What is the problem with the Church?
As a Jesuit and one studying to be a priest, the Church is something that interests me deeply. When I see the number of church-going people declining, I feel sad. But I also feel hopeful when I see huge number of youngsters in different places like Taizé or with some of the contemporary movements in the Church. I was reading one article here, and two reasons stated by that author made a lot of sense for me. What people are looking in the church?? — Authenticity and Connections.
Authenticity is one of the immensely studied topics in contemporary philosophy. I am not going to get into any of those, but Jesus have spoken about it indirectly (or I deduce it). When he criticize the hypocrisy of some of the Jewish leaders of his time, an invitation for the later Christian leaders was to authenticity. Or when Jesus told his disciples that “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,” he was hinting at the authenticity of his disciples. Happily, they were many disicples and leaders who followed it; sadly, there were many disciples and leaders who didn’t care for it too.
What is authenticity? In philosophy (or existential philosophy), authenticity is the degree to which a person’s actions are congruent with his or her beliefs and desires, despite external pressures to conformity. Now interestingly, what are beliefs and desires to which the church has to be congruent? It is definitely the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which are expressed through Bible and traditions. Here, there are a lot of scope for interpretation with extensive differences. Many interesting contemporary questions like capital punishment, welcoming refugees, abortion, homosexuality etc have different opinions in the Church circles, and interestingly all say their side is more authentic.
I personally think that a dialogical method (with a lot of difficulty) is needed to discuss the many arguments proposed by many sides. But there are simpler issues like welcoming all kinds of people to the Church and the community with the least judgement, dealing with the question of sexual abuse, question of power and following the commandment of service where the Church (and its responsible people) should show more authenticity. I think that would be more Jesus-like, but it might be the best option even from a contemporary management perspective.
In my childhood, we had a wonderful parish community where the parish was like a larger family(It still exists there). We too had our own set of issues and troubles, but there were connections and relations between the people. People not only come to the Church for prayer services, but they formed a community. Whether we do enough to promote this link is a question worth asking. Jesus, the master, formed a community of disciples and he told them that “you are my friends”. The initial Christian community were also a community of brothers and sisters in the Lord. As long as people in our communities are not able to sense this brotherhood or sisterhood, our faith is like treasure hidden in the distant faraway island, an island unapproachable by any means. In the context of COVID-19 and other contemporary developments, human connection (honest, deep and intimate) are something people look forward to.
When I would argue that the question of connections are important, the question of authenticity is more important. People may stick with the group/community for some time because of connections (even if the community is not authentic), but it can’t sustain longer. When more and more church leaders (or those in responsible positions) realise the importance of it, there is Hope. Hopefully it can start from Me and You.