Community not Collectivity

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me. (Jn 6:37-38)

Jesus is speaking in the context of the Bread of Life—I AM the Bread of Life. When we examine all the Gospels and all the eating and drinking stories, we understand that he welcomed all to the table. It is called open table fellowship. He partied with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Jesus’ community and the early communities were inclusive.

John 6:37-38 must be taken in context. In the context of the Johannine community, the community knew that the Judeans would reject those who believed in Jesus. They would throw them out of the synagogue where they had worshipped side by side with the Jews. Jesus is telling the members of the community that disobedience to the will of God comes from throwing people out of the synagogue.

Our experience of community today is often quite different from Jesus’ idea of community. Jesus was inclusive, welcoming all to the table. The church is exclusive.

Jesus came to do the will of the one who sent him. Members of the community are to do the will of the one who sent Jesus. The Vatican Council affirmed the sensus fidei and the primacy of conscience. Yet, the monarchial hierarchs who “lead” our communities today are exclusive. You have to believe this and this and do that to be welcomed at the table. We want to shout like the apostles in Acts, “We are to obey God, not men.” You have heard the exclusivist spiel at funerals, “Only those who are practicing Catholics may receive Eucharist.”

My main point  is this. Church “leaders” seem to be intent on rejecting, throwing out people. Nuns who supported health care no longer have access to diocesan media. People who advocate the ordination of women are thrown out of jobs and leadership in the community. A diocesan employee who dared write a thesis on inclusive language is fired. A person who attended Call To Action is prohibited from leading a retreat on the Nonviolence of Thomas Merton. A pastor who ministered to an inclusive community, including gays and lesbians, is removed from office. The beat goes on. The Catholic Church in most instances is a closed shop. Tow the party line or be thrown out.

Rejecting and throwing out is not consistent with Gospel values. Pope John XXIII called Vatican II to open the windows of the Church. The popes who came after him have tried to close the windows.

They confuse unity with uniformity. We only have to read the scriptures to understand that the church grew because there was diversity in the various communities.

The “Do you love me. . .Feed my sheep” story in John tells us something about the communities in the early church. Peter held a primacy’ however, he was not put on a pedestal by the Johannine community. Jesus is asking Peter if he loves him with agape love—total love. Peter keeps responding that he loves him with the love of friendship (philo). What is the writer saying? He is saying that Peter may be in charge but still does not get it fully. I will refrain from any comparisons with the current pope.

The faithful—bishops, priest, and the non-ordained (not “laity” which denotes second class and not consistent with bishops and priests who are the ordained)—are the people of God. There are to be no second class citizens in the community. Do you know any bishops who have read Lumen Gentium?

12. The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name.(110) The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth.

I really love these words from Thomas Merton:

It is true that the Lord in the Gospel speaks of His faithful as “sheep,” but that does not entitle us to assume that the liturgy is merely the organized bleating of irrational animals herded together by constraint and trained by an ingenious discipline until they carry out seemingly human actions which they are not capable of understanding. (Seasons of Celebration, 5)

And the following words are as true today as when Merton wrote them:

There can be no question that the great crisis in the Church today is the crisis of authority brought on by the fact that the Church, as institution and organization, has in fact usurped the place of the Church as community of persons united in love and in Christ . . . Love is equated with obedience and conformity [pray and pay] within the framework of an impersonal corporation. The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity. (Thomas P. McDonald, “An Interview with Thomas Merton,” Motive 28 (1967), p. 41. Cited in Anthony Padovano, The Human Journey, New York: Image Books, 1984, 48)

We, with the bishops and priests, are the faithful. We cannot err in matters of belief. We have a responsibility to form our consciences and act accordingly. It seems to me that a matter of belief is that Jesus came to establish inclusive communities of the faithful who are in unity but not constrained by uniformity. It is about bringing people in, welcoming them, not rejecting them and throwing them out. We cannot let the patriarchy turn us into a collectivity.

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