An Idle Thought Before Trinity Sunday

This morning I was thinking about D. Catherine Gascoigne, first abbess of Cambrai*, and the courage with which she defended Fr Augustine Baker’s teaching on contemplative prayer in the face of disapproval (euphemism) from the monks of the English Benedictine Congregation. A little later I did a quick check of our Facebook pages and came across a series of photographs of Cardinal Burke in several varieties of ecclesiasatical costume (another euphemism) appended to an interview he has given about secularism. And there you have it, I said to myself, two quite different understandings of the Church, two different understandings of what really matters. For D. Catherine — quiet, resolute, determined to hold to the one thing necessary — a reluctant confrontation with Church authority; for Cardinal Burke — combative, fired with a zeal some of us see as not always wise — another instance of apportioning blame for the ills of the Church (remember his interview on the feminization of the Church?) which fails to take account of the responsibility of her priests and bishops for the same, and is not helped by the way he dresses.

This post isn’t about Cardinal Burke or D. Catherine as such. It is, as I said, about two different understandings of the Church, but they are useful illustrations of two tendencies the Church has within her. One early image of the Church is that of the vine — organic, growing, subject to dormant periods, in constant need of pruning, but essentially fruitful despite its vulnerability. Another is that of the Church built on rock — solid, unchanging, proof against all assaults. We actually need both understandings, but most of us have a tendency to prefer one or the other. The danger of thinking always in organic terms is that one can lose a sense of the objectivity of the Church, of the necessity of her institutional form. The danger of thinking always in institutional terms is that one can lose sight of the personal, the charismatic. And so to my point. As we approach Trinity Sunday with its powerful reminder of the transcendence of God, we need, more than ever, to remember the Incarnation. The great mystery of faith we call the Holy Trinity has a vulnerable, human face; and we worship both.

*Today is the anniversary of her death.