It was the ringing cry of Pope Paul VI "Where is the love for the Church?" that left an indelible impression on the life and work of the founder of Catholics United for the Faith, H. Lyman Stebbins. In these beautiful meditations on the Church, Cardinal Schönborn manifests his own deep love of the Church, thereby bearing witness to the richness of Catholic Tradition regarding the mystery of the Church founded by Our Lord.
Dedicated to the priests of his own Archdiocese of Vienna, these impressive reflections were originally preached as Lenten spiritual exercises in the presence of Pope John Paul II and the papal household. Cardinal Schönborn – who served as the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – makes excellent use of key texts from the Catechism, the documents of Vatican II, and the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux to reveal in masterful fashion the true nature of the Catholic Church and Her universal mission to mankind.
This superb volume provides a realistic portrayal of the Church – one which does justice to the Church both as a visible society (the Church Militant) and as a spiritual communion animated by the Holy Spirit. The Church is the:
"community of faith, hope, and love.... Love is the innermost life of the Church, for God is Love, and God is the Life of the Church... She is first of all, then, a 'heavenly reality'. She has Her origin in the life of God Himself, in the unity of the Blessed Trinity."
A sound ecclesiology faithful to the Scriptures and the Fathers requires recognition of the human element in the Church. As Vatican II teaches, the Church is "at once holy and always in need of purification." She follows the path of continual penance and renewal, as manifested in the lives of the saints. It is incumbent on those gifted with the "eyes of faith" to see that "the Church's way will always be a pilgrimage. Let us never forget that here on earth we are 'aliens and exiles'." When Catholics forget this, the Cardinal notes, "then the world reminds us by persecuting us or treating us as "aliens" (p.197).
Yet, the Church is not merely a "human work," and it is a profound error to overemphasize its institutional and organizational aspects with the expectation of visible successes and triumphs. Rather, the journey of the pilgrim Church through history imitates the Passion of her Lord. Here our author critiques an exaggerated romanticist and triumphalistic view of the Church that is cherished by all too many Catholics who are scandalized by today's "crisis of faith" to the point that their own faith in the Church is sadly shaken. As the Cardinal further cautions:
"The temptation to dream of a 'golden age' of faith has accompanied the Church throughout the centuries. Now, as we look toward the year 2000, it is tempting to hope for a new epoch of faith, a time in which the Church will shine forth, opposition die away, and the faith be triumphant.... Yet it seems as if, at the end of the Millennium, the torments of the Church are increasing."
Whatever the trials of faith, gratitude and joy are the response of the believing Catholic to the inexhaustible riches of grace contained in the Church. All Her light comes from Christ. Our author diagnoses the serious failure of many Catholics to be "leaven and salt":
"The chief reason why there is so much gloom around in the Church today is that we do not respond generously to the bold challenges of God and fail to let ourselves be used, with all we are and all we have, as his co-workers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9). The creature can never know a greater self-fulfillment than letting himself be totally used by God."
Cardinal Schönborn has some choice comments on doctrinal issues. For example, he observes:
"Christ is more and more often conspicuously absent from ecclesiastical talk. There are whole pastoral programs, with game plans and models of action and guidelines, that do not mention the name of Christ once. Some people openly wish that there should be less talk about Christ and more about God, so that what separates us from the other monotheistic religions is not too evident. The way was paved for this trend over many years by the insidious undermining of faith in the true divinity of Christ and thus of faith in the true Incarnation of the Son of God."
Cardinal Schönborn insists on the historical reliability and credibility of the Gospels. He sharply criticizes the New Age movement and emphasizes that:
"the dogma of original sin is of inestimable importance for the whole structure of the faith."
He echoes the Rule of St. Benedict, which asserts that:
"nothing should take precedence over the work of God, that is, solemn worship"
(p.48, quoting Catechism, no.347)
Cardinal Schönborn has written a splendid book that deserves many re-readings by those who love the Church.