February 2021: Editorial

An open heart to the vastness of God’s love

When will we get back to normal in the Church again?’ is a question that we hear as we swerve between levels of lockdown and restrictions. Whenever the Church encounters and embraces with the joys and the hopes, the grief and the sorrows of people – we are being Church. In one sense, while in lockdown, we were a waiting church of whispering hope.

Some people bemoan that the Church today has lost its influence and they long for the ‘good old days’ when faith was securely deposited into distinct definitions and dictates. We believe in a creator-God – who makes all things new – yes, even in the Church.

It is time to listen to people who feel disillusioned and who have left the Church. They saw the Church as a place where law was put before love, power before people, fear before forgiveness, control before compassion, imposition before invitation and retrenchment before renewal. They walked away. We used to call them the ‘lapsed.’ Now they are invisible to us – lost in an impasse of indifference. What are we doing about them?

‘Our daily love’ wrote Pope Benedict XVI ‘is the work of the heart’. St Benedict (480-543) says: ‘Whoever advances in faith, their heart expands.’ To be truly Catholic is to be open to the vastness (universality) of God’s love. In so many ways our Church is not Catholic enough! There is no scarcity of God’s indulging love, mercy and forgiveness. It is unconditional.

The convert, Tertullian (160-220) from North Africa, now Tunisia, had a hallmark phrase: ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ What is the hallmark phrase for the Church in 2021?

I read of the obstacles that the Founder of the Nazareth Sisters, Victoire Larmenier met in the 1850s as she tried to have the Order established and officially recognised in Rome. She was not deflected or deterred by the hostile outlook and cavalier control she encountered. She was impelled by a vision of the gospel service of Nazareth hospitality.

Sr Louis-Marie is a Nazareth Sister who taught children in underground-shelters in London and in other parts of England during World War II. She often said to me that there was no place in the Church for women to have a say and to share their stories and concerns. Let us create a space in the Church to listen to women speak stories of anguish and alienation as well as stories of acceptance, accompaniment and affirmation.

In 2021 – let us become a Church that follows the injunction of Pope Francis ‘to speak boldly, listen charitably and follow the credo, thou shall not exclude’. Let us bring to light the hidden drama of God’s love in every person’s life and the ineluctable meaning offered to every soul. Let us listen to the unheard and engage with the disenchanted. Let us offer the joy of the gospel to our pluralist society – that extends beyond the Christian …

Only then will our Church be truly Catholic.

John Cullen