Musings 26 (Eastertide) May 2017
During the recent Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Greg Homeming of Lismore offered a reflection focusing on the challenges the Catholic Church in Australia faces at this time. There is no doubt that the Church is weaker than it was, both in numbers of the faithful and the influence it has on the wider society. Some of its weakness is self-inflicted through the abuse scandal, but others say that the damage from this has been exacerbated by anti-Catholic elements who are determined to curtailed the freedom of speech and religion, if not to destroy the Church completely.
Bishop Greg described the Royal Commission and its yet to be published report as a Good Friday moment for the Church. He reminded us that Jesus was silent as he approached Calvary. He did not protest, assert his innocence or blame his accusers. Rather he prayed for them as innocent victims, and offered hope to the penitent thief.
The power of Jesus lay in his silence. The world knows how to deal with noisy protest and violent demonstrations, but is helpless in the still humility of the powerless. In our weakened state perhaps we ought to say little, and in the stillness of our prayers and acts of compassion, bring healing through hope of the resurrection. The members of the Church must not let the trauma of our current weakness paralyse our faith and spiritual life because Holy Saturday follows Good Friday.
Holy Saturday is a very important day because it is the day that God the Father and God the Son work together with God the Holy Spirit, in the dark stillness of the tomb. In most parishes, the
stillness of Holy Saturday gives way to the activity of preparing for the Easter festival, and that is a pity.
Once the Royal Commission delivers its report, we need to reflect on it in what can be described as the active stillness of Holy Saturday, working with God in the power of the Holy Spirit discerning God’s will and direction.
There is no doubt that following the Commission’s report, the enemies of the Church will intensify their campaign to turn the Church into little more than a social and welfare organisation, operating on a corporate model. They will attempt to turn bishops into chief executive officers answerable to lay dominated boards of management, which where they already exist, are proving to be sympathetic to the secular agenda. In May, it was reported that against the wishes of the Brothers of Charity in Belgium, the board of mental hospitals still belonging to the order, will allow euthanasia for any patient who asks for it.
We have already experienced how Government controls Catholic institutions through funding allocations, and how freedom of religion and speech is curtailed through legislation.
This push to secularise Catholic social teaching is also being espoused by elements within the Church itself. Some are saying that the papacies of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI focused on
Truth, whereas the papacy of Francis is about Mercy and Love. Any attempt to drive a wedge between Truth and Mercy will lead to further decimation of the Catholic Church as it has in the Anglican and other Protestant churches.
In his book ‘The Power of Silence’ (p.77), Cardinal Sarah says that Christ is distressed by those bishops and priests who in their writings are weakening the rigour of the Gospel by their
deliberately ambiguous, confused statements. He reminds these clergy that giving the impression of saying the opposite of the Church’s traditional teaching in matters of doctrine and morality is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is the unforgivable sin.
The Church has always had to find new pastoral approaches to the situations of each age, but there can be no gap between what the Church believes and how it lives out its beliefs.
The Holy Saturday experience for the Church must mean that we hold on to God’s truth and lead others to understand that truth until they are able to embrace it.
The Church is not an institution totally answerable to the secular world. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth whose leaders are required to hold, teach and defend the Faith revealed by God in Scripture and Tradition. Bishops, priests, deacons and laity are agents of Jesus the agent of God, and partners with him in his mission to proclaim the faith of the Resurrection.
Orchestrating the chaos in which we find ourselves is the power of evil. Holy Saturday is the time when once again the Spirit of God broods over the chaos and brings light and order out of the darkness.
In God’s resurrection light, the Church’s faithful will see more clearly and believe.