Saturday, July 10, 2010


A recent quote found its way into one of the meditations printed in the July issue of Magnificat: a challenge and rejoinder between Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus. Criticized by Luther for remaining in the Church and its corruption, Erasmus replied: I put up with this Church, in the hope that one day it will become better, just as it is constrained to put up with me in the hope that one day I will become better.

This clever retort, typical of Erasmus, is also filled with deep meanings for us today, and not just on the level one might think—of my somehow advocating (which I emphatically do not) overlooking all the sinfulness within the Church, pretending it doesn’t matter. Of course it does.

Erasmus’ insight was shared, centuries earlier, by St Augustine in his massive work The City of God. The Church, Augustine thought, was mirrored in the parable (Matthew 13:47-50) of the drag-net: while still trolling in the sea, it gathers all sorts of things, good and bad. Some good outside the net is destined to be swept in; the bad will at the End be sorted out and thrown away. Meanwhile, we live in a spiritual society that is mixed. The Church is made of good popes and bad; good bishops and bad; good priests and bad; good religious and bad; good lay-folk and bad. In all cases, the Church (more properly, the Triune God) is putting up with us “in the hope that one day [we] will become better.”

Here is the second part of the “rub” of Erasmus’ comment—did my behaviors, my choices, my prayer, my responses to grace, yesterday lead me to be better today in my following (my imitation) of Christ? Will my behaviors, choices, prayer, responses to grace today lead me to be better tomorrow? Over the period of, say, the last three months, what has been the trajectory of my spiritual life? Am I sufficiently self-reflective to be able to know this?

Such investigations into the interior of one’s heart and soul are very important, not only because they require focus and energy, but also because they dilute our interest in others’ answers (it is well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5 in this regard). If we all focused on journeying closer to our Lord, individually and together, the whole Church would “one day become better.” The drag-net would have that much less that is bad and that much higher a percentage of “fish” that can be sold for a profit at market. In the words of Hamlet’s famous speech, ‘Tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wished (III, i).

Sinfulness in the Church matters. What will I do (not another--I) to eliminate it?


  1. A nice use of Erasmus' line.

    I taught (briefly) the history of the Reformation at Notre Dame some 40 years ago - and I've always had an affection for Erasmus. You didn't happen to hear of him in course I taught, did you?

    Regards, C. G. Estabrook

  2. Of course I did--do you remember when I came into class with the 4-vol Butler's Lives of the Saints, and you joked that you thought I was getting ready to engage you in a mediaeval disputation?

  3. The Thirteenth Station:
    Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

    My Jesus, it was with deep grief that Mary finally took You into her arms and saw all the wounds sin had inflicted upon You. Mary Magdalene looked upon Your dead Body with horror. Nicodemus, the man so full of human respect, who came to You by night, suddenly received the courage to help Joseph take you down from the Cross. You are once more surrounded by only a few followers. When loneliness and failure cross my path, let me think of this lonely moment and this total failure - failure in the eyes of men. How wrong they were - how mistaken their concept of success! The greatest act of love was given in desolation and the most successful mission accomplished and finished when all seemed lost. Is this not true in my life, dear Jesus? I judge my failures harshly. I demand perfection instead of holiness. My idea of success is for all to end well - according to my liking.
    Give to all men the grace to see that doing Your Will is more important than success. If failure is permitted for my greater good then teach me how to use it to my advantage. Let me say as You once said, that to do the Will of the Father is my food. Let not the standards of this world take possession of me or destroy the good You have set for me - to be Holy and to accomplish the Father's Will with great love. Let me accept praise or blame, success or failure with equal serenity.


  4. forget to mention that (the afore- blog comment re: the 13th station) is Mother Angelica's meditation on the 13th Station, and was downloaded from the EWTN website. Click on the "Faith" tab.

  5. I meant to write (FORGOT) to mention rather than (forget) to mention. The meaning Comes across wrong otherwise.