The Church needs to take advantage of standing at a new dawn

  • April 16, 2010
The rage that has greeted recent allegations of sex-abuse cover-ups and foot-dragging by the Catholic hierarchy comes, at least in part, from genuine compassion for the victims. This righteous anger, expressed in countless newspaper columns and blogs (Christian and secular) over the last few weeks, is something Catholics at every level of the Church should take seriously. Because it comes from a good place — outrage on behalf of the wounded and defiled — it can be a healing wrath and welcome judgment, summoning all Catholics, not just the clergy and hierarchy, to repentance and spiritual revival.

But another kind of anger, arising from a dark, hate-filled place in modern culture, has been evident as well. It’s not the whole story, but it’s an important aspect of what’s unfolding in the present moment’s sound and fury. I am speaking of the vengeful drive by some commentators to bring down the Catholic Church completely — the visible institution, of course, but also its mission of announcing the Kingdom of God.

This drive occasionally becomes so vulgar and extreme it’s downright crazy. Take, for example, the current scheme of celebrity atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to have Benedict XVI arrested when he visits Britain later this year, then put on trial for crimes against humanity. Such assaults from the dark position are sometimes more nuanced than this, but they are rarely less insidious than the Hitchens-Dawkins plan.

An air of desperation pervades such attacks. Little wonder: the Western secular alternatives to the Kingdom of God, which have flourished in various forms since the 18th century, are looking decidedly threadbare and tottery, if they are still standing at all. The fascist states that hatched out in the 20th century are no more, the social utopias of doctrinaire Marxism have collapsed, except for China — and China can hardly be called Marxist any longer. The capitalist societies lurch from crisis to greed-inspired crisis, with the shameful gap between the richest and poorest continuing to widen. More people in the contemporary world believe in God than believe that humankind is inevitably progressing toward liberation and happiness.

The present hour, in other words, is one of great opportunity for those who believe that the central task of Christianity is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which is forever threatening to erupt in the circumstances of ordinary life with life-giving energy, novelty and intensity.

This possibility is experienced in everyday existence by Christians, the contemporary Catholic philosopher John D. Caputo has written, as “something stirring, something signalling us from afar, something waiting for us to catch up, something inviting, promising, provoking....” But more often than the secular world cares to acknowledge — in the innumerable acts of love, healing and patient sacrifice at the heart of the Church’s life —the Kingdom of God surges forth from potentiality into incandescent reality, disturbing and transfiguring everything with its beauty.

Yet even at such remarkable times, the Kingdom remains “something inviting, promising, provoking” — something demanding a concrete decision. The cries of those whose lives have been blighted by clerical sexual abuse will be in vain unless we hear them and give them justice, repent, make up our minds to resist easy conformity to the world’s pseudo-morality, and determine anew to live our lives as children of the Kingdom.

A new time is dawning for all Catholics, one full of danger for the self-protective, bureaucratic culture of the modern Church, and thus full of hope. It is a time of the Kingdom of God, breaking into history, as it always does, in the voices of the oppressed, the excluded and sick and weak, those crucified by violence, exploitation and lies.

We should pray for the strength and vision to seize this superb opportunity opening before us.

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