At Home with the Lord
“Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is: and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them. Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.” Introduction to Christianity, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Ignatius Press, 2004, pp. 343-4.
My most recent “travel book” for airplanes and waiting rooms was first published in 1968 and seems as fresh as ever today 42 years later. I’m going to go back to it again and again just because of the clarity of expression. I hope to return soon for a closer look at an opening image our present Holy Father has analyzed there taken from a work by Paul Claudel, the image of a shipwrecked Jesuit tied to the mast and adrift on the sea. Then Father Ratzinger’s analysis: “Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss. The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described.” Idem. P.44. These words seem almost at odds with the longer quote I’ve placed here just above it from near the end of the same book. I guess you will have to give me more time to struggle with the notion of drifting over the abyss, for now I would more gladly deal with the other image: “…the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.”
Who are those who really believe and how do we get to be there with them? Who is the salt of the earth Catholic today? All is grace, all is gift, yes, most certainly that goes without saying. But I (this being Mom or Dad speaking), I have a role to play in the gracing and gifting which goes beyond bringing that child to the font of baptism and thereby to new life in Christ. In a real sense, parents’ work of sharing the faith, of witnessing to the faith, only begins with baptism. I (as anybody else in the parish or in the world of a child) must be an instrument (through good example, insight and teaching) of our Loving God’s grace and will to save that child as he or she is growing up. I (as priest or bishop) contribute in a unique way through preaching and the celebration of the sacraments toward making that child’s home and hope in the Church on the way to everlasting life. I think that 42 years ago and yet today our Pope would say that “those who really believe” are to be found and must be found in every walk of life, in every vocation within the Church, married, single, consecrated, ordained.
I keep asking myself over and over: How did Sigrid Undset’s Catherine of Siena grow up so beautiful, unspoiled by the world and mighty in faith and courage, thus being herself for so many in her tragic times “home and hope in the Church on the way to everlasting life”? Was she really such an anomaly? I don’t think it is either a matter of determining whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times by comparison with Catherine’s day, whereby we might claim that, despite Avignon and the Great Western Schism, she really didn’t have it as bad as we do in the Church today. Nor is it as simple as questioning the whereabouts of today’s Catherines and Francises of Assisi. Striving for heroic virtue is indeed something for us all and certainly genuine sanctity in whichever person of whatever walk in life is an inspiration and a challenge to all whose lives they touch. For me the more pertinent question would be “what is the point of the statement?”
“For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.”
Maybe that is what dates the book, maybe 42 years ago it was easy to find people “who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them.” Time has passed; catechesis has been less successful over these last couple generations; the Liturgy of 1968 was in continuity with the past and ours today, in many parishes, excuse my bluntness, probably isn’t. Maybe for lack of believers, good Catholics in all walks of life, “who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them”, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the true Christian today finds himself or herself “Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss.” I don’t know.
What I do know, however, is that to the extent of our awareness, we owe to those who are seeking and most especially to youth that witness, which then Joseph Ratzinger and now Benedict XVI identified as home and hope.
I don’t think that it is an extremist position to hold that, among other things and most notably together with pressing for a reordering of catechetics, we urgently need to try and mend or heal the “liturgical rupture”. Sacred space and worship is also ambience and a context for encountering real believers. Improvisation is not to my way of thinking a characteristic of belief. Being a proponent of the reform of the liturgical reform may not be a sufficient witness to lead others to everlasting life, but I think it points more surely to that which is of God and thereby can be said to be the keystone to any attempt to offer those afloat a needed port in the storm. Many of my priest and bishop contemporaries would chide me for overdramatizing the situation; they close an eye to some forms of liturgical improvisation and most popular “church” music, which draws its inspiration from anywhere but the wealth of the tradition. Creativity may be of the higher spheres, but demiurges and muses are no substitute for the living God and the Church which He founded on the Rock who is Peter. Sacred and profane can be distinguished from one another and the profane has no place in the House of the Lord.
The object of my intent is to let Church be what it should be for the sake of the salvation of the world.
“…the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope – the path to eternal life – only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.”