OK, so the title asks two focal questions plainly enough. Let’s begin with the first, “Is the Church a clubhouse or a lighthouse?”
Many, it would seem, want the Church just to be a friendly place where people can gather. Many of these same people get angry when the Church shines the light of truth on something. They declare that the Church should just be open and inviting. They object when She is challenging and points to the demands of the Gospel.
But the Church has to be more than a clubhouse otherwise She is no different from a bowling league or the Moose Lodge. She is most certainly meant to be a lighthouse, a warning of danger giving light to those in darkness. But in doing so, She is also risking that some who are accustomed to the darkness will complain of the Light of Christ She reflects.
Here then is a focal question: clubhouse or lighthouse? Of course there does not need to be a radical dichotomy here. There are surely social aspects of the Church wherein She builds community. But mission needs to be first and it is our mission to be light that actually builds community since we are focused on one goal, not merely individual interests.
Another and even more provocative image is in the video from Ignitermedia.com, which asks if the Church is a cruise ship or a battleship.
Many, it would seem, surely think of the Church as more of a cruise ship: one that exists for my pleasure and entertainment. “Peel me a grape!” seems to be the attitude that some bring to Church. The video does a good job of pointing out how many think of the Church as a cruise ship by listing the questions many ask of a luxury cruise liner.
- Do I like the music they play in the ballroom?
- Do I like the captain and his crew?
- Is the service good?
- Am I well fed?
- Are my needs met promptly?
- Is the cruise pleasant?
- Am I comfortable?
- Will I cruise with them again?
It is true that our parishes ought to work very hard to make sure the faithful are effectively served and helped to find God. Good sermons, excellent and obedient liturgy (including good music), a beautiful Church, and dedicated clergy and lay staff are all important. God deserves the very best and so do His people.
However, it also follows that the world does not exist merely to please me. No parish we attend will ever be exactly the way we want it. No priest preaches perfectly every Sunday. The choir does not always sing my favorites.
Some people stay away from Mass calling it “boring,” or saying they aren’t being fed. But in the end, it’s not about you! We go to Mass to worship God because God is worthy, because God deserves our praise, and because He has commanded us to be there. God has something important to say to us whether we want to hear it or not. He directs us to eat his flesh and drink his blood whether we like it or not. We must eat or we will die. Holy Mass is about God and what He is saying and doing.
The video goes on to suggest a better image for the Church—a battleship. I was less impressed with the questions given in the video comparing the Church and a battleship, so I’ve added my some of my own as well.
- Is the ship on a clear and noble mission?
- Is the ship able to endure storms at sea?
- Does the captain submit to a higher authority?
- Are the tactics and moves of the enemy well understood by bridge crew?
- Does the bridge crew have proper training and experience?
- Are the general crew members equipped to succeed?
- Is the general crew well trained in the available weaponry?
- Does the general crew cooperate with the captain?
- Are they taught to be disciplined and vigilant?
- Are they rooted in (naval) tradition yet well aware of current circumstances?
- Are they at their posts?
- Do they take the battle seriously?
- Does the ship have adequate first aid and medical help?
- Is the crew properly fed?
Some dislike any military imagery in reference to the faith. But pugna spiritalis (spiritual battle) is a simple fact. We are besieged by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are called to engage in the battle and, by God’s grace, to persevere through to victory. Our weapons are the Word of God, the Teachings of the Church, the Sacraments, and prayer. We cannot win on our own; we must work together under the authority of the Church, which is Herself under God’s care and authority. We are rooted in the wisdom of tradition and, guided by the Pope and Bishops, we are to apply that wisdom and our training to these current times. Peter’s Barque has endured many storms yet has never sunk. She is a sure, steady ship on a clear and noble mission.