I find it particularly interesting that on the occasions that Pope Benedict XVI discusses standing up for what is right, defending the faith and speaking the truth to power, his words most often and aptly describe those Catholic Christians that are singled out by this or that bishop or by some self-described conservative Catholic organization.
What I mean is that Benedict XVI reinforces the belief that to preach the good news (literally, the Gospel) will necessarily bring scandal to a world hostile to that message. The challenge raised by authentic Christian living in times and places where religious skepticism and intolerance, injustice and greed flourish can bring out hostility or resistance against the believer.
I am struck by one line in particular. Benedict XVI is responding to Seewald’s question about a paper the young Ratzinger delivered on the papacy, which included the line: “[the pope] must be the least one and conduct himself accordingly.” And the now-pope, within his response, said:
Yet the Church, the Christian, and above all the Pope must always be prepared for the possibility that the witness he must give will become a scandal, will not be accepted, and that he will then be thrust into the situation of the Witness, the suffering Christ.
Here I am reminded of the example of Christ, dining with the outcast, lifting up the fallen, healing the broken, ignoring the perimeter-establishing laws of his own faith (Judaism) to reach out and touch the hearts of those seen by his culture as “unclean” or “possessed.”
Yet, when people do that today, reach out to embrace other human beings seen as outcast or marginal, they too suffer the consequences of scandal. The stumbling blocks created in Jesus’s ministry live on today in the stumbling blocks erected by Christians who seek only to meet people where they are and love them as Christ had.
Lest one think that the Pope is advocating for precisely this sort of ministry, the Christian embrace of all to the point of scandal, here’s another passage from much later in the book.
With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that the Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly.
When, for example, in the name of non-discrimination, people try to force the Catholic Church to change her position on homosexuality or the ordination of women, then that means that she is no longer allowed to live out her own identity and that, instead, an abstract, negative religion is being made into a tyrannical standard that everyone must follow.
On one level the Pope is right. Religions should not be made to change their beliefs “in the name of non-discrimination.” I suppose that such a standard is far too broad and subjective. Yet, on another level, the examples used do not adequately reflect instances in which core Christian doctrine or disciplinary beliefs are threatened. No one, in the name of ‘non-discrimination’ or anything else, is pressuring the Church to change its belief in the Incarnation or the Apostolicity of its origins. Nor is there a call to abandon the central value of human life.
Instead, the Pope’s examples are oftentimes raised by people within and without the Church to illustrate systemic injustice and violations against the Church’s own teaching on the central value of human life. These same people are the ones figuratively nailed to the cross today — issuances acknowledging excommunication, the denial of Holy Communion, exclusion from participation in parish life and so on.
The cross is a sign that the world does not readily tolerate even charitable breaks with the status quo. What is one to do when the Church at times becomes as intolerant as the world? If only the Church, as the Body of Christ, could be more willing to risk scandal and embrace those pushed to the side, treated as evil and marginalized. In those pastoral situations, we should ask about what Jesus would do — and then do it.