In the Gospel Story for this Sunday (Luke 21:5-19) Jesus speaks of the end times when things will get bad before he comes again. In many ways this Story can be talking about the Church in our day.
Let me begin by saying I firmly believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I will be with you always, even till the end of time”, and, “ the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you”. I believe this is what is happening in our day.
Apocalyptic Stories like today’s Story were written to encourage Jesus’ followers back then, and when we let them, they can do the same for us in our day as we look at what is happening with the serious problems in our church today:
- diminishing numbers of priests – male and celibate; yet in our own local diocesan area there are approximate 100 validly ordained priests who are not permitted to function because they have felt the call to marry and raise a family; they way they are treated shows the vindictive nature of an institution that claims to act in the name of Jesus who was not vindictive; the hierarchy prefers to deny people access to Eucharist and instead maintains its own power by insisting on celibacy.
- the most serious sin in the church today is publicly being in favor of the ordination of women; a number of priests have been silenced, excommunicated, expelled from their religious orders for publicly supporting women priests; there are several groups of women priests who are prophetically blazing the way.
- while the hierarchy is dead set against marriage equality, increasing numbers of folks are in favor of it; also, the way our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are treated by the hierarchy reflects neither the experience nor the attitude of increasing numbers of folks.
- the hierarchy demands total obedience to non-doctrinal orders that reflect neither the gospel, Jesus’ own way of living and reaching out to folks, nor our own experience of life, which is, after all, where we encounter God.
- many folks, especially the young, are just walking away since the church has no meaning or importance for them, and there are fewer church baptisms and marriages; many of these young families are living quite well without church involvement, and in their own way are living the virtues the church teaches (in words not often not by example), as when a young family chooses to share their lives by adopting a baby without laying down conditions, just moving along together in love and trust.
- decreasing relevance of the hierarchy as fewer and fewer people pay any attention to what the bishops say about anything; the pontifications of the bishops on matters they know nothing about has demonstrated in the eyes of many their incompetence and irrelevance, and so they are ignored; very few bishops know first hand the challenges of family life from the husband-wife or mother-father perspectives, yet they presume to tell these couples how to live the most intimate areas of their relationships, and thus are promptly ignored; some bishops presume to practice medicine by condemning good folks who have with good will and and abundance of medical and ethics experience chosen a course of action that bishops don’t like.
- the perception that the church management is more interested in its own privileges than in the welfare of the people and is not following Jesus, who reached out in love to everyone, but is more interested in controlling who can get to God: labeling LGBTQ as ‘intrinsically disordered’, keeping folks whose first marriages failed and whose second attempts to find happiness are not within church norms, from sharing fully in Eucharist.
- rather than reaching out to all by living Jesus’ gospel and life of mercy, the institution sees its role as controlling access to God by keeping out any who do not subscribe to all its believe or who do not use exactly the right words, etc; keeping the rules of the institution is seen to be more important than following the example of Jesus as folks see it in their own life and according to their own conscience.
- the hierarchy’s practice of silencing and punishing priests who dare to talk about matters which by church edict cannot even be discussed: optional celibacy, women priests, etc.; also the style of many bishops who govern by fear and threats, either stated or implied.
- there seem to be two churches – the church of the hierarchy, and the church of the folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews; increasingly folks are writing off the former as embarrassing and irrelevant, while maintaining some connection with the latter; many ignore both.
I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching us what it means to follow Jesus in our own life today. God happens in real life – our life as we live and understand it, and not as someone else tells us it should be. As Benedict and Francis have said, our primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to live an open and trusting relationship with him and go where it takes us. Many folks are doing just that. The turmoil of these days shows the Spirit is stirring things up, and raising up courageous folks living prophetically at great cost to themselves and their families.
Structures and institutions are good servants but bad masters. They tend to develop their own goals of self-preservation at all costs. They have to be questioned constantly as to whether they still have the values of the reason they were created – in the case of religious institutions, do they live Jesus’ gospel? Do they facilitate folks’ learning from and following Jesus, or just the opposite?
A question for all of us is whether or not to get involved, or just to sit back and do nothing. Each of us has to answer for ourselves. The recent request from the Vatican (in preparation for next fall’s Synod on the Family) to consult with everybody down to the parish level shows some glimmer of awareness that the ordinary folks know things and have a lot to contribute, and that the Holy Spirit does not guide only from the top down, but often from the bottom up. We are all the People of God.
Having a prayerful and trusting relationship with God however we know Her/Him is essential these days. While we can share our thoughts, we cannot impose them on others, no matter who tells us that others who disagree with us have no rights.
Just sayin . . .