“Not all criticism is blind negativity. People who love something have also earned the right to make it better and keep it true to its deepest vision. We hope and vision when we own the problem…accept the light as well as the darkness. When we can use the language “us” and not “them” then we are bearing the full mystery of something. When we recognize we are part of the evil as well as complicit in the good and take responsibility for both, then our criticism is coming from a place of love and not hate” – Rohr
So, ya’ll may have noticed that our Catholic Church has teeny-tiny leadership and public relations issues. This very weary church-loving gal has one small request. When you begin wielding the critique that we Catholics have most certainly earned and deserve, please be gentle. We are a stalwart people who sometimes “stay at the table much too long” (as my therapist would say). Meekly I ask, please consider offering us the mercy and nourishment we are so damned stingy and slow to give freely to others.
I’m not trying to make excuses here, truly. I just want to say our janky Catholic umbrella is very WIDE. Those of us who still find ourselves beneath it, who are still bold enough to deem, in our most shaky and fragile voice, that our togetherness still holds some resemblance to “The Body of Christ” recognize that this “Body” is already limping and bleeding-out pretty badly, as anyone can plainly see. Many people use the dated and somewhat silly but nonetheless helpful example that the broad arms of our church stretch and hold both Mel Gibson and Michael Moore – and today we recognize that our Catholic church holds both Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. We are stretched and in great tension but are still holding together as long as they both choose to remain at the table. All who are hungry are indeed welcome. This is our Catholic teaching as I have been taught, understand, and try to live out, though with deep imperfection and growing weakness.
The image that comes to mind of our beleaguered Catholic community is that of a bunch of jagged rocks drawn together by the Spirit of God but finding ourselves “in a trick bag” so to speak. By our own choice, we have climbed into and are stuck in a stuffy, tightly drawn burlap bag in which we have been jostling and knee-jerking, violently bumping up against each other for 2,000 years. Eventually (at glacier speed, I know…sigh…but eventually) the goal – the key to Jesus’ dream for us – is that “we remain one” through this process until we are all utterly spent and all our jagged edges have been worn off.
Catholics believe that God is to be found in everything, even in conflict which can and often does bring us to a deeper understanding of the truth (little else does really, we are so stubborn). But, herein lies the rub; to stop this seemingly endless conflict – to be truly set free of this violently shaking, stifling environment that we continue to perpetuate by navel-gazing and lashing out at one another – we have to stand still. Very, very still and really listen for God in one another. In creation. In the poor, the stranger, the prisoner. We are designed for better, destined for peace if we all can just sit still a blessed minute, look at each other and with great effort and brow sweat hear and see the deepest longings for safety and belonging that undergird our false selves and untenable ideologies.
As Christians, we are not called to contribute to this violence, but rather to transform it; to stop fear mongering and finger pointing and accompany each other out of this “trick bag” by absorbing the venom and vitriol (like Jesus did; think ‘water filter”) and working in our oneness to defiantly return it back into the world as the only force that has the power to bring about lasting, meaningful change; that of love. God is love. It’s really that simple, gang. There is no such thing as redemptive violence, only redemptive love, which concretely looks like suffering, forgiveness, dialogue and tenderness with one another – and perhaps even with ourselves. It’s not a question of “if” conflict will erupt among and within us, only a question of “when” and “how we will respond.” Responding with love and forgiveness is “nothing less than an act of fidelity to God’s evil-combating campaign” as Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber cleverly puts it.
Our eternally patient creator (who has been at this long work for about 14 billion years now) knows we humans are in our infancy; only at the dawn of what we are designed to grow into. The mystics and saints among us hope that we all will learn (before we extinct ourselves) that this judgmental, exclusionary, violent way of relating to one another is not of God and is getting us nowhere fast. Exclusion, demonizing, villainizing, and judging others are simply not of God. These things reveal the world which WE have fashioned where it is dangerous and sometimes fatal to be a compassionate, inclusive, loving person, as Jesus demonstrated in his actions, life, words – and sadly – in his death by public humiliation and violence.
We must remind ourselves that Christianity started at a dinner party – a meal of friendship, symbolic of our inherent connectedness – our shared life of oneness. Many scholars state that Jesus was murdered precisely because of his radical inclusivity at this table, shown best in his scandalous choice of dinner partners that ruffled the feathers of religious authorities and caused political upheaval. Isn’t that the point of Eucharist? The Mass? Our whole “holy communion”? If it isn’t then I’ve been sold a rotten bill of goods, along with many others.
In order to get out of bed in the morning I must believe that the vast majority of Christians (or simply human beings in general, of any faith tradition) recognize and understand that our communion table belongs to Christ, and therefore everyone is welcome. Everyone. No exceptions. How could it be any other way with God? Don’t we know in our bones that the self-proclaimed bouncers of our community have no power to say who is invited or not invited to be nourished and fed by God? Isn’t that the heart of the Good News Jesus came to share? Isn’t the entire meaning of our defining sacrament of Eucharist that God’s love is without boundary or breaking point? As Fr. Greg Boyle says, isn’t God too busy loving us to be disappointed with us? That rather than the “one-false-move-god” we need to draw near and embrace the “No-matter-whatness” of God that Jesus tirelessly and courageously proclaimed. Why, oh why do we incessantly and annoying paint God with such a small and stingy brush?
Will our current path lead to death? Probably. Staying on the road we are on will surely bring us to the destination we all recognize is ahead of us. But, as G.K. Chesterton once wrote “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it has a God who knows the way out of the grave.”
The wisdom pattern of everything in existence is all around us this beautiful spring season, is it not? We are enveloped in a creation screaming to us the truth of the paschal mystery; how death and darkness eventually DO give rise to new life. This is God’s rhythm. It’s a mystery not unlike gravity, quantum physics, deep space, and even of simple math and music. So, may we gracefully accompany that which is dying and tend to the sprouts of life we see bursting up amid the rubble of our all too human misdirected institutions.
“Without love, I am but a clanging cymbal, right?” Christianity will survive. The vision of Jesus (whether you believe Him to be divine or not) is too compelling and beautiful to forget. Once it seizes your imagination, hope remains and never fails. It is like the smallest of seeds planted in the darkness that holds God’s promise of something much too big and wonderful for us to grasp. We remain hopeful and humble in the face of the great mystery who loves us into being – the author of life and love.
It is true that some of our leaders are taking us in a direction so far astray from that of the Jesus who I have come to know and love that I can barely recognize God in us at all. But then, I read the pioneers (like Rohr, Johnson, Boyle, Bourgeault, and the like) who are up on the mountain top, seeing where we are headed and even though I’m waaaay far back in the caravan, just trying to hold people together on the messy, muddy trail of parish ministry, holding on most days by a pinky finger to my own hope with a stubborn desire to aid and encourage all those who are limping alongside me in the valley until we travel far enough to be bathed in the light that these visionaries see and forecast for us. On my better days I can imagine what I have never experienced and that is enough for today.
Fr. Greg Boyle writes:
“Moral outrage is the opposite of God; it only divides and separates what God wants for us, which is to be united in kinship. Moral outrage doesn’t lead us to solutions – it keeps us from them. It keeps us from moving forward toward a fuller, more compassionate response to members of our community who belong to us.”
“Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.”
Excellent article from America Magaize on this topic: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/05/31/communion-eucharist-ban-deny-243068