Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Evil One in the Catholic Church

Yet again, I am witnessing someone who is considering joining the Catholic Church being put off by the manifest evil of some members.

Why should she join such an Institution, and align herself with such people?

It is a very good question, and I think a profound one. It has arisen throughout the history of the Church, of course.

From the start, one of the twelve betrayed Christ; and we believe that Christ knew that he would do so.  I believe that one of the reasons Christ allowed that was to teach us, by example, that we will always find evil within the Church; just as He teaches in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13: 24-30).

And so we have found: time and again, the Catholic Church is seen to be a Church of great saints and prodigious sinners.

So how do I reconcile myself to believing such a Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? What is so Holy about it?

Before we address that, I would just point out that it is fulfilling Our Lord’s prediction, and also that being a Church of Saints and Sinners is, perhaps, a function of its Catholicity.

But I think we can go further than that. I believe that it is precisely because it is Holy, the Bride of Christ, that we find such depths of sin and depravity there too.

Going right back to the beginning, it is the Angel of light, Lucifer, who falls the furthest, to become Satan.  I think that reflects a profound spiritual truth: that the highest things, when corrupted, become the worst. Thus human love, that great gift by which we can mirror Christ’s love for the Church, and participate in the creative work of God, when corrupted can become a terrible evil (rape and other forms of sexual abuse).

Likewise, those who are Christians and fall severely will fall further than those who are not.  And what is more, the further along the spiritual path people are, the more intense the temptations to which they are subject: the Devil knows the stakes are higher.

So paradoxically, perhaps, the presence of great evil within the Church is another sign of her authenticity.

But we should never allow that perspective to eclipse the great holiness of the Church: holiness that comes from being Christ's mystical body, infused and animated by the Holy Spirit, and manifest in the sacramental worship of the Church and in countless saints, known and unknown who despite their failings have accepted God's saving grace and allowed it to shine through in their lives.

None of which excuses any of the evils committed by those who claim the title Christian, or Catholic.  They have a higher responsibility because they have access to truth and grace in a particular way.  Our exemplar, in many ways, is the Blessed Virgin:one can only imagine the temptations to which she must have been subjected, when the Devil realised that here he had met his match: a human in whom there was no trace of sin.  Yet with God’s grace, and in total submission to God’s will, she remained free from sin - and that is what we are all called to do.

And yet we fall.  As C S Lewis points out, if I, knowing what I know about myself, can still, in some sense consider myself to be a Christian, how do I dare to presume to judge anyone else worthy or unworthy of that title?

And in that respect, our final model is Our Lord Himself.  He did not fall into sin, of course; but on His sorrowful road to Calvary, He fell under the weight of sin: and He showed us what to do: to get up, take up our Cross, and continue on the path the Father has laid out in front of us.


Stuart James said...

If I may be so bold and take the liberty of linking to my own recent post which I feel touches on this issue:

Quote of the day

The comments below the post are of interest also and of ongoing problems online.

Richard Collins said...

Not my quote but I like it:
"The Church on earth is imperfect but, in Heaven, perfect"

Daniel. said...

An interesting post, but I must take issue with the following example:
Thus human love, that great gift by which we can mirror Christ’s love for the Church, and participate in the creative work of God, when corrupted can become a terrible evil (rape and other forms of sexual abuse).
This assumes that abuse, rape, etc is a corruption of love, that it is an excess of such, not properly controlled. I don't think this is necessarily true, the acts which take place therein have nothing to do with love and everything to do with rage, hatred and the abuse of power.