Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just go?

Not without some interest have I read the New York Times these last few days, particularly the Op/Ed piece penned by Bill Keller entitled "The Rottweiler's Rottweiler." The nature of the Op/Ed piece permits a certain type of tone, a certain style of rhetoric, that can appeal to a reader's emotion without necessarily having to persuade the reader's mind. Meaning, only, that certain stylistic liberties may be taken - sarcasm, for instance - which might not otherwise be appropriate in other forums.

In a particularly dour paragraph, Keller writes:
Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause...Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go.
It would pay Mr. Keller, as well as many members of the Catholic Church, to recall the wisdom of Father Herbert McCabe. McCabe writes:
...What does not need to be endured indefinitely is the special irrelevance of so much of the behaviour of Church officials. Alongside the actual agony of growth in the Church there seem to be these men playing a private game amongst themselves in which the moves are directives and prohibitions and the players score points for formally going through the motions of docility or of repeating the orders correctly. It seems to me that we should treat this game as we do the phantasies of adolescence of any of the other ways in which men escape from reality; we should combine a firm determination to get rid of it eventually with a certain tolerance of it while it is being played. While Church authorities are occupied with these domination games they are neglecting their true role. It would be quite unrealistic to expect them to be sources of enthusiasm and original thought but it is their basic task to be the link between such sources, the framework within which they are kept in balance. To maintain this balance they must, of course, speak with authority, the real authority that comes with understanding and concern and listening to others; the authority that sees itself not in terms of power but as a service to the community, the channel of communication by which each part of the community is kept in touch with the whole, a whole that extends through time as well as space.
McCabe was no fool - he saw through the nonsense and frippery - and realized that we remain within the Catholic Church because
 ...we believe that the hierarchical institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, with all their decadence, their corruption, and their silliness, do in fact link us to areas of Christian truth beyond our own particular experience and ultimately to truths beyond any experience, that we remain, and see our Christian lives in terms of remaining, members of this Church.
I totally get the frustration people feel. Yet, I cannot help but to diagnose amongst some critics a certain adolescent petulance, a sense that we expect the Church to be made to order according to our own whims. Just as a teenager thinks he knows better how his family should operate, or a student know how a teacher should teach, how many of us think ourselves to be in possession of the answers needed by the Church? I do not suggest that we have no insight, no thought, but it would be folly for me to suggest that my scant 32 years of life trump the institutional wisdom...and ignorance...of the Church.

Without question, the Church today needs its prophets to come forth. In the wake of sex abuse and amidst a crisis of confidence, women and men of good will must raise their voices, recalling the Church back to its mission - to preach the Good News to a hungry world. Mr. Keller gives up too easily, forgets that we believe the Church to be called together by the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit that proclaimed the Messiah's coming is the same Spirit who calls us back to our mission.

Want to be a prophet? You must do two things: (1) Having discerned God's Spirit, critique the current order. Point out where we have fallen short and call upon the consciences of all to recognize these failings. (2) Re-Imagine what could be, showing how your prayerful discernment draws us closer to the mission rather than further from it. Know that it takes patience and time and will not be without cost. Know, though, that if you are acting according to God's will:
"...if the plan is of men, it will be overthrown; but, if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow it. You may even be found fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39)
 The world doesn't need a good cheap cigar nor does the Church need docile sheep. We need courageous hearts to discern God's will, to recall our mission, and to encourage us to live up to our Christian baptism.

I think the easy way out is to "Just Go." I think an equally unhelpful path is to "Just Stay." Perhaps a middle way, the way of courage, remains: neither to go nor to stay but, rather, to Proclaim. Now, more than ever, we need to raise our voices and call our leadership and ourselves to be what we believe, salt of the earth and leaven for the world. We need to Proclaim in Word and Deed what we believe and who we are. If it is authentic, if it is truly of God's Spirit, what can stand in our way? 

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