The Gospel and The Church, The Gospel and the church.

Today’s readings provide us with some real challenge… as they should. The Gospel and the Church and the Gospel and the church, small c intentional.

Most days find me deep within my Catholic life (and my catholic life, small c intentional again), accepting the dissonance and the ambiguity of what I am called to by following Christ as a Roman Catholic. I used to get very high-minded and eschew all the seeming hypocrisy. Then I came to slowly and painfully understand the hypocrisy that is part of life. It is part of an active faith to discern willful hypocrisy, but it is also a part of surrender to know that we are all hypocrites. All of that self-righteousness was and what remains of it are barriers to humility.

In any event, I am feeling prickly about big C Catholic Church at the moment. It happens. All relationships grate upon us and if they do not, perhaps that requires some introspection on our parts.

In the first reading from Isaiah, there are some strong words, these among them:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Those words are meant for each and every one of us, from pauper to prince, from the bottom of the church/Church to the top. I am struck by the idea of learning to do good… learning is a lifelong process for everyone.

However, it was the Gospel from Matthew, that truly caught in my heart, like a hook.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

That’s pretty clear but I can think of numerous examples where this Gospel is defied and mocked in Church and church life.

It could be a cleric, bedecked in all sorts of finery, seemingly casually dismissing members of our flock in a public manner. It could be the pious person of good intentions who makes their public devotions but with harsh judgments of others.

It could be and often is me, trying to be simple and good, but so often being anything but.

That is the thing about the Gospel. It is an invitation and challenge to each and every person on the earth.

And I think, I imagine that it is only when we read it as both participants and as recipients of the messages, in ways that are joyful some days and painful on others, that the Gospel springs to life.

So what about the Church and the church? The Church, with all of its many flaws is who we are as God’s people. The church with all of its virtues needs more than its own path.

And perhaps it is the tension between those very poles which is the place in which our faith comes to life and the only place in which we can be redeemed.

For good or ill, this is the Church that has brought us Flannery O’Connor, Oscar Romero, St. Francis of Assisi and others who exemplify the Gospel and challenge us to a different way of living… and that is but 3 people, there are countless others.

Let us always try to examine who we are in all the parts of the story, that is really the idea of the Gospel and the Church, the Gospel and the church.

(In an related but unrelated note, I’d like to link to this post at People for Others, about a book that sounds fantastic. The book is called Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question, by Michael Leach. Even on my worst days, I rarely can imagine not being Catholic and it would appear that this book is a reflection of what many of us who are Catholic feel and believe.)

P.S. – and may we all recall  yesterday’s Gospel and the call to be merciful!

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Mission Improbable – St. Francis and the Sultan

In the tradition of unlikely stories, I want to talk about St. Francis’ mission to meet the Sultan.  In July 2008, I put up a post on the St. Edward’s blog about St. Francis meeting the Sultan. If October 4 were not a Sunday, we would be celebrating St. Francis’ feast day, so Francis is very much on my mind.

As it happens, a new book has come out, The Saint and the Sultan, by Paul Moses. I just read an excerpt of it entitled, Mission Improbable, in the current issue of Commonweal. Here is a link to the piece, which I urge you to read. It is really good and I wish I had the time to read the whole book right now.

It is so remarkably radical that St. Francis and his friar companion, Illuminato (loving that name) would walk through the battlefield, stepping over the corpses and inhaling the stench, in the name of God. Instead of plotting and planning some kind of revenge, he simply walks into the heart of the enemy and starts to talk.

And then he walks alive and out a few days later. So much for godless infidels cutting heads off and all that.

If there is a phrase I can’t stand, it is the ever-popular “WWJD.” Come on people, be real. What would Jesus do? That should be obvious and we too should be doing that without having to wear it on a bracelet. Jesus gave us numerous examples of how he talked to pretty much everyone.

Then he ate with them, the most radical thing of all. Go read the Moses piece in Commonweal, it discusses table fellowship too. That Francis, he was total whack and that was his genius and his holiness.

Today, on my way to the animal blessing I drove by a church sign that said something to the effect of “Having a relationship with God is what matters.” I thought – yes, to a point. To simply have a relationship with God alone and to not have it through and with one another seems to be a colossal waste of the “scandal of incarnation.” If our faith is not about the Trinitarian dynamics of relationship then I don’t know why we are here.

God did not become human just so that we might spend all our time on our knees, tending him and hating others. Rather, I think that if we work to love others, we might indeed be tending to God and God’s business, on our knees and otherwise.

What the hell do I know? I tend to stink at this, but I keep trying or at least wanting to try.

It is great that we associate the animals with St. Francis, but I think that we miss a true opportunity to associate loving our so-called enemies with him as well.

Imagine if today the Pope or some other religious figure were to walk through a battlefield, pocked by death and destruction, hold their hand out to the enemy and then sit down to eat.

Just think on that one for awhile.

I present you with these words from Martin Buber in closing.

All Real Living is Meeting
by Martin Buber

Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, God,
I do not suppose You are very tied to titles,
You seem to revel more
in creating and loving
Than arguing like we do.

You are beyond any name,
Beyond this group or that,
Beyond ideas or any ability to
Control You by definitions.

You are the Utterly Free One.
You are the Eternal I
That always allows me to be a Thou
Whenever we meet.

You are the Speaker, I am the spoken,
So Love must be Your name!
Which is always beyond words.

Amen.