Increasing numbers of folks are saying “the bishops don’t speak for me”. Some would go so far as to say, “the church does not speak for me”. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that what the bishops say does not square with what folks experience in their own life.
We encounter God in life as we live it, not as somebody else tells us it ought to be. We hear the Gospel in the setting of whatever is going on in our life. There is a lot going on in all our lives these days, much of which has not happened before, and the Gospel offers context and insight. It is the same God who reveals His/Her Self in each of us with all our differences and our sameness. Since God’s first self-revelation is creation, the more we understand about creation the more awareness we have of God. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, everyone is important, everyone is necessary, none of us is an accident”. How then can the bishops declare anyone to be “intrinsically disordered”?
Folks today do not react well to threats, so they do not pay attention to the bishops’ threats, among which are: declaring that folks who vote for a particular candidate are committing serious sin; if a person is not strongly enough against abortion they cannot receive Communion; if a person lives an unapproved lifestyle they cannot receive Communion and are going to hell; priests who are in favor of the ordination of women can be silenced, excommunicated, or thrown out of their religious order; any person or governmental agency that does not wholly agree with everything the bishops say is violating the bishops’ religious freedom; the list goes on.
The bishops have been very effective at driving folks away, and many seem to be smugly proud of their performance. They pontificate on the “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase, which folks know is at the same level as “separate but equal” of a generation ago – false, misleading, abusive. They are either unaware of, or don’t care about, the pain they are inflicting on very many good folks. How does it feel for parents of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to hear their children condemned as “intrinsically disordered” from pulpits and in the media? How do our same LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel when they hear themselves so condemned? Always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did such things himself.
There are, though, compassionate and pastoral bishops who have found less confrontational ways to serve their people. They just keep quiet about it, and who can blame them? Many of their peers can be very nasty. Often they have been pastors, not bureaucrats, functionaries, or diplomats, and have a feel for their people, walk with them, and, in the words of Francis, “have the smell of the sheep”.
The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true. It is no wonder people are just walking away.
Francis is not telling us what to think, but showing us how to think — through the lens of Jesus’ loving mercy. Jesus calls all of us to live this way. Many folks on the street get this, even without using approved words or ideas. They know it is not right to cause people pain because someone disapproves of them or their lifestyle. They know the people in their lives and recognize the good will that all of us have in some way. We are all trying to do our best in a life that is not easy or fair. We do not need others who have no idea of what our lives are like telling us how to live. We need to love and support each other, not threaten or condemn. We do not have to agree always, but we have to be as like Jesus as we can.
If we are serious about following Jesus our responsibility is to look for him and the Holy Spirit in our lives and go where this takes us. For some this might mean closely following the bishops’ dicta, for others it might mean moving in a different direction.
The bishops don’t seem to get it. They are still issuing edicts and cramming miserable liturgical translations down folks’ throats. Other bishops’ conferences have rejected the mandated liturgical translations as bad. Not so the American Bishops’ Conference. They eagerly direct yet more wretched translations of other rites and ceremonies. Does anybody really care? Probably not, except the priests who have to make sense of the verbiage, and who often are quite creative.
Years back a bishop told me, “Do what you think is right, I don’t have to know everything”. Not much of that these days. Some priests are doing just that – helping folks as best they can, and just not publicizing it. In all honesty, there is good feeling in this. We are just trying to follow Jesus as we know him in our own prayer life.
Just saying . . .