The Open Windows: The battle for the soul of the Church

The other day, while attending a wake, I engaged in casual conversation with an activist, a non- Christian. As the topic veered to religion, he told me, “The Catholic Church has in Pope Francis its greatest pope since John XXIII (now a saint.”)

Mar 24, 2017

By Anil Netto
The other day, while attending a wake, I engaged in casual conversation with an activist, a non- Christian. As the topic veered to religion, he told me, “The Catholic Church has in Pope Francis its greatest pope since John XXIII (now a saint.”)

My friend was presumably referring to Francis’ progressive views on many subjects, close to the hearts of activists who have been campaigning on such issues. But he also expressed concern that conservatives within the Church were reportedly mounting a resistance to Francis’ efforts to steer the Church to meet the great challenges of our times.

The funny thing (if you find it funny) is that while many outside and within the Catholic Church appreciate Francis’ stewardship of the Church, it is within the heart of the Roman Curia, if reports are to be believed, that there is considerable resistance to what Francis is trying to bring about.

It was St John XXIII who convened the watershed Second Vatican Council half a century ago. When asked why he felt such a council was needed, he reportedly opened a window and said, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

As the years passed since the Second Vatican Council, its early dynamism and the winds of change soon evaporated in the face of resistance from conservative church leaders, some of whom even tried to roll back the changes.

The resistance to Francis today is more than just about his compassionate views on homosexuality, and communion for divorced and remarried Catholics or his earnestness in reforming the Roman Curia or engaging in more enlightened relations with other Christian churches and people of other faiths.

Francis’ urgent message, his audience, is much broader and it goes beyond the realm of a theology centred on narrow interpretation of individual morality or issues that may loom large within the Church.

The issues facing humanity are urgent and serious — and more critical than the problems facing the Church. Income inequality, climate change, the threat of nuclear war, the crisis of capitalism, the exploitation of workers. All these issues affect billions and billions of people around the world.

Francis has thrust the Church smack into the middle of these critical issues. In so doing, he has catapulted the Church to a newfound relevance to the debates raging around the world.

This was in sharp contrast to the years before he became Bishop of Rome, when the Church found itself mired in the scandals of child abuse and Vatileaks and retreated into navel-gazing while slipping into irrelevance.

The conservatives today, while still focused on the familiar hot button issues, are perhaps shifting uncomfortably in their seats over Francis’ changing of the priorities of the Church. Perhaps there is also discomfort at Francis’ strident criticism of capitalism and his concern for the impact on the poor and the environment — the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

But Francis is inviting us to look out of the windows thrown open by the Second Vatican Council and gaze at the world outside the church walls — a world of suffering and inequality and exploitation of workers — and to do something about it.

The conservatives would rather we retreat and focus on the liturgy, the debate over Latin and the vernacular. They want centralisation and rigidity and traditionalism to anchor the ark of the Church as it is tossed in the raging waters of our time.

But Francis vision is one of the Church moving out of the boat, with our eye on Jesus who calls to us to walk on turbulent waters instead of being afraid that we will perish once we move out of our comfort zones. Or to use another metaphor, Francis wants the Church to act as a field hospital to minister to the physically and emotionally wounded of our time. A more pastoral Church in the real sense of the word.

This is the real battle for the soul of the Church: whether we should venture out into the raging waters to meet the poor and the suffering — or to anchor the Church so that it will remain intact, as a beacon of stability and certainty for others.

But we have walked out this far; there is no turning back to the security of the boat. We are called to go forth out of the boat and “walk on water” and build the kingdom of God in the world.

The world is in serious crisis on so many fronts. If Christians don’t venture out and join hands with people of goodwill from other faiths to do what we can to rescue the world before it perishes, then who will? If not now, then when?

Total Comments:0