By Bishop Phonsie Cullinan
In the light of recent developments in Ireland the Church finds herself in a different place. We must go back to basics. The purpose of the Church is to continue the work of Christ. This is what the Church has done, or tried to do – however badly, for over 2000 years.
One of the best things that people of faith who feel threatened can do is to read up on Church history. If the Church were not of God it would have ended at around 3pm on the day we call Good Friday.
We must of course accept that in Ireland at the moment faithful Catholics are in the minority. I think we need to marry two ideas – one from Pope Benedict XVI, the ‘creative minority’; the other from Pope Francis – the Church as ‘a field hospital’.
Pope Benedict said that: “…normally it is the creative minorities that determine the future, and in this sense the Catholic Church must understand itself as a creative minority that has a heritage of values that are not things of the past, but a very living and relevant reality.
” For the Church this has always been the case. The 12 apostles sent out by the Lord, and the 72 disciples chosen by him were again, minorities who made all the difference. We see how many saints battled against the majority, sometimes from within their own orders or dioceses, to bring about renewal. One false alternative would be for the Church to ghettoize herself. We must be active believers who have chosen and want to live the Church’s teaching.
We must get our “hands dirty” as Pope Francis tells us and be like a hospital in a battlefield, open to all, working with others to help and to heal, in the messiness of everyday life. We must be prepared to tell the truth of the human story even if people do not want to listen, knowing that it is the truth that will set us free. (John 8:32)
So what does the Church have to offer to people?
What we have to offer is to tell the world that there is only One Thing Necessary – God.
God the Son tells the world its true story: that we are created by God to live as children of the Father; that we sin because we suffer from that original fault of Adam and Eve – that wound in our human nature which is prone to selfishness and sin; but that Jesus has taken our faults on himself and that through his death and resurrection we have the promise of redemption, and the grace to live a new kind of life and gain eternal life. This is what we have to tell the world – that life has meaning, ultimate meaning.
We can tell the world (as Peter Kreeft would say) that: The way to happiness is self-forgetful love, and the way to unhappiness is self-regard, self-worry, and the self-centred search for personal happiness.
Oftentimes we are tempted to offer grace on the cheap. Dietrich Bonhoffer speaks eloquently about costly grace and contrasts it with cheap grace:
“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market…. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. ………. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession… grace without the cross.”
What we offer is costly grace which he says is:
“…the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has….It is costly because it cost a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
In Ireland right now there are many green shoots of a new Church, very different in appearance to the old but in continuity at the same time where the laity wake up to their true role, not to be like glorified clerics but living their faith in the middle of the world. These many new movements and organizations seek that costly grace – Youth 2000, Focolare, Legion of Mary, John Paul 11 Awards, Faith Camps, Opus Dei, NET ministries, etc., – small groups being formed by the Master to be his hands and eyes and feet in the world of today.