Session 13: The Community of the Church

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

13A

  • What are you looking for in your ideal community?
  • What are your experiences of church and Christian community?
  • If you could design a perfect community centre, what would it have in it and why?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

13B

  • What different Christian churches or denominations have you come across? What are the differences between them? What special gifts or characteristics does each one have?
  • What things do you associate with the Catholic Church in particular?
  • Do you think Christians need a historical, apostolic Church that goes back to Jesus? Or is this less important?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

13C

  • Do you think you can be a Christian without belonging to a church?
  • As well as the bible, where can we look for Christian wisdom and teaching and guidance?
  • How do you think Christians can become more united?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #129 to #144 – the Church [10 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

13A – Why do we need the Church?

At the beginning of human history, God created us to love one another and to share in his own divine love. We were made to live in unity and peace. And even when this unity was shattered by sin, God was determined to put things right. It was an incredible work of restoration, over thousands of years.

He chose the Jewish people to know his love in a special way. He sent them prophets and leaders. He gave them a pattern of worship, a moral code, and a set of sacred scriptures. And in the fullness of time he sent his Son Jesus to be their Saviour. Jesus would gather all people – not just the Jews – into a new community of salvation.

This is the Church. God is fixing human history and putting things right. He is restoring the unity and peace that we lost in the Garden of Eden.

This is not just a random community. They are united by their love for Jesus Christ and their desire to share his love with others. This unity was part of God’s plan for the human race from the very beginning.

Many people today are suspicious of institutions and authority. They see that the Church has made many mistakes. But the Church, even with all its weaknesses, is meant to lead us to Jesus. And it’s equally true that Jesus leads us to his Church. It’s his family, his community. He is like a shepherd gathering his sheep into one flock.

13B – The special place of the Catholic Church

The diversity of Christian life today is amazing. There are literally thousands upon thousands of different denominations and church organisations, with different teachings and traditions, and some of them even with different bibles.

Catholics believe that the Catholic Church has a special place in God’s plan of salvation. The Catholic Church hands on the apostolic faith in its fullness and preserves the unity of the Church through history. It’s not just one denomination among many, it’s the place where you find the reality of the Church in all its fullness.

In the Gospel of St Matthew, Jesus said to St Peter: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). He sent out his apostles to teach and to baptise, and to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19-20). And he wanted this apostolic ministry to be handed on to the next generation of Christian leaders in a process called “apostolic succession”.

Catholics believe that the Catholic bishops today are the successors of the apostles, and that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is the successor of St Peter. The unity of the bishops around the Pope guarantees the unity of the Church.

There is an unbroken continuity through history with the community that Jesus gathered around him two thousand years ago, and with the Jewish People to whom he belonged. There is a continuity of faith, of teaching, of sacramental worship, of love for the bible, of apostolic ministry – passed down from one generation to the next.

Now the Catholic Church is not without its problems, and it does not have a monopoly on Christian faith. There are so many amazing Christian communities. We are united in so many ways, above all through our faith in Jesus Christ and through our common baptism.

But to belong to the Catholic Church gives you the guarantee that you are part of that fullness of faith that Jesus gave to his apostles. Despite all the external changes over the centuries, the fundamentals of Christian life and teaching have remained the same in the Catholic Church.

13C – Being Catholic today

For Catholic Christians especially, having a sense of connection is so important. The Pope, the Bishop of Rome, helps us to connect with Catholic communities throughout the world. If I am united with him, through my local Catholic bishop, then I know that I am united with the whole universal Church.

The teaching of the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, connects us with the teaching of Jesus Christ. We’re not just following our own individual understanding of the bible, or our own personal version of Christianity. We’re not just following our local community or our national church. We’re holding onto the faith that Jesus has entrusted to his universal Church.

The sacraments, especially the Sunday Eucharist, the Mass, help us to connect with Jesus Christ himself. He is present here today, touching our lives through the sacraments, which are visible signs of invisible grace, signs of salvation.

And our devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the saints helps us to connect with heaven itself. We don’t worship them: we honour them and ask for their prayers, and they show us the kindness of praying for us. We are united with the saints and the angels in the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Heaven is very close.

This is what it means, in practice, to be Catholic today: of course it’s to believe in Jesus, and to seek to love God and neighbour. But in a particular way it’s to belong to a Christian community that’s united with its bishop and with the Pope; that’s trying to follow the teaching of the bible and the teaching of the Catholic Church together; that has a profound love for the sacraments, especially for the Mass; and that has a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the saints.

To be Catholic is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Saviour, that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Everything else is a way of us coming closer to him.