September 1, 2018
This week end, Catholic conflict continues to swirl around the Vatican and Pope Francis. Clerical sexual abuse is pushed to the back page. As an editorial in August 30th National Catholic Reporter noted: “The enemies of Francis are, without conscience or nuance, seizing this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy. We question their commitment to keep children safe.” Concern for the abused as well as sanity seem to have been thrown to the wind.
What we see today will have a far greater impact on Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, than the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, this past Thursday, captured the drama and reality of what is happening:
“Bella Figura died last Saturday night after a series of illnesses, culminating in a painful bout of full-body cancer. The death was announced at LifeSiteNews in the form of an 11-page dossier authored by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and, we now know, rightwing journalist Marco Tosatti. Funeral arrangements are pending but it is not expected the now bruta body of the deceased will be subjected to an open casket.
“Bella Figura was 1,705 years old at the time of her death. She was born in February, 313, in the city of Milan when the Emperors Constantine and Licinius ended the persecution of the Christian Church, thus denying one of the clear marks of identification between the founder of the church and her members. As the church became embroiled in politics, first in central Italy and later throughout Europe, Bella grew out of genuine concern to keep the church pure, and served usefully as a kind of check on egotistical and irreligious clerics whose only concern was power. Eventually, however, Bella found herself consumed by the cancer of power, and she became instrumental in the creation of a clerical culture that valued appearances more than truth, more than integrity, more than the church’s own children.”
In a week or so, I will have some pointed personal observations. Right now I am observing and thinking. We all need to observe, reflect, and then speak. Too many people today are speaking, with limited observation and without reasoned reflection. Contemporary Catholic intrigue, fierce rhetoric, and in-fighting are very strong. It is ecclesiastical temper-tantrum Trumpism.
Yes, I am upset: I grieve for all who trusted in the church and have been used and abused. Their suffering has not been adequately recognized. I grieve as well for truly good priests and bishops (yes there are many) who suffer discrimination and rejection because of their brothers’ sins and decadence. Lastly, perhaps I don’t grieve for myself; but I am angry. I have spent my entire professional life as a Catholic educator. I have enjoyed that ministry and still do. Like so many of my colleagues, I have also experienced first hand the lying and deceit of “respected” ecclesiastical officials. My consolation comes from seeing my former students grow, mature, and do well as clear-thinking and responsible men and women.
This afternoon I thought again about Ephesians 4:25-27 : “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry….” We are called to live an authentic Christian ethic. We pick up and move ahead. The institution will be reshaped for sure. I suspect we really don’t know what form or forms it will take.
The first concern right now is what form our lives take. With current events churning in my head, my focus this week end returns to the Teacher from Nazareth.
The stores are full of back-to- school supplies and the new school year begins this coming week. My teacher reflection today is about Jesus the Great Teacher.
What strikes me as I re-read the Gospel According to Matthew, is Jesus the Rabbi: the Great Teacher; and I offer my own commentary on Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus goes up a hill with his disciples and begins to teach what we have come to know as the “Sermon on the Mount” and the “Eight Beatitudes.” That is what we are about:
The Teacher then said….
1.How blessed and fortunate are those people, who are humble in spirit.
The humble in spirit realize that greatness is achieved through service not domination. Power and control over people have no place in the community of faith. We do not sacrifice people nor the truth to preserve the ”good name of the church.” The humble in spirit realize they are not masters of the universe. They understand they cannot survive on their own. They need to collaborate with sisters and brothers. They need to listen to the Spirit and be attentive to the signs of the times.
2.How blessed and fortunate are the gentle.
The gentle are the meek: those people who can make room for someone else, even for the “losers.” They are neither so arrogant nor so self-centered that they see only what they want to see. Arrogant and crude belittling of other people has no place in the behavior of those who claim to be followers of Christ – even when they sit in high political office or wear colorful clerical uniforms. “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them; and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you.” (Matthew 20:25-26)
3.How blessed and fortunate are those who mourn, because they have compassion.
The compassionate can feel the pain of another. They put an arm around the fearful and the oppressed. They do not simply send their “thoughts and prayers,” and then do nothing. They lift oppressive burdens from the shoulders of the old, the rejected, and the impoverished.
4.How blessed and fortunate are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.
We are fortunate if we have high ideals, strong values, noble goals, and the motivation to build up what is best in others and in ourselves….. But the temptations are strong: to conform, to do what everyone else does, to simply read the news, and then not rock the boat. In the contemporary church we see the results of those not wanting to rock the boat.
5.How blessed and fortunate are those who show mercy to others.
Merciful love is assistance without conditions. Genuine Christians are not fear mongers who scapegoat gays, as Archbishop Viganò is doing, or feminists, as many conservative Catholics are doing, or racial groups, as white supremacists and some militant “Christians” are doing. The Biblical concern for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor gets lost; and the white cultural values of homogeneity, obedience to authority, and strict gender roles are stressed as Christian values.
6.How blessed and fortunate are the pure of heart.
The pure of heart are honest-hearted. They are not two-faced, with hidden agendas or secret desires to advance themselves by using and abusing other people. They do not brag and joke about the different or unfortunate. The pure of heart honor and search for truth. They do not lie and fabricate “facts.”
7.How blessed and fortunate are those who work for peace.
Those who work for peace do not erect walls. They are bridge builders. They cooperate rather than compete. They struggle to resolve political, social, and religious polarization through tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect. To paraphrase, in contemporary style, Matthew 25:52, “put your guns away, for all who draw their guns will perish by guns.”
8.How blessed and fortunate are those who suffer persecution because they truly live the Gospel.
There are a lot of phony Christians in high places these days. They love to denigrate their critics. They profess love of Christ; but in reality they only love themselves. Matthew’s Jesus is adamant about this. He spoke of religious leaders who wore impressive religious garments and talked God’s values but never lived God’s values. “Do not do what they do,” Jesus said “for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see. (Matthew 23:3-5)
In the old days we said pax vobiscum. These days I would say to all of you very simply: Peace. Be well……
PS For my USA friends: Have a great Labor Day week end! In my Michigan hometown I remember participating, years ago, in many Labor Day parades…. 🙂