Welcome to the Catholic Church: A Gated Community?

In last week’s catechetical post, I likened the deposit of faith–all that Christ has revealed to us through His Church–to a bank deposit, with the Church being the bank and the apostles and bishops having special authority to safeguard this deposit so that it might bear interest for the kingdom of God.

Another way of approaching this reality is to think of the Church’s Magisterium, or teaching office, as a fence or wall. If the deposit of faith is understood as a body of teachings regarding what we are to believe and how we are to live as Christians in the world, one important role of the Magisterium is to give this body definition and shape.

We deal with such boundaries all the time. Here in Kansas, the state line defines what is and isn’t part of our state. If we go too far in any one direction, we’ll end up in Missouri, Oklahoma, or even Nebraska. Similarly, the Magisterium lets us know what the boundaries are in terms of Catholic faith and practice–what’s Catholic teaching, and what isn’t.

I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be a very useful charism.

The opening of a wall or fence or gate can be quite a welcoming moment. Yet more often we think of a wall as something that keeps us out, that restricts our freedom. I think those negative associations are at times operative when it comes to  the popular perception of the Magisterium and of the Church in general.

Actually, though, a well-placed wall enhances our freedom. And surely the Magisterium’s mission as servant of the Word of God is to help us encounter the truth that sets us free.

Imagine a home with a big front yard that extends all the way to the street. There is no wall or fence. Children and pets have to be kept very close to the house and even then under careful surveillance lest they run out into the street.

But with a wall or fence around the the perimeter of the property, the children and pets can safely use the entire yard. The wall enhances freedom while also providing a welcome sense of security.

The Magisterium in no way detracts from the deposit of faith, but rather defines its contours so that with the freedom of the children of God we may explore the height and depth and breadth of God’s Word to us.

One response

  1. Last week during my graduate level course on moral theology, one of my peers described the Magisterium this way (paraphrasing a theologian): Let’s say a cruise liner begins to sink. Everyone jumps into lifeboats but for one fellow. Finally, when only he remains on the liner, he announces to all those in the lifeboats, “Okay, it’s safe to leave the cruise liner now!” That fellow, we were told, is the Magisterium. How can we root out this ridiculous–and rather non-Catholic–stance, vis-a-vis the Magisterium, gift that it is?

    For the record, the professor didn’t refute my classmate’s opinion–an opinion my peer used the rest of the class. Simply to avoid seeming hypocritical, I was later attacked (in this Catholic graduate course at a Catholic university) for being an “aggressive defender of the Church’s teachings.”

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