The Church, the Bride of Christ, Merits Our Love

Article excerpt

At a recent eight-day retreat in silence with 52 other Jesuits, I reread the declarations of the Second Vatican Council on the church. For 40 years these documents have revived and deepened many people's faith in the church. This is especially so for those who lived through the exciting years of 1962 to 1965 when the church reinvented itself.

I was struck again at the assertion of the council that the church is a "pilgrim." Those who are on a pilgrimage are on a journey searching for something precious but hard to discover. The church today is on a pilgrimage seeking to bring peace, justice and love to all of the 6.3 billion children of God in the world.

It is always a joy for me to realize that the church is the bride of Christ. The son of God is the bridegroom of an entity that he himself has created to carry out his mission. Members of the church must keep the bride of Christ beautiful and loving. It is a startling reality that as members of the church we participate in the nuptials that go on between a frail and beautiful bride married to a demanding and, yes, a perfect bridegroom!

It is easy to criticize the visible church. In recent years in America even the best friends of the church speak with disdain about "scandals." But in previous centuries the church suffered other scandals like simony, the sale of indulgences and the scandal of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the persecution of the Jews.

The idea that the church is the mystical body of Christ has always had a powerful impact on my mind and my soul. It is an idea that explains in a profound but simple way the deep connection that the , historic Christ has with his church. The connection is real but it is continued in ways that are mystical. It is accurate to say that the church is Christ continued.

As we look at the church today we worry and weep. Is this, as the English poet put it, "the hour of the church's unqueening"? Is the church always destined to undergo periods of persecution, betrayal and rejection?

At the Jesuit retreat, silence was the rule but there seemed to be a feeling of dismay and a lessening of hope. We were gathered at a Jesuit house of formation, where from the 1920s to the 1970s there were more than 300 Jesuits at all times studying for the priesthood. …