'Is the Church Out of Date?' by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 'What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
"The Catholic Church is hopelessly out of date." Many level that accusation against the Church. And rightly so. The Church, as her accusers suspect, looks lovingly to the past. She constantly recalls our Lord's life, teachings and sacrifice. She reads daily from ancient texts and proclaims doctrines thousands of years old. What has come before governs her life today. To be Catholic is to be traditional.
But the Church is "out of date" in the other direction as well. She is forever looking to the future, longing for her Bridegroom's return, anticipating His arrival and making herself beautiful in expectation. In this sense, the Catholic church is the most forward-looking institution in the world. To be Catholic is to look ahead - to our Lord's coming.
The Church's fascination with the future is simply obedience to the Lord's words: "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come" (Mk 13:33). We hear these words (or their equivalent) at the beginning of every Advent. They are words from the past that direct us to the future. This interplay of past and future nicely reveals the character of Advent, and of Catholic life in general.
During Advent we look in two directions. We look to the past, to the first coming of our Lord. We consider all over again the prophecies regarding Him and Israel's preparation for His coming. And finally we celebrate His birth. Yet at the same time we look to the future, to our Lord's second coming. Indeed, we recall the past precisely for the future. Advent hinges on this simple truth: devotion to the past prepares us for the future. How we receive our Lord at His birth will determine how we respond to Him at His return.
The entirety of the Catholic life bears this curious relationship between the past and the future. The Catholic heart stretches out in both directions: to the past, with an affection for all that has been revealed, most of all for our Lord's sacred humanity; and to the future, with a longing to be received into His Kingdom and see Him face to face.
Of course, being pulled in two directions can get a little uncomfortable. It makes us look odd to the world. But it keeps a Catholic, as G. K. Chesterton said, "from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." The world always wants us to settle down and "get with the times" - to stop looking to the past for truth or to the future for fulfillment - to find truth instead in trendy theories and fulfillment in fashionable morality. "Stay here and rest," says the world, tempting us to cut our roots and end our journey.
Still we hears words from the past: "Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping" (Mk 13:35-36). A Catholic can never find fulfillment in the present - because he will neither disregard what the past has given him nor forget what the future promises.
The past and future intersect most especially in the Mass. At Mass the past is made present and we participate in the Sacrifice of Christ. At the same time, we anticipate the future - "we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." Receiving from the past and looking toward the future, may we grow comfortable with being pulled in two directions - and being helplessly out of date.
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