Saturday, 10 November 2012

Madeleine Delbrel: "Love for the Church"

Yesterday's feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a multi-layered feast. At one level it is the same feast as that of the dedication of any other Church, be it our own parish Church (celebrated only in the parish) or our own Diocesan Cathedral (celebrated throughout the diocese). It prompts a meditation on the nature of the Church building as a physical place of the presence of Christ in the world and on the way in which the physical building represents the communion of the faithful; both in their own way representing the place of our encounter with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. In the case of the Diocesan Cathedral it also celebrates the office of the Bishop as the centre of communion and of unity in the Diocese. The antiphons for the Liturgy of the Hours from the Common of the Dedication of a Church express all of these themes.

At a second level, the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica celebrates the office of the Successor of St Peter, an office of communion for the whole Church made up of the local Churches/Dioceses. The "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat was particularly interesting in this regard. It was taken from an essay entitled "Love for the Church" by Madeleine Delbrel, and published in the collection We, the Ordinary People of the Streets. [See here for my earlier posts about Madeleine Delbrel, and here for the site of the Association des Amis de Madeleine Delbrel where there is a page considering the theme of love of the Church.]The meditation was very much an excerpt, and it is worth going to the original text to read the whole. Madeleine is very clear that we love "the Christ-Church" and she does not envisage any playing off of love of Christ against love of the Church. And Madeleine's love of the Church was not without its tests, particularly when the  "worker priest" movement in France was suppressed, a movement of which she had been a firm supporter and collaborator. At that time, she undertook a visit to Rome to pray at the tomb of St Peter, and her reflection on that visit ends with these paragraphs:
I also thought a lot about the fact that, though St. John is the "disciple Jesus loved", it was Peter that Jesus asked: "Do you love me?" and it was after his affirmations of love that Jesus gave him the flock. He also explained what it means to love: "That which you have done to the least of mmy brothers, you have done unto me".

It became clear to me how essential it is that people, all people, come to know that the hierarchical Church loves them. Peter - a rock who has been asked to love. I understood that all the expressions of the Church have to be penetrated through and through with love.
This is the background to Madeleine's observation in the last paragraph of the Magnificat meditation that:
Rome, through everything else, is the love of God that has been promised to the Church for eternity.
Though some might want to read Madeleine as criticising the hierarchy of the Church when she observes that we all need to come to know that the hierarchical Church loves us, I think that is to mis-represent her. Rather she is expressing an idea that it is of the very office of the hierarchical Church that it represents the love of God in the Church. The "through everything else" indicates that Madeleine's love of the Petrine office is not just a pietism, but an attitude that takes a real account of the difficulties that can arise from the decisions of ecclesial authority and which she and her friends felt. Madeleine's example for today is that we should continue to love that office and not to adopt an attitude that attacks it.
We will be incapable of incarnating God's love in the world, we will be incapable of bringing the Gospel, which is but the manifestation of love, to the world, if we do not first accept the incarnation of this love in the Church, in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ ....

If, through the long course of history, it was necessary to adapt the liturgy, to explain it, to translate it, and if it is once again necessary to do so in our own time, it never has been and is not today a question of making the liturgy more human. It already is human, and tragically so: it is the Passion of the Son of God made man, made continually present among us....
And, in what might be considered a "strap-line" for the Constitution Gaudium et Spes:
The Church will forever aspire to the world. She doesn't need the world in order to accomplish her mission, but without the world, she would have no mission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought you had work to do dear!