Friday, November 22, 2013

Unashamed Idealism

As the days grow shorter and the night draws in, as the cold grabs you from the moment you set one toe out of bed or the damp inveigles its way underneath every layer of clothing, it's very easy for the spirits to sink and become lethargic. Such are the seasons of the year and we should be prepared for such a downturn after the joys of spring and the lazy days of summer.

Life itself has these seasons too. Ecclesiastes iii promises seasons in life in which things have a wonderful aspect and others in which the spirit is suppressed.

Lately, as I look round at people in the street, I see very little of the joy of life. Some of my friends and colleagues are suffering so much. Their lives have taken a rougher pace and a more dismal hue. I am losing one friend to cancer, another friend has had a heart attack (and is still with us, thank God) another has been unwell for some time and seems to be having everything he stands for attacked by legal issues while he battles with his health. Other friends have suffered so much due to flooding, typhoons, wars and skirmishes and the like and are crying out for aid. Sometimes it's hard to be even remotely cheerful. Can one even dare to be cheerful in the midst of so much suffering?

St Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say , Rejoice!" Easier said than done?

Well, it has been said that one of my main faults is that I am far too idealistic, but then I've found that idealism at least opens me up to the possibilities of the future and gives me something to work towards. What follows is my vision for the future of the Church in the hope that such idealism might raise the spirits of my readers. It is my vision and no-one else's, and certainly not necessarily representative of the views of any institution to which I happen to belong. Nonetheless, this is what I want to see in the future and, if I am allowed, this is what I want to work for.

The Church is the custodian of Good News. Too often the Church misses this and adds sometimes very significantly to the suffering of others by legalism and judgmentalism. Sometimes the Church uses the Good News to make "good" people ever so good and "bad" people practically irredeemable. I have seen this so much in the past online and in many a pulpit, and probably I have done the same thing myself. Well, it's got to stop. People are people and creatures of God with the potential for being children of God regardless of who they are.

My vision of a Church is that hospital for sinners that seeks only to meet the sinner where they are and lift them out of their pain and misery, bind their wounds and help them find health again. It is a Church that puts the little human being on the path to sainthood while yet living in imperfection.The parable of the Good Samaritan is the perfect model for the Church from the words of Christ Himself. If we use the 10 Commandments, or indeed any Biblical verse, to make someone appear to be irredeemable, then we have lost the Good News completely, and we pass on by the sick soul lying bleeding on the ground. The fact of the matter is that Christ came into the world to die for sinners, to save the world from death caused by the infection of sin and evil, from the rapidly growing nothingness eating away at God's Creation and destroying the perception of any worth that every single human being possesses. The Good News is that God does not want to lose anyone, at all. So why then do parts of the Church demonise sinners? Why are here all these shrill insistent voices that make some sins worse than irredeemable?

If someone uses God's law to punish sinners, then necessarily that someone must be God, for only He can wield the law with any true justice. Look how homosexuals have been demonised after being labelled as homosexuals. Sometimes people label themselves as homosexuals despite homosexuality being just one aspect of their being, an aspect which is subject to man's fallenness but also God's goodness. Labels can only ever stand for the part and never for the whole and yet that false induction is just what Humanity does. My vision is of a Church that assumes only the best in a person by seeing God in that person: it is also a Church that recognises its own frailties in the sins of others. It is a Church that helps people work out their own salvation in fear and trembling before the Divine Judge.

There are those judgements in cases where things are so complicated that only the eyes of God can see the truth. What about the woman who has had an abortion after finding out that her baby is so severely disabled that it could not possibly live after being born? Is she to be demonised for this? Or is she to be seen just as much as the victim of circumstances and loved and cherished and helped to rebuild her life by an institution that cares that she's hurting? Yes, abortion is something that should be stopped utterly, but campaigning outside abortion clinics with shrill voices of hate and judgement, with vile pictures, banners and slogans will destroy lives just as effectively. My vision is of a Church that will seek to eradicate abortion by stopping the need for it and allowing God to be the judge in the occasions when this miserable act occurs. It is a Church that sees and embraces all true victims without hesitation. It is a Church that remembers that it possesses only the Keys to Heaven and has no ability of itself to pass judgement on God's behalf until it has been perfected by God and with God and in God.

So my vision of a Church is one that eschews a legalistic approach to sin, but rather renders unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (letting the Civil Law deal with Civil things) and unto God what is God's. Ultimately, only God's law will remain and the Civil Law will vanish away when we see Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father coming in Glory to judge the quick and the dead. Until then we have imperfect human law with all its travesties and technicalities and loopholes and complexities, but also bringing order and no little justice to our lives. Where it fails, then must the lawmakers revise it and perhaps the Church will be allowed to be part of the process. If not, then it must live out its faith in a strange land where perhaps its song is curtailed, but whose visible presence gives hope for those who seek to make the Law better. The Church is in the world, not of it.

My vision is of a Church that lives out the Grace it possesses in the Sacraments that it is called to distribute. It is a Church that fully believes what she preaches and is unapologetic for believing in things that the World cannot understand or wants to be blind to or even finds scandalous. My vision is of a Church that realises that she possesses a Tradition which connects her to Christ more surely than any private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures which God has inspired and that she is bound to be faithful to that Tradition to bring the true Faith, the true Hope, the true Good News and the true Love to all mankind. It is a Church that studies both God and Humanity carefully and is not afraid of criticism. It is a Church that will defend God, as far as its feeble humanity allows but not force Him on people who choose not to believe in Him.
This, then, is a start and perhaps reveals more the state of my conscience than anything else. I love God and I love the Church, but the latter is not yet perfected and it is the duty of every Christian to help it work towards that perfection in God and in the Love of Christ Jesus who offered Himself for all Mankind and has taken the first step in offering us Salvation.

That's just the Church. I must make it clear that my vision of the future also very much includes my lovely wife-to-be and the possibilities of a long and very happy family life: thinking about that gives me great joy, but that's just for me and her and no other eyes.

What's your vision of the future? Dare you be positive?


Fr Anthony said...

This might be relevant to your reflections -

ed pacht said...

hear, hear, Fr. Jonathan! Well said and necessary11