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home : bishop : columns

8/20/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Our Church
The Church must never harden into a "them" instead of an "us." If it does, "it" will only turn more into that cold-seeming, heartless, bureaucratic fortress that everyone says we do not want to be. Only the Church of "us" -- our Church -- is capable of responding in a human fashion: person-to-person, the way Jesus did, and especially to sinners.
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


What if "the" Church really became "our" Church?

What if each of us took personal responsibility not only for some of the good and important works we expect to be done by the Church, but also in the face of the corruption that, during its pilgrimage throughout history, has tarnished the Church, its reputation and its integrity?

Catholics have much to be proud of. We can look back on the long record of our service as a Church to a humanity hungering for wholeness and holiness. The world is far better off because of our many charitable, educational and healing institutions.

The Gospel, however, does not measure "success" by cataloguing and measuring past deeds. This can quickly turn into pride and triumphalism, whereby we view our wealth more as an arsenal of power than an instrument of service.

Looking back, like Lot's wife (cf. Genesis 19), can calcify us and turn the living Body of Christ into more of a museum than a thriving family, a hotel for the rich instead of a hospital for sinners.

To be honest, we have to recognize the seeds of corruption that the Evil One has sown among us -- which, unfortunately, have often taken root and grown like weeds, threatening to choke off the harvest of grace.

This is the risk of freedom and autonomy, as Pope Francis has often noted in his daily homilies. We are all sinners, but the corrupt have taken a step beyond, in that they have become hardened in their sin so that it becomes a habitual pattern. Their "genetic code" -- as the Holy Father put it -- has not changed, since they still have a relationship with God and can turn to Him. Instead, however, they have made a "god" of themselves and their own desires.

The temptation to corruption can occur at any time, in places high or humble. The damage of which those in authority -- both in sacred and secular office -- are capable is enormous, as we see when public officials abandon their moral conscience in order to placate constituents or conceal their own complicity in some form of plunder.

But, although the corrupt may do a lot of harm, much good can be done by each and every individual who responds in trust daily to the power of God's grace-filled love.

When faced with what seemed to be very limited resources, Jesus challenged His Apostles not to withdraw from the people making demands on them, but to hurl themselves right into their midst. The all-too-human reaction when confronted with overwhelming demands is to flee, as the Apostles wanted to do when they told Jesus to send the hungry crowds away. "Good luck to you," was their recipe for success in the face of a hungry and weary crowd, but Jesus had an entirely different response: God's response, to go "feed them yourselves."

Of course, as a Gospel passage (John 6:1-15) reminds us, Jesus did this to test them, fully aware that they would need His help to accomplish the mission.

As the saying goes, whoever is not part of the solution is part of the problem. Whether at the level of next-door neighbors, a personal friendship, a family, a neighborhood or an electoral district, no needs will be met by cataloguing our past achievements or acquired skills.

Just like every graduation is a commencement, a beginning of a new journey, so also success is measured by what we will invest in our relationships now. Can it be any different for our Church family and on every level -- domestic, parish, diocesan and universal?

The Church must never harden into a "them" instead of an "us." If it does, "it" will only turn more into that cold-seeming, heartless, bureaucratic fortress that everyone says we do not want to be.

Only the Church of "us" -- our Church -- is capable of responding in a human fashion: person-to-person, the way Jesus did, and especially to sinners.

Perhaps the remembrance of our own imperfect reality -- as sinners in need of a Savior -- will spare us from its very hardened state of the corrupt whom we may be all too tempted to point the index finger of one hand at -- even as the other three fingers inevitably point right back to us.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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