The Future of the Church

Pope Francis has reminded us that the Church is eternally youthful. No matter how old and creaky some of us may feel, the sight of so many young people gathered in Rio for World Youth Day is surely an encouragement. It is in this context that it is useful to remember something Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, long before he became pope. He remarked that the Church was going to have to be a failure before it could be a success; that it was destined to suffer shrinkage and humiliation; that it would have to stop flirting with left and right politically and become a truly spiritual entity. (You can read a good summary here.) I think that shows the continuity of thought and understanding between Francis and Benedict about the nature of the Church and its future development. Many of the things that have become dear to us over the centuries will have to go, but we are too close to them to see exactly what they are. Of this, however, we can be sure: the stripping away of what is loved and familiar will be painful, but it is a necessary part of our purification.

A friend wrote recently that some religious in the south-west were no longer able to wear one of the distinctive items of their habit because it invited loutish behaviour from those who didn’t understand it; that others had even had stones thrown at them — and this in England! The automatic respect that religion was once accorded has now gone. You may think that a good or bad thing — it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is what follows from this change. We need to understand that we are in mission territory. We can no longer go on making the comfortable assumptions we once did. Personally, I have no difficulty with that; but I wonder whether that is true of the Church at large. Are we prepared to be the kind of Church both Benedict and Francis have envisioned, or do we want something else — less challenging perhaps, but more familiar? It is a question each of us must ask him/herself.

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5 thoughts on “The Future of the Church”

  1. I think that people are comfortable with what they know and are familiar with. They can become entrenched in defence of keeping things as they are.

    The danger in that attitude is of course, that the Church will become even more remote, austere and detached from the very community which it is part off.

    And I say this as an Anglican, who see’s the drift in the church towards an ageing population, where having younger members active in church is a novelty and where perhaps we are even more defensive of our ‘established’ status than our mission to be as part of the Universal Church a witness to the Glory of God to those around us.

    Renewal is something to be welcomed. Arch Bishop Justin recently spoke of the Church being a revolutionary church, because we appear to be counter cultural to a huge extent, and perhaps he is right. Pope Francis seems to be creating a ‘Revolution’ of sorts in the Catholic Church, which seems to be received with joy by many, with just a few wondering what on earth he is doing. Well, perhaps looking heavenwards might enlighten them.

    I am among those who in my own small way are working on that revolution – taking the church outside it’s four walls and into the community. I love what we do in church, but understand that our rituals, codes and creeds are completely alien to a wide expanse of the wider population, particularly the young who have little or no contact with Church, and who are missing out on a wonderful, living and revolutionary faith.

    But it seems to me that there is still a hunger there for something more than post-modern enlightenment and materialistic and consumer focused existence that many live in – acknowledging that there might just be something ‘other’ than self to look to for guidance and spiritual nourishment.

    Our message as Churches needs to be united and on key, using words and actions that are understood today and demonstrate the continuing relevance of Jesus’ Gospel in people’s lives. In other words, moving into today’s world, while not sacrificing those principles of faith, hope and love which mark Christ’s teachings, his life and sacrifice for us and our faith in his promise of eternal life.

    We really need to get his right now, not next year or next century.

  2. I think many sense that it is a sort of ‘springtime’ in the church. With regard to respect for religion, being a priest or religious here in Ireland afforded one a lot of social power or prestige in times gone by. This drew the wrong sort of people and did so much harm. Many people now hold Catholicism with contempt so those who are entering religious life or the priesthood are of the purest intentions and will cleanse the church in time to come and draw people back with authenticity – the cycle continues. Here too is mission territory indeed, but I would much prefer that than to settle for a stale Catholicism taken for granted rather than appreciated as the staggeringly wonderful gift it is! 🙂

  3. I am reminded of Eustace in the Narnia books who, as a dragon, sheds his outer layers with Aslan’s help. It is painful but essential.

    There are so many beautiful aspects to Christianity and in particular the Catholic Church. There are some things we may have to change/lose in order to further our mission. How we do this and remain, in essence, the same religion is a difficult notion.

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