View all Novenas | February 13, 2024
Part 5 – The Church – Week 4
Why I Remain in the Church
Introduction to Christianity ends with a reflection on what it means to believe in the resurrection of the dead. The reading is, however, a rather technical one that contrasts Biblical and Greek thought on the immortality of the person and the immortality of the person – and for this reason it is not the best text with which to end this novena and our entire series on Ratzinger’s masterpiece. I have thus chosen another concluding text on the Church for this week, taken from a conference the German gave as a young theologian together with Hans Urs von Baltasar on the question of why they had chosen to remain in the Church. It is a beautiful and moving reading and one that sums up many of the themes we have encountered over the last weeks and months: the meaning of faith, belief in the God who speaks to man in history, and the centrality of Jesus Christ as the highpoint of revelation.
It is my hope and prayer that through this introduction to Ratzinger’s thought, you, too, have discovered the joy, the beauty, and the hope of calling yourself a Christian.
Fr Sameer Advani, LC
“I am in the Church because I believe that now as ever and irrevocably through us, “his Church” lives behind “our church’’ and that I can stand by him only if I stand by and stay in his Church. I am in the Church because, despite everything, I believe that she is at the deepest level not our but precisely “his” Church. To put it quite concretely: It is the Church that, despite all the human foibles of the people in her, gives us Jesus Christ, and only through her can we receive him as a living, authoritative reality that summons and endows me here and now. […]
This elementary acknowledgment has to be made at the start: Whatever infidelity there is or may be in the Church, however true it is that she constantly needs to be measured anew by Jesus Christ, still there is ultimately no opposition between Christ and Church. It is through the Church that he remains alive despite the distance of history, that he speaks to us today, is with us today as master and Lord, as our brother who unites us all as brethren. And because the Church, and she alone, gives us Jesus Christ, causes him to be alive and present in the world, gives birth to him again in every age in the faith and prayer of the people, she gives mankind a light, a support, and a standard without which mankind would be unimaginable. Anyone who wants to find the presence of Jesus Christ in mankind cannot find it contrary to the Church but only in her.
With that we have already made the next point. I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian in the first place. For one cannot believe alone. One can believe only as a fellow believer. Faith is by its very nature a force for unification. Its primordial image is the story of Pentecost, the miracle of understanding among people who by their origins and history are foreign to one another. Faith is ecclesial, or it is not faith. Furthermore: Just as one cannot believe alone but only as a fellow believer, neither can one believe on the basis of one’s own authority and ingenuity, but only when there is an authorization to believe that is not within my power and does not come from me but, rather, goes before me. A faith of one’s own devising is an oxymoron. For a self-made faith would only vouch for and be able to say what I already am and know anyway; it could not go beyond the boundary of my ego. Hence a self-made Church, a faith community that creates itself, that exists by its own graces, is also an oxymoron. Although faith demands communion, it is the sort of communion that has authority and takes the lead, not the sort that is my own creation, the instrument of my own wishes. […]
In other words: I remain in the Church because I view the faith—which can be practiced only in her and ultimately not against her—as a necessity for man, indeed for the world, which lives on that faith even when it does not share it. For if there is no more God—and a silent God is no God—then there is no longer any truth that is accessible to the world and to man. In a world without truth, however, one cannot keep on living; even if we suppose that we can do without truth, we still feed on the quiet hope that it has not yet really disappeared, just as the light of the sun could remain for a while after the sun came to an end, momentarily disguising the worldwide night that had started.”
- Ratzinger, “Why I am still in the Church,” in Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2012. Originally published 1970.