Because the Church is not as our dreams picture her to be, a desperate attempt is undertaken to bring her into conformity with our wishes: to make her a place for every freedom, a space where we can move freed of our limits, an experiment in utopia, which, after all, must exist somewhere.
Called to Communion, 136
Reflection – There is a certain species of anger against the Church, a certain type of bitterness and resentment of the Church, that is really a subtle sort of compliment to Her. I don’t get angry at, say, the Rotary Club for failing to usher in the peaceable kingdom on earth. I don’t harbor a bitter resentment towards the Chamber of Commerce for falling short of the beatitudes and the great commandment of love. I don’t fume and fret because the PTA or the Bowling League have left mankind chained in bonds of ignorance and sin yet.
Human organizations—human expectations! I might be upset if the Chamber of Commerce proved to be a den of thieves and extortionists or the PTA a conspiracy to corrupt our children or the Bowling League a front for a organized crime. But we would never expect such groups to be anything but what they are: a bunch of ordinary people pursuing some mostly harmless or even mildly beneficial end in the normal human muddled up way.
But the Church… that’s another story. It should be better than it is… and so we get angry. It should be a place of love and mercy… and when it is not, we rage. It should be a place of true and genuine freedom… and when it constricts, we rebel.
Now, I’m not talking about the anger that comes against the Church because of clerical sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups. That is a just anger against an intolerable injustice, one which I believe the Church has in recent years taken strong action to address and overcome.
I am talking about the anger, far more common, which comes at the revelation that the Church is, in fact, made up of a bunch of human beings who have the normal human flaws and blindnesses, follies and miseries that all humanity is subject to. When Fr. X is a flake and Fr. Y is a tyrant, and Fr. Z is a drunk and Fr. W doesn’t know how to talk to people… we get mad. When Bishop A is a poor administrator and Bishop B lacks personal warmth, Bishop C is living too lavishly and Bishop D is just a big mean bully… we get mad.
The Church is all human beings living human lives and subject to all the failures and falls that go with it (and, of course, somehow we take for granted and hardly notice Frs. A-V and Bishops E-Z who are fundamentally kind, generous men showing up and doing the best they can each day). Why get mad?
Because somehow we know that the Church is not supposed to be just one more human organization. We know, on some level, that the Church is not just human, but divine, and that the divine charity, the divine goodness, and the divine liberty is meant to flow and shine through all of Her members.
Ratzinger spotlights in this passage, however, the mistaken response many have today to their disappointment in the Church and its very real failures. Namely, to fix the Church by changing it to suit us. The Church has bruised me with its harshness—let me cover every ‘hard teaching’ with soft padding so it cannot reach me anymore. The Church has bound me and restricted me, suffocated my freedom with its overbearing ways—toss out all the rules and let me do what I please!
And when the Church says, as it so often has had to say in recent decades, ‘no, we really cannot teach other than what we teach, as we hold these teachings to be from God and not from man,’… well, that has increased the anger and rage, the contempt and hatred of many.
Meanwhile, the very faults and frailties of the Church’s ministers, the constant falling short of all of us to live the Gospel in fullness and proclaim it in all its perfect beauty and goodness actually calls us into a deeper freedom and deeper goodness and charity. Namely, to know that the Church is the instrument of salvation, but not the Savior. The Church is the sign of salvation, but not Salvation Itself. The Church is the seed of the kingdom, but the kingdom is coming, not here, growing, not yet mature.