Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cardinal Martini's Last Interview

Much has been written in the past few days about Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, former archbishop of Milan, who died last Friday.  Cardinal Martini was a much loved and respected figure, and by all accounts, a figure highly valued by Pope Benedict XVI.  Yet I've unfortunately read some incredibly uncharitable remarks about him since his death.  One 'tweet' I read, written by a self-proclaimed 'conservative' Catholic, thanked God that Cardinal Martini was dead.  And a blog post, written anonymously (of course), expressed similar sentiments: "[T]he Militant Church is better off without those who think and act against the whole purpose of the hierarchy - handing down unaltered that which they received.  Without those who did all they could and still do all they can do to infuse the hierarchy with pure evil and relativistic rot."


Is this where we all start singing, "They will know we are Christians by our love?"

Some of the anger being expressed is in reaction to Cardinal Martini's last interview, conducted earlier in August and published posthumously.  It is unsurprising that the media immediately gravitated to one line of the interview, in which Cardinal Martini said, "The Church is 200 years behind."  Those who consider themselves liberal or conservative Catholics immediately followed the media's lead and focused their attention on those words, without carefully reading the entire interview itself.

I've read through the interview a number of times (one can read a good translation of the entirety here), and it seems to me that the primary focus of his interview is on the church simply living out the gospel it proclaims.  Of particular import is the first paragraph of the interview:
The Church is tired, in prosperous Europe and in America. Our culture is out of date; our Churches are big; our religious houses are empty, and the Church’s bureaucratic apparatus is growing, and our rites and our vestments are pompous. Do such things really express what we are today? ... Prosperity weighs us down. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to become his disciple. I know that it’s not easy to leave everything behind. At least could we seek people who are free and closer to their neighbors, as Bishop Romero was and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador? Where among us are heroes to inspire us? We must never limit them by institutional bonds.
Perhaps it is because I completed Jim Forest's wonderful biography of Dorothy Day, All Is Grace, over the weekend, but it struck me that the message Cardinal Martini conveys here is precisely the message embodied by such Christians as Dorothy Day.  Cardinal Martini is calling the Church back to the gospel, back to the message and example of Jesus Christ.  He is calling the Church to become a Church of the poor, and he suggests that the bureaucracy and wealth of the Church holds it back from being that which Christ calls it to be - the nascent Kingdom of God, in which the 'normal' rules of society don't apply.  In reality he is saying very little that is new.  But it is significant, nonetheless, when it comes from the lips of one such as him.

His message seems to me to be quite valid, and is one that, I would hope, transcends the 'conservative/liberal' divide.  But it worries me that there exists in the Church a form of ecclesiolatry that will accept no criticism of the Church as valid, that will bear no talk that the Church is less than what it is supposed to be, and that will thank God when one, who loved the Church enough to exhort it to become more fully the body of Christ, is dead

Pray for us, Cardinal Martini.

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