There are so many strands of life within the church.  These are not always visible to the casual observer who might find a single thread and imagine that completes the portrait.  But the church is a multi-dimensional reality,  something that takes root in hearts and lives and is manifest in daily experience.

This does not deny  the reality of a male dominated institutional hierarchy.  But it is an acknowledgment  of those many facets that actually animate the rest of the structure.  There are layers of  cultures and subcultures within the whole.  These are rich and multi-faceted and represent essential facets of that Catholic identity. ,

For example,  a Franciscan priest and a cloistered Poor Clare nun were videoed at a conference.  He represented the First Order, the ordained.  She represented the Second, the vowed monastic.  They both represented a distinct tradition within the church based on the life of Francis.  Their topic was prayer.  She gently pointed out that prayer was not to be confined to the Second Order and, in fact, the Second Order was getting pretty tired of carrying the First Order in that area.   Their exchange won laughter from a receptive audience, but it evidenced the reality of various cultures within the whole.

Those traditions may be tied to Benedictine or Augustianian roots; there might be an apostolic focus, a specific mission, even a distinguishing devotion.   There are symbols and dress, a variety of norms that accompany all those religious groups.  A parish may be named for a particular Saint, house an ethnic group, and the flavor of all that comes alive in the uniqueness of that group.  There are the countless and far less visible faithful Catholics who finger rosaries or retreat to Mass with fidelity.  Each of these are merely examples of pieces of the whole, separate strands.  Together, each one is part of the greater whole, and prayer in all its multiple forms, is the most common denominator.

So while there are churches and services and rituals, cardinals and pectoral crosses, the life of the church resides in those other layers and strands.  There are the hearts that find and create a home, the lives that explore and investigate the sublime mysteries, that are invested in relationships through the reality of prayer.  And the broader institution merely houses the wonders discovered in each of those lives.






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