Five New Year challenges for the Church

So here we are, already days into 2018. And contrary to the expectations of some ahead of the New Year, the end of the world hasn’t arrived yet!

Jan 05, 2018

By Anil Netto
So here we are, already days into 2018. And contrary to the expectations of some ahead of the New Year, the end of the world hasn’t arrived yet!

We are still here, which means we have unfinished business to deal with in ushering and nurturing the kingdom of God.

But first, let’s look at ourselves and the world around us.

1) Reforms at the heart of the Church way too slow
Just before Christmas, Francis, the Bishop of Rome, expressed his frustration about the slow pace of reforms and the scale of the job at hand. Recalling a remark made by Archbishop Frédéric-François-Xavier de Mérode, he said wryly: “Making reforms in Rome is like cleaning the Sphinx with a toothbrush.”

He noted that the Vatican Curia supports, and is closely bound to, the office of the Bishop of Rome and the “catholicity” of the Petrine ministry. “A Curia closed in on itself would betray its own raison d’être and plunge into self-referentiality and ultimately destroy itself.”

Francis on the other hand, wants the Church to be projected outwards into the world in spreading the Good News. He said it was important to rise above “that unbalanced and debased mindset of plots and small cliques that in fact represent — for all their self-justification and good intentions — a cancer leading to a self-centredness that also seeps into ecclesiastical bodies and, in particular, those working in them.”

Francis alluded to another danger — corruption within the Church: “those who betray the trust put in them and profiteer from the Church’s motherhood. I am speaking of persons carefully selected to give a greater vigour to the body and to the reform, but — failing to understand the lofty nature of their responsibility — let themselves be corrupted by ambition or vainglory.”

2) So we have to wipe out corruption
By now, we are all familiar with rampant corruption in our midst and even the term kleptocracy.

There are three principle relationships that bind society together: our relationship with God, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with Nature or the ecology.

Francis reminds us that when we respect and uphold these relationships, then we are honest and responsible and work for the common good. But if we fall into corruption, these relationships are torn apart. Society suffers in more ways than one. So too does the environment.

But corruption is more than just the plundering of public funds.

There is a wider danger we are faced with, one that the Church could also succumb to: spiritual worldliness or corruption. Francis puts it this way: “Our corruption is spiritual worldliness, tepidity, hypocrisy, triumphalism, having the spirit of the world prevail over our lives, the sense of indifference.”

And so Francis urges us to come together to combat corruption. With beauty, we can overcome corruption, he said. “Beauty must espouse justice. Hence we must speak of corruption, lament the evils, understand it, manifest our will to affirm mercy over narrowness of spirit, curiosity and creativity over resigned fatigue, beauty over nothingness.”

3) Moving out of our comfort zones...
Our faith should constantly challenge us and our preconceived notions. Christmas reminds us that a faith that does not trouble us is a troubled faith, said Francis. “A faith that does not make us grow is a faith that needs to grow. A faith that does not raise questions is a faith that has to be questioned. A faith that does not rouse us is a faith that needs to be roused. A faith that does not shake us is a faith that needs to be shaken. Indeed, a faith which is only intellectual or lukewarm is only a notion of faith.”

Instead, our faith should touch “the manger of our heart”, our soul, our spirit and our whole being, said Francis. “We let the star of Bethlehem guide us to the place where the Son of God lies, not among Kings and riches, but among the poor and humble.”

4) … to the periphery, which means radically rethinking the way we look at the Church
We have so many people around us who have been marginalised by our model of ‘development’: the dispossessed, the displaced, indigenous communities forced out of their native customary land, exploited migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, the urban poor, those who face gender discrimination. Some 20 percent of the population in Malaysia is made up of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, whether documented or undocumented, and their voices and suffering go largely unheard.

As a “field hospital” Church, we cannot sit back and expect these groups to come to us. Cardinal Blase J Cupich reminds us that we have to be like medics: this means we have “to go out, to travel to the peripheries where the oppressed reside. To be with the wounded on the field of battle. This is what is acceptable to the Lord. It is radical. Mercy always is.”

5) Put Vatican II vision at the heart of the Church
Finally, Francis wants Church theologians to be anchored to the vision of Vatican II, the watershed council in 1962-1965 that linked the Gospels to human dignity and the joys and suffering of ordinary people. The Church — that’s us — has an active role to play in the world today in rising up to the critical issues confronting us.

In light of that vision, Francis mentioned several areas today which he said needed “creative theological thought” including the ecological crisis, rising social inequalities and the migrations of entire peoples.

These are serious issues which we need to grapple with.

So there you have it. We have our work cut out for us, if we are to be the salt of the earth. Let’s get cracking.

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