Sunday, September 2, 2018
It is not the teaching of the Catholic Church that our faith is in priests or even popes. They have their roles and their authority, but they are imperfect human beings and, in any particular case--or even in many cases--may be corrupt. It is the teaching of the Church that our faith is in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone.
We go to Mass to hear his Gospel proclaimed. Holy Communion is communion with him. If we are fortunate, we are ministered to by a faithful, even holy, priest. (There are many such men, thank God.) But the priest is Christ's minister. Yes, it is the task and role of the priest to emulate Jesus, to be in persona Christi capitis, to serve Christ by serving us; but it is not the priest (or bishop or pope) who is the subject and object of our faith: it is Jesus Christ--and him alone. It is Christ and him alone who saves. It is him--Son of the living God, sent by the Father to atone for sins and be our redeemer--whom we worship; it is in him, and in no one else, that we place our hope and trust.
Considered in its human dimensions, the Church and its clergy--and laity--sometimes flourish and sometimes descend into corruption. The "institutional church" has had, and will, as long as Jesus tarries, have moments of glory and moments of shame. Like God's original chosen people in the Scriptures, faith will sometimes burn bright and other times fade--and be sustained only by a remnant. When the people and their leaders are faithful, the Church (again like the people of Israel in the Bible) will have glorious achievements, visible to the human eye. When they are unfaithful, when they fall into immorality and go "whoring after" the false gods of the day, the beauty of the Church as a divine institution--the bride of Christ--will be obscured and what will be most visible is ugliness and shame.
And yet, Christ, the faithful bridegroom, will remain with the Church, making reform and renewal possible, and ensuring that the gates of hell, whatever inroads they may make, do not prevail against her.