Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

faith, Gratitude, Happiness, Prayer, sacraments

Why Do We Need Church?

wjy do we need church?
Why do we need church?

Why do we need church?

For much of my early life, church and all that reeked of religion were anathema. As loudly as many shout “Why do we need church?” today, I did too, back during what I’ve called my lost years. And so I can appreciate the fervor with whch devoutly religious people like me are disliked–even hated. The reason is quite simple: fear. Before unwrapping what might be a puzzling or far too simple answer, some background.

Recently, Bishop Robert Barron addressed the precipitious decline in Americans membership with a church, synogogue or mosque. According to Gallup, In 1999, over seventy percent of us claimed membership with a church, synogogue or mosque. A stable percentage since first surveyed in 1937. But twenty years later, in 2019, Americans’ affiliation with institutionalized religion has dropped to forty-seven percent.

I’ve written about church and its necessity before. Because of my one-eighty on religion, I thought I understood the fundamental reason. But Bishop Barron’s reason surpasses any reason I could have come up with.

We’re not angels.

“It’s a kind of angelism,” he declares., as he talks about those who insist they can go out in the woods to go to church. The Bishop refers us to Thomas Aquinas.

Hence after the precept about the hallowing of the Sabbath the reason for it is given: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth . . . and rested on the seventh day.”

Summa Theologica

Did the work of creation tire God out?

Did the Lord need a nap? Is that what the Bible implies?

No, explains Kody Cooper, the rest is intended for us, each person created by God. “Rather, as St. Augustine explains, God is said to “rest” by metonymy in that he acts to bring us to his rest. Under the New Law, Christians are simultaneously strengthened in our journey toward our ultimate rest, and get a glimpse and taste of that rest, in the Sunday Mass, fulfilling the commandment on the day of Christ’s resurrection.”

God’s rest informs ours…

Our bodies, contrary to the “enlightenment” philosophers and our current political narratives aren’t just matter to weigh down our soaring superior intellects. Nor are they objects with genders we can change at a whim. Instead, according to the Catechism,

“The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:1
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. 2

Less elegantly speaking, our bodies are not our own!

And when we fullfil the command to take up the invitation–and the obligation–to worship God at church, our bodies take up the adoration. Gazing at the altar and the cross affects us in such a way that kneeling is the only correct posture. Of course we can kneel at the splendor of a sunrise. Perhaps, like me, you’ve done just that.

But joining with other men, women and children in mutual adoration of our God effects a change in our hearts. Reflecting as a body of believers, His mystical Body upon our sins, weaknesses is perversely comforting. We’re there because we’re sick from sin and trust that Jesus is the healer.

Invitation or obligation?

Whether skipping Sunday Mass should be considered a sin is yet another controversial aspect of the Catholic faith. Fearmongers during the pandemic evidently questioned the obligation and haven’t stopped. It’s remarkable, isn’t? Despite the Church offering Saturday evening vigil Masses as well as Sunday Masses throughout the day, we complain.

For the early Christians, there was no such obligation some claim as reason for making Sunday Mass optional. But if we take the time to reflect about why that was true, the inanity of the comment is evident. These were the friends, relatives, of men and women who had seen Jesus. Maybe listened to his preaching. Perhaps even watched the horror of the crucifixion. And then heard of his resurrection. Perhaps even saw him, spoke with him.

How could these people not fall on their knees in adoration?

And feel privileged to participate in the memorial of the Messiah’s coming to earth to save mankind?

Pope John Paul ll gives us a bit of a wake-up call on the matter:

Even if in the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive, the Church has not ceased to confirm this obligation of conscience, which rises from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass: more often than not, this was done in the form of exhortation, but at times the Church had to resort to specific canonical precepts. This was the case in a number of local Councils from the fourth century onwards (as at the Council of Elvira of 300, which speaks not of an obligation but of penalties after three absences)(Cf. Canon 21, Mansi, Conc. II, 9) and most especially from the sixth century onwards (as at the Council of Agde in 506).(Cf. Canon 47, Mansi, Conc. VIII, 332) These decrees of local Councils led to a universal practice, the obligatory character of which was taken as something quite norm

A History of Sunday Obligation

Fear and blessing

“…And so I can appreciate the fervor with whch devoutly religious people like me are disliked–even hated. The reason is quite simple: fear.” That’s how this piece began and it’s time to explain what might sound strange. Relecting on myself and my antagonism to religion, to the devoutly religious, the anger and rage I felt was a cover for my fear.

Atheism wasn’t something I chose because it was cool. I lost all belief…everything became a sham, Christmas, Easter, all the prohibitions I’d grown up with. And I couldn’t explain what happened to anyone because I didn’t know. So I made up reasons and over time, believed them. I’ve had years to think about it all and understand that what I expressed as anger was actually fear. Of the consequences of my behaviors, bad decisions and the lying to myself that became habitual.

Of the fact that I didn’t belong.

I don’t think I’m unique in preferring anger over fear. Anger provides a feeliing of control, false, of course but superior to fear.In fact, hang on because I’m taking a huge leap here, all this dismaying reaction to Pope Francis’ declaration on blessings might emanate from fear. Americans are weird about sex, more so, I believe, than other cultures. There’s a reason the “sexual revolution” happened here rather than France.

And so when our Spanish-born Pope Francis and his advisors compiled a document based on the old testament’s view of blessings, and encouraged parish priests to look out for same-sex couples looking to get right with God, to help them, we uptight, still quasi-puritanical Americans freaked.

In last week’s piece, The Holy Sprit and Pope Francis, I wrote in defense of his recent document on blessings, I did not embed Fiducia Supplicans. an error I’m correcting today.

The Church is thus the sacrament of God’s infinite love. Therefore, even when a person’s relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing, stretching out his hand to God, as Peter did in the storm when he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” (Mt. 14:30). Indeed, desiring and receiving a blessing can be the possible good in some situations. Pope Francis reminds us that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.”[28] In this way, “what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead.”[29]

Fiducia Supplicans

What is a blessing?

Irish priest and poet John O’Donahue speaks to the power and perhaps the obligation of blessings in his lovely book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

What is a blessing?

A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal, and strengthen. Life is a constant flow of emergence.

The beauty of blessing is its belief that it can affect what unfolds. To be in the world is to be distant from the homeland of wholeness. We are confined by limitation and difficulty. When we bless, we are enabled somehow to go beyond our present frontiers and reach into the source. A blessing awakens future wholeness. We use the word foreshadow for the imperfect representation of something that is yet to come. We could say that a blessing “forebrightens” the way. When a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time. The word blessing comes from the Old English: Blêtsian, blêdsian, blœˆdsian. As intimated in the sound of blêdsian it means “to sanctify or consecrate with blood.”

It is interesting that though the word blessing sounds abstract, a thing of the word and the air, in its original meaning it was vitally connected to the life force. In ancient traditions blood was life; it connected the earthly, the human,and the divine. To bless also means to invoke divine favor upon.

We never see the script of our lives; nor do we know what is coming toward us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute, or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny. Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of a life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now…

The beauty of blessing is that it recognizes no barriers—and no distances. All the given frontiers of blockage that separate us can be penetrated by the loving subtlety of blessing. This can often be the key to awakening and creating forgiveness. We often linger in the crippling states of anger and resentment. Hurt is always unfair and unexpected; it can leave a bitter residue that poisons the space between us. Eventually the only way forward is forgiveness..

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
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blessings, sunday obligation, why go to church

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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