Christ is alive in His Church

  • November 24, 2010
At the recent consistory of cardinals, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to his red-robed brethren about the “logic of the Cross” which should animate their leadership in the Church.

A consistory of cardinals emphasizes the unity of the Church around Peter and the universality of the Church spread throughout the world; it also highlights some truly heroic pastors. Yet, just as weeds grow up amidst the wheat, there is also an off-putting dimension. It prompts some of the princes of the Church to act more like princes than churchmen. It is, for some, a moment of clerical ambition confirmed. The occasion can take on the aspect of being admitted to an elite club rather than undertaking anew the apostolic mission of preaching the Gospel. At its worst, the cardinalatial nomination crowns a career of bureaucratic longevity rather than evangelical service.

It is to be reminded that the Church is divine in her Master and very human in His servants. The logic of the Cross was difficult for the first apostles to hear directly from the Lord Jesus, and it remains a call to purification and conversion for their successors today.

In that context, the appearance of Pope Benedict’s book-length interview, Light of the World, this week was timely.

“The bureaucracy is spent and tired,” Benedict says about the institutions of governance, especially in the older Christian countries. “It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops.”

It is easy enough to point to the managerial bishop or the administrative pastor and lament the lack of fervour for the faith and the absence of evangelical criteria in decision-making. But could not the same be said of any diocesan office in Canada, the staff room of any Catholic school, the executive officers of any Catholic social welfare agency or the bureaucrats that administer the vast panoply of Catholic organizations? Is it not the case that so many regard their position as membership in a club or as an officer of an enterprise, but not primarily as disciples or missionaries? The great sadness of which the Holy Father speaks is that over several generations now so many lay Catholics — “professional Catholics” — are marked by a deep adopted clericalism themselves, comporting themselves as members of a privileged caste.

The challenge of moving from a bureaucratic, managerial Church to an evangelical, missionary one is at the heart of Benedict’s message in Light of the World. The book is in large part a meditation on the Church, both divine and human, and her mission in the world as a witness to Jesus Christ. Benedict’s invitation is to love the Church as she is and to dedicate ourselves to following Christ more closely so that she might be more who she should be.

“Evil, too, will always be part of the mystery of the Church,” the Holy Father says. “And when we see what men, what the clergy have done in the Church, then that is nothing short of proof that (Christ) founded and upholds the Church. If she were dependent upon men, she would long since have perished.”

It’s an old argument, and one likely less persuasive today in a world which delights in the hypocrisy it sees within the Church. Benedict sees all the failings, but with the eyes of faith, and even wonder, he marvels that Christ is still alive in her.

“In the midst of scandals, we have experienced what it means to be very stunned by how wretched the Church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ,” the Holy Father confesses. “That is the one side, which we are forced to experience for our humiliation, for our real humility. The other side is that, in spite of everything, He does not release His grip on the Church. In spite of the weakness of the people in whom He shows Himself, He keeps the Church in His grasp, He raises up saints in her and makes Himself present through them. I believe that these two feelings belong together: the deep shock over the wretchedness, the sinfulness of the Church — and the deep shock over the fact that He doesn’t drop this instrument, but that He works through it; that He never ceases to show Himself through and in the Church.”

Be shocked again by Christ the Lord! That is Benedict’s proposal to a world grown bored with sins that have lost the capacity to shock.

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