Sherry Weddell Gets It

Sherry Weddell Gets It May 10, 2014

Sez she:

The greatest triumphs of Orthodox Christianity have taken place when the Church has lived as a missionary Church and not as an institutional Church. Pope Francis challenges Orthodox Christians with the following words: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”

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  • Dave G.

    The greatest triumphs of Orthodox Christianity have taken place when the Church has lived as a missionary Church and not as an institutional Church.

    What does she mean by that? It sounds interesting, but I’m not sure where that dividing line is. When was the Church just an institutional Church, and when was it a missionary Church? Again, an interesting take, but I’m wondering what some historic examples are for us to look at.

    • Brandy Miller

      Take a look at the early church, when she was oppressed and scattered because of it, bringing the light of faith wherever she went versus what happened during the middle ages, when the church became the standard of morality and the corruption then filtered in because it became something one did as part of being in the culture rather than a choice one made at great personal risk.

      • Alma Peregrina

        But the early church WAS institutional, as She had apostles, elders and deacons, baptized and catechumens.

        And the medieval church was, perhaps, less missionary, because all the known world at that day was already catholic (OK, there were the muslims, but not even St. Francis of Assisi was able to do anything there…)

  • Fr. Denis Lemieux

    Dave G – I think what she would mean (well, at any rate, what I would mean!) is that the institution must be at the service of the mission. Historical examples would be the Pope blessing St. Francis’ new form of religious life, or the explosion of religious orders serving the poor in 18th century France (Vincent de Paul, etc). It is not an opposition of institution vs. mission, but a right ordering of the two – the one at the service of the other.

    • HornOrSilk

      Which is well and good, and something I agree with. However, I fear the words as quoted can lead people to create a mission vs institution divide, and use it to undermine the institution. Clearly not the intent here, but also clearly something I’ve seen many want elsewhere.

  • kirthigdon

    It’s hard for me to think of a time when the Church has not been missionary. There have been occasions where the Church has been forced on the defensive by ruthless persecution, but even then the Church has done as much as possible to spread the gospel underground. There have been some missed opportunities, such as the delay in the conversion of China caused by the Church’s rejection of Father Mateo Ricci’s attempt to bring aspects of Confucian philosophy into the Catholic orbit. But in modern times, Catholic outreach has been unparalleled and the Church for the first time in history has become catholic in fact and not just hope. The four countries with the world’s largest Catholic populations (Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, and USA) did not even exist a few centuries ago. Francis is continuing the dynamic outreach practiced by his two immediate predecessors.

    Kirt Higdon

    • Steve P

      I think a good way to consider this is by taking a look at your local parish. In what way and to what extent is your local faith community (or even more locally, your family) engaged in the fundamental mission of the Church? What is the fundamental mission of the Church? It’s evangelization – bringing the Good News to the whole world, starting with those closest to you. This should be the mission to which the “institution” is oriented. If you read Sherry Weddell (and a lot of other quality material), you’ll begin to recognize (at least I did) the level of stagnation that has set in for most of us and our parish communities. We are content with a status quo of doing a handful of baptisms, and far more funerals, for example. We are “sacramentalizing”, and not evangelizing.

      • kirthigdon

        I’ve been involved for a number of years with RCIA at my parish and while I don’t think we reach Sherry’s highest standards, I think we’re pretty close. We definitely have a missionary outreach and it is bringing people to the Church. I don’t think my own parish is stagnating and I’d say the same of most parishes in my diocese to the extent I know about their programs. As far as other dioceses are concerned, I don’t know.The Catholic Church is growing in numbers pretty much with the population of the world. I don’t think there has ever been an age where it has been better to be a Catholic Christian.

        Kirt Higdon

      • Paxton Reis


        I agree. The Pope’s message is for the local parishes and us, the laity to get out there and bring the Good News to the world…to strengthen fellow believers and to be the yeast for spreading the word of Jesus to nonbelievers (this is our call per Vatican II too).

  • BHG

    The greatest challenge can be to see where we must be a bruise, missionary Church right beside us here in the good old USA–and I do not mean just in the streets of poverty of pocketbook, but also those bruised and damaged by poverty of spirit and heart. The institutional Church must be careful to assist us in service, not drive a wedge between the faithful who are meant to be the missionaries and those who need help. It is a careful dance, that, and God bless Pope Francis for helping us learn it.

  • everyman

    Our Pope needs to stop behaving as a newly ordained deacon and start his appointed Mission as the captain of the Ship of Peter. That’s the task that neither of his former Fishermen wanted but did it extraordinarily well because the Spirit led them out of their parochial mission and positioned them against the Gates of Hell. Dear Holy Father it’s not your job to be in the trenches with the troops and shooting some of the friendly fire that’s bruising them.

    • BillyT92679

      Such arrogance to tell the Sovereign Pontiff how to act

      • Matthew

        Yes, Billy, you can take it up with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena when you meet them.

