Thursday, August 6, 2015

Daily Thought For August 6, 2015

The Struggle for Holiness & the "Perfect Church"

I must admit that to me this unholy holiness of the Church has in itself something infinitely comforting about it. Would one not be bound to despair in face of a holiness that was spotless and could only operate on us by judging us and consuming us by fire? Who would dare to assert of himself that he did not need to be tolerated by others, indeed borne up by them? And how can someone who lives on the forbearance of others himself renounce forbearing? Is it not the only gift he can offer in return, the only comfort remaining to him, that he endures just as he, too, is endured? Holiness in the Church begins with forbearance and leads to bearing up; where there is no more forbearing, there is no more bearing up either, and existence, lacking support, can only sink into the void. People may well say that such words express a sickly existence—but it is part of being a Christian to accept the impossibility of autonomy and the weakness of one’s own resources. At bottom there is always hidden pride at work when criticism of the Church adopts that tone of rancorous bitterness which today is already beginning to become a fashionable habit. Unfortunately it is accompanied only too often by a spiritual emptiness in which the specific nature of the Church as a whole is no longer seen, in which she is only regarded as a political instrument whose organization is felt to be pitiable or brutal, as if the real function of the Church did not lie beyond organization, in the comfort of the Word and of the sacraments that she provides in good and bad days alike. Those who really believe do not attribute too much importance to the struggle for the reform of ecclesiastical structures. They live on what the Church always is; and if one wants to know what the Church really is one must go to them. For the Church is most present, not where organizing, reforming, and governing are going on, but in those who simply believe and receive from her the gift of faith that is life to them. Only someone who has experienced how, regardless of changes in her ministers and forms, the Church raises men up, gives them a home and a hope, a home that is hope—the path to eternal life—only someone who has experienced this knows what the Church is, both in days gone by and now.

This does not mean that everything must be left undisturbed and endured as it is. Endurance can also be a highly active process, a struggle to make the Church herself more and more that which supports and endures. After all, the Church does not live otherwise than in us; she lives from the struggle of the unholy to attain holiness, just as of course this struggle lives from the gift of God, without which it could not exist. But this effort only becomes fruitful and constructive if it is inspired by the spirit of forbearance, by real love. And here we have arrived at the criterion by which that critical struggle for better holiness must always be judged, a criterion that is not only not in contradiction with forbearance but is demanded by it. This criterion is constructiveness. A bitterness that only destroys stands self-condemned. A slammed door can, it is true, become a sign that shakes up those inside. But the idea that one can do more constructive work in isolation than in fellowship with others is just as much of an illusion as the notion of a Church of “holy people” instead of a “holy Church” that is holy because the Lord bestows holiness on her as a quite unmerited gift.


Ratzinger, J. (2004). Introduction to Christianity (Revised Edition). (J. R. Foster, Trans.) (pp. 343–344). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.