CATHOLICS have once more discovered that the Church is a pilgrim Church. Preachers have never ceased to stress that individuals here on earth have no lasting city, but are on a journey towards that country which is their true home.
But there has long been a tendency to think of the Church as though it existed apart from the people who belonged to it, and in doing so to put it outside the conditions of this world, to forget that it is in an interim situation and that its present structures are transitory.
The return to the understanding of the Church as the People of God has drawn attention to the fact that the Church itself is not in its final state but is still on pilgrimage.
The temptation for the Church is to settle down. It finds a pleasant oasis, makes itself comfortable, and is reluctant to move on when God calls it to do so.
This has been the danger for the Church in each phase of its history. Despite promptings to strike camp, it resists change and does not want to lose the apparent security of its present position for the uncertainty of the unknown territory that lies ahead.
But such a refusal to move on is in effect to attempt to ensure the safety of the People of God by abandoning the purpose for which it was called into existence.
Pilgrims have to travel light and travel poor. They have to travel light because if they accumulate too many possessions they will not be able to travel at all.
They have to travel poor because their journey is a pilgrimage not a pleasure trip, a witness to God's summons not
to the strength of their bank balance.
People who travel for worldly business or pleasure do so from a secure base. Unlike Abraham they do not go out of their father's house, ready and free to follow God's call wherever it should lead them.
To do that a man must leave his property behind, reduce his
baggage to the minimum and cling to none of his possessions.
The Church today is being called upon to strike camp and move on. This oasis it settled into after Trent is no longer suitable. To stay in it now would be for the Church to lose its character and mission as the People of God.
The world has changed. To be God's People, the witness to his covenant, in the secular, industrialised society of today demands a fresh period of difficult, wearying journcyings.
But how great the effort required to dismantle our costly erections and shift all the paraphernalia we have collected! What overburdened pilgrims we are!
To take one point not often mentioned in talk of aggiorna manta. The great obstacle to the adoption of a radically new policy and new methods is the sheer dead-weight of material plant and investment.
The inertia this creates is enormous. The Church has all the inflexibility of an overgrown industrial enterprise without sufficient liquid capital for change.
But buildings by their existence, location and design determine a way of life. Financial considerations strongly influence policy.
We are committed to lines of action no longer in keeping with the real needs of the Church's mission, committed simply because so much capital has been sunk into pursuing a particular policy.
To indulge in an orgy of destruction would be foolish. But could not the various administrators in the Church be less concerned with material security?
It would be a joy if the different administrative bodies in the Church just got rid of material possessions when these were proving an obstacle to the adoption of fresh apostolic policies and methods.
The life of the pilgrim People of God should not be determined by the demands of profitable selling and careful reinvestment. What scandalises about the Church is not its wealth as such but the fact that at the institutional level it fosters the attitude to material security it deplores and condemns in individuals.
The Christian message will not be spread by an institution run by the law of the stock market rather than by the law of the Gospel. It is time we were up and moving. History will not wait for us to count the cost.