The Christian Promise

A reader writes:

There is no denying that religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, has inspired and fostered many wonderful people. I think of Peter, humble and contrite and transformed after his denial; Mary Magdalen, of whom nothing need be said; the fathers of the Egyptian desert and their almost unbearable kindness and gentleness; Francis of Assisi and his Lady Poverty;


Francis de Sales, who found a way to be both a prelate and a saint; and in our own times, Dorothy Day, who practiced a Christianity as radical as Christ's own, while remaining a faithful daughter of the Church. And I say nothing of the countless mute, inglorious saints whom only God knows.

But the Church as an institution is mired in the world to its own great detriment. The worst thing that ever happened to it was Constantine's conversion and its consequent establishment. For the Church itself should have remained a pilgrim. No cathedrals and episcopal palaces. No mitres, croziers, and gorgeous vestments. No princes of the Church. Just plain men and women going out to find and care for lost sheep, the wisest among them showing the way by example and quiet counsel.

It might have gone that way. It could yet. But the need to overawe people and demand obedience from them is powerful and seductive. It is a part of that world that the kingdom of heaven is not of.