In Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 4:12-17) Jesus invites several fishermen to follow him, and “They left everything and followed him”. This Story might suggest a context for what happens on our journey when we are serious about trusting Jesus – it ain’t always nice. We need to remember, as Francis tells us, that Jesus does not call us to ease and comfort, nor does he offer us certainty. He invites us to have faith, to trust in him and let this trust be the basis of our life.
It might be that we are called to think in a new way, to be open to persons we just don’t like, to take part in an activity we’ve never thought of before, or to do or say something that is well outside our comfort zone. At times it seems our journey with Jesus is forever beginning anew, and it is not always easy to put our trust totally in him. He isn’t always that obvious or clear. Doubt and questioning are, it seems, an integral part of following him.
It could be that Jesus is asking us to move in a direction that could bring us to difficult times with others who do not share our views on whatever. Throughout church history there have been prophets in the church who said what needed to be said at their time in history and were treated harshly for doing what they perceived to be right. There are prophets among us today who are also suffering for doing or saying what they believe is right. Jesus did not offer his followers an easy life, nor did he promise his followers would be loved and appreciated. He told them, as he tells us, to take up their cross every day and follow him. When we dare to express opinions that others, whether individual folks or the institutional church, don’t like, we get an idea of what the cross is. People and the institution can be very nasty and vindictive, always, of course, in the name of Jesus, who never acted that way himself.
In Scripture the image of journey is both important and dangerous. It marks a departure from the known to the unknown. Usually there are dangers along the way. Since the Scriptures speak to us in the setting of whatever is going on in our life when we read or hear them, the scriptural notion of journey has meaning for us in our life. There are dangers when we journey with and to Jesus. The institution is not very forgiving to any who do not toe the line. We need only look at prophets in our own day who have been silenced, thrown out of the church and/or their religious order for saying things the institution did not like or talking about institutionally forbidden topics. Again, always in the name of Jesus. But, as the saying goes, “sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do”.
One particular area is the way our LGBT brothers and sisters are treated. While there are a number of instances of ministry recognized by the institution, it seems often that many would serve pastorally in this area have to do so below the radar, since the institution can be very nasty to folks who don’t follow the party line to the letter, as many have found out. The institution does not seem to be aware of or concerned about the pain it’s decrees inflict on images and likenesses of God who don’t meet the it’s standards for “intrinsically ordered”, and so are proclaimed to be “intrinsically disordered”. If it is a matter of same sex marriages, any who appear to cooperate, support, or provide any pastoral ministry other than accusing the couple of sin is in for a rough ride from the institution, again, in the name of Jesus. It seems that we cannot even pray with, for, or over a same sex couple without incurring wrath from somebody in the power structure. The “religious police”, the catholic taliban, are especially active in making life difficult for any who do not follow their particular brand of orthodoxy.
Again, good things are happening below the radar. In some cases it is more like spec ops. Fortunately there are many pastoral bishops who are doing their best to serve their people with pastoral sensitivity. It is the public face of the system, and a number of public managers, that are causing much of the harm.
What really bothers me in all this is what we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer IV for Various Needs: “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command. And may your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope”. In many cases this seems to be more a stated value than an operational value. Folks just want to be accepted for who they are, not condemned because they don’t measure up to someone else’s standards. When they look to an organization that claims to represent Jesus and are told they are wrong and in sin, no wonder they walk away, often hurt and angry. Who can blame them? How is the institution comforting those who labor and are burdened, or serving them truly? Fortunately for them there are many other Christians who welcome and minister to them. Not so fortunate for the institution, though.
Pope Francis keeps saying the role of the Church is to live Jesus’ mercy with everyone, especially the folks on the peripheries, the hurting, the lonely. As yet the institution doesn’t seem to get it, but many do, and so good things are happening for some folks, perhaps in spite of the institution and its police.
All we can do is respond to Jesus as we know Him, and as He knows us, and, in the words of Pope Francis, discern what is His word to us in our very personal circumstances.
Just saying . . .