I’m sure by now you’ve heard that TODAY is the LAST DAY of the pontificate of our dear Pope Benedict XVI. That can make us feel, at the very least, a little unsettled. Like a ship on an unsteady sea, I feel a bit like I’ve lost my anchor – like I don’t know where the Church is going next because the man at the helm is stepping down – and of course, I don’t know yet who will take his place!
In thinking about the Church as a ship, and a ship that right now is sailing on a lot of faith in uncertain times, two things providentially came together for me the other day – 1). Pope Benedict XVI himself gave us the image of the ship for these uncertain times when he chose a ship as the symbol of the current Year of Faith; 2). A homily I read the other day totally resonated with all of this – it connected the image of Church as a ship to Vatican II and Lumen Gentium, whose 50th anniversary is part of the inspiration for declaring the Year of Faith.
1). Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Letter to Open the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, references Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the foundational documents from Vatican II (the name translates as “light of the nations” or “light of the world/peoples” from the first line of the document). Pope Benedict XVI draws our attention to this quote from Lumen Gentium:
“…by the power of the risen Lord [the Church] is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, its sorrow and its difficulties, both those that are from within and those that are from without, so that it may reveal IN the world, faithfully, although with shadows, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light.” (emphasis added)
Throughout Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict talks about going out INTO the world, about letting our faith be known. He also says, “Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world.” He calls us to be a living, dynamic, sign of faith in the world, not apart from the world.
2). The homily I was reading the other morning on Lumen Gentium was given at a conference for families by Fr. Joseph Kentenich (Founder of the International Catholic Schoenstatt Movement) about a year after Lumen Gentium was officially promulgated in November 1964. I put some excerpts from the homily at the end of the post (caveat, translation is my own).
In the homily, Fr Kentenich helps us meditate on how the Church is called to be this “light to the nations” in the new times – we can no longer expect the world to come to us, he says, as people did for centuries when the monasteries were at the center of Western civilization. Indeed, sometimes I feel that in our times making the pilgrimage from the secular world and it’s way of seeing things into the depths of the supernatural world of faith and the mystery of God is a much longer and more ambiguous trek than it used to be!
Fr Kentenich illustrates the new conception of the Church put forth in Lumen Gentium by describing two images – the static rock, and the dynamic ship. He says our times call for a greater “dynamism” – more movement! That while we don’t want to forget to look behind us, we must at the same time look ahead to whatever new shores God’s Providence has in store for His Church. We must be a “a ship that cleaves with courage to the raging sea of the confusion and complexity of actual life. I repeat: it is a dynamic conception of the Church, with the urgent motto that all the world of today be touched by the Church.”
So it all came together around the image of the ship – how I was feeling, the themes of Year of Faith, and the themes from Fr. Kentenich’s homily. It all speaks to how the Church is called to be a ship sailing in faith in this time of uncertainty as we look toward the election of a new Pope.
As a Church in our modern times, we must now go out to the people, we must put ourselves IN the world. Rather than try to function as a cloistered, static rock, we must embrace this new image of being dynamic ship that braves the new shores of the times, sailing with confidence in any storm – including the feelings of lostness and unsteadiness that come with a Papal transition – anchored by the conviction, the faith, that Christ is with us.
Christ, be with God’s faithful servants, our Cardinals, as they seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in electing the new Pope!
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Excerpts from “To gaze ahead, without disregarding the retrospective gaze”, homily by Fr Joseph Kentenich, Schoenstatt Family Conference, Dec 31, 1965.
“Does there exist a change in the conception that the Church has of herself?…How does the Church see herself recently? Fortunately the representatives of the Church, the cardinals and the bishops of all the world, could come together [for the Second Vatican Council]. In this way they had an opportunity to collaborate in the revision of the new characterization, the new image of the Church…How has the action of the Holy Spirit been manifested in the womb of the Church? If it deals with a change in the characterization, in the awareness that the Church as of itself, then it shouldn’t be considered a work of chance but a work of the Holy Spirit. How does the Constitution Lumen Gentium characterize the Church? The answer is the following: from now and beyond the Church must be contemplated in all her primordial dynamism. From now and beyond, and with more strength than ever, the Church should orient herself taking as a north the new shores…the Church wants two things: to gaze ahead, without disregarding the retrospective gaze…
We want to particularly highlight two aspects, two elements, of this new conception [of the Church]. In first place, until now the Church has let itself be carried more or less by the idea, by the conviction: Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedifficabo ecclesiam meam [Mt 16:18, And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church].
The Church as a rock, a rock in the middle of the tidal wave of the times. A rock…whomever wants to reach salvation by God should find the path that leads to this rock. From there [results] a certain cloistering of the Church in the middle of the tidal wave of the modern epoch.
The Church was and is today – perhaps we could say it this way – like an erratic boulder, closed in the middle of the world. The world no longer makes the effort to pilgrimage towards her, but rather moves farther and farther away. From there comes the need for a greater dynamism, for abandoning this rigid conservatism and infuse a greater dynamism…
However, to continue clarifying and deepening this outlined idea, we remember that lately the Church at the hour of choosing an image that expresses herself, chose images different from the ancient ones. [Now] The Church prefers to be considered as a ship. The ship that was once taken by storms in the lake of Genezaret; the ship in which the Lord is, although sometimes he appears to be sleeping. A ship that doesn’t fear the surf of the storm. A ship that cleaves with courage to the raging sea of the confusion and complexity of actual life. I repeat: it is a dynamic conception of the Church, with the urgent motto that all the world of today by touched by the Church.”