Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why did Christ set up the Church?

The Church is set up in the way it is for a very specific reason. Did you ever wonder why we have Sacraments and all that? I mean, in some ways, the Protestant system actually makes more sense. As Catholics we believe in a God who essentially has invited us to become His children; we believe in a God who wants Love, not adherence to some checklist like a strict boss or professor. Even though the Scriptures never use the terminology, we agree with the Protestants that what God desires is a personal relationship with us. He wants us to know Him and Love Him. So if what God wants is Love and Faith - a relationship - well then Sacraments seem to be completely unnecessary.

Our conception of the Church as an authority to speak on matters of truth would still be important; having a personal relationship with someone requires that one know the truth about them. Imagine trying to have a relationship with your earthly father without any certainty concerning the facts about him. Do you get him golf clubs for his birthday, or a violin? Does he like it when you make lawyer jokes, or should you refrain. Is he a lawyer? In fact, when is his birthday, anyways? It wouldn't work. The situation is even more difficult with our Heavenly Father, whom is present not only when we are in the same room as Him but always. Is X a sin - does it offend Him - or not? When the Scripture says we should fast in one place but says we shouldn't in another, what does God really want? When half the Christians interpret a verse one way and the other half another, what's correct? What did God really intend to say?

But not Sacraments. For a God who simply wants a relationship they don't seem to fit. Once we know the truth about Him, what is the purpose of having to go through these rituals? Going back to fathers, if I offend my earthly father, the way to repair that relationship is to ask Him for forgiveness - not to go to someone else, like mom, and ask her to offer his forgiveness, as Catholics do in confession. So the Sacraments seem sortof, well, superfluous at best.

But the reality is that by Christ's own choice He set it up that way. The Sacraments aren't some superfluous thing that the Church came up with for some reason - Christ Himself instituted them Himself. Why? Why, if what He really wants is a relationship?

The reason is that Christ is compassionate. God loves us even if we don't always love Him. He wants those who aren't going to have a relationship with Him to have a chance. He wants as few people as possible to reject Him. He wants us in Heaven, so He didn't simply give us some authority to tell us what is true and then leave us to, if we can get ourselves to, have a relationship on our own. Different Christian groups, and even different schools among Catholics, have many different ideas of how Grace works exactly, so it's impossible to give some blanket statement about the technicalities of it, but suffice it to say that basic human experience shows that however Grace works, the vast majority of people in the world don't seem motivated to have a relationship with God even with the help and promptings of Grace. The truth is that left to out own, most people simply don't take advantage of the Grace God has for them and have a relationship with Him. Few Christians from any group ever really do. So Christ gave us Sacraments - things that work ex opera operandi, as that Latin calls it: "in and of themselves."

The Sacrament of Reconcilliation really does reconcile usto God. If someone is an absolutely miserable Christian and the very most they can muster is being sorry because they are afraid of hell, then the Sacrament will save them from it and - even as what may be a completely unintended side effect from their perspective - reunite them to God.

Christ made the Church in the exact way He did specifically so that poor Christians can make it to Heaven. He gave us last rights so that even the greatest sinner can, on his deathbed, at least say he's afraid of Hell and make it to Heaven, even if that person can't bring Himself to actually Love God or to be sorry for His sins in any real way. He wants us there, and so He gave us a Church with Sacraments exactly as He did so that those with the bare minimum can make it. He'll Give us Love when we get to Him.

Of course, He wants so much more, and so we have the fantastic saints who actually gave all they possibly could, and then people like you and me who hopefully do our best even if we're not quite ready for canonization. But He wants those folks who are just sitting in the pews each week and that's really all they're doing in Heaven, too. And that's at least one of the reasons that He did it they way He did.

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