It is an irony that we are being encouraged to boldly call people back to the Church, at a time when the Church has never been more distrusted, exposed and held up to criticism. Yet there may be a special meaning and opportunity in this.
I have a Leunig cartoon on my office wall in which a man meets God in the person of the wounded man lying on the side of the road. God begs the man, "Help me I am God and I am wounded". "You’re not God," says the man. "God is all powerful." "I am all-vulnerable" says God. "I am in pain. I am at your mercy." It was too unbearable for the man. He became so infuriated he killed God.
Whatever the theological niceties, it is a very revealing cartoon. Most of us want God to be powerful because we would like to be powerful, to be in control, and not to suffer. We fear the pain, the chaos, the lack of order and loss of certainty if vulnerability is at the heart of life. But now, because of our sins of deed and omission in the area of sexual abuse of children and the care of victims, we are learning to be a more vulnerable and much less powerful and respected Church. It is also ironic that this may be a better starting point for mission.
David Bosch in 'Transforming Mission' reminds us that crisis is the more natural state of the Church. We have often needed failure and suffering to become aware of our real nature and mission. We too easily become triumphant in our successes, thinking that they are a sign of God’s blessing and that failure means we have been deserted by God. Denis Edwards reminds us in 'How God Acts' that Jesus also had to find God’s saving love in rejection, failure, darkness and death. God’s love is vulnerable and contrary to all human ideas of power. God enters into, has compassion for and embraces the suffering of the world. 'The Cross is not the abandonment of divinity but the revelation of true divinity,' Cardinal Walter Kasper.
This crisis may force us to be humble and respectful. We have been taken down from the pedestal and freed from perfection and power, to know shame, to feel powerlessness and to share the anxieties, struggles and "sins" of our brothers and sisters. We are called to the same vocation as Jesus, "to empty ourselves" (Phil. 2:1-11), to live in humble solidarity with those to whom we are missioned. As with Jesus, sharing the life of the community is the core of mission not just a tactic or strategy. Mission is always in amongst the people not apart from or above them.
Naturally we must continue to proclaim the Gospel. But our witness and proclamation from the position of our new found humility, our embarrassed shame but genuine compassion may be more telling and more Christian than our previously unquestioned "sanctity", perfection and power.
Fr Noel Connolly SSC is a Columban missionary priest. He is a member of the Columban Mission Institute, Sydney and of the Broken Bay Institute. He also lectures in Missiology and the Catholic Institute of Sydney.