In the clowns, we see our savior


By Patrick Schmadeke
Evangelization in the world today


Positive response to my column last month, “The Church is still Ratzinger’s Clown,” suggests a value in fleshing out its ideas. In that piece, I shared from Father Joseph Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christ­i­anity,” published in 1968. In it, the future Pope Benedict XVI creates an allegory of a clown who was part of a traveling circus that caught fire. Looking for aid from the next village, the clown pleads with the villagers to help, but they interpret his actions as a gimmick to get them to come to the circus and the fire consumes the circus and village.

Father Ratzinger wrote that the clown’s situation is akin to the Church’s situation today as we try to reach people who are not in the Church — we can’t communicate effectively. He suggested a solution to our problem: cultivate an interior life that discovers the fundamental solidarity between all people, whether they be inside or outside the Church. The question we face: what does solidarity with all people look like? We can draw upon the following reference points from our tradition for reflection.

First, during the first reading at Mass on Sunday (April 21), we heard that Jesus, the stone which the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone. Upon hearing this, a piercing awareness came over me about those who are rejected explicitly or implicitly by society or the Church: they are the cornerstone. This was the kind of moment, sitting in silence, where I became aware of my own heartbeat. I dwelled in that moment, that awareness, a feeling of being stunned, even blindsided. It is the degree to which the marginalized are placed at the center of the Church that the Church lives out the vocation given by Jesus, our divine physician.


Second, as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 27-29, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” The foolish, the weak, the clowns of the world are those people whom God appoints as messenger. This is a deeply different pattern of valuing people than that provided by our culture.

Third, we have the language of the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable in our tradition. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that this preferential option “states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves.” The U.S. bishops’ focus on solidarity is reminiscent of Father Ratzinger’s observation.

Fourth, the opening of Gaudium et Spes (The Joy of Hope), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World from Vatican II, is also suggestive. We are invited at the level of the heart to join in the experience of all people, especially the marginalized. “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.”

Finally, the opening line from the recent Vatican declaration Dignitas Infinita reminds us that each person has an inexhaustible, inextinguishable dignity. “Every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter.” We are to envision the Church in light of that dignity.

Each of us may have been or may become rejected stones. We probably know somebody or many somebodies who are rejected stones. Our diocesan focus on welcoming and belonging continues to bring the complexity of human, communal relations to the surface in light of the life of Jesus.

Like St. Francis before us, we must re-build God’s Church. This is a perennial project. If we are to do it well, today’s rejected stones, today’s rejected clowns, must become the cornerstone. Then we will have done as Christ our Savior did.

(Patrick Schmadeke is director of evangelization for the Diocese of Davenport.)

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