Saint Ambrose said that the Church is like the moon, which doesn’t shine by its own light but by that of the sun. In this way, the Church shines and is radiant because it reflects the light of Christ.
This is a rich and fascinating image that helps us to look again at the original beauty of the Church. Is it possible today to speak of a beautiful Church, a holy Church?
The Church is composed of sinful men, and sin has no beauty. Certainly, there are also many positive experiences, but love for the church cannot stand on a balance in which the good weighs more than the bad.
I think that the path is to reclaim a clear judgment on what holiness is, and thus what the beauty of the Church is.
More and more, mainly due to media slogans, there is a misunderstanding in us: we evaluate the sanctity of the Church starting from the goodness or wickedness of her members. A bit how we evaluate a soccer team starting from the skill of its players. But it is a logic that is too worldly, carrying with it disastrous consequences. Above all, it masks an idea of holiness reduced to a moral perfection, faultless, a type of holiness that is without Christ and does not fascinate. As a consequence, it reduces the sanctity of the Church to the capacity of her faithful. If the Church is holy because Christians are good or coherent, then there are two alternatives: either we deny the sanctity of the Church because there are too many acts of wrongdoing, or we reduce her to an association resigned for perfect men who are already saved.
The holiness of the Church is not born from our sanctity. It has another origin. The Church is holy because Christ chose her. Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Holiness is not an achievement of human coherence, but a gift of God who chooses certain men. Saint Paul uses the image of marriage to explain this definitive link between Christ and the Church. The Church is the spouse of Christ. It is from him that she draws her sanctity and therefore her beauty. Like the moon, which shines from the light of the sun.
When I was a teenager, and I became definitively linked to the companionship of Student Youth, it wasn’t because of some particular merit on part of the other high schoolers, who were pretty broken, like me. It was because of the scandalous claim that they carried: here we are happy, because Christ is here! The beauty of the Church is a reflection of the beauty of Christ, and what fascinates every man is that in this companionship of sinners dwells the fairest of the sons of men (Ps. 45).
The evil of men, while distancing us from Christ, does not cancel the fact that Christ wanted the Church as His spouse. And it is precisely this love of Christ that brings forth in us the desire to convert, to change, to become saints.
It is not the sanctity of Christians that makes the Church holy. Rather it is the holiness of the Church, inasmuch as she is loved by Christ, that makes Christians into saints, in proportion to their availability to walk in the Church. The highs schoolers that I met were not perfect, but in spending time with them my life began to change, to be overwhelmed by the presence of Christ that emerged luminously from their faces.
Evil, which at times seems to obfuscate everything among us, will never take away the true sanctity and the true beauty of this house of ours. The Church is married forever, forever in relation to Christ, forever on the path towards Him, a sign that indicates His real presence among us. She is beautiful and holy because Christ is faithful to her. In all of the Bible, the Church says one word only, in the book of Revelation. She turns to the Bridegroom and says: Come.
(In the photo above: Ruben Roncolato at the entrance of the chapel of Nostra Signora di Lourdes, in Saint Bernard, Chile.)