Well, here is a statement filled with the potential for misunderstanding: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
There is great danger in attempting to grasp the wisdom and depth of the scriptures by yourself! The passage above could be used to sanction all kinds of behaviors if this “proof text” is lifted out of the context of the lived out experience of the Church through the centuries. But we live in an age when it seems “every man doing what is right in his own eyes.” (see Deuteronomy 12:7-9) and that leads to two very dangerous habits in the hearts of people.
First the habit of mere self-sufficiency. If we were created in the image of God, and God knows Himself as Persons in Communion, then we will only know ourselves as persons in communion. A prevailing notion that I am sufficient by myself leads me to a narrow vision and a lack of wisdom learned by generations before me. I cut myself off from the beauties of wisdom learned and guided by the Spirit, and I adopt a weak and unsustainable vision of just what the Church, the Body of Christ, really is!
This habit of mere self-sufficiency reduces me to the center of my world and I find myself having to “reinvent the wheel” for everything! But this isn’t the way the Church has understood Herself since the Apostles and Pentecost. We are a Body where the “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (see 1 Corinthians 12:21)
This mutual collaboration, not just today across the isles, but also across the centuries, guarantees both the spirit of humility and the power of all of us holding the mind of the faith together. Now that’s something powerful enough to survive generations!
Second the habit of sick self-righteousness. “Don’t bother me with the facts; my mind is made up!” Have you ever encountered someone like that? No matter what you say or do, they are simply convinced that they are right. And even if they are correct, this spirit of self-righteousness poisons everything they say and do. No wonder the faith has always taught us to love one another, to serve one another, to dare to risk being vulnerable to one another. Because it is only in that state of grace and trust we will ever be able to embrace one another and truly learn from one another.
This takes a great deal of patience, prayer, and humility. But don’t you need these gifts in any relationship you have? Isn’t developing these virtues worth the effort of the obtaining? Would your life be more peaceful and content if you were able to be more patient, prayerful, and humble? Sounds like a wonderful lifetime of work and focus to me!
Today, even though I know it is very scary, look on your communion in the Church, your relationships, as invitations to know God and yourself better. Even your enemies provide gifts of self-knowledge to you. Also, exalt your notion of the purpose of the Church. Let your thoughts about the purpose of the Church be expanded to include the voices and wisdom of the faithful throughout the centuries. And wherever the Church has spoken clearly on the content of the Faith, give that communal Voice of the Faith the benefit of the doubt in your heart and mind.
Finally, I leave you with the wisdom of St. Vincent of Lerins, a fifth century hero of the faith who encouraged us to embrace the fullness of the faith by recognizing that fullness in the three characteristics of a “catholic” faith – What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all – Universality, Antiquity, and Consensus. These are the three marks of a healthy and healing vision of the Christian faith.
Today, embrace the fullness of the faith by embracing ALL of the faithful who have ever lived. After all, we are brothers and sisters of all the faithful, not mere distant relatives! Love one another.