"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Not To Reform the Church

Step 1: Define some part of your own personal interpretation of the Bible to be the true "gospel", defending your definition by claiming that [your] gospel is what the Apostles taught but has since been lost, hidden, distorted and corrupted until now. Don't use the word 'interpretation'; if necessary call it 'exegesis' to make it seem entirely objective and scientific.

Step 2: Declare and assert, again based on your own personal interpretation of the Bible, that the preaching of the true "gospel" is one of the essential marks of the Church.

Step 3: Point out that only you and those who agree with you bear all the essential marks (as you yourself have defined them in Steps 1-2) of the Church, and that the rest of the so-called Church does not bear all these marks and is therefore apostate and not the true Church.

Step 4: Get yourself excommunicated by that so-called Church which (through Steps 1-3) you have just declared apostate.

Step 5: State that you believe in "semper reformanda", and vigorously oppose the notion that the magisterium is infallible, while also declaring that anyone who repeats Step 1 but comes to a different conclusion regarding the nature of the true "gospel" is ipso facto a heretic and/or an apostate. When asked how what you have done differs from forming a schism, assert that a schism would have a different gospel than the true "gospel" you have recovered.

Step 6: Celebrate your reformation of the Church every year on the anniversary of your initiation of Step 1, and declare and assert that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church continues only with you and those who agree with you regarding the content of the true "gospel".

Today is the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who helped us know more deeply the depth of love which flows continually from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From that pierced heart flows the water and the blood by which through the sacraments the Church is fashioned into a Bride from and for the Second Adam. As St. John Chrysostom writes:

For "there came forth water and blood." Not without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consisteth. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries take their beginning; that when thou approachest to that awful cup, thou mayest so approach, as drinking from the very side.

At almost every Mass, for the past year, as I come before Christ in the Eucharist to drink from His very side, I experience a deep pain in the center of my soul. Usually it moves me to the point of tears. I have to remember always to bring a handkerchief to Mass. Sometimes, I struggle to restrain myself from open weeping. I do not fully understand this experience, but I do know that it has to do with the brokenness and division in Christ's Body. The best I can explain it is like this. Here I am, coming before the Living Christ to receive the Life that flows from His Sacred Heart. And yet while the Living Christ is being offered to me, His Sacred Heart is in pain, and He Himself is weeping over all those who are separated in schisms, wounding the integrity of His Body but not knowing what they are doing. He is weeping over their absence and estrangement. He wishes to gather them together, that we may all be one in Him, as one flock with one Shepherd, as one Body with one Head. In the presence of that divine weeping, the same pain rises up in my heart. How can I sup with Him in joy when my brothers and sisters, His brothers and sisters, do not sup with us? It would be like sitting down at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, while one or more members of the family are in another house, unreconciled to us. How can I be joyful while my brother's seat is empty, while my sister's seat lies vacant, because of an unresolved family quarrel? How could I not feel the pain of their absence? But obviously I do not outdo Christ. Does He not push back His chair first, jump up from the table, run to His separated brothers and sisters and plead with them: "Come, come back to the table. Come home and be reconciled. Let us be together as one family again. Put aside your pride, and let us heal these schisms. We are waiting for you with open arms. We want to eat with you; we want you to share in the joy of partaking of this divine Food and this heavenly Meal with us. And so our joy cannot be full while you are estranged from us. You are all so dear to our hearts, and the rest of the family longs for your return." And if He is spurned or ignored, though this is like a knife in His heart, He does not give up but implores all the more, "Come and be reconciled to your brothers and sisters. See, our faces are wet with tears, and our hearts are weighed down with sorrow because of your absence. Do not let your heart grow hard and complacent; do not let yourself become comfortable in your separation or put out of your mind that you are estranged from us, and that we long for you to return home. Come, determine in your heart to be reconciled to us, no matter how difficult that process may be, so that we might eat together in the fullness of the Peace and Joy of the Life of the Blessed Trinity."

Sacred Heart of Jesus, unite our hearts to yours. Please use us to bring all of those who love you into the full and visible unity of your Body the Church, that we may all share in the fullness of the eternal Peace and Joy that is the Life of the Blessed Trinity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


CMWoodall said...

It would not be so funny had I not formerly embraced steps 1-6.

Your site is good reading...I wish I had more time to interact with it.

All the schism is a mystery. Do you think the wound in His side is our reminder that His Body would perpetually be in pain [read schism]? Or was there ever an undivided Church? We Anglicans hearken back to that era as if it really existed, a Golden Age. But all the centuries had pain & controversies, did they not?

Bryan Cross said...


Thank you for your comments. For some reason, the fact that schism has been a frequent occurrence in the history of the Church, does not lessen its painfulness to me nor my sense of our duty to seek to eliminate it. Reminding myself during Mass that schisms have existed since the first century, does not reduce the pain in the least. As for the future, I do not know what it will bring. All I can do is pray and work with what little influence I have to reconcile those who are presently estranged. My prayer and hope is that there will be a great unification of those who love Christ, even as we are told that there is to be a great apostasy (2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:1). In this two-fold way ([A] being perfected in unity -- John 17:23; and [B] being purified to reveal those who are approved -- 1 Cor 11:19), the Bride will make herself ready (Rev 19:7). St. Paul tells us that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom 5:20). So as evil men go from bad to worse in the last days (2 Tim 3:13), the Church must shine ever brighter as grace abounds all the more. For then "Light shall shine out of darkness" (2 Cor 4:6) and then the righteous will shine forth like the Sun (Matt 13:43), as the world-to-come breaks in at the end of this age. What does it mean that as dawn was breaking, they let down their nets on the right side, and completed the catch? (John 21) Perhaps Peter's catch as dawn is breaking is from those on his right (cf. Matt 25:31ff), i.e. from those who are already believers but not yet in the unity of Peter's boat. In May of this year I speculated a bit about that future in light of St. Augustine's City of God and Josef Pieper's The End of Time in a post I titled "The Imminent Conflict", which you can read here. Thank you again for your comment. Please continue to pray for the true *peace* and *unity* of the Church.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan