Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Church's Freedom to Witness to Christ

Today's Gospel for Christ the King Sunday from John 18:33-37:

"‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’"

Beyond the Church's ongoing struggle against Principalities and Powers, against the gates of Hell, the Roman Catholic Church has generally found itself at odds with the powers that be in this world: with emperors who persecuted, as well as with those who feigned devotion while seeking to impose their own will upon the Church especially through the selection of bishops. In the last analysis, the condemnation of the tyranny of relativism even today is launched against the successors in law to types like Henry VIII, Hitler or Stalin, against a Godless constitutional order which imposes through law, fiat or higher court decision a common denominator with no sense for the truth which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ alone.

An old friend just sent me his new book, which is couched very much in these terms but which appeals to one of my great heroes, the church historian Hubert Jedin (1900-1980), to extend this condemnation beyond kings, dukes, diets and parliaments to the mass media, which seem already for a long time, but especially in our day, to lead the whole constitutional order around by the nose. In his book, my friend recounts a valiant struggle, apparently lost, to witness faithfully to the truth of the Gospel as applied to marriage and family in the Church. With all the serenity he can muster, he sums up the bishop's lot at the hands of the media and in the face of terrible odds with the Latin expression 'Victor Quia Victima'. 

My English composition teacher back in college spent a lot of time teaching us if not how to read news magazines critically with an eye for the facts then at least to be skeptical in terms of what TIME and NEWSWEEK were feeding us back then about the Vietnam War and what either one or both weeklies might have had as an agenda which precluded simply chronicling what had happened in a given battle in which people died. Those were simpler times, no doubt, when even a lay teacher at a Catholic College could have recourse to talking about the truth without undue anxiety about being challenged by his students or denounced to the college administration for being rigid or sectarian.

Whenever I get onto such topics or think about the Kingship of Christ, Psalm 2 always comes to mind. I think of a world raging against God's Anointed. I draw confidence from the image of the victorious Lamb, once slain and now seated upon His Throne in glory. 

My own worry is about bishops today, about the resort to expediency which seems to move many entrusted with the shepherding task to step back, to stumble and to be lost or rather to be condemned for having abandoned the sheep entrusted to their care to the wolf, the lion and the bear. Broad-mindedness or tolerance don't fall in the usual catalog of attributes for the Son of Man. 

Jesus showed Himself triumphant lifted upon the Cross. May His bishops and priests find not so much the courage, but the love, profound and longing, to run after the King, drawn by the fragrance of His robes.



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