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One more word.

Okay, several more words. This proved a remarkably fertile bit of bloggery, and recently, normally silent Godsbody reader df sent a comment I thought would make a good sort of coda to the discussion. Here ’tis:

PPS: ‘On a practical level, what has helped me, prosaic as it sounds, is keeping Christ as the center of my attention, and not His Church.’

You are exactly right. It worries me that discussions on all sides of the theological/political spectrum go on as if the Church had life and could be understood as living apart from her relationship to her Head, who is Christ the Lord, or, conversely, as if Christ Jesus could be properly estimated apart from his having a living body. Not for no reason did Saint Thomas treat the Church as Body precisely within his treatise on Christ in the Tertia Pars. And for good reason did Augustine, preaching against the Donatists, say that the Christian who disdains another Christian is like a man who steps on the foot of Christ even as he draws near to kiss him. Christ would say to such a one (Augustine says): Get off my foot, for you are hurting me, … get off my foot and then you may approach to kiss me. Granted that these are uncommonly contentious times, and many Catholics are angry and suspicious, still, within the Church, when contending with thoughts and with one another, the presumption must be in favor of Augustine’s admonition to protect the unity of the Church, which is simply to say in favor of charity manifested in the form of patience. For Augustine, the error of the Donatists was a failure of charity and humility before it was an error of doctrine.

It does, ultimately, become a matter of aesthetic proportion, that is to say, knowing the moment and hearing the call of conscience to respond to it well. But this aesthetics is best taught to us by the luminosity of the saints, whose dramatic engagement with the hour in time given to them serves as our best light to discern the demands of charity and truth in our time. Seeking their counsel is not only about following their example, it is also about seeking a share in the sympathy granted to them with which they discerned that impulse of the Holy Spirit guiding their assessment of the needs of the moment. There is no formula for dealing with difficult people in difficult times; there is only charity in truth, and the forms it can take are almost as many as the moments a day can bring to a Catholic of good conscience. King David recognized that the kinsman of Saul might have had reason from the Lord to denounce him in his hour of dejection. Such humility is needed in the Church’s members, as we contemplate either publicizing a challenge to the conscience of another, or as we consider having received such a challenge.

And this is the point of what you say about the center of our attention. The saints contemplated Christ and because of this they loved his Body the Church: not the Church in general, but the Church in her totality, indefectibly holy at her heart, yet marked with unsightly particulars: our failures, our sins, our stubbornness; the saints knew that only by embracing the bloody particular, only by loving his members, could they encounter Him. In the Church, there is no them and us, there is only us in Christ, and the deepest Catholic impulse is to invite the world to see itself in Christ through conversion, and thus live and act in the us that Christ creates by his blood. The saints knew also that the only hope for us all is to encounter the Love that sees through to the cause of our shame, and loves us in the midst of it all, all the way to the end.

Saint Edmund Campion and Pope Saint Pius V each contemplated the face of Christ and for love of him gave their lives for the Church; one accepted his moment and became a martyr, the other accepted his moment knowing that his decisions would likely cause martyrs to be made. There are times that call for prophetic denunciation, and there are men called to do it; Pius V was such a one; but I do not think such moments and such men are as common as we might, at first thought, imagine. More frequent is the quiet protestation of an honest conscience, the witness of Campion faced with the challenge of responding to the dazzling lure that the flesh, the world and the devil can mount. I am not sure which Saint suffered more for his love, but I do know that both discerned their moments with humility, purification of intentions, and with much fear and trembling. I also know that deep interiority, a conscious reliance on the mercy of God, and much prayer accompanied their respective judgments. The Lord expects us to engage our moment with no less care. When we do this, He who is Head of the Church will order all things to the good. And let us never forget that the good the Head seeks most to give us is the grace that allows time and circumstance to conform us more perfectly to Himself.”

Comments

  1. Rufus McCain says

    This is really good stuff, Matthew. Especially the quote from St. Augustine. It helps clarify a lot of stuff I struggle with vis-a-vis the One Holy Catholic, Apostolic, and Fucked Up Church. (See, there I go again.) Thanks.

    I'm confused by the quotation mark at the very end of your last paragraph here, though. Does that have a counterpart somewhere further up the page? Are these your words or are you quoting someone?

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    Yes, sorry – the whole thing is a comment from Godsbody reader df.

  3. DF – What an exceptionally fine summation. A reflection to be read and pondered, and I shall certainly do so. Thanks, Matthew, for sharing it.

  4. Chris Harvey says

    That last paragraph is mighty well-done!

  5. Beautifully said.

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