Clearing the Heart to See the Truth

Don’t Lust after the Church

The Body-Person relationship is key for the Catholic understanding of the Church – St. Paul says the Church is Christ’s Body, and therefore to understand how Christ relates to His Church we just need to reflect on how we relate to our own bodies. For instance:

1. We express ourselves through our bodies. Therefore, Christ expresses Himself through the Church.

2. We identify ourselves with our bodies (e.g., “Why’d you throw that rock at me?”). Therefore, Christ identifies Himself with the Church (e.g., “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”).

3. Our bodies are how we interface with people. Therefore, the Church is how Christ interfaces with people.

Okay, so far so good. But there’s another crucial fact about the Body-Person relationship that you don’t very often hear applied to the Church. That fact is the phenomenon of lust: sometimes we focus on the body to the exclusion of the person. In lust all we care about is the body, and instead of allowing the body to facilitate a relationship with the person, we reduce the person to the body. We ignore the personal, or at least make the personal secondary to the bodily. Not good.
Now, let’s translate that into an ecclesiological principle:

4. It is possible to focus so much on the visible body that the potential for relationship with the person is diminished. Therefore, it is possible to focus so much on the visible Church that the potential for relationship with Christ is diminished.

This is what I call ecclesiological lust, an excessive focus on the visible Church which is bad for our relationship with Christ. It’s maybe an esoteric disorder, but it’s one that I’m prone to and I think a lot of other Catholics are as well. In my life, at least, it has two primary manifestations:

First, an excessive preoccupation with Church politics and Church rumors in general. Who got appointed to which commission? What are the important episcopal placements, and what are the various opposition parties in the bishop’s conference, or the curia? Did you hear Cardinal so-and-so’s response to Cardinal whats-his-name’s comment from last week? Who’s in favor with Francis, who’s out of favor? Did you hear the word on the street on the Via Nomentana? Did you read Lombardi’s latest statement?

It’s one thing to be well-informed, but it’s another thing to be into gossip. And again, I struggle with this. I get into ecclesial trivia and hearsay the same way (and maybe for the same reason) other folks read the celebrity nonesense in E Weekly and People. It’s fun, it can be sensational, but it isn’t healthy – it’s too focused on the superficials, the skin-depth of Christ’s visible body. I’d be better off praying for the Church and for her hierarchy and for my own soul.

A second form of ecclesiastical lust is liturgical hyper-sensitivity. Again, this is a big one for me. At mass I want the church to look nice, I want the music to sound nice, I want the homily to be insightful and orthodox, and I don’t want anybody messing with the rubrics. And if those pieces aren’t in place I really have a hard time not getting angry, and I even have a hard time praying. In other words, what I see and hear better be good or my “Mass experience” is totally thrown off.

Now imagine if I treated my wife that way. Imagine if I said, “Hey listen, you’d better look good and sound good and act good and talk good, or I’m not going to be able to relate to you.” Of course, when I first met my wife, her superficial appearance counted for a lot more – part of the reason we’re together today is that I found her physically attractive. And I also know it’s important to have beautiful churches and liturgies for many reasons, not least of which is to draw those people to Christ who don’t know Him well yet.

But I’m not just meeting or dating my wife. We’re married, and that means we should have a more mature relationship, one that doesn’t get rocked by a bad hair day. And I’m supposed to be a “serious,” committed Catholic, so I should probably be able to detach myself better from the superficials of the liturgy, and relate to Christ comfortably even when the visible or audible aspects of the celebration of His Sacrifice aren’t so prepossessing.

Anyway, I think it’s helpful to remember that there’s more than one lesson to be drawn from the theology of the Church as Christ’s Body. The Church is essential, it’s the way to Jesus, it’s the contact point with Christ, and the necessary means of salvation. And its visible expression – whether in its workings or in its worship – is sometimes lovely beyond description and sometimes the quintessence of banality and vice. But let’s not reduce Christ to His Body. Let’s not lust after the Church.

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2 Responses to “Don’t Lust after the Church”

  1. Bill says:

    My problem with lust for the Church usually occurs when I attend Mass in a new parish, which I did when I moved four years ago. I moved from a northern city to a southern city and now I have a difficult time trying to concentrate on the liturgy and my prayer with a piano pounding loudly, multiple guitars strumming, flutes and violins and occasional drums playing, people mimicking priestly motions and hand holding during the Our Father. In my opinion my concerns are not in the category of lust rather for a liturgy that celebrates God and not the congregates.

  2. Lynn says:

    Great thoughts. I struggle with the accidentals not being close to what they should be so as to honor a most holy God! What has kept me from going over into bitterness is a saintly soul who has passed. She loved the Latin Mass and went faithfully, but still supported our local parish. She would say, “if Jesus can take it, so can I”. Anyway…yes, I think this type of lust or preoccupation can happen. Not sure how much it happens. Seems to me concern is hardly there, mostly:(

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