I’ve been focusing my reading lately to theological views on the Holy Spirit. There are some great books out there and thanks to the excellent Library at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus where I office, I get to read them before deciding which to buy. Recently, I read Church: Charism and Power by Leonardo Boff. It is an exceptional challenge, and even though it was written in 1985 for a Catholic audience, proves insightful today.
There are two paragraphs that conclude Chapter 5 that refuse to leave me. Maybe it is because this is the beginning of a new year—a year that begins on a tension. In the church and in many denominations tension continues to build the past few years, bringing questions, concern, and disorientation. Many of us religious leaders and church goers have lamented shrinking budgets, people, and disintegrating properties. We have recalled peeks and successes, grand ideas, and the ability to predict certain purpose. Our models, programs and assumptions sit ready to be “successful” yet all the tweaking, copying and hard dedicated work continue to leave us wanting, restless, concerned.
Yet, there is hope beyond all this—beyond our ideas, programs, buildings, budgets, congregational size. There is hope beyond ourselves and in spite of ourselves and Boff reminds us of this in two paragraphs headed by the words:
Sara Has Conceived
Can the Church be converted to a more vibrant witness of the Gospel in our world today? It can, because it is happening. But it must renounce a certain type of power. By virtue of its vocation, the Church exists for a future Kingdom and so must proclaim its own provisionary character. Its true identity is not part of the past that it often vainly tries to restore but in a future that still is to be revealed. If change and human development prepares for and anticipates the Kingdom, as the Council teaches (Gaudium et Spes, 34, 39), how much more must change in the Church also prepare and anticipate the new heaven and new earth! The ‘peace of order,’ stagnation in fixed models, obstinate repetition of past statements compromise the true dimension of openness to the future and eschatological hope proper to Christian faith and instead causes us to forget our condition as pilgrims and strangers on our way to the dynamic rest of God. The Church will be a sign of liberation with all peoples only insofar as it is converted and becomes more and more an incarnation of the Gospel.
Perhaps the institutional Church, with the experience and prudence of all older people, will smile upon hearing these reflections—like old Sara. She was sterile and believed it impossible for her to conceive. She smiles. Putting ourselves in Abraham’s place, we hear God’s question: “Why has Sara smiled? Is anything impossible for God?” (Gen 18:14). Smile, Sara, because once sterile you have become fertile, you have become a new creation! Sara has already conceived. There, in Sara’s womb, the signs of new life are already beginning to appear: a new Church is being born, in the dark recesses of humanity. (Boff 1985: 64)