Thoughts on Easter 2012
How we understand the Scripture Stories has a great deal to do with what is going on in our life as we hear or read them. This is true of the Resurrection Story. As with all the Stories there are two ways of looking at the Resurrection: as something that happened to Jesus in the past, or an event continuing now that offers richness, depth, and context to our lives as they are unfolding now.
As we celebrate the Resurrection this year there is a lot going on in our Church and our Diocese. Not all of it is pleasant. Worldwide, there is the continuing problem of the clergy sex abuse crisis and the perception that the bishops have not dealt with it appropriately. One bishop is being tried in civil court for failing to report such an offense. There are the ongoing arguments about optional celibacy and women priests. Many women are beginning to feel they are mistreated and abused because they are not allowed to be ordained priests. There is increasingly strident questioning of the mandatory celibacy rule due to admission to Roman priesthood of married Anglican priests who have families. The arguments in favor of these traditions do not make sense to a lot of people. Church authorities have forbidden certain ideas even to be talked about, such as women priests and optional celibacy, which means they are being talked about and questioned a great deal. In many countries there are organizations of priests being formed on a national level because often local priests groups have been taken over by the bishops, thus discouraging and free discussion or thought. Recently the pope came down hard on some of them for encouraging “civil disobedience”. Nationally there are the controversies over the insurance and contraception issue, same sex marriage, as well as the new translation of the missal. Locally in our own diocese there is the controversy over the Vatican reversing the bishop’s decision to close 14 parishes, the perception that the bishop is not listening to the parishioners or the priests, his perceived lack of credibility, the controversial capital campaign fundraising program. Priests are threatened with loss of livelihood if they show disagreement with what the bishop says. Finally, there is the nasty polarization happening throughout the church because of these issues. Rightly or wrongly these are real issues, our own elephants in the living room. It would be nice if we could just pretend they are not there and maybe they will just go away, but this isn’t going to happen. What is, is. Many folks are just walking away. Who can blame them? Who would want to belong to a group that treats its members as the Church is perceived to do?
In many ways these days we are like Jesus’ followers – what we have grown familiar and felt safe and comfortable with has gone away: in the case of Jesus’ followers, their Master and Teacher has been executed; in our own day, the Church as we have always known it has begun to change considerably. Something is happening. In the Story the women were on their way to the tomb, wondering who would roll the stone away, and when they got there, it was already moved. The Risen Jesus appeared to folks who had begun to lose hope. Some were upset at how things were unfolding and had already walked away. Jesus met them as they walked, and explained recent events. Some had locked the doors to protect themselves because they did not like what was going on, and Jesus came through their defenses and taught them not to be afraid no matter what, but to do as he had taught them and would yet teach them. All would begin a new journey in their life, bringing to others the Jesus they knew and loved. He warned them their message would not always be accepted, but he would be with them and send the Holy Spirit to guide them.
His words are true today. Jesus does not call us to imitate him, but to be his disciples, to learn from him. This means we need to spend time with him and let him teach us, even perhaps what we might not want to learn. And, as with his disciples back then, what he teaches us might not make us feel comfortable or safe, or welcomed and appreciated by others. He does not call us to an easy way, but to take up our cross and follow him. The Holy Spirit is alive and well.
As did his disciples, we come to know Jesus is not so much a doctrine to be believed or a law to be obeyed, but a presence to be encountered and recognized. As we spend time with him in prayer we come to recognize and be aware of him more and more in our everyday life. He puts context and depth into our living situations and our relationships, and gives us courage to do what we think has to be done. Gradually we become increasingly aware of him in everything around us, including the messes that are happening in our Church these days. They are messes, but they are happening in our time and place, so we are involved in one way or another. We are where we need to be because this is where grace puts us. Our question: what is grace calling us to do in this particular set of circumstances? We find the answer in the time we spend with Jesus in prayer, both our prayer alone by ourselves, and our prayer with others.
As were Jesus’ disciples, we are on a journey of interior transformation. What the implications are for each of us is something we have to learn ourselves, always in the setting of our prayer. As it was with Jesus, and later his disciples, what the Spirit calls us to do might not always be something religious authorities and others look kindly on. He calls us to follow him, so, if we are doing our best to follow him, we can expect to face the same kind of reactions as he faced. At no time did Jesus ever promise to make us feel comfortable, safe, secure. When we look around we see any number of folks doing what they believe is right, and we see how they are treated – with threats, punishments, etc. Individual thought is not encouraged, and those who think in new concepts or who deviate from established terminology are in for a rough ride.
The Resurrection showed Jesus’ followers in his day, as it does also in our day, that even in our darkest times there is always hope, and we have to do our part in realizing this hope. Hope is not passive. Hope always calls us to action, to do something in the name and spirit of hope. If we believe, we do what we feel we have to do and do not let fear or threats stop us. If we are following Jesus, we can expect to be treated as he was. Our cross becomes real, and he becomes our ever more real Companion and Teacher. And as he says, “Do not be afraid”, and, “I am with you always”.
Entry filed under: Catholic, Church Leadership, Current Church, Forbidden topics, Gospel thoughts, Local issues, Priest. Tags: being led by the spirit, church leadership, Cleveland local issues, compassionate god, current controversies, Easter Story, gospel story, religious establishment, religious structure.