As a jaded western consumer, I’ve labored long under the delusion that I’d seen it all when it comes to advertising. Last night proved me wrong.
In the face of budget shortfalls and ever decreasing usage (honestly, when’s the last time you used a stamp?) the Post Office has begun to advertise… wait for it… mail.
And no, I’m not talking about some special service or new product. They’re running ads for the mail itself That’s right, the old model of putting stamped envelops in blue boxes to be delivered by real people in blue suits is threatened. In fact the surreality of the whole experience was so emphasized by the ads ironic conclusion, in which the TV-watcher is directed to go to mail’s web-page to more learn about the benefits of mail.
In all honesty the Post Office advertisements struck me as just a little bit sad. I mean, since when does the mail have to argue for its existence? It just drove home to me how what’s obvious and presumable for one generation is questioned and denied by the next. No one questioned the mail 30 years ago. In its time, no one questioned ships or the medicinal. Back in the day, nobody questioned that we needed scriptoria for the production of books, or that we ought to start fires with rocks, or the fashionability of polyester pants…
Oftentimes I catch myself thinking of the Church like the Post Office is thinking of itself these days – just another service provider that is no longer needed. The Church historically provided a vast number of social services: hospitals, schools, etc. And the Church still does all these things, and it should because they’re all close to the heart of the Church. But I’ve got to remind myself: they might be close to the heart, but they are not the heart itself.
That reminder does a lot to calm me down some days. And, sometimes, it leads me to remember that even if schools and hospitals were taken over just like mail has been, the Church’s essential function and identity would remain the same. And it’s because the Church isn’t a school. It’s the Mystical Body of Christ. It is the place where those called by God break bread together. This is the central activity of the Church, the one that prompts all other activities.
Whether the Church holds society together as it did through much of the Middle Ages or it exists at the margins, it can’t be outdated because God can’t be outdated. Our schools can age and our hospitals be sold. We will still create, still break the bread, still remain ever-new because God is always new, because God is timeless.