The Pandemic was both a curse and a gift and I am confident that the media focuses on the former because it makes the news that sells. The biblical story about a house built on sand, unable to stand on its own, is a perfect analogy to how some view the institutional Church. Evidence abounds for drawing such a conclusion with the historic number of Catholics who turn their backs on hypocritical teaching; many Christian communities are disappearing by aging out, dying, moving or simply falling prey to the secular culture we are living in that no longer sees relevance in the Church.
There is some truth in that position but let’s think deeper than that. We are Catholics and I believe “once a Catholic always a Catholic!” That may at face value seem irrational but hear me out. Being baptized a Catholic comes with incredible faith values that over time, nurtured, practiced and experimented with, define who we are. The institution is in chaos, a time of disruption, that is true and all because of our forward-minded Pope. That’s a sobering reality but all institutions go through a life cycle of its own and the Church is no different and for us, it is a time to align with a changing Spirit-driven universe.
Some tenaciously hold on to “the days of yore” when Father knew best and we became robots to an institution that was overrun with “thou shall nots”. It was a Church of that time and those times are gone and some hold fast to that legislative approach is like a weighted blanket that comforts, keeps us safe and is an insurance of sorts that St. Peter will give us good grades. Mythology lives in that thinking and future thinking.
The institutional responsibility was always engrained in teaching, teaching the faith, its beauty, its profound power, its utilitarian value. In fact, it is the core component of the bishops’ job description. Overall, they failed. Do I blame them? Not entirely because they simply parrot what they were taught. I do blame them for withdrawing from the world that the people live in and being totally unfamiliar with our lived experience.
So what is it about our shared faith that makes it revolutionary? It is a radical faith that is culturally and geographically diverse and speaks on many levels to the affective, cognitive and practical elements of our world, of who we are and how we are to live. Did you ever hear teaching like that? Jesus’ simple message is LOVE, multi-dimensional love: love of God, love of self, love of family, love of communities we engage in, love of country and all are across racial, religious, political, cultural and ideological societal barriers that have built up over generations. Yet, when the institution refuses unity across ideological, sexual and status barriers, we are creating another Good Friday for Jesus. Have you ever experienced these truths about our faith?
Martin Luther King’s message was an entirely and consistently a Christian message. Christianity, IMHO (in my humble option for those that are unaccustomed to shorthand) is like the blood in our veins; it keeps the entire body working and is deeply engaged in life as we know it. It’s our Christian-Catholic values that determined and will determine who we vote for. It will define our interests, our behavior, our thoughts and future plans. MLK called out as sinful those who claimed to know the Lord but who didn’t live that way. There is the flaw in our teaching. The lessons focused on the head, not the heart or how we live; that model lives on today as they write and rewrite their version of our faith that fits their needs, not ours. Many see our faith akin to a stop at the post office where we stop to get stamps (liturgy), receive the Eucharist and have our ticket punched as fulfilling a threatening responsibility.
Think about it. We have been taught we are a sinful people needing a patriarchal support system to guide us by programming us onto a path of compliance that produces robotic behavior with no thinking behind it. Again, the hierarchy was raised this way and its their “legacy” to us. My version is radically different. I believe we are the Body of Christ and we are gifted beyond our comprehension but stifled by our programming. We are both human and divine. How could I possibly say that? Because in the first chapter of Genesis we are told we were created in God’s likeness and that combination and being mindful of it helps to give ourselves to the Divine in the everyday things, in the things we do mindlessly. Tapping into the Divine in those mindless moments grounds us, animates us to a deeper Divine relationship. The Spirit never intrudes but enthusiastically embraces our invitation.
Our knowledge of our faith is only what we have been taught and because it was designed to fill our heads with punitive limits, it lacks the explosive, joy-filled components that fill the hole in our souls. Succinctly, education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace. This is conclusively what many Catholics lack because the model we were taught is legislative, punitive, and autocratic. Is it any wonder that Catholics en masse are mute because we don’t know the faith that awaits, obedient because they want to go to heaven and passive because they don’t know what they don’t know.
The faith promises a transformational freedom, a freedom heavily laced with hopeful and so different that it could be said to be that a large percentage of Catholics cannot envision because the bishops’ legalism is all they know. Many of us live our faith outside the boundaries that the bishops set for us. There is sentiment that the people understand the faith (that which they’ve been taught) far better than the bishops do. Yet, our faith is relationship based and since the bishops have demonstrated more times than not that they don’t choose a relationship with us and the synodal process has proven that they struggle themselves with a relationship with their brother bishops.
Reports coming on the November bishops’ meeting are sad indeed. In lieu of tackling the big, issues or the issues that need closure within the institution they defer leaving issues for another meeting, or another group of bishops. Cowardice. Fear of accountability. That’s our leadership. Rather than lament the void, perhaps this is the call of the Spirit to stand up, be counted and co-create the church of the future, our legacy to generations to come!