Friday, December 06, 2013

The Sorrowful Mysteries and the Sorrowful Church

“We are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.”

This is the belief of the Church, that we are indeed the Body of Christ. For many members of the Church, this present time is a season of hardship and difficulty as we strive to live out our Faith in a world that prevents us from doing so. The world does not understand us because it does not understand our Master and Head of the Body. As His precious body suffers, so must the Church suffer with Him. The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary do help us to focus on what the Church must face and bear as it seeks to follow Christ.

The Agony in the Garden

Our Lord wrestles with temptation. As He faces the truth of His crucifixion, He also finds that there is an opportunity to escape it, to take the easier path and to minimise His pain and suffering. He is utterly free to take this path like each one of us. However, He is faithful to His Father and seeks to do His will knowing the pain of what will follow. Yet the temptation is there and it is the most basic temptation – that of self-preservation. It causes this internal wrangling within Our Lord, an internal strife and suffering which cannot abate until all is fulfilled.

The Church herself suffers from this same temptation. It can either remain faithful to God, and thus find discomfort resulting from the hostility of the world, or it can seek to make life easy by becoming a socially acceptable establishment but losing its identity as the Body of Christ in the process. The internal wranglings of the Church make headlines these days, yet some parts of the Church have been able to commit themselves to the path ahead, stick to Godly principles and move on through Gethsemane. With Our Lord’s pattern, the Church must look ahead and see the pains and sorrows that it will face for its fidelity. In doing so, it will find its own agony but will share it with Our Lord.

The Scourging at the Pillar

Our Lord is beaten for His “blasphemy” just to appease the Jewish authorities despite the fact that the Civil Authority knows that He has done nothing wrong. He is not punished for any civil scandal, but rather for confronting the hypocrisy of society. However, as St Peter tells us that the Lord’s “own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

The Church herself has not the same record of blamelessness that Our Lord has: she has suffered as a result of the behaviour of her members. There have been abuses of moral power, there have been abuses of social power and social standing, and these have been recognised by the Civil Authorities and the perpetrators are beginning to be punished. Yet, the whole Church suffers at the hands of those in her ranks who have committed great sins and hypocrisies. One paedophile priest leads all priests to be labelled “paedophile” by those who don’t think; one corrupt evangelical preacher causes all evangelical preachers to be labelled corrupt. Christopher Hitchens rightly points out the sins of churchmen and women and that their sins have not just damaged the lives of the innocent victims, but also the innocent churchfolk who are tarred with the same brush. Just as Christ bears our sins in His body, so must the Church bear our sins too and be scourged for them.

The Crowning with Thorns

As our Lord is publically mocked for His outlandish claims, so is the Church. The Lord is the King of an unseen Kingdom: the Church is the dispenser of God’s unseen Grace. The Lord’s kingship is laughed at for its sheer irrelevance in the face of more powerful and more obvious potentates: the Church is laughed at for its irrelevance in society in the wake of more powerful and material claims.

The Church is ridiculed for seeing God in wafer, for seeing God dead upon a Cross, for believing in God Whose very existence is questioned constantly. The Church is laughed at for being anachronistic, for being behind the times, for being a social clique in which men wear and parade around in dresses mumbling arcane words and preaching about an afterlife that isn’t going to happen. “If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen , then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The fidelity of the Church will see it crowned with Her Master’s thorns. The Church bears her Lord’s message and she will suffer ridicule because of it.

The Carrying of the Cross

Our Lord told us that we must each take up our cross and follow Him. We must each bear the very thing that will be the instrument of our demise. For the Lord, this was His cross, His instrument of torture. For the Church, this will probably be the weight of the world’s indifference and hostility to the non-material (and hence immaterial) Gospel. Yes, there will be good things done by all kinds of people, non-Christian and Christian alike. Doing good things is not the sole preserve of the Church – anyone can feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick.

However, it is the preaching of the Gospel to an increasingly incredulous society that will prevent people entering the Church, but even actively push them away. This may indeed be down to poor preaching, but it is also down to the fact that fewer people have ears to hear. Isaiah was told at his call that he would “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” Our Lord was met constantly with those who had such little faith. It is the Good News about the Salvation of man through Christ that the Church must bear, even if preaching it may finally destroy her.

The Crucifixion and Death

It is entirely possible that the Church will fade and disappear from view, crucified on her own Gospel by those who hate her. Lawsuits may strip her of her assets, her buildings, her organisation. Indifference and the pressure to be relevant will strip her of faithful bishops and priests who will peddle their own ideas just to be heard for the love of their own voices. Parishes will wink out of existence and church buildings be turned into flats, nightclubs and museums.

It is possible that the church may disappear from view, buried in the dark and forgotten.

The trouble is, if the Church is the body of her Master and her Master rose again in glory…

The Church is suffering and sorrowing. Each priest has a clear idea of the state of how things are in his parish. Some are low in spirit pressured by how things seem to be getting at them; others feel that they are fighting against an ever-increasing tide. The point is that this is precisely what Christ said would happen to the Church. If we are in the Church then we must see His sorrows in our sorrow. If our sorrow is not like His, then we are not doing it right. There is a spirit in the air that is profoundly anti-Christian. It cannot be pinpointed to organisations or to people, but the fact that the Church is in pain is indicative that something is happening and that the Prince of this world is mounting an attack to destroy the Church.

This has happened in every age, but it feels different this time.

However, we have Christ’s promise that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church and we have Christ’s resurrection. We can be confident in His victory and keep ourselves faithful to Him. We can still rejoice in the Lord alway!

1 comment:

Kate said...

Thank you for this inspired piece!