Lenten Devotional: March 14th
the holy catholic church
The Princess Bride is one of those movies filled with memorable quotes. Maybe the most memorable comes from the character Vizzini who lisps the word "inconceivable" at every plot twist. At a certain point, Vizzini cuts a rope that should send the Dread Pirate Roberts plummeting to his death. But Roberts does not fall. He catches hold of a rock and climbs up. When Montoya the Spaniard points this out, Vizzini says, "He didn't fall? Inconceivable!" To which Montoya says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
When we get to the part of the Creed, "I believe in the holy catholic church" it may not mean what we think it means. Both "holy" and "catholic" can have different meanings.
When we say "holy" we do not mean perfect, pure or better than, "holier than thou." The church is meant to be anything but that meaning of holy! In the context of the Creed, holy means called or set apart for a purpose. It means that the Holy Spirit of God is working in the church for a purpose.
When we hear the word "catholic" it does not mean "big C" Catholic as in the Pope, mass, and the rosary, rather it is "little c" catholic as in the church universal. It comes from the Greek word Kata-holos, literally meaning "according to the whole." The catholic church is the whole universal church. Maybe that is why the Spirit comes before the church in the Creed; the spirit pre-exists any religion or religious expression.
One way to interpret "holy catholic church" might be this: the church universal called by the Holy Spirit to be unified and whole. I think this what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 4 when he says,
I therefore beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
This all sounds really good, but it is really hard. With all of our divisions and factions and fighting, how will we ever become the holy catholic church? Maybe it begins where all hopes and dreams can begin – in prayer. But maybe we need to pray a specific kind of prayer. Maybe we can do our little part by thanking God for what each faction of the church gives to the church universal. Here is my attempt at this. I hope it is a prayer you can pray today also.
O God, you are the church's one foundation and we come to you thankful for the church, for our NorthPark church. We are thankful for the curiosity of our children, the energy of our youth, the leadership of our adults, and the wisdom of our older adults.
Today though, we come praying the creed, so we are not just thankful for our own church but for your holy catholic church.
We are thankful for the fundamentalists who remind us that every story, every word, every comma in your book matters.
We are thankful for the intellectuals who remind us that every story in the Bible was written in a particular culture around particular issues. We are thankful for those who ask probing questions of us, who challenge us to worship You with not only our hearts but also our minds.
We are thankful for the mystics, those who remind us that we cannot just think our way to You, but we must also look for experiences of You in our everyday lives.
We are thankful for the progressives, those who want to reform the faith so that we are not stuck in good 'ol days syndrome. We are thankful for those who inspire us to listen to Your new voice concerning today's new world.
We are thankful for the traditionalists who remind us of the power of liturgy and history. Who teach us about the wisdom of the past. We are thankful for those who stay true to words that have always been true and do not change just for change's sake.
We are thankful for the evangelicals who remind us that the gospel is alive and passionate, and even entertaining, and it is meant to be shared with others.
We are thankful for Christians in other countries who many times model such joy in their worship. We are thankful also for the times they caution us not to Americanize the gospel so that gospel values always align themselves neatly with our western values. We are thankful for all those who remind us not to domesticate the gospel.
And we are thankful for those committed to social justice. We are thankful for those who prophetically remind us that the church is not always welcoming to people of color, or disabled people, or gay and lesbian people, or poor people. We are thankful for those who remind us that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, not comfort to the rich.
O God, as much as we Christians like to bash each other, today we are thankful for the whole church, the holy catholic church. We pray that our unity will NOT be found in color or income or sex or ideology, but in your son Jesus Christ. It is in His name that we pray. Amen.
Rev. Brent Barry, Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church