The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: When the Church is weak, then she is strong.

In our own day the Church, particularly in Europe and the English-speaking world, is undergoing a crisis, especially because of faulty Church administration, paedophile and sex allegations and court verdicts. For many this can be disheartening; for others a reason to abandon practice of their faith or even faith itself. The problem is felt keenest in countries where the Church and the clergy were held in high esteem, and the clergy even in a sense beyond reproach. Some even question whether the Church will ever regain her moral status, or even survive the crisis.

            In a sense, in view of the attacks from various angles, the Church is being persecuted. This may be a good thing for the Church. In fourth century Africa where the Church, after centuries of persecution, was at peace and had a vigorous spiritual life one noted scholar (Tyconius) on the Apocalypse of John could not identify with the Church catholic since it was not being persecuted! The present crisis in the Church could be a call to regard the Church, the Body of Christ, as it really is – a mystery. She understands herself best by going back to the Gospels and the teaching of St Paul.

            We all like status, being in a state of respect and of honour, and this is natural. But let us recall Jesus’ message. Possibly Jesus, as a human, liked the same. After his baptism, where he was declared by the Father from heaven as his Son, in whom the Father was well pleased, he may have had the natural desire to profit by this. In his temptations Satan tried to get him to so. The early Christian hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 says that instead of this Jesus humbled himself even to the ignominy of the cross. Peter at Caesarea Philippi found reference to Jesus’ humiliation and crucifixion too much, but as follower of Christ came to accept the mystery. For the Pharisee Saul, death by crucifixion of one believed to be the Messiah was totally repulsive. But he too was led to see that this was God’s way. God, in Christ and the Church, works through human weakness. Paul came to realize that in the contradictions of his ministry and in his own personal life. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). In his preaching of the Gospel he was keen to stress the centrality of the Cross and resurrection, so that Christian faith is based on divine grace and power, not human reasoning. God willed to save the world not by wisdom (as Greek wisdom would wish it) nor by miracles but by the foolishness of the cross. Not that the Church does not respect human wisdom and ingenuity. With Paul, believers are called on to rejoice always, and to think positively, about “whatever is true, whatever is honourable whatever is just, whatever is pure, is gracious, if there is anything worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). But Christian faith is a continuation of Christ’s death and resurrection, a mystery to be understood through faith, and by prayer for the understanding of this great mystery. Christ is with his Church, in the soul of every believers bringing conviction in trials,

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