Once again, it seems that the most appropriate and timely thing to write about concerning the Church is Pope Francis. This time, it’s an apparent fight between him and Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is in apparent direct opposition to the Pope. Cardinal Burke, the narrative goes, is far too conservative to like Pope Francis, obviously believing that the Pope is leading the Church away from Christ simply because the Cardinal expressed a desire to steer the Church towards the truths of Christ (a desire we can be certain the Pope himself shares).
To be honest, I’m just done with this battle. It’s one thing to have an open and honest discussion, it’s another to pit leaders of the Church against each other at all costs. When we start talking (specifically in America, because we love our drama) about a “Civil War” brewing in the Church, we have taken things to a level that is not only incorrect, but extremely problematic. No matter how well-intentioned these conversations might start out, the moment they turn against the Pope they turn against Christ and His Church, and that’s a problem.
What is the most frustrating about this conversation, I argue, is that it is removing our minds and hearts from the place where they should be, from living in expectant hope of the coming of our Savior. Allow me to expand.
In the Gospels, one of the most prominent things we hear talked about is the Kingdom of God. According to a really handy little article on the “Kingdom of God”, this phrase is used fifty-two times between the four Gospels, and the phrase Kingdom of Heaven is used in its place at least 20 times (and this is just one site’s estimation). The Kingdom of God, we can be assured, is a central theme in the Gospels, one of the most common and almost certainly most important themes in the entirety of the Gospels. Taking up this topic, Pope Benedict XVI devoted an extraordinary amount of time to talk about this theme and exactly what it was that the Gospel writers meant when they spoke of the Kingdom. In the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI spent a great deal of time explaining that the Kingdom of God was in fact a central theme in the Gospels. For Pope Benedict XVI, the central idea was simple: the Kingdom of God is at hand right now in the person of Christ, and this is something we ought never to look over.
Here, again, are the words of Pope Benedict on the Kingdom of God:
“God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; His Kingdom is present wherever He is loved and wherever His love reaches us.” -Spe Salvi “Saved in Hope” Paragraph 31
The point of this quote and much of what Pope Benedict XVI said is this: Jesus didn’t simply come to point us to a future place, but to allow us access to the Kingdom in each moment through His very presence. This is not to discount an eternal Kingdom, for that is certainly something for which we hope; this eternal kingdom is, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “the ultimate goal of history” (Homily on the Feast of Christ the King, 2012). Rather, Jesus announcing the coming of the Kingdom with His presence was to tell us that His presence is something entirely new and unique, something for us both to long for in the future and to grasp onto right now. Jesus did not simply come to announce eternity, but to pull us from our daily experience to something eternal, something which brings us hope in each and every moment.
Back to the present situation, though. Our current focus on the so-called “Civil War” of the Church is doing no good, but rather it is pulling our hearts and minds away from that which we ought to focus on, namely the Kingdom of God. While we are busy fighting a fight between Cardinals and the Pope which is literally not a real fight, our Savior is calling us to live in the reality of His Kingdom, a reality which He ushered us into when He entered into our existence some 2,000 years ago.
I’m not saying that there aren’t real things happening in our Church that need to be discussed, both by the laity and the successors to the apostles, for the issues are real and the discussions are important. Rather, I am pleading with each of us – myself included – to stop creating unnecessary drama, and instead point everything we do at the person of Christ and Kingdom of God to which He has given us access.