An Inclusive Church Needs Brotherly Exclusivity

Our challenge is to submit to Christ, who submits to the Father, and to do that together.

Rembrandt, “The Supper at Emmaus”, 1648
Rembrandt, “The Supper at Emmaus”, 1648 (photo: Public Domain)

If you want an inclusive Church you might need stricter exclusivity. At least that’s the thesis of Joseph Ratzinger’s book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood (I’m quoting from the Ignatius Press edition, 1993). In it he makes the point that the identifying character of Christianity community is not “disciples” or “believers” or “friends” but brothers, and as the brotherhood of believers is felt and lived internally, it naturally and almost uncontrollably becomes evangelistic., bringing people in. That is, if it is what it is. It means, though, that to “bring people in” there has to be an “in”.

Ratzinger fans have probably already guessed it: the brotherly focus is Christocentric – centered on the person and reality of Jesus Christ, Son of God. If Jesus is God’s Son, and we are saved through adoption – by union with Christ, becoming “sons in the Son” – then we as Christians share a brotherhood with Christ and with each other because we share a common Father.

You cannot join nothingness, and when you join Christianity you join a familial fellowship with Christ and all of those that do what He does: the will of the Father. “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50, Douay). If you’re not into that, you’re not in. But, this should help us see clearer that if we do not have a familial fellowship, then it becomes more difficult to invite people into faith – what do we invite them into?

“Christianity does not mean the removal of all barriers,” Ratzinger claims, “but itself creates a new barrier, that between Christians and non-Christians” (pg. 65, emphasis added). The barrier, however, is not exclusive for exclusivity’s sake, like a proud country club, but the barrier acts as a threshold to cross over. Like a veil it invites one into the mystery.

To be a Christian you must be separated from the world and be separated for the world. To forget the latter, though, is precisely how Christians become hardened and proud, which can lead them to forget to love the world they leave behind, lording their faith over unbelievers instead of loving them. The Church’s “mission is not to condemn the wayward brother, but to save him” (pg. 80). But, will we realize our exclusivity so that we can realize our call to the lost brother?

This, I think, is one of our least discussed problems when it comes to evangelization. In the battles for devotions, liturgies, and catechesis, we have failed to see how drastically the breakdown of those things has broken down our sense of the Body of Christ. We are the people, after all, that count it a mortal sin to miss just one Mass, to be away from the body for just one Sunday! Bits and pieces are all important, but one of the most important things they do is unite us in a common way of life, in the sense of being a part of a body. Traditional societies eschewed individuality for the sake of corporality, but the modern spirit does the opposite, breaking down institutions and bodies for the sake of the individual. In the Body of Christ, this is not an option.

The entire world is longing for the unity found in Christ, in Him alone are all things reconciled. I’m sure the local Protestant “church plant” in your area is called “[Something] Community Church”. The people getting the most play in the news these days are not just co-victims but the “[Something] Community”. When your kid drifts from the Faith and family, he doesn’t drift into nothingness but likely joins some sort of recognizable way of life, some subculture that is really a cry for community and belonging. We keep labeling things “communities”, hoping it will stick, because we don’t have real ones; ones born from mutual need and love.

This is the evangelistic challenge of corporality, of being who we are as a body. This past Easter I stood there as a sponsor with a new Catholic getting confirmed, and right there in the rite was our exclusivity and belonging, when the priest said during the “Reception of a Baptized Christian into the Church”, one of the rites of RCIA:

I now invite you to come forward with your sponsor and in the presence of this community to profess the Catholic faith. In this faith you will be one of us for the first time at the Eucharistic table of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sign of the Church’s unity.

“’[You] will be one of us…” I winced, knowing the stories of other new Catholics that find there way into the true Church that stretched the globe, but unable to find a friend stretching forth a hand in simple brotherhood. I prayed he would find a brotherly Church.

We discovered this early in Fraternus, which was founded stop the steady flow of young men out of the Church. We first focused on doctrine and catechesis, presenting it in ways that respected the masculinity of boys, and peppered the whole thing with a sense of daring and adventure. But we discovered that the greatest problem was not in experience or catechesis, but in the fact that there was no brotherhood of men at the average parish – boys weren’t becoming men because there were no men to become. There was nothing in which to initiate the boys. Our mission was “to mentor boys into virtuous Catholic men,” but if we can’t point to men (in the plural), can we really expect them to become men? How? What way of life do they enter?

For Fraternus to work we had to stop trying to reach boys and focus almost exclusively on joining men together in faithful brotherhood. Then we could equip the men to say, “Come join us as men,” instead of, “Go, be a man.” And you know what? The men were dying for it. The biggest impact of Fraternus is not the mentoring for boys, as good and important as that is, but in the uniting of men for a common mission, which results in a common brotherhood. Men unite better in brotherhood through a meaningful mission than they do with small group facilitators holding study guides. Genuinely loving brotherhoods increase the faith of men tremendously, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Our challenge is to submit to Christ, who submits to the Father, and to do that together. “The aim of making the parish community a true brotherhood ought to be taken very seriously,” Ratzinger said, for good reason: “We can… be certain that the Church will gain in missionary power as she begins to make her own internal brotherliness more vital” (pg. 81).