Friday, 30 September 2011

What kind of Church?

I have been looking at the speech His Holiness Pope Benedict gave at the Concert Hall, Freiburg, on Sunday 25th September (on the Vatican website). He was speaking to Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society. He spoke about renewal and change, but the kind of change he focused on could be summarized by the word, rededication. He said;

"In order to accomplish her true task adequately, the Church must constantly renew the effort to detach herself from her tendency towards worldliness and once again to become open towards God. In this she follows the words of Jesus: 'They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world' (John 17:16), and in precisely this way he gives himself to the world. One could almost say that history comes to the aid of the Church here through the various periods of secularization, which have contributed significantly to her purification and inner reform."

I was recently praying at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. It seems to me that we cannot encounter "Il poverello" or, indeed, St. Pio and others, without asking personal questions about our lifestyles and the problems of the Church. In my church we have a copy of the St. Damiano cross from which Francis heard the voice of God - it is the cross of renewal, even of reformation (understood as true spiritual reformation). How should we apply this challenge today? It has many applications. I am reading a new book about Blessed John Paul 11 and was struck the other day to read that he had no liking for his papal attire and would have preferred to wear only the white cassock. At the end of his life he got his way and would not use any other item from the papal wardrobe. He also did not like new shoes. I remember the story of Pope Pius XII who would not wear new underwear at the worst point in the war or use coal in the Vatican apartments because the people of Rome did not have such things. In the not too distant past we heard of "solidarity with the poor" and some members of the hierarchy were criticised for not publicly espousing this, yet, some of them did although without any kind of fanfare.

As we look at the serious financial problems in Europe and the U.S. we surely need to consider how the sick and the elderly and infirm will fare. The Church certainly needs to be on their side (although without becoming politicised in the wrong way). In the context of the Pope's speech, we also need to be even firmer in our rejection of those disastrous compromises with the "wisdom" of the world (as Christ spoke of it) - abortion, euthanasia, embryo experimentation etc, etc. This is not the time to succumb beneath the dreadful attacks of the evil one or to be seen cringing with false humility because of our recent mistakes and scandals. Neither should we indulge in some kind of triumphalism or be too taken up with trying to recreate an idealised pre-20th century Church (which in reality never existed). The heart of our renewal and the real focus of the change we need must be spiritual. Holiness is from the "heart" outwards. It is as simple as that.

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