This is Neil again. I was going through some papers today, and came across a photocopy of a very short article written by Cardinal Walter Kasper, strikingly titled with the title of this post, for the July 2005 issue of the World Council of Churches’ journal Ecumenical Review, in anticipation of the WCC’s ninth assembly. The theme of that assembly was “God, in your grace, transform the world” and the two proposed Biblical readings were Isaiah 61 and Luke 4.
I was about to set the article aside on a disturbingly large (and tottering) pile of random photocopies, when I thought that very few people might have actually read it. And Cardinal Kasper here manages to set forth, with clarity and succintness, a response to common questions about the purpose of the church and the nature of its pastoral ministry. So I would like to provide a couple excerpts for your weekend.
I think that they might raise some provocative questions for us: Are we so focused on and anxious about the current state and “perfection” of the institutional Church – perhaps because of its sheer visibility, our agitation at its bitter polarizations, and our tendency to look to the Church as a safe refuge from the uncertainities of the present – that we fail to grasp the real “eschatological nature” of the Church, that we are meant to be a “pilgrim,” not settled, people? And are we so determined to secure certain political objectives that we lose sight of “the final realization of God’s kingdom”?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. You can tell me in the comments. In any case, here is Cardinal Kasper:
In the text from Isaiah 61:1-4, fulfilled in Luke 4:16-30, it is clear that “the restoration for which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit, and through him continues in the church” (Lumen Gentium, 48). Through Christ’s presence in the action of the Holly Spirit, God is continually active in the world, transforming humanity and the entire cosmos.
The Second Vatican Council understands the church as “the universal sacrament of salvation” that through God’s grace has the dual task of working for the realization of its own full unity and for the unity of fragmented humanity. Thus the Council sets the church in perspective by focusing on its eschatological nature as the pilgrim people on the way towards the final realization of God’s kingdom, when the human race as well as all of creation, which is intimately related to human beings and achieves its purpose through them, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.
The foundation of the church’s role in the world is theological and Christological. In the Old Testament, God’s intervention in history is perceived against the background of God being the creator and lord of all things (cf. Isaiah 40:21-26; 42:55ff.). In the Old Testament, the realization of messianic righteousness (God’s rule) was always linked to the restoration of order in the whole cosmos – the whole inhabited earth (or oikoumene).
In the New Testament, especially with Paul, sovereignty is attributed to Christ who is the head of the church (cf. Ephesians 1:18-20) and of all things (cf. Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:15-18; 2:10). Christ, as head of both domains, is the bearer of a covenant relationship between God and human beings, and between God and the whole of creation.
The theme of the WCC assembly “God, in your grace, transform the world” presupposes faith and hope in God, who in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit has already fulfilled the promise. The end of ages has already begun, for the foundation of the restoration of all things has been laid in Christ.
We not only pray and wait for God to transform the world. Christians are given the talents and wisdom to cooperate in God’s work of transforming the world. In other words, Christians have the duty and responsibility to establish a world order in conformity to God’s gift of truth and grace received in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But concretely, how does the church live its pastoral ministry in the light of God’s purpose of salvation?
Christ’s pastoral ministry, as set before us in Luke 4:16-30, is the model for the pastoral ministry of his church. Just as Jesus is sent by the Father in the action of the Holy Spirit “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour,” so too the church is sent to do no less, in order to contribute towards the realization of the messianic righteousness in concrete situations.