The Church’s great treasure hunt

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  • February 27, 2014

In one of my favourite stories, four children travel to a secret country. On their second trip, they discover the ruins of a castle. Together they descend a dark, cold staircase into a vast underground chamber. Shining flashlights all round, they discover it’s filled with gems, jewels and treasures, all covered over with thick layers of dust.

If they hadn’t suspected it to be a treasure chamber, they might never have realized what it was. Once they start holding things up to the light, their splendour shines out and the children’s suspicion is confirmed: they have found again their own ancient castle.

I felt like those children, dusting off rubies and emeralds, while giving a seminar for clergy on ways to assist people suffering from depression and anxiety.

We tend to look to psychiatry and medicine for such assistance, and rightly so, since mind and body are affected. But the more we talked, the clearer it became: the Church’s underground treasure chamber is as rich and splendid as the children’s — and probably as dusty. We’ve been given what the human race needs for healing, and the means to share it.

Why then do we Christians sometimes feel powerless, or even ashamed?

Well, the treasure chamber is indeed dusty and falling apart in plenty of places. Not surprising; after all, it’s made with human foibles and failings. It is, however, the vessel God chose to carry the greatest treasure of all — His love of us. It’s worth tending and mending.

The children in C.S. Lewis’s story take the treasures out of the chamber to help them mend Narnia.

Maybe we could do a little more treasure hunting within our Church. We might discover our storehouse is filled with needed gems.

It’s a discovery with consequences, though. If we have what it takes, shouldn’t we be taking it where it’s needed?

A jewel of the Church is the gift of relationship. It has to be, if we belong to Christ, whose “program” is to bring us into relationship with the living God.

“This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

The Church has been in the relationship business since the day it was born.

We’re in relationship with the world we inhabit in two ways. We’re blessed by abiding in God’s good creation, infused with His Spirit who gives life. Branches and streams, blue sky and yellow pineapple and green dragonfly, the gracious beauty of running dogs and elephants’ tusks and our own bodies, speak God and draw us to God. “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at His command they were created” (Psalm 148:5).

Yet we’re at odds with the world, a place of strife and rupture, corruption and decay, the “old self ”: “Don’t conform to the pattern of this world” (Rom 12:2).

We’re in relationship with human anguish.

We must be, if we’re with Christ — who was surrounded by suffering humanity, became suffering humanity, went into hell with suffering humanity.

Here, at its best, the Church shows up. It remembers that the sufferer is a beloved someone, a child of God, of whom Jesus says not only “I am with that one” but “I am that one” (cf Mt 25:40,45).

If we don’t bring His Word there, but park it in our thoughts and prayers as in a safe-deposit box, how can the Word be fruitful?

If we leave the world and its needs to others, how can it not become secularized? There are many ways to be selfish, and religion can be a good excuse for it.

“In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus assured His disciples at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel (16:33).

But He didn’t say, “so stay away from it and let it suffer on its own.” No, He didn’t!

He said: “Courage! I have overcome the world.” Not by abandoning or fighting it, not by regulating or punishing it... but by giving Himself to it, in compassion.

“The Church’s social teachings are the essence of Christianity,” wrote Russian theologian Paul Evdokimov.

“The seriousness and urgency” of the Church’s social teachings “must be recognized without delay,” wrote Pope Paul VI. He urged laypeople to surge ahead “without waiting passively for directives and precepts from others” (Populorum progressio 3, 81).

Where will the Church’s deepest truths — that God’s own being is a dynamism of love ever-pouring out and in us — that He aches for us (Mt 23:37) and weeps with us (Jn 11:33-35) — that we’re His work of art (Eph 2:10), created for joy (Zeph 3:17), His as well as ours (Mt 18:13) — be known except in people’s lives?

Lent comes this month to help bring us through death to life. It invites us to go deeper inside our hearts, not to become prisoners there, never allowed back into the world, but so we can discover there the world, and meet it anew for its renewal and ours.

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.)

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