The Messenger: A Parable by Joseph F. Girzone chronicles some of the exploits of a priest named Francis in a modern context. Girzone is a retired Roman Catholic priest and many of these theological threads are found throughout the book. At just over one hundred pages it reads rather quickly and provides an interesting Catholic perspective to the state of the Roman church.
While always maintaining a strong affection for the Church, Girzone, is no always happy with the decisions that are made by those in power. This book is as much a critique of what is wrong with the ecclesiastical structures of the Roman Catholic church as it is a clarion call to seek reform, or better yet, a return to what, I would guess, is a more true Catholic identity.
The leadership of the church is predominantly portrayed as weak, selfish, uncaring and conniving, with some exceptions. The primary concern in the book seems to be the loss of focus on the churches mission. A mission that is supposed to be upheld and protected by the bishops because of their role as successors to the Apostles. But, Francis, bemoans the fact that this task has fallen to him, a simple priest. Francis, is not comfortable with this role. His struggles and desire, hopes and dreams, are chronicled through various experiences throughout the book.
I found the book interesting on a couple of levels. The first level was that of Francis’s perspective and analysis of what was missing from the church. There was not a strong sense that the Protestants were the cause of problems within the Catholic church. The books from very introspective about a Roman Catholic’s view of purpose and mission. The need for unity and understanding among those that loved Jesus was emphasized and highlighted in the story. Francis is not interested in getting everybody to “come back home.” What is at the center of Francis’s thinking and what motivates him to act is the need for Jesus to be more than the symbol of faith, or worse yet, a symbol of faith. This is not a sufficient view of Him. Jesus must become everything because he is everything. This was a refreshing note in the text.
The second level had to do with the way that a Roman Catholic perspective interprets the role of the Bible and its authority. The theology of the authority of the church is not found in the Bible according to the book, but in the ones who wrote the bible. And connected to this is the idea that this same authority to lead and guide the church was vested, in a very literal way, to the succession of leaders since the Twelve Apostles. I had never encountered this theological understanding in this way before, but I will investigate this further. Because of this understanding of authority, it becomes easier to see how the Roman Catholic church is organized and how it practically works out its theology. This understanding also explains why the dogma of apostolic succession is pivotal and protected within Roman Catholic theology.
The book was interesting to read. It was much more “evangelical” than I would have expected, and yet it was inspiring to think that there are those within Catholicism’s ranks who are concerned with the promotion and propagation of the Gospel of Jesus (even we do not agree on some points of theology!). Over all I enjoyed it.