by Vicki Shuck
If we are going to pass on the Catholic faith to the future, we need to get beyond
our love/hate relationship with the Church. Grace shows the way.
By Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.
Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., is an accomplished classical
musician, trained at Juilliard.
I always thought
that I would have made a great archbishop in Salzburg during
the time of Mozart. But instead I'm the archbishop of Milwaukee
in the time of rock 'n' roll. That's the way life turns out.
We live in a period of tremendous upheaval and change. Each
of us has to come to terms with that and fulfill our mission
in the real world in which we live. In this article we're going
to consider how to be more fully Catholic at the unpredictable
dawn of the third millennium.
One of the biggest challenges I see for us today is how we talk to each otherand especially our young peopleabout the Church. Some of us avoid the subject. How often, instead of saying Church, we talk about the "community of faith" or the "Kingdom of God," and so on. I think we talk like that because many of us Catholics have a certain ambivalence, a love/hate relationship, with our Church. You can see that if you watch your newspaper's letters to the editor. We are the only Church that publicly criticizes itself in the newspaper.
Another challenge: We North Americans sometimes think of the Church more as our parish than as the Catholic Church. I became especially aware of this while in Rome for the Synod on the Laity in 1987 and again at the Synod for America in 1997. We need to expand our limited view of Church. The parish is only part of the picture. Yes, the parish is something I can put my hands around; it's very concrete. But if you don't see a bigger picture of Church, you begin to search around until you find the parish that's going to fit your definition. Yet being Catholic is not about finding people who think and act like us.
I'd like to propose a way for us to think about Church that can help bring us together. I think you'll agree that my perspective is biblical, it's revealed, it's truly catholic. My image is this: We are the People of God, dancing on pilgrimage. Let me explain by a brief look at how God reveals the truth to us.
Trinity as Overflowing Love
It is a marvel that God reveals God's inner life to us as dynamic,
as Trinitarian, as three people in love. That's remarkable!
We could forever sit and think and not come up with this marvelous
image of God as three persons in love and dynamic.
The great Church Father St. Gregory Nazianzus,
in the fourth century, gave us a Greek word to describe this
marvel: perichoresis. The word literally means "moving
around." It's how the Greek theologians in the early Church
described the dancing in the Trinity. It's the sign that God's
love is so full that it can't stay still.
Some of these Fathers of the Church even said
that God's love was so great that it had to break forth.
Creation itself, they say, is nothing but God's love looking
for more things to love. In our own times Dutch theologian Edward
Schillebeeckx has observed that we have not yet probed the depth
and the meaning of creation. God created this world out of love.
Therefore, the world is important. Every person is important
because God needs people to love. If the universe began with
a big bang, as many scientists say, then creation is really
love's big bang. That in itself is a marvel!
But the next marvel is also incredible. God wanted
to come down and swoop up all of that creation into the dance
of love, the perichoresis. And that's why God becomes
one of us. God becomes a human being. In traditional theological
language, we call that the incarnational perichoresis.
It's a big phrase, but it's an easy and wonderful concept. It's
that God's love and God's life swoop down and that God somehow
wants to pull up all of creation, including us human beings,
into that dance, God's inner life. The Greek fathers called
that "divinization." The dance of love is now a dance between
the human and the divine in Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnationliterally
"en-fleshment"of God. That dance is going to extend to
all of us!
That's why the next marvel is even more wonderful.
The mission of Jesus Christ is handed over to us human beings.
What a risk Christ took! He's telling all of us that's the Good
News; that we have to dance to the right tune (a love song,
actually), we have to be a part of and eventually share totally
in the dance of the Trinity.
Why go into all of this in talking about what
it means to be Catholic today? Because in order to be Catholic,
we must begin with the mission of Jesus Christ. That mission
of Jesus Christ has been handed over to us human beings, with
all of our limitations. The only way we can hope to fulfill
Christ's mission is because he promised to be with us to the
end of time. And he promised that his Spirit would be with us
to the end of time. That's the only way in which I could have
said yes to being a bishop. That's the only way in which you
could have said yes to being baptized.
You see why now
I say that the Church is the People of God dancing on pilgrimage?
Because it's a part of being taken up into that divine life.
Yet we live in history, here on earth.
face the People of God in their dance today? The great modern
theologian Karl Rahner mentioned after Vatican Council II (1962-65)
that for the first time in history the Church was truly becoming
catholic, universal. That's what I think is both the
greatest challenge and the greatest privilege of our Church
II the Church had identified itself pretty much with Western
civilization. Now, since the time of Vatican II it is becoming
truly catholic. The tensions of the age we live in as Church
are how to be truly a universal Church in every culture, every
race on this globe. It's a great moment of history because for
the first time we live in a global world. We are privileged
at this moment to belong to that universal Church.
to come down and swoop up all of that creation into the
dance of love.
