Monday, October 15, 2012

A Church Mouse Mulls

I was at a Mass last month where a very well liked church leader had this to say as his homily: instead of dismissing the Church's teaching as unreasonable, maybe it's us that are being unreasonable.

And I get that, I really do, especially when it comes to social justice, our treatment of others. I always remember a moral theology prof who said to us, The things you confess all the time, those are not your big sins.  It's the stuff you're not paying attention to where you're really causing trouble.  Seriously, think on that a bit and then try sleeping through the night...

But as I'm listening to this otherwise very affable guy, I'm also thinking to myself, boy, wouldn't it be great if he also said, sometimes the Church needs to be challenged, it's a human institution, and as a result sometimes it is unreasonable?  But no, the entirety of his message was, the problem is ours.  

I don't know, it was like watching someone who had circled the wagons so much he couldn't see out anymore, or was afraid to pop his head up. It was all defense.

Which I guess is an interesting way of thinking about what's been going on in the Church the last 10 years or so, at least in the States. Our leaders have grown more and more outspoken, but generally it's more and more Thou Shalt Nots and fewer Thou Shalts.  You'd be hard pressed to stitch together much of what's been said into a positive vision of the kingdom, of what we're aiming for.

That same moral theology prof taught us that ethics is about striving.  But people strive for tangible, positive things. Striving to not think or do things, I don't know, that's important, too, but it's not enough. You can spend your whole avoiding evil and still not doing any good!

The pro life cause is often framed in terms of you can't do this or that.  But a couple years ago I'm at Timothy Dolan's installation as Archbishop of New York City, and his approach is, "Everybody is somebody".  Much broader, more positive; not an attack line, but a way of living your life. That's what people hunger for, I think; nuanced, intelligent spiritual meat to chew on for their lives. "Don't do or be X" -- it's clear, but it doesn't penetrate, because there's nothing there to hold onto.

Maybe it's all defense now because our leaders feel more under siege than ever before.  But to me that's a real paradox, because in many ways they set the tone of the conversation. I'm not being naive, there's definitely lobbying groups, etc., that try to control the story, spin things negative. But our leaders have these mighty pulpits to speak from. And when they lead with negative, they get the same back.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  And we're stuck in the middle as the missiles fly. (Lordy Lordy, if we have to go through one more round of changes in the liturgy anytime soon, I am going to fall entirely off the rocker!)

I don't have kids (obviously).  But ever since my nephews and nieces have been born, I worry a lot more about the world we're leaving for them, the way we're forming them. And I don't know, a lot of days I'm worried about the kind of people some in the Church want them to grow up to be.  It's a vision so totally disconnected from Jesus.

I'm sure I'm just as guilty. Always easier to blame someone else. I had a great opportunity to interview a bishop a couple weeks ago. The article's going to be posted on another website this week, but when it is I'll attach a link here.  I thought it was a really eye opening look at the challenges of being a leader in the Church today.




Shelly said...

I'll have to think on this some more, but, really, all I want is to hear Truth - the capital "T" kind. Spoken assertively - not aggressively, or in-your-face - but not passive either. Maybe it's just me, but I'm a little tired of the blame-game. What's important? What's most important here? If we can't agree on that, then I think we are in serious trouble, and at this point, who really care who-screwed-what-up? Let's just get busy and make things better. Yes, I suppose "better" can be debated, too - but since I know I'm right, why don't we just do it my way?

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

:) Appreciate the point you're making. Blame feels satisfying, but it really doesn't help move the ball at all. Thanks for that.