Friday, August 21, 2015

the Us, not the They and the It

Albany's bishop, Edward Scharfenberger, is the real deal, folks.  His latest article in The Evangelist lays out some important challenges and reminders for the Church.

What if each of us took personal responsibility not only for some of the good and important works we expect to be done by the Church, but also in the face of the corruption that, during its pilgrimage throughout history, has tarnished the Church, its reputation and its integrity?

Scharfenberger knows this is the great temptation:  to take only the good of the Church--its victories, its martyrdoms, its service--and foist all the bad--gee, what scandal will it be today?--onto somebody else's shoulders.  Nope, God alone separates the wheat from the chaff.  In this world we must take the one with the other.  That being said, Catholics do have justifiable pride in the Church's accomplishments.  On the other hand, worldly success isn't the only metric...and the Church knows it.  Worldly success can become its own temptation and occasion to sin, and that reality sits atop our own human frailties and fallness.  We can, do, and will make a mess of perfectly good situations...because we are human.  And humanity is not perfect.  Scharfenberger:

This is the risk of freedom and autonomy, as Pope Francis has often noted in his daily homilies. We are all sinners, but the corrupt have taken a step beyond, in that they have become hardened in their sin so that it becomes a habitual pattern. Their "genetic code" -- as the Holy Father put it -- has not changed, since they still have a relationship with God and can turn to Him. Instead, however, they have made a "god" of themselves and their own desires.

The temptation to corruption can occur at any time, in places high or humble. The damage of which those in authority -- both in sacred and secular office -- are capable is enormous, as we see when public officials abandon their moral conscience in order to placate constituents or conceal their own complicity in some form of plunder.

Here's where Scharfenberger really riffs it good.  It's precisely in this fallness, this inescapable reality which we nonetheless are called to avoid, that we must not erect the oh-so-tempting "Us" and "Them" categories.  That alone starts the Church--which is an "Us," our community locally, nationally, and globally--towards becoming an "It."  And while the Church is an institution, it must always resist the temptation of becoming institutionalized.  Scharfenberger concludes:

The Church must never harden into a "them" instead of an "us." If it does, "it" will only turn more into that cold-seeming, heartless, bureaucratic fortress that everyone says we do not want to be.

Only the Church of "us" -- our Church -- is capable of responding in a human fashion: person-to-person, the way Jesus did, and especially to sinners.

Perhaps the remembrance of our own imperfect reality -- as sinners in need of a Savior -- will spare us from its very hardened state of the corrupt whom we may be all too tempted to point the index finger of one hand at -- even as the other three fingers inevitably point right back to us.

Read the whole thing here.  Bishop Scharfenberger has been a great gift to Albany since his installation in April, 2014.  The diocese has a great history (first diocese to be formed from New York City in 1848) and a great spirit.  It has been an inspiration (and challenge!) watching him lead the diocese in the 21st century while maintaining the legacy of his predecessor, Howard Hubbard. 
 


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