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Back to the gospel

11 January 2013

Robert Nowell reads a Roman Catholic plea


Repair My House: Becoming a "Kingdom" Catholic
Michael H. Crosby
Orbis Books £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code CT742 )

THIS is a very rewarding, but in some ways infuriating, book by an American Capuchin friar who uses the radical insights of St Francis of Assisi to analyse what is wrong with the Church and how we can put it right. The title comes from Francis's hearing God tell him in the ruined church of San Damiano to "repair my house", and coming to realise that what was meant was not the building but the whole institution.

Fr Crosby surveys the ills besetting the institutional Church today, and sets out what it means to try to follow Jesus, and the implications that this has for his followers, the new household that Christ has called into being.

One of his starting points is the finding that "Roman Catholicism in the United States is haemorrhaging members at an unprecedented rate." Another is the increasing polarisation between what the sociologist James D. Davidson classified as "Culture I Catholics" and "Culture II Catholics": agreeing on the fundamental dogmas, but the first seeing the Church as a hierarchical institution, the second seeing it as the people of God, with similar differences over the parts played by the clergy and the laity, and over they way we should regard the world and society we live in.

Crosby suggests that "we have moved from the gospel proclaimed by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels to the gospel articulated by Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and his writings to the gospel defined by the whole apparatus of the Vatican, overseen by popes, curia, and local bishops."

As a result, many, if not most, Roman Catholics "identify their faith with membership in an organization called Catholicism rather than their baptism into a living body that makes them disciples of Jesus Christ". What he is calling for is thus to give primacy to Jesus's original subversive message rather than to the subsequent efforts to embody this in the necessary structures of organised Christianity. We also need to model ourselves on the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity, who co-inhere in one another and are perichoretically identified in one another.

From all this emerges a sevenfold way of living as a Catholic Christian in the world of the 21st century - the final, and most rewarding, section of this book. But getting there involves a certain amount of plunging through the theological undergrowth, terms and phrases in transliterated Greek, and the occasional explanation of the circumstances in which the author arrived at a particular insight (though nothing quite as enjoyable as the remark to the General Synod of John Habgood when Archbishop of York: "This idea came to me in my bath in the Athenaeum").

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