The Fundament Al Ca Tegories

The fundamental categories are "totality" and "the Other." The structured totality may also be considered the "inside," whereas the Other would be the "outside." The "outside" is the Other in face-to-face encounter. It is in the acceptance and interplay of "inside" and "outside" that we must live out our Christian mission.

Let me give some examples of this. A local parish would be the "inside," while the surrounding neighborhood would be the "outside." The community of clergy in a diocese would be the "inside," while the diocesan community of Christians would be the "outside." Our traditional, substantialistic definitions of the Church describe it as a "perfect" society. A perfect society is self-sufficient; it has an "inside" but no "outside" to it. In calling the Church a perfect society, we are erroneously anticipating the perfected kingdom of heaven.

The truth is very different. An essential notion in Judaeo-Christian theology is that every totality, every "inside," also has an "outside." Outside the Christian stands the non-Christian. Outside the Church stands the world in which it carries out its mission. And it does not carry out this mission after having attained inner perfection. The very nature of the Church is that it is an "inside" open to the "outside." The Church is a totality (institution) directed towards the Other (through prophecy). This is the basic criterion we must use in evaluating every organism in the Church. If we want to determine whether an ecclesial organism is functioning properly, we must ask ourselves how it is operating with respect to its "outside."

A good bishop, for example, may have real problems. But if he is willing to maintain dialogue with his "outside," he will probably be able to work out a solution that accords with the demands of love. As a historian I would say that most outright breaks between a bishop and his clergy indicate an absence of dialogical openness. If a clerical community or a religious order is not truly open to the world, then any attempts at renewal will end up in self-serving egotism and fail to advance their ecclesial mission. If a parish community of lay people rests content in the shell of its own inner life, without opening up to the larger community around it, then it has lost all sense of the prophetic mission of Christianity. The very word "catholic" is a denial and rejection of all sectarianism. If some parish group concentrates wholly on the "saints" inside its confines, nourishing visions of its own heaven here on earth, then it is lost in hellish egotism.

The "outside," the Other, is of the eschatological essence of the Church. If we feel that we are already in the kingdom of heaven, then there will be no prophetic mission and no Church militant. If the parousia has already arrived for us, then there is no "outside" and no reason for prophecy. In truth, however, we live within ongoing history.The kingdom has begun, but it has not yet reached its consummation. The Church has a critical, liberative mission which is to destroy every self-enclosed totality-thereby opening it up to new possibilities of political, cultural, and religious organization.

The role of the Church is akin to that of Moses when he was confronted with the golden calf. The golden calf was an idol, the totalization of something relative into an Absolute. Like Moses, the Church is obliged to destroy such totalizations, moving mankind on towards the fullness of history. That is why the Church does have a very essential role to play in human history.

The Church benefits the people and entities it criticizes by making them more truly human. It thus gives them more real power by liberating them from their oppressive tendencies. If they use this power to dominate people rather than to serve them, then they commit sin. The Church must come along and criticize them again. We Christians, in a sense, are meant to be the locomotive of history. We are supposed to keep moving it ahead towards its final destination and consummation.

This basic attitude radically alters our human criteria. It is not a matter of first organizing our "inside" community completely and then going to the world "outside." We must be open to the Other outside from the very start. Instead of worrying about my own personal perfection, I must open myself totally and frankly to the Other. Instead of repeatedly examining my conscience in a self-centered way, I must follow Jesus to the cross. As he said: "Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, bu t whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will preserve it" (Mark 8:35).

To truly carry out our mission, we must ask ourselves how we are serving our neighbors. If we worry about this task and let God take care of our own perfection, we shall advance in perfection even though we do not realize it. This is the heart of the "spiritual life," or rather, of the "Christian life," for man is not Spirit; rather, he shares in God's own Spirit. We are anointed by the Spirit to live the Christian life, to give ourselves generously to the Other as Other.

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