Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

St Josemaria Escriva on the Church

A friend has sent me this extract from one of the homilies of St Josemaria Escriva which were published both as a book and online under the title In Love with the Church - it is no 6 in the series.

In what it says the extract is always pertinent, but at the current time with the kind of media coverage of the actions of a tiny minority who have erred that we have become used to, it is a valuable corrective to much of what we read and hear:

" Gens sancta, a holy nation, composed of creatures with infirmities. This apparent contradiction marks an aspect of the mystery of the Church. The Church, which is divine, is also human, for it is made up of men, and men have their defects: Omnes homines terra et cinis, we men are dust and ashes.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who founded the holy Church, expects the members of this people to strive continually to acquire sanctity. Not all respond loyally to his call. And in the spouse of Christ, at one and the same time, both the marvel of the way of salvation and the miseries of those who take up that way are visible.

It was one and the same purpose — namely, that of perpetuating on this earth the salutary work of the redemption which caused the divine Redeemer to give the community of human beings, founded by him, the constitution of a society perfect in its own order, provided with all the juridical and social elements... If something is perceived in the Church which points to the infirmity of our human condition, this is not to be attributed to her juridical constitution, but to the lamentable tendency of individuals toward evil, a tendency which her divine Founder suffers to exist even in the higher members of his Mystical Body, for the testing of the virtue of both flock and pastors, and for the greater merit of Christian faith in all.

This is the reality of the Church here and now. For this reason the holiness of the spouse of Christ is compatible with the existence in her bosom of individuals with defects. Christ did not will sinners to be excluded from the society he had founded; if therefore some members are spiritually infirm, this is no reason for lessening our love toward the Church, but rather for increasing our compassion toward her members.

It would be a sign of very little maturity if, in view of the defects and miseries in any of those who belong to the Church (no matter how high they may be placed by virtue of their function), anyone should feel his faith in the Church and in Christ lessened. The Church is not governed by Peter, nor by John, nor by Paul; she is governed by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord has promised that he will remain at her side always, to the close of the age.

Listen to what Saint Thomas Aquinas says, elaborating on this point. He is speaking about receiving the sacraments, which are the cause and sign of sanctifying grace: He who approaches the sacraments receives the sacrament concerned from the minister of the Church not as such-and-such an individual, but precisely as a minister of the Church. Hence so long as the Church suffers him to remain in his ministry, one receiving a sacrament from him does not share in his sin, but shares in the life of the Church who publicly recognises him as minister. When the Lord permits human weakness to appear, our reaction ought to be the same as if we were to see our mother ill or treated with disdain: to love her all the more, to bestow on her a greater manifestation of affection, both external and internal.

If we love the Church, there will never arise in us a morbid interest in airing, as the faults of the Mother, the weaknesses of some of her children. The Church, the spouse of Christ, does not have to intone any mea culpa. But we do: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. The only true mea culpa is a personal one, not the one which attacks the Church, pointing out and exaggerating the human defects which, in this holy mother, result from the presence in her of men whose actions can go far astray, but which can never destroy — nor even touch — that which we call the original and constitutive holiness of the Church."

The whole set of St Josemaria's homilies can be accessed here.

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