Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It is His Church

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C

We have witnessed in these last two years much excitement, debates and controversy arising from the Extraordinary Synod in 2014 and the Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015. The publication of Our Holy Father’s latest document, Amoris Laetitia, his response to the conclusions of the synods, has not put to rest the anxieties and speculations that have arisen. What is certain is that this will go down in the annals of history as a monumental time. The Synods, thanks to the media, saw the emergence into public light deep divisions within the Catholic Church’s leadership with respect to fundamental truths around human sexuality.  The media were happy to provide the platform for some royal mud-slinging and took the opportunity to spin every comment out of proportion. Some noted with irony that what was meant to be a “journey together” (“synodus”) ended up with many walking in different directions and some in opposite directions, with some even threatening a “walk out”.

But many ordinary Catholics were not amused. When the leaders are so deeply divided, many good faithful Catholics found the present state of affairs untenable and deeply disturbing. They feared that both the doctrinal and pastoral goal posts of the Church were being shifted with more renovations in the pipeline.  At a time when the Church is under enormous and constantly growing pressure from an increasingly secularist world society to change her teachings on morality, human life and sexuality, marriage and the nuclear family, do we need to see bishops, teachers and sharers in the office of the Magisterium, disagree on this scale? Are we witnessing signs of another great split in the Church or even worse, the apocalyptic End Times? 

I am reminded of what a certain Pope said. Not Francis but Paul VI, one of the two popes responsible for the Second Vatican Council. In his speech of June 30, 1972, he lamented that, “the smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of God.” What would have ‘inspired’ the Pope to make such a judgment? He was certainly not referring to persecution. Could he be referring to the modern trend of emptying Christianity of its supernatural dimension and to reducing it to a humanised religion? In the last few decades we have witnessed the enormous reductions in vocations, the massive exodus of Catholics from the Church and the much publicised scandals involving those who are considered shepherds. The Sacraments are abandoned on the pretext that the Church has become too cultic. The supernatural is relegated to the margins, authentic pious devotions described as overly superstitious thus deserving to be abolished. Notions of democracy are advocated and the Magisterium is rejected.

We have suffered much in these last decades, as we have suffered throughout the history of the Church. But, we find consolation in today’s first reading that the pioneering leaders of the Church were not spared. Our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church remains standing. Who keeps the Church alive, and who guarantees her mission?  The Holy Spirit.  No one else.  Heinrich Himmler, the chief of Adolph Hitler’s dreaded security services during the Nazi era in Germany, once threatened the Archbishop of Berlin, with plans to crush the Catholic Church. Cardinal Graf listened politely and then responded: “Well, good luck. We’ve been trying to do that for 2,000 years, and (the Church is) still here.”  Even the failures and sins of her own leaders have not destroyed the Church. And the reason is simple.  The holiness of the Church ultimately depends on the Holy Spirit, not on us.

Jesus did not leave His people vulnerable to the doctrinal whims of competing leaders. He constantly reminds us as He does today, “Peace I bequeath you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Rather, He built the Church on the solid foundation of the apostles (cf. Eph. 2:19-20). He gave the Church His Holy Spirit to enable her to be “the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Despite the cultural winds that have blown through the ages, the faithful have always had a visible, easily identifiable magisterial “rock” on which they could safely stand in all seasons. Despite the seemingly confusing and conflicting remarks of bishops and priests, we are assured by our Lord in His own words, “but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.”

I guess much of the concerns of those who wish to defend orthodox Catholic teachings from further erosion as well as the vain hopes of those who wish to see revolutionary change in the Church as well as in her teachings are based on the assumption that the Church herself has the ability to change some of her teachings, and that she has indeed done so at Synod on the Family, or in the Pope’s latest document. Both these fears are groundless. Don’t believe what you read in the headlines of CNN or the New York Times – “Pope Changes Catholic Doctrine.” It simply didn’t happen. To begin with, the Church cannot change any of her teachings any more than the Pope can do so. We believe that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from teaching error. Specifically, the Church is infallible when the Pope, and the bishops united with him, declare that such and such a doctrine of faith or morality is to be definitively held by all the faithful.

It may be good to revisit what Bishop Robert Barron said in 2014 after the controversial midterm report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family was published prematurely.  One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges. If you want evidence of this, simply look at the accounts of the deliberations of the major councils of the Church, beginning with the so-called Council of Jerusalem in the first century right through to the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth century. In every such gathering, argument was front and centre, and consensus evolved only after lengthy and often acrimonious debate among the interested parties …”

“Until Vatican II, these preliminary arguments and conversations were known only to the participants themselves and to certain specialist historians who eventually sifted through the records. The great teachings of the Councils became widely known and celebrated, but the process that produced them was, happily enough, consigned to the shadows. If I might quote the great Newman, who had a rather unsatisfying experience of official ecclesial life in Rome:  “those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!”

More than 40 years ago, Pope Paul VI gave his great first encyclical the title Ecclesiam Suam,  which in Latin means “His Church.” It always important to remember this simple truth. It is a reminder that Catholic Church does not belong to the bishops, or to the priests or deacons or nuns or laypeople, let alone to the Pope. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ.  It is His Church. This is what we can be certain of. This is what will save us in the end. What else is there to say? Let us take this wonderful opportunity to renew our faith and trust in God, who will continue to protect His Church, offers her lasting peace and guide her safely through the storms of temporary difficulties to the glory of eternal life.

Friday, April 22, 2016






我们的软弱、有限、不完美及不足的爱,不再成为我们爱别人的标准,耶稣对我们的爱才是。只有天主的爱才是完美无瑕的,因为天主本身就是爱。这就是天主的爱 —— 祂甘愿降生成人,受苦受难,并为我们而死。这就是天主的爱——祂愿意成为我们当中的一份子,分担我们的痛苦,体验我们的疾苦,并带给我们希望和鼓励。这就是天主的爱——祂为我们拭去眼泪、摧毁死亡和消除悲伤。这就是天主的爱——祂为我们更新一切。