The Church a friend of the World
By Garry Everett* - Some time in 2010, I found myself at a meeting. During the lunch break I was sitting next to a bishop, and we engaged in conversation of an informal nature.
He told me he was on his way to a meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. He explained that each bishop had been asked to nominate the single greatest problem facing the Church today. On inquiring of him what he had identified, he replied “secularism”.
Two thoughts crossed my mind in semi-response. If I were going to a meeting of lay people in the Church, what issue would I have nominated?
The second thought was that I would probably have looked inside the Church for my answer. Why? Because I well remember that Walt Kelly, an American cartoonist, developed a poster with the famous sentence that has stayed with me: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Whether we look inside the Church – at some dysfunctionality – or outside – at some problem or enemy – perspective changes one’s view of everything.
In this 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, I am reminded that historians and commentators of that event, record two great interventions made by two different bishops.
Helder Camara of Brazil is reported to have exclaimed exasperatedly at one stage: “Are we to spend all of our time discussing internal Church issues, while two thirds of human kind are dying of hunger?”
The other famous intervention came from Cardinal Suenens, when he advocated that all the documents to emanate from Vat 11 should be organised on an ad intra (the Church’s nature and structure) and ad extra (the Church’s mission to the world) basis. Suenens won the day and forever changed the perspective of the Council.
To return to the opening conversation with the Australian bishop. If we look at the world as a problem or set of problems, one of which is secularism, we might be distorting our perspective.
The enemy may in fact be us. In other words, we may be crumbling from within, but can’t recognise it because we are looking in the wrong place. The corollary of course is equally true. So we should not lose sight of the balanced views of Camara and Suenens: we must attend to what is within and without.
One final reflection. If we continue to see “the world” as a problem, then our perspective is indeed dangerous.
Many years ago, US writer Brian Hall – best known for The Genesis Effect – urged us to regard “the world as a mystery to be entered into, and to be cared for”. This is closer to the views of Camara and Suenens, than to any view that sees the world as a problem to be solved, or worse, as the enemy of the Church, to be defeated.
As we celebrate the vision and courage of John XXIII, let us recall with gratitude that he opened the Council with several pleas.
The first was for an aggiornamento, “a bringing up to date of the Church”, which he felt had lost touch with the modern world.
Secondly, he asked for a positive engagement with the world; he invited all men and women of good will to a common commitment to the protection of human rights and the promotion of peace.
Here was the call to enter into the mystery that is the world, just as we enter the mystery of the Mass, in the belief: “that the Holy Spirit offers to all, the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.’ (Gaudium et Spes, 22, emphases added). (cathnews.org)
*Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.