Yet this bitterness against the Church has another more specific cause… a secret hope still looks to the Church, which, it is felt, ought to be a kind of island of the good life, a tiny oasis of freedom… it is in the church that the dream of a better world should be realized. There, at least, one would hope to know the taste of freedom, of redeemed existence—to emerge from the cave, as Gregory the Great expresses it in language borrowed from Plato.
Called to Communion, 134-5
Reflection – The bitterness to the Church Ratzinger describes here is that of the ‘how dare the Church tell me what to do! type’ The resentment of the Church as the pre-eminent voice proclaiming the moral law in its fullness to a world that largely would prefer to do without it.
It is interesting that he sees in this bitterness a subtle compliment being paid to the Church. Now, surely there are people who simply disagree with the Church, and dismiss its claims without much fuss. There are some people who are simply indifferent towards the Church, who think little of it.
But the people—and there are many of them—who have this kind of bitterness, this kind of outrage against the Church—well, that’s telling, isn’t it? Why be outraged? I’m not outraged at
for pushing its version of morality, even though I disagree with it entirely. I don’t expect Hollywood to do anything except… well, what they do (and this is a G-rated blog, so I won’t go into that any further). Hollywood
The people who get really angry at the Church for teaching that abortion, contraception, homosexuality, IVF, pre-marital sex, euthanasia, torture, pre-emptive war, exploitation and neglect of the poor are morally wrong, who become bitter towards the Church on account of these things, actually are bearing witness in a sort of upside-down way to the Church’s own claims about itself.
The Church should be offering the good life to people. The Church should be offering freedom and peace, redemption and hope to people. So the moral law in all its unyielding strictures is seen by many as a betrayal of what they secretly hold the Church to be. After all, ‘my good life’ requires that I do (insert practice here).
Of course, some would say that this means the Church needs to loosen up. Pastoral sensitivity and concern for the Church’s mission mean that we need to change our rules, let people do what they want, stop making everyone feel guilty. Only then will people experience the Church as what it is, namely a place of freedom and joy.
We cannot do that. For one thing, we sincerely and deeply believe ‘the rules’ are God’s, not ours. We can’t change them even if we wanted to. And we don’t want to. Because they are God’s rules, and we believe that God alone knows the true path to freedom. The human notion of freedom as freedom from all restriction is self-defeating. Sooner or later some unrestricted human will use his freedom to destroy mine, or I will use my freedom in a self-destructive way.
Freedom is walking the path of life, of truth, and of love. The Church is the place of freedom, because the Church is the place of truth. This emergence from the cave signifies the movement from appearance and illusion into the clear daylight of reality. This is what the Church offers.
We are free to walk out of the cave into the light. We are not free to walk into the light and still stay in the dark. And the Church, in its teaching office, continues to shine the light it possesses—light as we understand it—into the darkness of the world. Let those who accept this light do so, those who reject the light look elsewhere. But those who are bitter and resentful of the Church for shedding the light it does on things, clearly are looking to the Church still. I guess that’s hopeful, in a funny sort of way.