Now, I consider myself a bit of a gamer. (I say a bit because to be fair, I only play games during my semester breaks heh not enough to be considered a full-fledged gamer methinks) One of the games that I’ve always found incredibly exciting is Assassin’s Creed. I mean it’s hard for me to hate on a game that essentially allows you to be like a medieval ninja of sorts. However, one thing that’s always bothered me is how corrupt the Church seems to be portrayed in the games and now, in the movie. The worst part? It’s true. No, not the plot of the game but rather, the existence of corrupt and fallible Popes and bishops. Even now, the Church is facing scandals and accusations towards priests. How can we profess that the Catholic Church is holy when clearly, it doesn’t seem like it? For me, it is always a good reminder to look at our first Pope: St Peter.
Now, the subject of Peter always made me wonder. I’m sure Jesus could have chosen someone better as the Rock of His Church, couldn’t He? And Peter wasn’t the brightest of the lot, was he? He had issues with anger and seemed to be quite rash in his actions. Heck, he even denied Jesus three times, even after boasting to Jesus that He would rather die than to deny Jesus. And yet, he was chosen. Even after his denial, Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17) What could Jesus possibly have been thinking when He chose Peter to be the rock of His Church? Peter probably didn’t end up as a perfect Pope either. So why? I don’t know. And that’s honestly really all to it. We don’t know. We could guess reasonably well the reasons but to know for certain would be to presume to know the mind of God. In all honesty, the real question is this: does it really matter?
Surely it does! After all, we’re talking about the leader of the Church! Not only the pope, but even the priests are shepherds of His people are they not! However, let us never forget the reason why there even is a Church: Christ. The Church is not holy because the people leading it are holy. We are not holy because we do ‘holy’ things all the time. It is holy only because it is founded on Christ. We are sanctified by Christ and by the Grace of God, we are made holy. We often forget in our own self-righteousness that the priests and bishops and even the Pope, are fallible. They are humans too. Humans sin. Humans make mistakes. Humans are not perfect. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
Going back to Peter, we need to remember that before being called Petrus (or rock) by Jesus, he was Simon. This transformation of Simon into Peter wasn’t instantaneous – well, the journey to becoming Peter wasn’t at least; the naming happened quite fast – but it took time. Even after being called Peter, his journey towards holiness didn’t end. Just a few lines after in the Gospel, Jesus rebukes Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23). So what does this mean for us? We need to realise that holiness is not something that we can instantaneously receive or is a special privilege for saints and priests. It is a continual refinement of our ourselves that we may grow more intimate with Christ. It is a process. And this process doesn’t stop after one becomes a priest, bishop or even Pope as St Peter clearly showed us! This process only stops when we have died and gone back to the Father in Heaven. And so, it would seem that to judge on this presumption of ‘holiness’ would be premature no?
Well ok, fine. I get that. But as Pope and Vicar of Christ, doesn’t he have “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” (CCC 882) What happens then? Let’s not even go to extremes. We don’t agree with priests all the time, and some priests might not be particularly good examples of being a disciple of Christ. What about them, the shepherds of the people? Again, I point back to Christ. The Church is not determined by the holiness of the Pope or of the bishops and the priest. In fact, the Church has lasted throughout all these years despite the reign of wicked popes and scandalous priests and bishops simply because the Church is not rooted in these people. It is rooted in Christ. We may argue with priests, be offended by bishops or even feel as though the Pope is not ‘holy’ enough. However, CCC 1584 also expounds that “the unworthiness of the latter (clergy) does not prevent Christ from acting” in the context of the Sacraments. Extrapolating this, we can see that the ‘unworthiness’ of the priest does not stop God. God acts and loves despite our flaws. Why should it be any different with priests?
That is not to say we shouldn’t help priests to grow in their own journey. Nope; after all, fraternal correction is important in one’s own spiritual journey. But what we can never deny is this: we are all holy people of God. We make up the Church. The Church is not just an institution of Roman Catholicism; it is all of us. We need to remind ourselves that we too are part of this Body of Christ. We too are called to the same high bar of holiness as the clergy are. To simply put the blame or the responsibility on them for the lack of ‘holiness’ of the Church would be to deny ourselves of being part of this Holy Church. At the end of the day, it is only by re-orientating ourselves back to Christ can we be convinced of the holiness of the Church. After all, the Church is the Bride of Christ and nothing can ever change the fact that we are saved and made Holy by His Love.
© 2017 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan