Earlier this evening I attended a meeting of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform at the home of my friends Bernie and Eileen Rodel. They, myself, and a number of others are on the committee that’s planning this Saturday’s prayer breakfast that will not only launch a series of “synods of the baptized” but will feature Voice of the Faithful vice-president Janet Hauter as keynote speaker.
Looking through Bernie’s great collection of books on theology I came across Hans Küng’s Reforming the Church Today: Keeping Hope Alive (Crossroads, 1990). And since I’m being very intentional this week in highlighting and sharing thoughts and writings of hope I thought I’d share an excerpt from this book (with thanks to Bernie for loaning it to me so as to do just that!).
I find it interesting that Küng employs the metaphor of a floundering ship to describe the current state of the Church as this is exactly how I’ve been recently thinking of the Church! I’m not planning, however, on heading to the lifeboats – though I certainly don’t think any less of those who do. Indeed, if necessary, I’m happy to direct and help folks to them. But personally, I’m committed to staying on board and doing what I can so as to, in the words of Mary Hunt, “re-think the basis and repair the damage.” And besides, I’ve always loved a good and challenging adventure!
And so, it seems, does Hans Küng, as the following excerpt from his hopeful book, Reforming the Church Today, attests.
Why am I staying in the Church? Because, in critical loyalty, there is so much in this community and its history that I can affirm, so much in this community from which, like so many others, I draw life. I am staying in the Church because, along with the other members of this community of faith, we are the Church. (One should not confuse the Church with its apparatus or administrators; nor leave it to them alone to mold the community.) I am staying in the Church because, with all the strong objections against it, here I am at home. Here all the great questions are asked: where and whence, the why and how of human beings and our world. I could not think of turning my back on the Church any more than, in the political sphere, I could turn my back on democracy, which, in its own way no less than the Church, is being misused and abused.
Of course, there is also the other possibility. And I have good friends who have chosen it. In the light of its decline, some have broken with the Church for the sake of higher values, maybe even for the sake of being more genuinely Christian. There are individual Christians outside the institutional Church, perhaps, in short-lived boundary-situations, groups of Christians as well. I respect such a decision and even understand it. During the present depression in the Catholic Church – following upon the conciliar euphoria under John XXIII – I understand more than ever why people leave.
I could certainly give as many reasons for leaving as those who have left. Jumping ship for some may be an act of honesty, courage, protest, necessity, or simply the inability to take any more. For me personally, though, it would be an act of weakness, failure, capitulation. I helped sail it in better days; should I give up the ship in a storm? Should I leave it to others, with whom I have sailed, to stem the wind, to bail out the water, even to struggle ultimately for survival? I have received too much from this community to be able to leave so easily. I have been too involved in Church reform and renewal to be willing to disappoint those who have been involved with me. To those opposed to renewal, I do not want to give the pleasure of my leaving; to the partisans of renewal, I do not want to give the pain.
Every day, every hour, the work of Jesus is in truth being accomplished by the witness of ordinary Christians who are making the Church present in the world. And so this would be my decisive answer: I am staying in the Church because I have been convinced by Jesus Christ and all that he stands for, and because the Church-community, despite all its failures, pleads the cause of Jesus Christ and must continue to do so.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• A Brave Hope
• Choosing to Stay
• One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church
• Rome Falling
• Clearing Away the Debris
• Something We Dare Call Hope
For more of Hans Küng at The Wild Reed, see:
• Hans Küng: Still Speaking from the Heart of the Church
• In Search of a “Global Ethic”
• An Intriguing Thought
• “We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
Images 1 and 3: Christian Stenfelt.
Image 2: Charles J. DeLacy.