Fifth Sunday C The New Church

Paul testifies that he has been taken possession of by Jesus. If Paul were to testify as a Catholic Christian today, he might say that he had been taken possession of by the institutional church where hierarchs rule by dogma and fear.

Pope John XXIII, when asked what he had done by convening a council, got up, walked across the room and threw open a window. At the time, I remember pundits saying that he would not have thrown open the window if he knew what was going to fly in. I think John XIII knew exactly what he was doing. He was listening to the holy Spirit. He wanted to bring the church into the modern world. The hopes and dreams of modern men and women are the hopes and dreams of the church.

Every pope after John XXIII, with the exception of Paul VI, has tried to dismantle Vatican II. A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter says that traditionalists are saying that Vatican II simply carried forth the traditions of the church. The hierarchs are engaged in a life and death struggle to maintain a top-down church based on carefully denied doctrine and fear of eternal punishment. Shortly before Oscar Romero’s assassination, Pope John Paul II had signed the order to relieve him of his duties as Archbishop of El Salvador. The same pope gave Cardinal Law a plush assignment in Rome. Regrettable indeed!

Years ago Alpo came out with a new dog food. Sales were not meeting expectations. The final analysis, “The dogs will not eat it.”

More and more Catholics who grew up before, during and after Vatican II, are no longer eating the pablum put out by the hierarchs. As Paul says, “They want solid food not milk.” Yes, some churches are still very crowded on weekends. “Pay and obey” Catholics and pew potatoes take whatever is dished out without question. Many of them agree with Glenn Beck—leave any church that preaches social justice. Others, if they dare disagree, will be threatened with excommunication. Or, if they happen to work for the church and speak out, they will be fired. Conservative bishops, using heavy-handed, command and control leadership, are trying to hold things together.

Their center is not holding. People realize that they are the church—the people of God. People understand that they are living in a quantum world, not a medieval village. People realize that dogma and doctrine do not touch the heart. Who cares about defined dogma of transubstantiation in a quantum universe characterized by ever changing relationships? Today, people understand presence. They understand the Divine as Presence. They understand Eucharist as the presence of the risen Jesus in Eucharist and in the Body of Christ—the community gathered to celebrate the presence of the Risen Jesus in their world  today.

After I wrote this, I received a wonderful quote from the Merton institute. Rahner told us that the church of the 21st century would be mystical or not at all. The mystical tradition is focused on our personal experience of God in a community of love and faith. Merton wrote:

The contemplative is one who would rather not know than know. Rather not enjoy than enjoy. Rather not have proof that God loves him. He accepts the love of God on faith, in defiance of all apparent evidence.  …Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire life. (Merton, Thomas. Contemplative Prayer. New York: Image Books, 1996, p. 89)

In a recent talk, theologian Anthony Padovano assured us that Vatican II has changed the church and that the clock hands cannot be turned back. As I see it, the people of God understand Jesus. They understand the parable of the prodigal son. They understand the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus shows the merciful face of the Creator to this woman.

Enough of the divine bookkeeper in the sky toting up check marks toward salvation. They understand that our God is compassionate and merciful. They understand that God wants the heart of every person. They understand that Jesus came to alleviate human suffering and misery and that we are to do the same.

People today reject well-defined dogmas in a messy, quantum world. People today reject a prosperity gospel that defines personal worth by what a person does and what a person accumulates. They want a gospel that defines personal worth by what a person is and what a person does to serve others, including the least among us.

Merton always cautions us to first look inward and consider what in us is causing problems before we point fingers at others. It is easy to criticize the foibles of a patriarchal church.

It is harder to look deep within and take stock. Are we living the Gospel? Are we feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty? Are we sheltering the homeless? Are we caring for the sick and providing affordable health care for them? Are we welcoming the strangers, the immigrants, in our midst? Are we seeking for ways to dismantle unjust structures which hold people in economic captivity? Are we visiting prisoners and working for prison reform and the end of the death penalty? Are serving the least among us? Are we preparing an inclusive table where all are welcome? Do we welcome gays and lesbians as brothers and sisters? Are the joys and hopes of others our joys and hope? Are we living the compassion that Jesus showed toward the woman caught in adultery? If we are doing these things, then Jesus has indeed taken possession of us and no hierarch can prevent us from living the Gospel.

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