We live in a secularised and anti-clerical environment. It is fashionable to bash churches, whether Catholic, Protestant or Evangelical. Often, those who do so pass themselves off as progressive and liberal-minded. For such a mentality, the only “intellectually” admissible prejudice is to bash the church. Anyone who dares to say anything derogatory about any other group will be held accountable. On the other hand, mocking the church brings no other consequence than social applause… or silence.
What is the right response to these attacks? While it is normal to feel offended, we should not react inappropriately. As a church, there is no threat that should obfuscate us. Why?
- First, because a certain degree of this criticism is good and helpful. Some failures are evident. We can be grateful that these failures are pointed out, even if they are sometimes overdone. Criticism of the church humbles us and, at the same time, pushes us towards a necessary purification. For too long, we have enjoyed a privileged situation, which has never been good for the church. As Christians, we live more fully in times of procrastination than in times of privilege, even if it is not so pleasant.
- We can oppose unjust criticism without becoming harsh and aggressive. However much criticism may be in vogue, the church is not about to disappear. We are millions of Christians in the world, we stand in a tradition of two thousand years, we have a universally recognised wisdom, we have massive centuries-old institutions, rooted in Western culture and technology and growing in numbers all over the world. We are not a sinking ship. Most importantly, the fact that Christ promised us that He would be with us and that we would rise with Him. The only thing we have to fear is losing our Christian identity.
- Finally, we must also not let this criticism make us lose sight of the reason why we exist: The church exists not to ensure its own survival, but for the good of humanity. When Jesus says: “My flesh is food for the life of the world“, he is clearly stating that the first task of the church is not to defend itself, nor to ensure its duration. The church exists for the sake of the world, not for its own sake. That is why, after he was born, Jesus was placed in a manger in a stable, where animals come to eat; and that is why he gives himself on a table in the Eucharist, to be eaten. To be eaten by the world is by far what Jesus came into the world for. At the very heart of the Gospel, there is a call to risk over condemnation and unjust criticism: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do“. As a church we are called to give ourselves as food for the world. Like every living body, we sometimes need to protect ourselves, but never at the cost of losing our true reason for being here, being faithful to the Lord who gives himself for the salvation of the world.
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Henry Hustava)