Third in a series about the Divine Renovation initiative
Perhaps the most difficult chapter in Fr Mallon’s book Divine Renovation is chapter 3 where he refers to the Church as a ‘House of Pain’. The pain arises, says Fr Mallon, because the Church is sick and it has lost its true identity as a missionary church.
There is deep individual pain among God’s faithful people who did for their children what their parents did for them. So many of them are at a loss to know what they did wrong as they watch children and grandchildren leave the Church and faith in God. The rites of marriages and funerals are often no more than politely tolerated by family members who find them unfamiliar and meaningless. The problem is that the world has changed, so quickly and so completely, that what worked in 1956 is now so alien that it might just as well be a thousand years ago.
There is also deep institutional pain reflected in the decline of familiar structures. The institutions of hospitals, schools and charities are the Church’s proud response to the needs of the past. The challenge now is that often they achieved what they set out to do, but many of them are ill-equipped to respond to the needs of the present. Similarly, parishes were created to serve communities as they were, but social change means that people move to where there are opportunities for families to grow and thrive. People move but buildings do not, and we are all familiar with the sight of huge church buildings in tiny communities, whose members cannot afford to sustain them.
A deeper pain for all the faithful is the devastation caused by sexual abuse of children by priests. This pain is made many times worse by the covering up and tolerance of such behaviour by leaders within the Church. Victims and their families carry deep pain. Every priest and bishop carries the shame because of the mis-deeds of a few. Lack of trust is like acid that eats away the heart of the faithful, and for many makes it impossible for them even to enter a church.
What hope can there be for a Church where trust is gone and the faithful can only lament? Fr Mallon gives no easy answers, for there are none. He does though offer a possibility of hope out of deep darkness, using the parable of the sower. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God grows like seed scattered in a field. The sower is responsible for scattering the seed, but how it grows in individual Christians and in the life of the Church is a mystery in the graceful hands of God. The seed dies in order to live, just as the defeat of Good Friday flowed into resurrection life on Easter Sunday. In the rest of this series we will look at ways in which we can be part of God bringing resurrection life within our churches.