Friday, October 7, 2011

Apple and the Church

I was greatly saddened this week, as many people were, by the death of Steve Jobs.  He made possible many of the innovations that we take for granted, even though we didn't know that we needed them (or that they could exist) just a few years ago.

In listening to the news coverage, I was struck by how they kept coming back to the early days of Apple and how it has grown over the years.  The thought occurred to me that this is something (very vaguely) like the Church itself, and its growth through history.

Catholic traditions and practices are often objected to by people claiming that they take their instruction straight from the Bible.  The mantra that I often hear on it is that the early Church didn't meet in lavish buildings, or use incense, or wear special robes or use candles, or whatever.  "These are traditions of men," they call, "and they were denounced by Christ!  The Catholic Church has corrupted traditional worship by adding in all of these things."

The first thing to ask is: How do you know that they didn't use these things?

The second takes us back to Apple.  In the early days of the company, Jobs and his friends worked out of a garage, begged equipment and did whatever else they needed to do in order to get things going.  There was a lot to overcome and certain things, like comfort or new clothes, had to take a backseat for the moment.  No doubt, they would have liked these things at the time, but keeping the dream of Apple alive was more important, and they could get them later when their company was a success.

Apple was a success, and it didn't stay in a garage.  If one had only the original records of the company and a snapshot of what Apple is today, they would likely balk at the improbability of it all.  It moved through its infant stages and now has a complex network of stores and retail alliances, coordinated through the company headquarters.  In addition, they have a large hold on the public attention.  When a new product is released, even those who don't like Apple sit up and take notice.  Like it or hate it, Apple is hard to ignore.

Likewise, the Church began small.  It started in a single room one morning, where a dozen or so people had gathered to pray.  From that humble beginning, the Apostles went forward and proclaimed the good news.  It was uncomfortable, paid nothing and the odds were entirely against their mission succeeding, except for one thing: God was with them.  For nearly three centuries, they and their successors struggled to share their enthusiasm with others, sacrificing everything to ensure their mission would bear fruit.

It did.  The result was that, when the Church could get things like proper vestments, candles and incense, they incorporated them, to worship God how they had always wanted to in the first place, but (often) had to forgo at the time.  It would have been the height of folly to remain confined to the Catecombs.  The Church needed to grow, and it grew.

Today, as with Apple, one would hardly suspect these humble beginnings by looking at the Church now.  There are tens of thousands of parishes that are largely self-sufficient, but are coordinated by their Bishop and of course the Vatican.  When the Pope visits another country, or releases an official statement, people take notice; some to rejoice, others to mock and ridicule.  But they are not able to ignore the Church and her influence on the world.

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