One of the most ridiculous misrepresentations of the Catholic Church is that it is an old fashioned, stuck in time, unchanging and inflexible institution.
From the wordling’s point of view, it seems a no brainer. Here is a two thousand year old institution run by old white guys. They have guards with halberds for goodness’ sake–standing around in renaissance costumes. Speaking of costumes, the clergy all wear outlandish gear and wild old time hats. They maintain ancient traditions and customs and operate a closed shop inside a secretive walled city.
But is the Catholic Church so unchanging and inflexible. In some ways it is, in other ways the old girl never ceases to pop surprises. The first one in my memory is the election of John Paul II. Nobody saw it coming, and his papacy was revolutionary. Under his guidance the Catholic Church became a world player–assisting in the fall of communism and speaking out forcefully in world events. Then nobody predicted Benedict XVI, and yet he too stepped on to the world stage and continued the high influence of the pope in the modern world, but as a quiet and gentle scholar.
Consider his surprises: the erection of the Anglican Ordinariate, rapprochement with the traditionalists, and traveling the world and writing books despite being in his eighties. Now the Catholic Church pops another surprise: a humble man of the people with the name Francis–a man who will win hearts and command admiration and yet stand firm for the fullness of the Catholic faith–a man from the New World for the new world.
The reason the Catholic Church is able to pop surprises is because she is ever ancient and ever new. As Pope Benedict said at the beginning of his papacy, “The Church is young!” This is also why age doesn’t matter that much when they are choosing the pope–because despite his age the gospel he preaches is invigorating and always youthful in it’s truth and beauty.
This is the real surprise: that when people stop to listen–really listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ they find a timeless, energetic and forever youthful and relevant message. We may have messed it up. The Church may have clouded it with human frailty and we may have betrayed the gospel with our sin and hypocrisy, but the gospel itself is forever vibrant, alive, powerful and full of surprises.
Finally, have you ever stopped to consider why the worldlings attack the Catholic Church so heartily? Yes, it is true, that there are some who hate goodness and truth and beauty. There are some who hate God and Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother, but I believe more attack the churchs because they want to believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is all we say it is, but we’ve let them down.
They want to believe that sanctity is possible. They want to believe that a group of people can change the world through love alone. They want to believe that someone loves them so much that he would die for them. They want to believe that they too can be heroes–saints–eternal souls shining in the darkness like eternal stars. They want to believe the great and the good and the true and the beautiful gospel of Christ, and they attack the Catholic Church because we have too often disappointed them.
If and when we live the gospel of love and live the gospel we profess, then and only then will they listen to that gospel and decide to give it a try. And lest you think I am only talking to myself or to my fellow clergy–I’m talking to you dear reader. Yes, you. The one who stares back at you in the mirror.
All of us are called to this heroic holiness, and this is the greatest surprise of all–that ordinary people like you and like me can achieve it if we will only go with God’s grace–even a little and show forth in our lives the radiance of his love.