In our discussion of bad apples and bad barrels our contributor, Ignatius, wrote of the need to accept the weakness in the human aspects of the Church. It reminded me of an old fantasy of mine.
I recall imagining that a particularly damaging virus swept the world. It only affected men and by some chance, I was the only man who happened to have the antibodies. Over a few months every human male died, and I was left as the only man alive. As I recall, there was a gratifying element of rather a large number of women being interested in my services. And it was quite clear that, as a latter day Adam, I was morally obliged to start the process of repopulating the world. Nowadays, I fear, I would fail at the first hurdle – if hurdle is the right word in this case.
But Ignatius spurs me further. What if I were the only Catholic left in the world? I must assume that a bishop, with his last few breaths laid his trembling hand on me, and ordained me. Now I represent the whole Catholic Church, preserved against the Gates of Hell – from pope down to layman. What effect would that have?
I assume that I would receive great graces to fulfil the duties and powers which Jesus, following his resurrection gave to the Apostles. I would have supreme authority, including infallibility under the defined conditions. And my duty would be to evangelise on a big scale.
But, as Nektarios reminds me (Nektarios is only a dim memory in this fantasy) I cannot escape my fallen nature. I am still susceptible to all the vices, and the temptations would be great. I will no doubt give way to many of these. I will make many mistakes and, in all likelihood, many bad decisions. Fortunately John Nolan appears to me in dreams, always courteously telling me where I am going wrong. And I would have to explain to our St Joseph that NFP might not be relevant when we have to reproduce so many Catholic children. Yet my power and authority would still be there for I represent Christ in this world. I am his Church.
But isn’t this just how the Church we know always has been and continues to be? It is made up of people not too different from me. Some bits good, some bits bad, some bits wise, some bits foolish. Yet withal its spine is the divine mission to bring people to Christ, to offer them the sacraments and to teach them the truth. Ragged and pockmarked, it nevertheless remains the only channel which can bring us all to God.
So we are fortunate to have a Pope who does not present us with the old option: are you in a state of grace or are you in mortal sin? We are not in a state at all, we are on a journey. While we have a compass we forget to use it, and so often we find ourselves going down the wrong road. But the journey is not by road it is by our relationships – family, spouse, friends – right down the moth eaten girl selling the Big Issue on the street corner. And not forgetting the relationship we have with ourselves. We have a lifetime to learn how to love. Maybe we should look at that compass more often.