Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Self-Critical Church

I apologize for the long silence: I've been trying to (1) be prayerful in the days leading up to Holy Week and (2) work on a number of projects that are all "nearly completed" and in need of some final touch-ups.

In the 1970's, Karl Rahner observed of the Church that it, like any institution, faced many dangers: a failure to adapt itself swiftly enough to the changes in the historical situation, that it become an end in itself, that it become a merely conservative force which loses living contact with other social realities.

In short, if the Church wants to speak to contemporary culture it must first have a self-critical awareness, one able to jostle it from any laziness or indolence and prod it to keep moving along the pilgrim's path.

Although there has been much hand-wringing among some sectors of the Catholic Church, not least among various Jesuit brethren, who worry that Pope Francis is acting in a manner unbecoming of the papacy, I believe the Holy Father's actions model precisely the sort of self-criticism that challenges all of us as we live our discipleship.

Consider these words from the late Cardinal Martini:
The church is tired, in the Europe of well-being and in America. Our culture has become old, our churches and our religious houses are big and empty, the bureaucratic apparatus of the church grows, our rites and our dress are pompous. Do these things, however, express what we are today? ... Well-being weighs on us. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to be his disciple. I know that we can't let everything go easily. At least, however, we can seek people who are free and closest to their neighbor, like Archbishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Where are the heroes among us who can inspire us? By no means do we have to limit them by the boundaries of the institution.
If I have felt a great stir of hope, it has come with Pope Francis's willingness to take seriously what seemed to be then, and remain still, Martini's prophetic cry. In eschewing the trappings of a long-lost baroque church, Pope Francis's actions call us to be mindful of those with whom Jesus walked and ministered: the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the forgotten.

For too long we in the West have been accustomed to a lax, ready-made Catholicism. The challenges posed by the rise of the "new atheism" and secularism are to be welcomed: rather that kvetching about people's loss of faith, we should relish the opportunity to reconsider what we believe, why we believe it, and how we might share it with others.

The Gospel has never been shared through argument alone. More than good arguments do we need good models, good witnesses, who through the stories of their lives give a sense of credibility to the Good News of Jesus Christ....who, in word and deed, become living Gospels.

The sins of our Church, of ourselves, are many and they are known to all. Rather that throw a pity-party, may this Holy Week be a time for us to take responsibility for the ways we've failed to live up to our baptismal promises and to look forward to ways we might recommit ourselves to our discipleship. If the Church is to be self-critical, if it is to look outside of its own enclave, it will do so only to the extent that we as a community of believers can look honestly at ourselves, accept where we've failed, and pray together for the strength to continue on in our mission to share the Gospel through our words and our deeds. 


naturgesetz said...

I like the medieval and baroque "trappings," but I think you and Pope Francis are right that the Church must not remain focused on itself. We have to go out to all the world and tell the good news.

Barbara said...

I see in the new Pope a man with an intense Gospel-based freedom. He makes real what Paul spoke of in his epistles about the freedom of the children of God.