The maker is the opposite of the wonderer. He narrows the scope of reason and thus loses sight of the mystery. The more men themselves decide and do in the Church, the more cramped it becomes for us all. What is great and liberating about the Church is not something self-made but the gift that is given to us all. This gift is not the product of our own will and invention but precedes us and comes to meet us as the incomprehensible reality that is ‘greater than our heart’. The reform that is needed at all times does not consist in constantly remodeling ‘our’ Church according to our taste, or in inventing her ourselves, but in ceaselessly clearing away our subsidiary constructions to let in the pure light that comes from above and that is also the dawning of pure freedom.
Called to Communion, 140
Reflection – There are probably few subjects Ratzinger has given more attention to than the ongoing reform of the Church. As a young theologian, he was among the periti of the Second Vatican Council; as a bishop, archbishop, Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and as the bishop of Rome, he has labored unceasingly for the proper understanding and implementation of the reforms of the Council, and endured with considerable grace and charity the opprobrium and slanders of those with a different understanding of what this would mean.
We see in the above passage the central attitude he assumes towards this whole reform business. The Church is not something we make, not our creation, not our work fundamentally. It is a gift coming to us from above. The fundamental structure of the Church, its essential being and purpose and action, is given to us, is the work of God, the action of the Holy Spirit coming to us from above that gives light and freedom to our eyes.
This is so crucial. It’s not just matters we may think of as relevant to Church reform: can women be ordained priests? What about celibacy? How should the liturgy be celebrated? What about structures of authority? What is the proper role of the theologian? What about dissent? What is the mission of the laity? What about sex???????
All that stuff has its importance and place. But there is a fundamental attitude towards all reality that I believe must come before any of these matters, and indeed any matter at all can be properly understood and lived.
It’s this whole business of reality coming to us ‘from above’, of truth coming to us as a gift from God, of life being something to be wondered at before it is to be made. Wonder, awe, gratitude, contemplation—without these, we are in a sorry state of affairs. God unfolds around us moment by moment, day by day, his awesome and mighty works. The beauty of the world he made, the strange actions of love and mercy that attend all of our lives (although we miss so much by our inattentiveness), the most mysterious dispensations of his will unfolding around us moment by moment in his providential disposal of the world—all of this is to be wondered at, received, contemplated. And then, surrendered to.
It’s this whole business of Mary, you know. And the angel, and this unfathomably mysterious event in Nazareth 2000 years ago or so. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” A whole way of life, a whole approach to reality, an entire anthropology, sociology, economics, politics, ecclesiology, psychology, younameitology emerges from this one simple sentence.
It is to be our sentence, if we are to be Christians. If we want to be something else, we can say some other sentence, but this is the sentence of the Christian. “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word,” and then this mysterious gift, this mysterious action, this mysterious Word enters our flesh. What is this? We cannot encompass it or comprehend.
We can fall down and worship, though. And this is Christmas. This is faith. This is life. Without this, we will never know how to ‘be Church’, or ‘be human’ or be much of anything worth being.Mary, teach us.