It is over forty years now since Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J. published his wonderful treatise on the Church. He considered six models that help us better understand the workings of the Church. His publication Models of the Church (Doubleday, 1974) became an instant bestseller for many reasons. For me, the first reason is the significance and importance of the Second Vatican Council.
From 1963 to 1965 Church leaders discussed the position of the Catholic Church in the modern world. After the beautiful discussions, many theologians began compiling the resolutions into simpler forms for Catholics to comprehend. Cardinal Dulles is among the first group of theologians to capture the proceedings of the Council in simpler forms using his theological expertise. My second reason is that his book appealed to Catholics as well as non-Catholics eager to learn the position of the Church on many topics such as ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, the universality of the Church, etc. Cardinal Dulles used his experience and gave us these models to assist us in our spiritual growth.
The six models of the Church are Church as Institution, Communion, Sacrament, Herald, Servant, and Community of Disciples. Each of these models can only be important when considered in relation to others. For example, the Church as an Institution cannot be on its own when we neglect to consider other models such as service, discipleship, messenger of the gospel, and being a community of disciples. I enjoyed these models when I first read them and even now, I see them as necessary for Church growth in the 21st century.
But let us reflect for a minute! Do you perceive the Church to be a perfect institution without any form of imperfections? Cardinal Dulles did not set out to deal with Church imperfections in his treatise. Our answer can be found in our readings of today. Just like any institution in the world, the Church faces turbulence in many varied ways. Individual persons face greater challenges of managing their lives against the temptations of life to survive in a highly competitive world. Imagine the trials that Job underwent in his life. He lost everything he had, his health failed him and even his friends deserted him because he was in great agony due to the unforeseen circumstances of life.
He remained resolute in his faith and the Lord saved him at the end by restoring all he lost. The Lord spoke to him saying, “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits . . . here shall your proud w a ve s be stilled!” The agonies of Job can be likened to the persecution of the Church in the many centuries of its existence. Yet the Church has come out renewed and refreshed to continue the task of evangelization.
In the gospel Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us cross to the other side.” As they traveled by boat, they met violent squall and waves. The disciples thought that Jesus did not care. They went to the stern of the boat and woke him with challenging words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Of all people, you would not accuse Jesus that he never cared as he simply rebuked the sea “Quiet, Be still!” The confusion of the sea died down.
Today’s readings should encourage us about the renewal that we desire for our Church. Despite the stormy sea threatening the smooth sail of the boat, Jesus remained calm and ordered the sea to be quiet. In my reflection, I have come to realize that we need to listen to Jesus as he calms all our fears and worries about life and the Church. If the apostles had power, they could have used human power to end the stormy waves. They did not and they could not. They returned to Jesus and sought his help and the story changed their lives forever.
Cardinal Dulles did not include renewal as part of his models because he knew that at the center of every model is Jesus. St. Paul the apostle suffered many indignities when he converted to preaching Christ. His story is beautiful to reflect on. He says, “The love of Christ impels us . . . He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” For renewal to come to us, we need to seek Jesus as a community. After the storm comes the calm and the boat will still be sailing. Keep praying!BACK TO LIST