I mentioned earlier
how we can so easily concentrate on our own parish. At this
moment of history the challenge to us is how to be universal
in our own little parish, in our nation, in our world. How are
we going to hold all of that together in unity and at the same
time respect all of the cultural differences that truly make
up our Church? That is the test of our day.
I'm going to go one step further. I think it's
a privilege to live here in North America. We have the possibility
of modeling that type of Church to the world more than any other
people on this globe, because we live in a part of the world where
people of many cultures have the opportunity to live together
in peace. And the future of our globe and the future of our Church
depend upon whether people of many cultures can live together
in peace. That's why recent popes have made such an effort to
visit and pay honor to so many parts of the world.
In our day there
are many cultural influences outside the Church. Those cultural
influences are very strong, especially in the younger generation.
Perhaps the biggest of these is our culture's dependence upon
science for "real" answers. That presents a problem when it comes
to much of Church knowledge. The Trinity, for example, cannot
be proven scientifically. You won't find it under a microscope.
It is revealed, which is why it's so difficult for our
modern generations. We're not used to revealed truths such as
Jesus Christ being the perfect image and example of God's love.
When it comes to revelation, you have to say, "I believe."
That's what our creed is all about. In the creed we proclaim
this Trinity, we proclaim that the second person of the Trinity
became one with us, became flesh, became man. We say, "I believe."
We also proclaim our belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic
Church. But right away we want to put that under the microscope.
Yet just as Christ took a tremendous risk when he gave us his
mission, so also every time we say, "I believe," we risk. It's
a risk of faith. We have to believe in the Church.
Let me ask you to do one thing, and this is not easy. Come
to terms yourselves with the question of authority in the Church.
Because it's one of the reasons why many Catholics today have
anger and that ambivalent feeling I mentioned at the beginning
of this article. We bishops don't always do a good job of imaging
God's love and empowering lives. But somehow you have to love
your Church with all its warts.
It's easy to love a Church that's perfectif you find it.
But to love the Church with its warts means you have accepted
Christ's risk to hand that Church over to human beings. Once
Christ took that risk, then you and I are in trouble. Because
it means that all of our defects are going to be as widely visible
as our assets. That's the way it is.
Each of us must come to terms with living in a Church where
the dance of God often happens among so many human tunes that
it's hard to see the divine element dancing with us. When we
can't accept Jesus' Church with its human face, we send a mixed,
self-defeating signal to the younger generation.
Together With God
Here is another one of the challenges of our day. Every so often
I say to myself and sometimes to the Lord, "It would have been
a lot easier if it had been just you and me. Why can't we have
a salvation that takes place just between you and me? Give me
the Holy Spirit, that's all I ask, and let me dance. Why do
I have to learn all those different steps with all these people
tramping on my toes?" It's that tendency in our North American
culture to want to make everything private. We want even our
religion to be private.
But that isn't the way in which Jesus Christ handed over
his mission to us. We've got to do it togetherlike it or
lump it! There is no other way. Not only is it important to
do it together, but we also have to realize that at least
for us that's how Jesus Christ dances with us. Every
time you come to liturgy you say, "This is the dance I'm being
invited to because Jesus is going to dance with me." The divine
and the human in that liturgy: That's what it's all about.
So often we can become like the Old Testament figure Naaman
and say, "But you're gonna make me go wash instead of zapping
my leprosy clean; is that all you're gonna do?" (see 2 Kings
5:1-14). But that is all we're gonna do. God uses ordinary
signs and symbols. God uses people, that's what it's all about.
In theology we call that mediated grace or instrumentality.
God uses you and everyone. That's why we're tied together
in the dance.
Ways to Face the Future With Hope
1. Get a universal mentality.
What should we be doing to build that Church of the future?
We've got to stretch. I had the privilege as head of the
Benedictine Order of traveling for 10 years around the world.
One thing you learn when you travel is how much each of
us is shaped by our own culture. Every attempt you make
at joining in someone else's cultureeven in your own parishmay
end up with you making a mistake of some sort. But that's
all right; people know when you're trying. Every time we
make fools out of ourselves, we can laugh about it and keep
going. That's how we learn. And underneath all of that we
begin to see people as people. That's important. We begin
to relate to them as people. So begin to develop that universal
mentality. Stretch yourselves to be truly catholic.
