In the Gospel Story for the opening Mass of the Church’s Year of Faith (Matthew 28:16-20) Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
There are basically two commands from Jesus: love God and neighbor, treat others as you would have others treat you. The other commands usually associated with Jesus come from organizations formed to promote a particular interpretation of what their founders thought Jesus meant.
The Church, actually the hierarchy, has proclaimed the year beginning this weekend to be a Year of Faith, encouraging catholics to reach out to folks and invite them to join or return to the Roman Catholic Church. It seems to me, though,that there are actually two Catholic Churches: the Church of the hierarchy, and the Church of the folks or local Church.
The Church of the hierarchy is best known for its arrogance and hypocrisy, making threats and imposing punishments to keep folks in line, forbidding discussion on topics they don’t want discussed, belittling folks whose lifestyle or marital status do not meet with their approval, depriving folks of access to Eucharist rather than allowing married priests or the ordination of women. They claim to be acting in the name and manner of Jesus, so perhaps they know something about Jesus that the rest of us don’t. Any who would criticize the hierarchy are threatened, silenced, or punished in other ways. Why would anybody want to be a member of such a church? The credibility of the hierarchy non-existent. Is it any wonder why so many good folks are just walking away?
The Church of the folks, the local Church, is where the good stuff happens, at times in spite of the Church of the hierarchy. The Beatitudes and Works of Mercy are lived daily. In any number of ways those with whom the hierarchy is displeased are ministered to, cared for, encouraged on their journey, recognized for the unique divine images they truly are. Often those in the local church who serve in these ministries are themselves threatened and punished by the hierarchical church for stepping outside the boundaries established by the hierarchy — always, of course, in the name of Jesus. This is the Church that leads by example, doing their best to live as Jesus did, and often being treated as Jesus was. It is not an easy Church to belong to, but it is clear that the Holy Spirit is actively at work.
This year is proclaimed to be a Year of Faith. “Faith” implies trust in Jesus leading to a real relationship which bit by bit becomes the basis and foundation of a person’s everyday living. It is distinct from “belief”, which implies acceptance of certain ideas or dogmas proclaimed by the hierarchy. More and more these days folks are concentrating on faith in the sense of trusting in Jesus, and paying less attention to many of the doctrines and rules proclaimed by the hierarchy. The idea that some folks are intrinsically disordered does not play well with many people. Nor does the notion that folks whose marriages have failed are not entitled to look for another satisfying relationship, and if they choose to do so, are punished by being denied the sacraments. Folks know that Jesus did not treat people this way. Also, increasing numbers of folks do not buy the hierarchy’s specious arguments about why women cannot be ordained priests and why priests must be celibate.
Everything in the essentials of the Church, ie, Sacraments, liturgy, etc, leads us more deeply into a relationship with Jesus. It seems that the hierarchy see themselves as the gate guards to this relationship, determining who can and cannot enter, how and under what conditions grace will be allowed to happen. Some use liturgy as tools of punishment, denying folks who disagree with them access to Eucharist and the Sacraments. They brook no opposition, and attempt to stifle any independent thinking. People are ignoring them, many just walking away. It seems, then that the hierarchy just rants louder, dresses up fancier, and issues more threats and pompous statements. Who would want to join this church?
There is a tremendous amount of good surrounding the Church. Among our core beliefs is Jesus’ promise to be with us always even till the end of time, and that he would send the Spirit to teach us everything he has commanded us. I firmly believe things are as they need to be, that the Spirit is guiding all of us in the Church, and that all of us on all sides are where we are so the Spirit can do her work, and the Jesus can walk with all of us and guide us as he has for so long a time. Our belief in these two things requires that we be open to the power of grace reaching out to us in every single one of us, and that we not put any restrictions on how we will accept grace.