And why we don’t need to worry about making it more relevant.
One of the recurring themes in the media coverage of the Pope’s retirement is the ‘need’ of the Catholic Church for a more relevant pope. Someone who is ‘with it.’ Someone who gets that many Catholics are ‘okay’ with birth control, that many Catholics are openly gay, that many people are leaving the Church because it has become increasingly irrelevant to modern society. Someone who feels that the social structure of celibate men lording over their constituents is ‘anti-democratic’ and the moral stances of the Church outdated in the light of science; those stances coming from some medieval dungeon, rather than a place of love.
There is a fundamental problem with this view. It assumes that the Church’s morals move. It bases the views of the Church on the collective stance of her constituents. It assumes that the world is right, and obviously that means that Catholicism is wrong.
The Church has been here before, and will be here again, that’s the nature of an organization that teaches the Truth.
To listen to the commentators, the Church is a decrepit organization, that is leaking members in droves in Europe and North America, and is only tenable in the future in Africa and Latin America. The statistics say that the Church is leaving many people behind, many philosophies unembraced, and many people unloved. The problem with this view is that it assumes the Church has moved. As the world moves further into the comfort of moral relativism, the Church seems further and further away. With a well adjusted view of reality we see that it is not the Church which has moved, but society.
The Church continues to be the teacher of humanity. Love, she proclaims, is the greatest of virtues, but not the kind of love that says you are beautiful just as you are. Rather the kind of love that knows us intimately and hopes (rightly) for the truth of who we are to be greater than who we are now. The problem might be that she is still well ahead of her time, but this has been a consistent problem throughout the duration of Christianity. Our nature as humans is to move away from what is best for us, and toward what feels best for us. We surround ourselves with people that tell us it is okay to continue to act the way that makes us feel good, and quickly move away from those people that are willing to tell us to do hard work, make sacrifices, and truly become good. It is easier to fabricate our own reality, than it is to do the hard work of becoming part of reality itself. And this is the nature of sin, isn’t it?
We aren’t going to get a ‘liberal’ pope, who is excited to upend the Truth. That was a promise made long ago by Christ himself (“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matt 18:20.) As to equality, there is no greater institution in the world, the Church teaches love of every individual, with a preference to those who face hardship. As to modernization, society is still trying to catch up by embracing morals the Church has taught for years (violence is not the answer, treat the poor as if they had a friend in high places, we are the stewards of the earth), and struggling with those that still do not agree with what is convenient (abortion, birth control, the nature of sexuality.)
Perhaps it is time society started paying attention to the Church, and not ranting about why the Church should pay attention to it.