Saturday, August 3, 2013

"The Church is not there for her own sake"

My friend Frank Weathers, who blogs over at Why I Am Catholic, posted something this morning that I found very refreshing. In his post he linked to a quiz published in the New York Times and posted under the heading "How Recent Popes Differ on Key Issues: Choose the pope who said each quote on seven critical issues." Needless to say, I found this very refreshing because, like everyone else, I marvel at the positive attention Pope Francis garners, but I also marvel at the seeming ignorance of most commentators, Catholic and non-Catholic, about the substance of the teaching of his two immediate predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In my view, anything that serves the cause of overcoming what I see as a false dichotomy is most welcome.

One of the things Pope Francis was most lauded for at the very beginning of his pontificate, indeed something he apparently said during the Conclave and has repeated on a number of occasions since, was his rightful insistence that "When the Church becomes closed up on itself it gets sick." According to many reports, including this one that appeared in the U.K.'s Catholic Herald, still-Cardinal Bergoglio told his fellow Cardinals with whom he was gathered in Conclave:
"The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism," he wrote.

"In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter, but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out."

"Put simply, there are two images of the Church: a Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself" by hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith; and "the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself," he said, adding that, "this should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls."

Then-Cardinal Bergoglio told the College of Cardinals that the next Pope "must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from 'the sweet and comforting joy of evangelising'"


While this is certainly true and something important for the Pope to say, it is hardly a novel insight. Of far more importance than persistently diagnosing the problem, is his proposal to overcome these unhealthy tendencies. As I indicated in a post earlier in the week, I believe his proposal to overcome this is taking CELAM's 2007 Aparecida document global in the service of the so-called "New Evangelization," which is nothing other than fulfilling the Great Commission given to the Church by Christ Himself (Matt. 28:16-20). The name that he has given to this program, this impetus, this evangelical thrust, is "missionary discipleship."

In his book Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (right now available through Amazon for Kindle for $1.99), Dr. Ralph Martin cites a lengthy passage from a book of what were then his recent essays, selected by his former students in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday and published as Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, in an essay entitled "On the Ecumenical Situation," by then-Cardinal Ratzinger:
For the Church it is never merely a matter of maintaining her membership or even of increasing or broadening her own membership. The Church is not there for her own sake. She cannot be like an association that in difficult circumstances, is simply trying to keep its head above water. She has a task to perform for the world, for mankind. The only reason she has to survive is because her disappearance would drag humanity into the whirlpool of the eclipse of God and, thus, into the eclipse, indeed the destruction, of all that is human. We are not fighting for our own survival; we know that we have been entrusted with a mission that lays upon us a responsibility for everyone. That is why the Church has to measure herself, be measured by others, by the extent to which the presence of God, the knowledge of him, and the acceptance of his will are alive within her. A Church that was merely an organization pursuing its own ends would be a caricature of a Church. To the extent to which she is revolving around herself and looks only to the aims necessary for maintaining herself, she is rendering herself redundant and is in decline, even if she disposes of considerable means and skillful management. She can live and be fruitful only if the primacy of God is alive within her
In thinking a lot about this matter, perhaps the major source of freshness Pope Francis brings flows from the fact that for years prior to becoming pope he was a residential bishop in a major city. He brings the same kind of energy that Pope St. John Paul II brought when he arrived in Rome from Krakow, an energy that can only come from fully engaged pastoral ministry. While several people whom I have asked about this poo-pooed the thought, I believe the fact that Pope Francis was not ordained a priest until after the conclusion of Vatican II and so has exercised his entire priestly, episcopal, and now papal ministry in the post-conciliar era is highly significant as well.

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