I noticed this petition at morning prayer today and it made me very sad.
Make us eager to work with you in building a better world so that it may listen to your Church and its gospel of peace--Jesus, you feed and heal our souls; come to strengthen us.
It made me sad because I am not sure that the Church’s Gospel is the Gospel of Peace. I think sometimes—and, to be frank, more than sometimes—we talk out of both sides of our mouth. I enjoy working on this blog but I think you can see as clearly as I do that, not the Church, but the Institution of the Church (and they have to be distinguished because on several levels they are different realities) has as its primary agenda, not the Gospel, but its own self-preservation. In fact, I do believe that in the years during and immediately after the Second Vatican Council the Church—and here I mean the whole Church, Institution and popular reality, was enthused by the Gospel. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris gave us a new and energetic vision, a holistic vision, an integrated approach to faith and life-in-this-world. O sure there were voices that decried it, did not understand it, were terrified of it—voices that even saw how it would undo their own positions of power. It totally overturned the cosmology of Alfredo Ottaviani and other traditionalists such as Giuseppe Siri, Marcel Lefebvre, the American Francis McIntyre, and others, but in the papacy of Paul VI they were not able to seize the upper hand and there was a strong hope for a true evangelical renewal of our Catholic Church. There was a period in which the Church—Institution and faithful together—became the cry of peace and the voice of justice. Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, echoed by voices such as Dom Helder Camara and Oscar Romero had not only credibility but a power that led men and women to give their lives—literally—for the Gospel to the poor. With leaders in the Church like Basil Hume and Paul Hallinan, Paulo Arns, Joseph Bernardin, Denis Hurley, the Institutional dimension of the Church had a credibility among those people of good will who were anxious to see the human family brought together in solidarity with one another. I am intrigued to figure out what happened to reverse that dynamic over the last thirty years but it does seem that we have reverted to an emphasis on the Institution rather than the Mission. There are prophetic voices in the Church today but at least in the developed world they seem more on the periphery, without the weight of the Institution behind them. Why didn’t the American bishops pass on papal objections to the Gulf Wars? Why are we not hearing about the plight of our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine and in the Arab World? Where is a Catholic critique of the economic injustices that led to the financial collapse of 2008? Granted there were problems with the Obamacare proposals, especially in regard to the sanctity of life, but where were the hierarchical voices giving leadership for a Catholic approach to universal health care? Where is Church leadership on the moral issues of how we are dealing with the current budget crunch? Maybe the Church has lost its moral credibility due to the clerical sex scandals—or, more likely, to the way the hierarchy has handled the sexual misconduct issues—but the way to rebuild that moral credibility is not to remain silent on controversial issues but to develop a consistent social ethic and not only teach it and preach it, but live it. Maybe the Institution needs to shed some of its own blood and surrender some of its own power and even alienate some of its own supporters, but we need leadership—sound leadership—that can inspire us with the gospel and we are not getting it. Cardinal Burke (seen blog for April 4, 2011) thinks that the reason the Church is bleeding members is “poor” celebrations of the liturgy—by which he means we lack in pomp and circumstance—but His Eminence’s galero is too tight and is choking blood supply to an already enfeebled cerebellum. The reason that we are bleeding members is that the gospel fire is going out in the hearts of those who have been called to lead.