Today, we look at two paragraphs somewhat heavily footnoted by recent documents.
159. The Church, as “community of love,”(Deus Caritatis Est 19) is called to reflect the glory of God’s love, and thus attract persons and peoples to Christ. In practicing the unity desired by Jesus, the men and women of our time feel they are invited as they undertake the marvelous adventure of faith. “That they also may be in us, that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
When we speak of the Church as a “community of love” (not sure of the “DCE” reference here; and my link does not solve that acronym) we aren’t necessarily talking about love on the human initiative. Christian love derives from the love of God. The attraction, hopefully, to the Church, is not that we love one another as much as our love is rooted in Divine Grace, and does not depend on what human beings consider lovable: good looks, fine resources, loyalty, or even prosperity.
The question above is apt: do we feel the mission of the Gospel is an exciting adventure?
A vital clarification of an issue often debated in Catholic circles:
The church grows not by proselytizing but “by ‘attraction’: as Christ ‘attracts all to himself’ with the power of his love.”(Benedict XVI, Homily at the 2007 Aparecida Conference) The church “attracts” when it lives in communion, for the disciples of Jesus will be recognized if they love one another as He loved us (cf. Rom 12:4-13; Jn 13:34).
Is it convincing enough when Benedict XVI says proselytization is not a growth mechanism? We believers are the means by which Christ attracts people to himself, when our words and actions reflect his own. In AA, people speak of attraction, not promotion in terms of drawing in those seeking recovery. It’s a wise stance. And a subtlety often lost on those well-rooted in the human methodologies of branding, advertising, self-promotion, and the like. Like success depends on our own best efforts.
We are on a journey, and we are a people in process, or in progress, as we read further:
160. The pilgrim Church lives in anticipation the beauty of love, which will be achieved at the end of time in perfect communion with God and human beings.(Cf. Ibid.) Its riches consist of living already now the “communion of saints,” that is, communion in divine goods among all the members of the church, particularly between those still on pilgrimage and those who already enjoy glory.(Cf. Lumen Gentium 49)
An important word for the imperfect, and something for us sinners to ponder:
We find that there are many Catholics who express their faith and their belonging to the Church sporadically, especially through piety to Jesus Christ and to the Virgin, and their devotion to the saints. We invite them to deepen their faith and participate more fully in the life of their church, reminding them that “by virtue of their Baptism, they are called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ.”(Benedict XVI, introductory address, 2007 Aparecida Conference)
We all have moments when the expression of our faith sputters, when we lose our temper, when we are selfish, when we indulge ideology a llittle more deeply than our commitments to the Gospel. All of us are on pilgrimage, and we can remember this when treating with people who appear to us to be even more sporadic in their faith.
For deeper examination, check an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.