Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
(Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11)
Many years ago Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote an instructive book titled Models of the Church. The work asks the question, what is the Church? Is it an institution with organizational offices and a clear line of authority? Or is it a messenger announcing the divine offer of salvation? Or perhaps it is a servant of the world caring for the weak and instructing the powers? Maybe it is a sacrament, a sign of God’s ongoing presence among humans?
Although Cardinal Dulles indicates a preference for the sacramental model since it suggests a spiritual core, he concludes that the Church encompasses all the given models. Without having an institutional structure, the Church could not address new issues that arise. Without preaching the Good News, the Church would not fulfill the mission given her by Christ. Without caring for the poor, the Church would not practice what she preaches. And without representing Christ in the world, the Church would not be his Body.
Some people wince at Church bureaucracy wondering if Christ intended all the pomp. The regalia of cardinals and bishops may not be necessary, but order is essential to face new challenges. We see the order functioning in the first reading from Acts today. Peter, the head apostle, speaks first to the issue of Gentiles’ following the Jewish Law. Then James, the chief elder of the Jerusalem flock, presents his view. Finally, the reading indicates, all apostles and community leaders decide the matter. Today’s system of pope and curia with dioceses and religious institutions represents a significant development of structure. The formalities of this system help identify the ones most responsible for a functioning order.