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02.06.2021 18:10:09 2332x read.
Thinking with the Church [Bro. Raphael Besigrinee].

Thinking with the Church

[Bro. Raphael Besigrinee].

What is the church?

The Catechism of Catholic Church defines the church as the People of God. It is also referred to as the Body of Christ or Temple of the Holy Spirit. Who are we as people of God? We Catholics are a body of people, a community, a family with a story, a history and purpose. We are people who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, one becomes a member of this group of people, not by physical birth, but by professing his faith in Jesus Christ and through Baptism. Therefore we have Jesus Christ as the head of the church. Thus, the Lord Jesus tells us, “Love one another as I have loved you”, because from the quality of your love “they will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:34-35). As part of our mission Christians are "to be salt of the earth and light of the world" (Matt. 5:13-16). As people of God, we are expected to, in obedience to the above, live in unity and work for the salvation of the whole human race. The ultimate aim is to bring about the Kingdom of God. The people of God therefore share a common vision for life; they seek to live in a spirit of love, amidst its joys and sorrows.

John Wright gives us another perspective of the Church "It is not just a gathering of like-minded men, of people who happen to share the same views on religion and morality. God calls it (the Church) into being as a communion of those who respond to Him in faith, and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Church is the first fruit of the Kingdom of God in the world, and it bears within itself the most important force for the spread and development of that Kingdom".

The church is also often referred to as the body of Christ. The Body of Christ is a common term used to describe the Christian faithful. Some people may begin to think we are talking about the physical body of Christ, as in His human form on earth. But the term "Body of Christ" actually refers to the members of His church. Who or what is the body of Christ? Our physical body is composed of many members: hands, feet, arms, legs, ears, eyes, etc. It is the uniqueness of each member that enables the body to function properly. Likewise, the body of Christ (the Church), is made up of all those who have accepted Jesus Christ in baptism. In our case, each Catholic, then, is part of the body of Christ whether a bishop, Rev. Brother, Priest, Rev. Sister or a lay person. All are called to serve others in the interest of the church.   

2. Thinking with the church

What does it really mean to “think with the Church”? In explaining the term, some church documents also use the phrase "sense of the church" or "feeling with the church". In explaining the term Pope Francis himself said, "For one thing, thinking with the Church means giving a unique respect to our bishops and to the Pope". Church leaders are under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals and so as the people of God, Christians rely on the direction of those in authority, as St. Thomas Bellarmine has clearly stated, "The Pope and bishops are real heads, the teachers and preachers are real eyes and tongues of the Body of Christ, even when they have fallen from the grace of God".

Some Christian leaders even admit that they find peace and harmony in submitting to the legitimate authority of the Church as testified by St. Augustine when he wrote, “I would not believe in the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so” and by Sr. Theresa Aletheia in the following: "Life under my own direction had left my heart in tatters. I saw that as a human being I needed to accept Christ’s authority. I desired to unify my mind, behaviour, and heart with a way of life that would lead me to happiness. But we reject Jesus in his Church when we do not respect and accept the legitimate authority he has set in place".   

In an interview with Antonio Spadaro, Pope Francis explained thinking with the church, the holy and faithful people of God, thus: "The people themselves are the subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history with joys and sorrows. To think and to feel with the church, there­fore, is my way of being a part of this people." I understand Pope Francis' explanation to mean the people's expression of their faith and their  efforts to work together, all their efforts, struggles, achievements, successes and even failures as part of thinking  with the Church. His idea of thinking with the church involves a dialogue among the people and their leaders including the Pope. For him, "this church with which we should be thinking and feeling is the home of all, not a small chapel that can only hold a small group of select people."

Since the church is made up of human beings, it is natural to judge that it is not perfect. There are certainly incidence of weaknesses and strengths, joys and worries, so to feel with the church is to feel its pain as well as its joys, thus the Pope describes it in terms of ordinary human activity. "I see the holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity".  Thinking with the church therefore includes our contribution, our services and our daily struggles in building the church wherever we are, according to our talents and charisms. We all display our believe in the church through a sense of the faith of all the people of God walking together. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians or ecclesiastical officers only.


3. How do "we" Religious think with the church

Religious by our vows have promised to follow Christ and serve the church He started, so our contributions to the building of God's kingdom form part of our thinking with the church. Our life is a concrete expression of our love for Christ and His church, thus Pope Paul VI in his Evangelii nuntiandi (n. 60), said "it is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Christ without the Church, of following Jesus outside his Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church". In other words, belonging to the church is part of our life as religious. In fact, it is one of the constitutive dimensions of consecrated life. It is a dimension that must be constantly renewed and deepened in life. Our vocation (as religious) "is a fundamental charism for the journey of the Church, and it is impossible for a consecrated man or woman not to think with the Church. Thinking with the Church led to our Baptism; thinking with the Church finds its expressions in faithfulness to the Magisterium, in communion with the Pastors and the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, a visible sign of unity".

As FIC brothers, we feel Jesus Christ is the highest authority of the church and He should be considered as such. It is therefore our task to give form to our consecration within the church by exercising our roles without hindrance. In the 2018 GC report, FIC brothers were encouraged to work with all people of good will, and these include ecclesiastical leaders. The work of evangelization cannot be done only by a section of the church; it is a mission whose success is only achieved through collaboration. As Paul VI recalled very well in Evangelii nuntiandi,  "For every Christian the proclamation of Gospel and witness to the Gospel are never isolated acts of an individual or a group. No evangelizer acts in virtue of a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name". The task of following the Lord is not to be as a solitary sailor; therefore, FIC is part of a spirituality of communion, that is, an effective and affective relation with the Clergy (Bishops and the Pope).

4. Challenges for religious

The Brother's vocation is complete in itself and needs nothing more to be lived fully as a prophetic sign in the world and a witness to God's love, but from some pronouncements even by church leaders (about vocations), the Brothers' vocation is sometimes not understood, appreciated or promoted sufficiently by the hierarchical Church. This issue was discussed in some FIC Congregational Conferences in the past. We wondered whether we are not visible enough in the world!

We have witnessed instances of such 'misunderstanding'. I attended Sunday mass at one of the parishes in Ghana after which I approached the priest for a chat. There were a couple of people around as we chatted with the priest. A young woman made a comment about what she knew about a religious Brother thus "I heard that religious Brothers are those men who failed to become priests". Everybody in the group became very quiet as if to confirm their embarrassment. Intuitively the priest walked away without a word, followed by the rest. The woman was obviously embarrassed, just like the rest, but I was not because of what I believe about such comments. Later on during the day, I made an intentional visit to the woman's house and gave her a briefing on who a Brother really is. I knew her ignorance was genuine, so I concluded my talk by telling her to educate others on the topic. 

As FIC brothers we are mostly involved in school as well as non-school apostolate in our five provinces. We have some influence in health care services, social and parish work. Through our apostolate, we encounter a great variety people in different fields of work, yet the uncertainty of "who we are" remains in the minds of many, including some church leaders. This is not a challenge of FIC brothers alone. We share this with many other lay congregations around the world. People have very little knowledge about our real function within the church. But this should not prevent us from our continuous witness of the love of God in the church through our charism of education and formation.

5. Conclusion

Through our apostolate, the FIC brothers are ever more motivated to continue this mission which we believe God has given to us. FIC brothers will continue to think with the church wherever we are in the world. We believe this is what we are called to do as our contribution to the body of Christ, which is the church. We are encouraging young people all over the world, our friends and collaborators to join hands with our efforts in fulfilling the mission of the church, which is to continue the work of Jesus in building God's kingdom of love on earth.


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