The church is always in crisis

Pope Francis greets emeritus Pope Benedict XVI during an encounter for the elderly in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 28. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring Pope Francis greets emeritus Pope Benedict XVI during an encounter for the elderly in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 28. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

We, believers in Jesus Christ and those who have been baptized in his name, form the church. The faith of our parents and godparents initiated this process of formation in our lives upon giving us the sacrament that planted the seed of the divine life in our souls. From that moment on, each one of our words and actions became the concrete way to make that seed cultivated in our free will grow.

In the same way that a baby starts to build a relationship with its mother, mixed with the natural impulse of satisfying its hunger or any other need, we develop our relationship with God mixed with so many other impulses.

Pope Benedict XVI said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I would say that this happens gradually and incessantly in our dealings with our parents, siblings and, of course, with God.

The encounter with all of these people is continually purified; it suffers a “crisis,” which is to say it becomes unstable, it is tested, corrected and learns according to the successes or failings that are lived in the process.

The Greek word crisis means to destabilize, to test, that is, to mature. Each one of our decisions whether they be big or small generates a crisis and creates personal maturity that is reflected in the rest of the church. That is how our faith is transformed in real life.

For me, faith is the free and joyful response to the experience of having been found by someone who considers me worthy of being loved. This personal response is gradual until, as a consequence of the joyful freedom the presence of that person generates in my life, it leads me to a complete and trusting surrender.

Explaining further Pope Benedict’s reflection cited earlier, Pope Francis said, “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.” When we let God find us, his loving presence destabilizes us and makes us continually search for the truth about ourselves, about others and about all creation. His presence puts us in a permanent state of crisis, in a state of continual change that shows others the personal living potential in the seed of life and faith that was given to us.

Physical life is as much a gift as the life of faith. Gifts are external expressions of the joyful love of the giver. Gifts are not merited; the recipient simply has to be willing to receive them. This willing attitude is what generates a relationship with the giver and which also changes my existence forever.

This free process is what provokes a crisis, a conversion, an interminable and unceasing transformation.

If we know for a fact that there is so much division and distance between human beings in our society and the world it’s because the Creator of all things and of all people adorned our lives and our relationship with him with the incomparable gift of freedom. True love cannot be imposed, it cannot be forced, it has to respond by attraction, by the sweet seduction of his presence.

If it is true that this process creates tension and crisis in the church, it is also true that we should rejoice upon seeing the millions of men and women who daily reach that high point in their relationship with the Beloved and happily consecrate their existence to the service of others, thus creating an echo of that joy.

The history of the church is full of millions of those indefatigable believers in crisis who have left us an inheritance of joyful sanctity. Millions of others who surround us are being destabilized, tested and matured today, perfecting their humanity by becoming more than human as they are moved by God.

The strings of a guitar make good music only when they are correctly tuned. Let us permit the Master to tune the strings of our lives so that under his direction we may create a harmonious melody with our lives.

Mary will always start us off on the right note.

This is an English translation of a column that originally appeared in Spanish in the November 2014 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo

Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., is auxiliary bishop of Seattle and vicar for Hispanic ministry.

Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., es obispo auxiliar de Seattle y vicario para el ministerio hispano.