to say, “The visible Church is a public institution, with a hierarchical government , laws, and customs.”   Later in the chapter, in the section on the Church as a Community of Love, the text acknowledges a tension for some between the idea of the Church as an institution and as a community of believers.

When I was learning about the Catholic Church I recall reading a critic suggesting that if those first apostles were to be transported to this time they wouldn’t be able to recognize the Church so far removed it has gone from the original.  But then I heard an illustration that gave me another perspective.  It went something like this…

Take a look at a mature, generations old oak tree, strong and tall, giving shelter and nourishment to birds and squirrels and crawly things, as well as shade for the weary resting wanderer, or hiding place for the pensive teenager.   Then take a look at the picture of a sapling, a fragile unimpressive upright twig looking plant, and hear told that it is the same tree.  It was an oak then and is an oak still.  It may have some unattractive spots, like when an ice storm came through leaving it misshapen, or a disease came through and scarred the bark, or when a chain was circled around it leaving a ring…  From some angles it may not appear a thing of beauty, it has a long history weathering stormy winds and seasons of change, but for those who take refuge … well, the sapling could never have done the job, it needed to grow, to mature …

The visible witness of the Church is not like an add-on to the spiritual reality of the Church.  The framework and structure aren’t in conflict with the life-giving experience of the community of faith any more than the reliable sturdy trunk is in conflict with the waving branches and leaves on the tree.  It isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is an image that animates the sometimes lifeless sounding image one might have of an “institution.”  (Laurie E.)

About Fanning The Flame

FTF is a 125th Anniversary Journey of Faith of the Diocese of Belleville through the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.
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3 Responses to Chapter 10 – An Institution

  1. wth3 says:

    I agree that the apostles wouldn’t recognize today’s Church. I don’t think they are supposed to. Anymore than we would connect, if placed in their time. Our historical and spiritual connection to the “roots” of our faith is what makes it so special. It is the universality that comes from lived experience. The Catholic imagination ,which allows us to see our common humanity AND common Baptism, combined with our rich heritage and Tradition/traditions that joins us to each other and the Church.
    It is in our understanding that the Scriptures were written for a specific time and place that aids us in adapting the Good News to our specific circumstance. While the heart of the matter may be the same, the manner in which the Scripture presents itself to us on any given Sunday becomes more unique and circumstance specific.
    Our connection to the apostles, as disciples of Christ, challenges us to be holy and one in unity, not uniformity. While lay persons can’t claim apostolic succession for ourselves, we can recognize the responsibility of teaching which is the charge of our bishops.
    As far as negative reaction to the term, “institution,” i’ve long ago adapted the posture that if I am stuck in issues pertinent to the weakness of humanity, than I will most certainly be disappointed. It’s recognizing the depth of our spirituality where one, holy, catholic and apostolic renders the most power for positive transformation-our ultimate call!

  2. This is so well put and an great transition to the next chapter where we are now studying the “Four Marks of the Church.” — (Just a bit behind with any posts for that chapter!)

  3. wth3 says:

    Oops! I meant to post it in Chapter 11.

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