by ROWENA OREJANA
When we think about mission, we first need to think about Church and how it relates to us and how we see ourselves in it, according to a Boston University professor.
Fr Richard Lennan, Doctor of Theology and Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston
University, said in a talk before pastoral workers at the St Columba Centre in Auckland on
May 26 that people often do not see themselves as being part of the Church, but rather see Church as an “other thing”.
“The first question for us as people of faith is never what we are called to do? The first question must be, What is it that we received?” he said, “How is God present in our lives, and then what follows from that?”
Fr Lennan said that in teaching theology for about 25 years, there are four things he covers:
“First, that everyone is always unhappy about something that has to do with Church. Second,
nobody gets the Church they designed for themselves. Third is that all statements about the Church need nuance. And fourth, that no statement about the Church is ever final. There is always more to be said.”
When Fr Lennan asked the participants who they thought the Church was, almost everyone responded that it was someone else: Pope Francis or the bishops and clergy. He pointed out
hardly anyone really thinks of herself or himself as part of the Church.
“Everyone, except me. When I think of the Church, I think about them, I don’t think about me. So the first task when we think about mission is how do we think of the Word,” he said.
He said everyone has something to be unhappy about when it comes to Church. He said some think there is too much emphasis on doctrine, while others think there is too little. Some are unhappy that the Church is too much about God and not enough about people, and vice-versa.
He said people often think that the Church would be better “if it didn’t have all those other people in it”.
But he said the diversity in the Church is a reflection of God’s own diversity, of the relationship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and the love that makes them one.
“The challenge for us as a Church is to allow our differences to reflect the richness of God’s own life rather than to divide us. To do that, there needs to be a willingness to accept the Church as it is, not simply my creation,” he said.
Fr Lennan said it is, as Vatican II pointed out, the dynamism of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost contrasted with the Tower of Babel in Genesis. The Holy Spirit allowed people of different languages to hear the one Word of God and unite them.
Accepting this diversity will allow people of faith to think of the Church as “us”.
“Unless we do see ourselves as the Church, then nothing is possible. Otherwise the Church remains this thing outside. What we’re offered in our baptism is not membership of a thing but a relationship with God that also involves a relationship with one another,” he explained.
He said we all have different experiences of God, yet we all have heard the word God, Jesus or Church from someone.
“None of us intuit the word Jesus or the word Church or what they mean. All of us learn about it from others. All of us experience God, but we also need others to name that experience,”
he said. “So everything for us as human beings that is connected to God is also connected to each other. We never get beyond being connected to each other in terms of everything to do with God.”
Fr Lennan said the reality of the Church also is that we are in it for others. “It is not what is in it for me, but how am I in it for others,” he said.
He said the Church is a work in progress, a constant movement towards God and that we, as a people of faith, are in that pilgrimage together.