In today’s Gospel Story (Mark 13:24-32) the words Jesus uses to describe the end times might very well also apply to the situation in the Church today. Not, however, in the sense of impending doom, but in the sense of preparing for the coming of Jesus himself. These are disturbing and exciting days in the Church. There seems to be an overturning of so much that the Church has always considered valuable and important: perceived authority of the hierarchy is fast diminishing; a turning away from what has always been considered as the Church’s fundamental morality; increasing numbers of women who feel they are being called to the priesthood, etc. These days of uncertainty for all, fear and trembling for some, and joy and enthusiasm for others, might well be described by these cataclysmic words.
The folks are coming to understand, very much ahead of the Church hierarchy and structure, the universality of God’s call to “wholeness”. Jesus’ call is not limited to a chosen few who follow a certain style of behavior and believe in certain specified concepts, but is made to all humanity and all creation. These days seem to be a rebirth in an awareness that we are all one together, and have responsibilities to and for each other and to and for creation, and that we are called to spread Jesus’ Gospel by living it ourselves and to the best of our ability living as Jesus lived, treating people as he did, and not trying to cram our interpretation of the Gospel down others’ throats. It is exciting to realize that no one has the inside track to Jesus, and every one has a bit of the puzzle, and that we can and need to learn from each other.
In general the hierarchy are responding to this by playing the intimidation game. They don’t get it that folks who love the Church and want to be part of the Church growing don’t really care all that much what the hierarchy are saying. The bishops’ credibility is not much. The hierarchy, again in general, are demonstrating a hubris that defies belief. One archbishop stated baldly that married folks just don’t understand marriage, but he does. Unmarried celibate males claim to understand marriage better that folks who have been married for half a century. They are believing their own press releases.
In the Story Jesus says, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree; when its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates”. When we see these things happening, and we are seeing them, he is at the gates. He is making all things new. It is hard not to feel excited and energized. These are good days – difficult and challenging for so many of us, but good nonetheless. They are certainly not easy days, and don’t look to be getting any easier. There is serious polarization, an absence of good pastoral leadership in the structure and system, and an influx of good folks seeking to fill the vacuum. The fact that this influx is widespread around the world and in countless areas points to the Spirit being very much involved.
Change and growth has already begun. As the saying goes, “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. The idea of Vatican II has come, and there looks to be no stopping it, not even those bishops who feel everybody else is wrong, and they alone are right can stop it. The smart thing for the hierarchy to do would be to engage in dialogue with the world as it is, real dialogue with the folks, and not an attempt to insist that only the bishops can be right. That they are not engaging in such dialogue gives the folks’ desire for change new energy and impetus. The bishops see all this energy as bad news, and bad news does not get better with age. Try as they might, the hierarchy cannot suppress this burgeoning energy. They cannot “put the genie back into the bottle”.
Good, mature, well-educated, highly-qualified, prayerful people feel they are responding to the Holy Spirit as their prayer journey is calling them to do. Who can say this is not, in fact, what is happening? The hierarchy’s claim that only the bishops can speak for the Holy Spirit doesn’t wash, and it would be a good idea for the bishops to consider that. Jesus did not intimidate. It would be interesting to understand the bishops’ rationale for their chosen tactics, their scriptural basis for abusing and threatening folks. They seem really to believe they are acting on Jesus’ name, even though he did nothing like the bishops are doing.
The current Year of Faith seems to be an effort to reinforce the bishops in their belief that only they have the right answers for everything and everybody, and can never be wrong. The opening Institute for Latin seeks to revive use of the dead language, as if this will restore the church to its former glory, ensure world peace, etc. The bishops’ insistence on a re-energized education of the laity on the true nature of marriage does not include listening to the wisdom of the laity, most of whom have been married for some years. The current hierarchy style of operating is one of separating the in crowd from the out crowd, always in the name of Jesus, who reached out to everybody without imposing conditions on them.
Jesus is standing at the door. Will he pass the tests? Will the hierarchy let him in? Perhaps he might have to stay outside with so many wonderful folks who don’t have fancy clothes and seats of honor. I think he would be right at home.
Just sayin . . .