Corruptio optimi pessima


I said something in my sermon last Sunday that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.  I asked my congregation to pray for the new pope – for our brother in Christ, Pope Francis I.

As I prepared that sermon, I tried to imagine the preacher of my childhood saying anything at all about the election of a new pope.  And not to complain about him.  It wasn’t him.  It’s that the times then were different.  Protestants were skeptical of Catholics.  Or maybe that’s being kind about it.  If we prayed at all for Catholics, the prayer would have been that they would see the error of their ways.

As a child, I learned of the Catholic Church’s many and grievous doctrinal errors, and now I wonder why that was so important.  Couldn’t we have learned as well about the many strengths of the Catholic Church?  (True, beating Notre Dame in football wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying.)

But the world is now a different place.  And maybe we’re beginning to recognize the truth of scripture – namely, that what happens in one part of the body affects the entire body.  Whatever is happening these days in the Catholic Church is having an effect on those of us in the Protestant Church.

I said in my sermon last Sunday that I hope the Catholic Church is able to restore trust and to deal more effectively with the sexual abuse scandal.  My reading tells me that the pope’s task is monumental – and very probably beyond the capability of any one person, even one as gifted as the new pope seems to be.  All the more reason, it seems to me, to pray.

Corruptio optimi pessima is a new Latin phrase I learned this week, which means “the corruption of the best is the worst.”   Even more loosely translated: “When things are bad in the church, they’re really bad.”

I think that’s true for all of us – Catholic or Protestant.  Church conflict is the worst.  It eats away at the soul.  I’ve heard that fighting in condo associations is bad.  I have a brother in law who tells me that faculty meetings at his university can be brutal.  Some have suggested that country clubs experience terrible conflict too.

But there’s something even more insidious about a church disagreement.  Maybe it’s that we expect so much more of each other.  We start our meetings in prayer and say we follow Jesus with our lives.  So, when we fall short of expectations, the disappointment is … well, devastating.

The church needs healing – the one I serve, the one with its leadership in Rome, actually the church all over the world.  Let’s pray that Easter will bring new life, a new spirit of humility, a new determination to be the visible body of Christ in the world.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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2 Responses to Corruptio optimi pessima

  1. mike March 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    And to take it a little further – – in addition to the churches all over the world needing healing…
    so do we, each. Easily said, harder to remember everyday. But that fact that it is an option is a gift.

    And – love it when the Miami Hurricanes go up against the Catholics (I mean Notre Dame)…and win. Did I say that?

  2. José Beluci Caporalini July 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Dear Sir,
    I was born in a Catholic-Pentecostal family and raised in both faith. Since I was very small I saw the importance of love and respect for everybody. No one ever tried to “convert” anyone else, because my parents and relatives realized that all of our relatives were great, good, honest people; Christian people.
    Today both Catholic and Protestant Churches strive to live up to ecumenism which is so important for all of us. Therefore, as I read about your prayer and sermon for pope Francis, I became very happy. It is so saintly for each other; Jesus just loves us, and this is enough. I think that if He ever came back again, he would add a new Beatutude: “Blessed are those who preach ecumenism.”
    God bless you Sir; pray for me and my family,

    José Beluci Caporalini.

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