Up to Rome

Recently, I have been drawn to re-explore Ignatian spirituality. Using the Ignatian method of placing oneself in the biblical scene can be very beneficial. The method anchors me and keeps my restless mind from straying.

I have been taking a serious look at church renewal through the eyes of Merton who can provide with guidance as we try to preserve the gains of Vatican II. An imperial Roman church is trying with all its might and power to roll back the clock on Vatican II. The imposition of the New Missal from on high is but the latest attempt to impose uniformity where Vatican II sought unity.

I placed myself in the scene of today’s Gospel as Jesus journeys through Samaria to Jerusalem.

What is happening? It all started so well. We dropped our nets and hammers to follow Jesus. The crowds were growing day by day. The blind had their sight restored. The lame are leaping for joy. Powerful demons have been expelled. I never will forget the day when all the pigs ran over the hill and plunged into the sea. Glad we got out of there before the swineherd arrived!

Things are changing. Jesus is talking about going up to Jerusalem. He knows that the high priests are in collaboration with the Roman occupiers. He knows he is becoming a marked man. How dare he cure a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath? How dare he feast with tax collectors, prostitutes, gays and lesbians? How dare he challenge the hegemony of empire by preaching the reign of God. The backwoods troublemaker for Galilee has to go. He is causing trouble. He is giving the crowds who have been oppressed hope.

Now these Samaritans are rejecting us. I am with James when he asks Jesus if we can call down fire upon them. As usual, Jesus speaks the language of nonviolence. We are duly chastised. We too must take up our cross and journey with the Teacher up to Jerusalem.

I then fast forwarded the scene to today. I am walking with Jesus up to Rome. The imperial Roman church is oppressing the masses of the faithful. They want absolute and total control. They have made faith a matter of intellectual assent to their doctrines some of which are remote from Jesus’ values.

After the Second Vatican Council we had been so hopeful. We experienced a liberation from fear and guilt. We understood the primacy of conscience. We understood collegiality among the bishops with the Pope and a certain sense of “democracy” in the Church.

Oh, how things have changed. For us, as Vatican II Catholics or progressives as we are sometimes called, the future looks bleak. A New Missal is being imposed top-down. It is based on a literal translation of Latin which was not the official language of the church for centuries—a Latin that was first used and is being used today to impose uniformity and conformity. Newly ordained priests focus on correct rubrics—”I can genuflect better than you.” They are telling people they should not receive communion in their hands out of reverence for the Eucharist. The pietism of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was championed by none other than Pope John Paul II. Traditionalist priests are re-erecting altar rails. Catholics celebrated a Latin Rite Tidentine Mass at the Basilica in Washington. The celebrant entered wearing a thirty-foot capa magna. High ranking church officials tried to cover up the sex abuse of children scandal around the world. Liberation theologians and others around the world have been silenced by the Vatican. Pope John Paul II used a contrived concept of “definitive dogma” to shut down discussion on the ordination of woman. Despite the lack of a sufficient number of priests to provide Eucharist, the Vatican has refused to re-visit clerical celibacy. Parishes are being closed and/or consolidated because of the lack of clergy and financial considerations. Using outdated medical science and psychology, the Church refused to grant full membership to gays and lesbians. Popes and bishops condemn greed and luxury which impoverishes the masses while living in ultimate luxury. Finally, the second largest group of Christians in America today are Catholics who no longer count themselves as members of the church.

How dare we proclaim an inclusive church where all are welcome at the table? How dare we form our consciences according to Jesus’ values?  How dare we challenge war and nuclear weapons? How dare we challenge the impoverishment of millions to maintain our creature comforts? How dare we proclaim a social Gospel? How dare we speak out for the just treatment of women and gays and lesbians in our patriarchal church?

I want to call down fire from heaven but understand that Jesus expects me to shoulder my cross and to walk with him. In pain and suffering and doubt we will continue to walk with Jesus up to Rome and challenge the unjust structures in the institutional church. We will suffer as Jesus suffered but we will prevail because Jesus came to liberate us from arbitrary church norms.

I do not know whether this makes any sense but I feel a little more hopeful now that I have explored this scene. Once again I turn to Merton:

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St. Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the  Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . .  In fact, Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5:4, 6). And elsewhere he says that the only thing that matters for a Christian is his “new life”—the “new creature” which he has become in Christ (Gal. 6:15).

Hence the Christian has no Law but Christ. His “Law” is the new life itself which has been given to him in Christ. His Law is not written in books but in the depths of his own heart, not by the pen of man but by the finger of God. His duty is now not just to obey but to live. He does not have to save himself, he is saved by Christ. He must live to God in Christ, not only as one who seeks salvation but as one who is saved. (Seasons of Celebration, 119-120)


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