2. Hear a common call to holiness.
Make sure that you emphasize the Church's holiness. I
have a suspicion that that's one point about the Church
that we have also neglected. One of the great aspects of
Vatican Council II was the call of everyone to holiness
(see Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #39). If
you're blaming somebody else in the Church for not modeling
the kind of Church you want, check yourself and see if you
are modeling holiness as you should.
Let me go one step further. This might surprise you, but
I think that the more troublesome our times are, the greater
our chance of holiness. Right now is not a time when I feel
that the Church has its act together. We're going through
tough times, there's no doubt about it. There are all kinds
of dissensions and problems in our Church. But I think that
could be a moment of grace!
First of all, it makes us humble. Suddenly we realize
our humanity and that's good. You can't become holy until
you do that. We come to see how weak we are as people, how
much we need God's grace and each other. So holiness begins
sometimes in its best way when we're going through difficult
3. Make the Church more just.
I feel we're way behind the secular world in working for
justice within the Church. We've got to catch up. The 1983
Code of Canon Law did much in that respect. But if I had
any worry about appearing before God's judgment seat, it
would be that I did not act always justly as a bishop.
I worry about how we can become a Church that shows justice
toward everyone. The measure of justice is always how the
powerless are treated. I beg of you to join in this search
for greater justice within our Church.
4. Model the healing qualities of Jesus.
We have too many hurting people on all sides, on all issues.
Somehow we have to learn to be healers. Perhaps part of
the problem is that you and I were only trained to win.
In North American culture coming in second is useless. At
a recent Olympic games there was a big sign, "Second Means
Nothing." Isn't that our culture? The one who loses always
Abbot Marmion, a great Benedictine, once said, "The abbot
should be the abbot of the minority, because the majority
won." Isn't that the way it must be? Those who are hurting,
those who are out there who haven't had a voicethey are
the ones who have to be healed. They're the ones to whom
we have to reach out. We've got to learn how to be a healing
Church within our own ranks.
5. Be a healer among religions.
We also have to begin to heal the wounds between Churches.
More than 19 years ago I was appointed to the dialogue with
the Orthodox Churches. I have spent most of my time as a
bishop in that dialogue. I consider that a tremendous privilege.
I've learned that it takes a long time to develop trust.
You go and you go, you talk and you talk, until you get
to know each other well. Once you can trust each other,
you can put the hard issues on the table. At that point
you can begin to lean over and help others in their difficulties.
Ecumenism is not just dialoguing about dogma, it's also
supporting and helping people in their quest for God. That's
true in dialogue among the religions of the world as well.
When I was head of the Benedictine Order in the 1960's,
I began the first dialogue with Buddhist monks. That was
the beginning of a dialogue that continues today. We monks
had a special challenge to do that because Oriental monasticism
gave us a common bond.
6. Be a healer in your own backyard.
Whatever your gifts are, you've got to use them to heal
and to bring people together. We have to become a healing
Church. The only way to do that is to get out of self and
begin to put yourself into the moccasins of everyone around
The next time you're at Mass, I'm going to ask you to
do something different. Look at everybody in the church
and ask yourself, "Do I truly love all of these people?"
If you're really ambitious, go to a church that you don't
like and where you don't like the pastor. Look around and
see if you can say the same thing. That is the test of your
Means Dancing With Everybody
I had a wonderful Irish grandma who knew no theology. She
could never distinguish between virgin birth and Immaculate
Conception and I gave up trying to explain it to her! I
also had an uncle who refused to go to church. I remember
Grandma saying to him, "Yes, you don't like Father Bertrand
so you don't go to church. You don't like the bartender
either, but you go for a whiskey when you want one!"
We dance with everybody. That's my new definition of
Church. Talk to some other Catholics about what it means
to say each Sunday, "I believe in one, holy, catholic
and apostolic Church." And then say to yourself, "How
am I going to be a part of it? How can I begin to make
it easier for people to believe because of the goodness
of my life, because of my becoming more and more like
Jesus Christ? How can I break down all those barriers
that divide us so that we can dance together?" That's
being truly Catholic.
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G. Weakland, O.S.B., is archbishop of Milwaukee and former
abbot primate of the Benedictine Order. Among his many
appointments he is a member of the Liturgy Commission
of the U.S. bishops' conference and a member of the Committee
of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. He is an accomplished
classical musician. This article is adapted from the keynote
address he gave at the 1998 Archdiocese
of Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.