Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Church is Not An NGO

Q. Holy Father, I would like to ask you how I, how we can live as a poor Church and for the poor. How does a suffering person pose a question for our faith? What practical, effective contribution can all of us, as members of lay movements and associations, make to the Church and to society in order to address this grave crisis that is affecting public ethics the model of development, politics, that is to say, a new way of being men and women?

A. I shall return to the idea of “witness”. First of all living out the Gospel is the main contribution we can make. The Church is neither a political movement nor a well-organized structure. That is not what she is. We are not an NGO, and when the Church becomes an NGO she loses her salt, she has no savour, she is only an empty organization.

We need cunning here, because the devil deceives us and we risk falling into the trap of hyper-efficiency. Preaching Jesus is one thing; attaining goals, being efficient is another. No, efficiency is a different value. Basically the value of the Church is living by the Gospel and witnessing to our faith. The Church is the salt of the earth, she is the light of the world. She is called to make present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God and she does this primarily with her witness, the witness of brotherly love, of solidarity and of sharing with others. When you hear people saying that solidarity is not a value but a “primary attitude” to be got rid of... this will not do! They are thinking of an efficiency that is purely worldly.

Times of crisis, like the one we are living through — you said earlier that “we live in a world of lies” — this time of crisis, beware, is not merely an economic crisis. It is not a crisis of culture. It is a human crisis: it is the human person that is in crisis! Man himself is in danger of being destroyed! But man is the image of God! This is why it is a profound crisis!

Pope Francis, Pentecost Vigil with Ecclesial Movements, May 18, 2013

Reflection – Pope Francis once again neatly avoids being put into a box by the simple expedient of demolishing the box with a few words. The pope has made a few statements lately to the effect that the pursuit of profits at the expense of human dignity and basic justice is perhaps not quite the apex of human ethical behavior. For this, he has been branded in some quarters as a communist or a ‘cultural Marxist’, whatever that means, or a liberation theologian.

All of which is stuff and nonsense, although when you dig into it, liberation theology means so many different things and has such fuzzy definition that Pope Benedict could qualify for that particular label.

The Church is concerned with economics, with politics, with business ethics, for one reason and one reason only. And that is because the Church is concerned with the human person. It is humanity, the dignity, the welfare of the person, man as more than a unit of economic production or political control, man as a creature of God with a divine origin and destiny, a worth and a meaning next to which any project of secular society pales into relative insignificance.

And so, even projects that serve the poor and that work to redress injustice must be kept in their right order. Always and at all times, it is the human person, the individual, our neighbor, who matters above all. This is something Catherine Doherty knew so well – while she began many different projects and works in her life, many of which Madonna House continues to do, she always knew it was the person in front of her who mattered, and that the projects were of relatively little import. When she moved into Harlem, the segregated African American ghetto of New York City, the pastor who welcomed her asked what programs she wanted to start. She answered, “Oh, Father, I don’t do any programs, I just want to go and love the people one at a time!”

Of course as this work of individual love and encounter goes on, you find out what the real needs are, and if you can, you help meet those needs. But it is always intensely personal, intensely focused on loving and serving here and now the one who is before you. And it is in this act of personal love and service, of friendship and concern, that true Christian humanism flourishes, that the dignity and awesome meaning and value of human life is upheld.

Being pro-life, being socially just, being for the poor, being for the marginalized and ‘les miserables’ of the earth—all of this is not primarily a matter of political agitation or social uproar, but of compassion and care for the individual. That has always been Madonna House’s approach to these matters; it also appears to be Pope Francis’. 

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