The Human Family and the Family of God | James V. Schall, S.J. | CWR
The recent audiences by Pope Francis emphasize the intimate, familial nature of the Church
“Last Wednesday, I emphasized the deep bond that exists between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Today, I would like to begin on the mystery of the Church, a mystery which we all experience and of which we are part.” — Pope Francis, General Audience, May 29, 2013 (L’Osservatore Romano, English, June 5, 2013)
“The ‘koinonia-communio’ of the Spirit of the Father and the incarnate Son is, as it were, the Council’s master key, as the principle of communion and mission. The key opens our access to the mystery of the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation, in all its dimensions: Trinitarian, Christological, anthropological, ecumenical, and pastoral.” — Marc Cardinal Ouellet, “Communio”: Address, May 21, 2013, Sydney, Australia.
Over the years, priests are often reminded of Christ’s admonition that “you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you.” I was ordained on June 7th fifty years ago in San Francisco. In retrospect, one might question the Lord’s prudence about whom He chooses. But, if we remember that He also chose Judas and a few other sour apples along the way, we need not become too vain. The world is full of folks who purport to be scandalized by sinful priests or by a vice filled Catholic laity. Such reactions just mean that these critics have never read the New Testament. While it condemns sin at every turn, especially scandal, the Gospels gives us no indication that, with the appearance of Christ in the world, His followers will subsequently be perfect.
Rather, Christ came into the world with the clear realization that most of us would need to be forgiven many times (”yea, seventy times seven” Matthew 18:22) before it is all over. Christ did not dwell amongst us to eradicate sin’s possibility and hence our freedom. He came to provide a way in which, should we sin, we could be forgiven, but only if we choose to avail ourselves of the means He set down, not those we concoct for ourselves. The Church, with its priests and sacraments, exists in the world so that such a redemptive purpose might be carried out in the concrete context of everyday life, wherein most of our sins are committed. The place where these sins are to be forgiven is not the state, the university, the psychiatrist’s office, the hospital, the press, or the media. It was in the Church and in the sacrament of confession. About why God chose to do it this way rather than some other, we might wonder. But there is a certain good sense to it. It puts the divine power of forgiving sin also in a human context.
In a recent General Audience (May 29), Pope Francis spoke of “the mystery of the Church.” A “mystery” in Catholic thinking, does not so much mean something we have no clue about and could not understand if we did have one. It rather means that we can understand some things correctly enough and that we should strive to do so. The fact that we cannot understand everything about any “mystery” only means our own intellects are not angelic or divine. But they do understand what is not themselves. They know what is. To have a mind means we can “be” what is not ourselves while what we know remains itself and we remain precisely ourselves.
Thus, when we call the Church a “mystery,” we recognize it as something brought into existence by God for His own plan or purpose.