Bishop Vincent address “The Catholic Church in post-Royal Commission Australia” delivered on 16 May at Mission 2017: one heart many voices, Sydney, Australia.
PART 4: THE CHURCH THAT IS THE FACE OF GOD’S LOVE AND MERCY
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Church was suspicious of the world which was perceived as evil. Remember the classic three enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. It was a defensive, fortress Church. However, Gaudium et spes, the guiding document of the Council presented a new paradigm: the Church is not an enclosure which protects its members against the sinful world. It is a fellow pilgrim with the men and women of our age. It is a church incarnate in the world. Therefore, it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and self-referential pomp, but of accompaniment and engagement.
Pope Francis uses a rather unconventional term to describe the church. He famously says that pastors need to wear the scent of the sheep. Then he describes the Church as a field hospital that treats the wounded after the battle. “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity”. That is his vision of the ideal Church. Not a perfect society, nor the enclosure for the privileged but a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded.
The field hospital is not concerned about defending against threat of encroachment and loss of its status and privileges. Instead, it goes out of itself to respond to the needs of those whose lives are at risk. It engages with the world, rather than withdraws into enclaves. Some of you might have heard of the book called The Benedict Option. The idea that lies behind the book is that in the face of an ungodly world, we need to embed ourselves in stable communities of faith like Noah in his ark or Benedict in his monastery. However, our desire to be counter-cultural witness should not imprison us in a ghetto. Indeed as Pope Francis reminded us, we need to be in prisons, hospitals, the streets, villages, factories. If this is not so, the Church will be an institution of the exclusive that does not say anything to anyone, not even to the Church herself.
Being merciful is at the heart of Catholic identity. It is not simply a matter of acting with mercy and compassion to those in need with our position of power and privilege intact. Rather, it is a radical discipleship of vulnerability and powerlessness in the footsteps of the humble Servant of God. It is an existential stance in favour of the weak and the vulnerable in the face of the prevalent business model of success and power. It is about building people and relationships rather than profit and size. It has to do with the Kingdom mentality rather than the empire mentality.
Part 5 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 3 of the Bishop’s address, click here.