This morning I received this email from a respected friend: “Here’s a question: If God was willing to allow Adam and Eve (and so many others in our salvation history) freedom to choose, even knowing they might choose wrongly, why isn’t our Church willing to do the same?”. Good question, but then he is known for asking incisive questions. I responded, “are you confusing the church with God?”, to which he replied, “Hooah! No such confusion in my mind; I’m just amazed at the ability of some church leaders to say they are serving a God for whom freedom to choose is such an essential characteristic of created human beings, yet not allow the same freedom”. Disturbing, yet on target. Undoubtedly this has something to do with his practice of contemplative prayer.
In varying degrees institutions fear freedom for their members. The institutional church is more fearful than most, and punishes folks who have the temerity to suggest such freedom, raise disturbing questions, or otherwise seem to rock the barque of Peter. Yet we need creative thinking and choosing. The institution cannot continue business as usual. For those of us “on the back nine” this probably won’t be our problem, since when the crisis hits the church hopefully we will be somewhere else.
Our church is Eucharist centered. It is getting increasingly difficult to provide Eucharist to folks due to the diminishing number of priests. We retired guys are doing a lot to maintain the status quo in the numbers and places for masses. Many of us are circuit riders, but I’m not sure this is the answer. We need creative thinking and choosing, and the freedom to make mistakes as we move along on our journey. Pope Francis says he would like a “messy church”, and this is what we would have if we dared to think and make choices, but is there anything wrong with that? I, for one, don’t think there is. Each of us is an image of God, and each of us has a lot to offer if we were not being stifled by institutional church managers. The Holy Spirit is moving among us, Jesus is with us always, and “there is no restraining the word of the Lord”. Maybe we have to take the chance and say what we think needs to be said, and think what we feel needs to be thought, make some challenging choices, and go where the Spirit leads us. Spoiler alert: any who take this chance cannot expect to be loved and welcomed by the institution, more like threatened and punished with traditional measures that have lost their impact for ordinary folks.
Along these lines there is a very good blog entry over at Young Adult Catholic on Transubstantiation. While the institution might say it is not theologically precise and does not use approved terms and concepts, it is worth looking at as an attempt to get a better handle on Eucharist. Many of our young folks are asking meaningful questions and coming up with pretty creative answers and ideas. This sort of thinking and choosing ought to be encouraged and supported for the good of all of us. Topdown-approved topics and ideas don’t work anymore. Folks on the street need the opportunity and experience of thinking, choosing, making mistakes, and trying again. We need constantly to be open to the Spirit, and the freedom to follow Jesus who is with us always even to the end of time. He is among us, not imposing from on high. Who is to say, other than institutional management, that he is not encouraging us to take chances and make mistakes?
When Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them”, he didn’t say anything about permission, approval, faculties, or places. Along the lines of the blog mentioned above, could there not be other ways for Eucharist in various forms? Any words or concepts we use for God necessarily fall short of God. It seems dangerous, then, for us to get hung up on exact wording or terminology. Cannot Jesus be present among different folks in different ways? Does any one particular way that happens among some folks have to be defined as the only valid one over against all others? Can we not explore different possibilities of priesthood serving in different gatherings of folks? Does it have to be limited to celibate males? Do any of us have an absolute monopoly and control over Jesus being present among us?
If there is to be any creative thinking and choosing, something has to be done about the atmosphere and culture of fear that pervades the institution. To me there is no leadership there, just management or command-and-control. Good leaders encourage their followers to take personal responsibility for their choices and their place in whatever is going on, and grow in the process, all the while enhancing the mission. Blind unquestioning obedience is not the ideal, as it seems to be in the religious institution.
Idealizing the past as the only way for the present and into the future is not a good way to do things. Jesus’ message and life were all about living his Father’s loving mercy. The message does not change, but how it is understood and lived is constantly changing. The folks in Jesus’ day did not have to worry about nuclear war, the economy, AIDS, contemporary moral issues, pollution, etc. We do have to worry about these. Yet, underlying everything we do is Jesus’ call to follow him and live our Father’s loving mercy in all that is going on. This calls for creative thinking and choosing.
In the face of all this we might remember that “perfect love casts out fear”, and not let the prevailing institutional atmosphere of “perfect fear casts out love” disturb us. We do our best to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus and beg the wisdom and courage to go where it takes us.
Just saying . . .