Friday, November 16, 2012

Hope for the Church — Thirty-Second Week of “Ordinary Time,” November 11-17, 2012

Scholars ask whether the “rock” of Peter on which the Church was founded was Peter’s person or his faith. I think it was his human weakness supported by divine grace.

Peter was not educated. He may not have been very bright. He has more recorded sins and errors in the Gospels than any other individual mentioned. He was wrong every time he opened his mouth except twice. He was a coward before and after the Resurrection (Matthew 26:34; Galatians 2:11-14). When he denied Jesus he cursed and swore. In short, he was not an all-around model of human virtue. And this is the man Jesus chose to be the first pope. 

How explain that, unless Jesus wanted to make clear that the Church is not founded on human brains or virtue, or any other quality of any created being? When we call the pope “Your Holiness,” that is based on hope, not on history. So the Church is on just as solid a foundation when we have a stupid pope as she is when we have a wise one. If the pope is the worst sinner in the world, the Church is still on the most solid foundation that exists. She is founded on human weakness supported by divine grace. 

Peter’s first act after being named pope was to reject Christ’s teaching and try to lead the Church astray (Matthew 16:22). Then he publicly denied the faith under oath (Matthew 26:72). But God was still able to hold the early Church together through him. Jesus never promised that the popes would not lead the Church in false directions, teach error in their “ordinary magisterium,” or be shocking examples of corrupt Christian living. He just promised that, in spite of their sins and errors and weaknesses, the gates of Hell will never prevail against his Church. She is founded on rock, and in Peter we see the kind of rock that is. 

St. John Chrysostom is supposed to have said, “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” In previous centuries nobles bought promotion to bishop for their sons. It was commonplace for bishops to lead armies into war, live opulent, debauched lives, and gobble up church revenues. They did great damage to the Church; they may have helped bring on the French Revolution and the Protestant Reformation. When Napoleon boasted to the Archbishop of Paris that he would destroy the Catholic Church, the bishop replied, “Priests and bishops have been trying to do that for 1800 years and have failed. What makes you think you’ll succeed?” The Catholic apologist Frank Sheed wrote: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point.,,, Even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church, although I might well wish that they would leave.”  

Our faith is not in the priests, bishops or pope, but in the promise of Jesus Christ that his Church will survive, regardless of whether his ministers are good or bad, fervent or pharisaical, holy or hellbound. Its foundation is human weakness supported by grace. 
The Church can decline. Her members can defect. We need to work against this. But the remedy is not in the hierarchy; it is in each individual Catholic’s response to grace. You are the hope of the Church. 

Any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Image, Prestige, Power and Pride — Thirty-First Week of “Ordinary Time,” November 4-10, 2012

Let’s face it: I would like to be a guru. That means to be recognized as a guru. I want the image. Why? Because the image gives prestige, and prestige gives power. 

Power to do good, of course. Of course. I want to be a best-selling author: not for money; for something worse than that. If I were a recognized guru, my name (my prestige) would sell my books. That would give me power. Power for good, of course.

I am convinced my books have great power to do good for the Church and for the world. If I could only acquire the image of a modern-day guru, I would have the prestige that would sell them, and I would have power to do great good.

One accepts “absolute” power when one uses it autonomously, without consultation, correction or modification from others. To do this makes power identical with pride, which is properly defined, not as thinking one is better than one is (that is just vanity), but as seeing oneself as the criterion. It is pride when you believe that whatever you think must be true, and whatever you will or command must be good. The power you get from prestige based on the image you project (true or false) sets you up for pride.

Saint Ignatius teaches that the strategy of the devil is to tempt people to riches, because wealth brings prestige and prestige leads to pride.

Spiritual gifts are authentic riches. But to display them in a way that creates an “image” of holiness (even if it is real) is to fall into the first trap of seeking riches for the sake of prestige.

Spiritual prestige gives power in the Church. If one’s image also happens to conform to the current policies of the Vatican, “politically correct” spiritual prestige gives political power in the Church. We saw this in Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was an obvious saint. But she would have had no influence in Rome, and the Pope would not have set aside the rules to get her canonized in record time if she had not been in a habit. Or if she had challenged Church policies in any way.

Mother Teresa was a saint. Intentionally or not, she did project the image. And it gave her exceptional prestige that gave her exceptional power in Rome, which she made use of. She also lived in the “dark night of the soul,” which may have been what saved her from pride.

I am not Mother Teresa. I am not a saint. And I would not welcome the “dark night of the soul.” Maybe I don’t want to be a guru after all.

I can hear you saying, “Not to worry, David. You’re not even in the ball park!”

Aside from the obvious, like that last remark, any comments? Share them with us through the COMMENTS link.