        • Matthew

          Oh, and St. Paul.

          • capaxdei

            A pseudonymous Internet commenter is our century’s St. Paul?

            I guess we get the St. Pauls we deserve.

            • Catholic Fast Food Worker

              Because he’s the St. Paul we need, and not the St. Paul we deserve. So we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, he’s the pseudonymous St. Paul of our century. Or something like that, haha

          • BillyT92679

            Honestly, I’ve read some obnoxiously un-self-aware posts here Matthew. Yours just took, devoured, and puked back up the cake.

      • Such arrogance to tell the Sovereign Pontiff how to act

        Whatever. Of course we can judge the pope. He’s just a man. We have to obey him if he lays down the law, pastorally, but we can still criticize him.

    • I don’t like everyman’s critique – not because he has no right to criticize the pope; of course we can criticize the pope – but rather because he’s not right in his criticism. He’s reading the absolute wrong things in the pope’s message.

      Just to use an example: we “the troops” don’t need someone to tell us that homosexual behavior is wrong. Duh. We need someone to tell us to take a second look at the situation and respond with love and not with our facile and self-righteous knee-jerk condemnation. I have same-sex attracted friends who are not particularly public about it and who – when they find themselves in a circle of devouts where that topic comes up – end up feeling particularly horrible about themselves while everyone thoughtlessly bats a beachball of condemnation back and forth. No subtlety, no nuance, no compassion: just yup yup yup yup yup yup yup.

      And as for the “media”: the pope’s not the media’s pastor. He’s our pastor. The media, the world, in the end doesn’t give two Argentine pesos what the pope says. He’s talking first to us, and I haven’t heard him say something we haven’t needed to hear.

  • Faithr

    Wait, everybody on this blog is forever telling atheists that the middle ages were what created science, the universities, great art etc, etc. We had so many saints that came out of that era. Some of the greatest of all, like St. Thomas Aquinas. And during that time it was pretty darn institutional. I think the truth is that the Church has always been a mixed bag, full of great and beautiful things and also full of sin in one way or another. The Church is always counter culture in some way because it is countering the fallen nature of man.

    • jenny

      “….greatest of all, like St. Thomas Aquinas…” he said that women are the holes that devil entered the world…….

      • chezami

        Documentation please?

        • Possible (much-garbled via the Web’s interminable game of telephone (Chinese Whispers)) original?

          “As the Holy Ghost came into the heart of Mary, so will the devil enter into the mother of Antichrist, and his diabolical power will always support him.” Adso of Montier-en-Der, O.S.B. (c. 915 -992)

          Add in the hermeneutic of suspicion, bigoted feminist assumptions about supposed Catholic “patriarchy,” humorless obliviousness that a man couldn’t bear a child (more “oppression,” amirite?), and telephone’s tendency to turn every obscure quotesmith into Churchill, Ben Franklin, Einstein, etc., and I think we have our far-from-infallible source.

          Also ignored: the Antichrist may have been merely Nero for all some theologians know, and it’s settled dogma that God entered the world through the woman Mary, whom we are to revere above all creatures!

          Speaking of Our Blessed Mother-happy Mother’s Day, all!

      • Faithr

        Oh come on! LOL. Yes, that is what he is remembered for! Screw all that other stuff he did! He once made a remark about women (sounds like he was talking about Eve – if he did indeed say this). He probably never said anything bad about men, I am sure. I mean if he wasn’t 100% perfect then he must be terrible! But it’s ok! We have thoroughly modern jenny with her deeply intellectual cherry picking approach to detraction to save us from going astray.

  • capaxdei

    Can we say the triumphs of Christ in His Church happen, not *when* she lives as missionary rather than institutional, but *where*?

    That might make it clearer that Sherry doesn’t mean “when” in the sense of centuries or eras, categorically extended, but in the sense of specific patterns of action by individuals and communities.

    • Athelstane

      I think this makes much more sense.

      After all: For all the derision that is heaped on the Tridentine Church, this was, by sheer percentage of growth, the greatest evangelical period of the Church (at least outside the first centuries). The conversion of the Americas, the Indies, and much of Africa occurred in this period – almost entirely when and where the institutional Church was present in tandem with Spanish, Portuguese, and French missionaries. And then there is the reconversion of Poland and much of France and Germany that occurred under the auspices of the Jesuits, very institutional (and usually backed by a Catholic monarch).

      Yet it is also true that the Church in these places was mainly led and animated by missionary orders and priests.

      In short: there is tremendous evidence that an institutional Church, even an altar-and-throne Church, is not at all incompatible with great missionary outreach and conversion. Yet it is also true that the part of the Church engaged in that activity is, in fact, quite evangelically oriented. We Americans may be uncomfortable with this realization, but it is true, all the same.