The Church: Mere exclusion, or inclusion through mission?
I have written three times recently on the serious problem that the modern preoccupation with “inclusion” is creating for the Catholic Church today. In case you have missed this extended discussion:
- Catholic Exclusion: Drive out the wicked from among you (10/14/2022)
- The case for excommunication today (10/25/2022)
- Inclusive Church, uncertain trumpet (10/28/2022)
Nonetheless, as you might expect, there is much more that can be said about this general topic. And it seems to me that the two most important additional things that need to be brought into focus are the missionary character of the Church and the mercy of God. Because God’s mercy is bestowed above all through the missionary character of His Church, my focus here will be on mission. In other words, it must be understood that there is nothing in a necessary and healthy Catholic exclusivity which ought to even remotely suggest a smug membership which happily washes its hands of all those “outside”. In fact, the reality must be quite the contrary: The very exclusion which indicates a seriousness about what Catholics must believe in order to be part of the Church overflows by the very nature of the Gospel into a serious mission to bring others to an acceptance of this Faith.
Every Catholic, precisely by being baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, takes on a sacred responsibility to extend Christ’s fundamental call to all those who have not yet heard or accepted it:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” [Mk 1:14-15]
In other words, a good Catholic should desire that the Church be full of Catholics faithful to the teachings of Christ precisely because this alone enables her to bear a credible witness to those who have not yet heard or responded to the Gospel through which Our Lord wishes to draw all into union with His Father and ours.
A missionary Church
In reflecting on this we begin to see several important realities. First, this sheds considerable light on the nature of Christian baptism, by which we are configured to Christ’s death and resurrection precisely as priests, prophets and kings. Clearly, then, baptism is not only the conferral of a Divine benefit but a personal immersion into the saving work of Jesus Christ—that is, an immersion into Christ’s mission. Second, insofar as the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ are obscured in the life of the Church through worldly aspirations and preoccupations, the missionary nature of each Catholic’s configuration to Christ is obscured, sometimes to the point of becoming barren.
Third, each of the baptized is called to a fruitful participation in the work of Christ, to see that this work bears fruit in those who have already been baptized and to extend this saving work to others by inviting them to respond to the Gospel by professing the Faith and entering into the life of the Body of Christ on earth, that is, the Church. It was one of the signal achievements of the Second Vatican Council that it defined and emphasized this essential missionary character of the Church, a character shared no less by the laity than by the clergy. This was set forth precisely in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). To jump through this document in a successive search on the word “mission” is to see at a glance the vital importance of this theme throughout. Considering only the laity here, I will let one citation serve for all, while recommending a reading of the full text of Chapter IV:
[The laity] are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer. The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.” …Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. [#33]
No fortress mentality
In other words, while the Church by her very nature cannot include those who refuse to profess her faith in Christ and refuse to accept the fullness of Truth He has given into her care, nonetheless each member of the Church is called to use his talents and opportunities to proclaim the Gospel and draw non-Catholics into Communion with her whenever possible. Catholics are not called to reserve to themselves a privileged position of engraced superiority; they are called to proclaim the Gospel to all, and to do whatever they can to invite those to be joined to the Body of Christ who are willing to profess the Church’s Faith in Him.
At the same time, it seems that some times are better ordered than others to the success of this mission, and it is also true that some are called to work to build up the faith and Christian commitment of those already within the fold, while others are called to plow fresh ground. In any case, from the point of view of inviting fresh converts, the constant renewal and revitalization of Christian witness within the Church herself plays a vital and necessary role. In this case, the question becomes: “Is there any there there?” To speak more plainly, do the members of the Church themselves sow so much confusion that the Church ceases to appear as a light to the nations? For the sins of her members always undermine the missionary calling of the whole Body.
Therefore, each one must do his or her best to respond to Christ’s call to mission, whether it is a mission to those who have not yet heard the Gospel (or at least never in its wholeness), or a mission to those who have never taken the Gospel seriously except perhaps to be ignored or derided, or a mission to those within the Church herself who, through either Satan or unfaithful superiors, have lost any clear sense of what the Gospel means, and the radical commitment it demands. And the word “radical” must here be taken in its literal sense: A commitment right down to our very roots as men, women and children completely transformed by the love of Christ.
The mission before us
By way of a fitting conclusion, I should say that those of us at CatholicCulture.org have (we believe) a particular mission to strengthen Catholics in their baptismal virtues of faith, hope and love during a period in which the Church herself is in very great need of renewal, and has been far too consistently betrayed by the worldliness of a membership which, at all levels, has tended to take its cues from the secularization of Western culture instead of continuing to Christianize that culture. I do not need to enumerate the widespread transgressions of faith, hope and charity which have characterized too many members of the Catholic hierarchy, too many priests, too many religious, too many Catholic scholars, professors and teachers, and of course too many parents and children, particularly over the past seventy-five years and more.
Indeed, it seems the Catholic world awoke in the mid-twentieth century to find that it no longer really believed what the Church professed to believe, and so hastened over the next two or three generations to reinterpret those beliefs so that their meaning could be affirmed without loss of face in society, without sacrifice, and without God. Thankfully, into this enormous vacuum right within the Church herself have stepped a great number of new Catholic apostolates, whether clerical, religious or lay, each with its own charism, and each directed toward the strengthening of the Catholic faithful within the Church herself. One thing that is very clear is that when the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the laity must come into their own as active disciples of the Lord, the Council Fathers did not realize that the laity would have so much of this work thrust upon them simply because so few of the clergy and religious were any longer willing to do it.
This collapse certainly triggered the birth of Trinity Communications and ultimately CatholicCulture.org, and one of the surprising things about our work is that it has not only strengthened many Catholics but encouraged quite a few potential converts to enter the Church. Vibrant Catholicism, wherever it is found, is attractive. And we do our best to bring authentic renewal to every aspect of Catholicism and Catholic culture.
Finally, while my purpose in writing this was to emphasize that Catholicism must be always and everywhere missionary, and never at all exclusive in the sense of degenerating into a self-satisfied stronghold of the countercultural few, it is nonetheless true that each year CatholicCulture.org must raise just enough money to make ends meet, so that it can continue into the next year. To this end, we are encouraging donations now that will be matched by a $111,000 Challenge Grant established by a group of our largest donors.
The deadline is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and we are definitely behind schedule. The theme this year is Marian, from John 2:5: “Do whatever He tells you.” It’s a good theme, and an extraordinarily safe theme to recommend to everyone. To learn more or to donate now, visit our Fall Campaign page.
And may God bless you for possessing a distinctively Catholic missionary spirit!
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