What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? (St Luke xiv.31)Our Lord always has a point. Clearly, not one of us can succeed in an endeavour that is beyond our reach. We know also that Samson slew thousands with the jawbone of an ass. He, of course, was operating under the will of God. With God, nothing is impossible, though one has to interpret that correctly. We’re not talking of the logically impossible such as round squares or the inescapable chasing the uncatchable. We’re talking of potential repetitions of David and Goliath – the big bully being vanquished by the small but righteous soul.
The Church in this present existence is the Church Militant. We are at war and St Paul uses the imagery of armour and of spiritual warfare. The Old Testament is riddled with battles and war, the Apocalypse of St John speaks of the war in Heaven. While Satan can roam the universe with free power, then there will be a struggle for the powers of God to win through. Conflict is, regrettably, inevitable. At the very core of our being, like Jacob, we have to wrestle with God and lose either our hearts to Him or our very souls. Even when, He has our heart, we then have to battle sin, the World and the Devil to keep Him in our hearts. We have no choice.
It is no wonder that cracks appear. They are the wounds of battle. For those in the past, it was physical loss of life through actual battle, or through execution standing up for deeply held beliefs. For us now, those wounds are exhausted spirits and hearts that become embittered with the demands the world places upon us. What we lose now, we lose in the pits of apathy, apostasy and complacency. The fact of the matter is that God is Love and that Love is hard work to the extent of crippling loss or even death.
Of course, the Church battles Satan’s power. It struggles to live throughout its slings and arrows as well as trying to shelter all who come its way. However, the one brilliant weapon which is found in the Devil’s arsenal is that of deceit. One deceit that he broadcasts into the world is that the Church has to be perfect.
An issue of morality or ethics comes up. Both sides of the debate look to the Church to pronounce the word of God, to issue definite, certain and divine proclamation on the matter. A prominent bishop speaks up: “God says X.” And half of the population cry out against him. Another prominent bishop speaks up: “God does not say X”. And the division in the Church begins.
The Church indeed can speak and always does speak infallibly on faith and morals. The deceit of the Devil is that the voice of the Church can only ever be heard through a chosen few, usually wearing mitres. Yet, young men shall have visions and old men dream dreams, and the Holy Innocents without a single word can condemn the ravings of a lunatic king. The Church has received her doctrine from God and from that doctrine she cannot waver even though the culture be against her or be so controlled by her that corruptions enter her walls. It is the voice of the devil that whispers into the ear of every bishop, priest, deacon, deaconess, pastor, lay reader, bible scholar, liturgist, theologian and expert, “you must always at all times speak infallibly!” And then he whispers to every human being, “every member of the Church must at all times speak infallibly!” Thus that wicked spirit tries to prevent any Christian from being a human being as well as any human being from being a Christian.
Scientists now say (but this has been known for so much longer) that stress causes a lack of empathy. With the pressure to be perfect even as Our Lord is perfect and with the Devil’s deceit slithering into our ears, bishops speak without thinking things through, and synods forget their duty to God before the demands of a society also suffering from the same deceit. Simultaneously, other bishops knowing that they can’t be perfect concentrate on trivial issues, and parishes busy themselves with minute battles that they know they can win in order to demonstrate the infallibility of the Church. There seem to be too many Christian know-it-alls who are speaking with too little thought on heavy matters and too much thought on the trivial. I expect that includes me, as well. Mea Culpa.
Christians are simply not allowed to make mistakes by the demands of a society beguiled by materialism and yet hungering deeply for some certainty when material things fail. Society sees Christianity as either squabbling over minutiae or making unfair pronouncements against practices which seem acceptable, or going back on previous dogma and thus appearing arbitrary or hypocritical, all demonstrating that the Church is not what it thought.
Society needs to know the humanity of the Church, that it is soft and vulnerable and, like one carrying the purest gold, always on the verge of toppling. We Christians are sinners, hypocrites, fools, imbeciles, idealists, unfair, simple-minded, close-minded, misogynist, liberal, greedy, power-mad, sexually-obsessed, and broken. In short, we are human beings who, knowing that we are broken, raise our arms to Heaven and cry “Mercy!!” and yet, are given not just mercy but also grace to pick ourselves up and carry on.
The Church has but one battle, to make present the love of Christ and the promise of His Salvation real to all fallen humanity. There is no other battle. We can tilt at little windmills and pronounce on the most trivial matters such as the immorality of Celebrity Big Brother and “The Life of Brian”. We can hide in amongst the ramparts of the castle of Canon Law declaring God’s wrath upon the 9 year-old rape victim who has just aborted twins for the sake of her own health. We can go all guns blazing against the hypocrisy and racism of UKIP. We can constantly snip and snipe at the heretics turning their human image (our image too!) into the image of Asmodeus in our eyes. These are not battles, these are trivial pursuits whispered into our ears by Satan in order to distract us from the Way that is Christ.
If we forget that single, most important battle of suffering and dying for the Love of Christ, then it is no wonder that the Church will lose her humanity. Each and every Christian must pick the battle carefully. It is a battle in which scars are inevitable, in which failure is inevitable, in which pain, misery and sadness are inevitable. And then we can look up from our deplorable depths into the eyes of God who truly loves us, who reaches out His hand, fixes our broken bones, and recognises within us the desire to lose ourselves for Him even as He lost Himself for us. And then we will realise that we never, ever fought alone, and – far from ever being lost – we were always found.