Thursday, November 26, 2015

Faith Can't Be Safe

Passing rattlesnakes from one person to another has never been a part of Catholic worship.  We’ve tried many different liturgical rites but not that one.  Most Catholics simply see the custom as a needless and dangerous risk.   But it is the needlessness of the risk that rules it at out, not risk itself.  Christian faith is full of risk. 
Matthew’s gospel summarizes much of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  To a casual reader it begins innocuously enough: Blessed are the meek and the peacemakers, those who mourn and the clean of heart.  It sounds harmless, like a lecture encouraging children to be nice while relatives are visiting.  Then come the first jarring notes: Blessed are you (i.e., you’re in harmony with God) when you’re persecuted, when you’re insulted, when you’re spoken ill of and slandered.  It goes on to get more demanding and more dangerous.  The 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is interesting reading.  It’s an effective antidote for the image of a sweet, clueless Jesus who just wanted everyone to play nice.
The most serious criticism of Catholicism today isn’t that its liturgy is incomprehensible or its thinking on sexuality is useless to people.  The most serious criticism is that it’s been domesticated.  It has lost its vision and daring.  It no longer confronts the most dangerous forces in the world.  With few exceptions success has tamed it’s voice into a nagging complaint at the edges of life rather than a strong voice calling out from the center. 
This isn’t simply a problem with leadership; it is a problem of our entire community.   There are Catholic lay people who demand justice from power, sometimes at real risk to themselves, but the percentage of us who do so is small.  We’re not known in the larger world as a community of special courage against injustice.  Yet that’s precisely what the gospel asks us to be.  Risking everything for those who are hungry, are disrespected and ignored, for those who are exploited, that’s the heart of Jesus’ story and the message we must model.  It’s our contribution to the World of God’s Future. It’s the gift God has given us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Gospel Is The Teller And The Story

Does the world have a story?   Christians say yes, the world has a story.  The story tells of a Creator who loves the world and is leading the world to fulfillment.  Christians understand themselves to be part of the story because they cooperate in the Creator’s actions.  They believe, as well, that it is their responsibility to tell this story everywhere so that all can have hope in their destiny and join in the Creator’s work. 
However true and wonderful we may think our story, there is a problem with it.  Many fear stories that claim to give meaning to the entire human experience.  They look at history and note how often people, even nations, identify themselves with their stories and attempt to force them on others even going to war when others reject their narrative.  They observe how politics, business, social custom and ego all unite in such stories.  Only in theory, not in actuality, can they separate the storyteller from the story.   Seeing their power and knowing their history they fear their danger. 
Jesus required that his followers make the story he told the center of their lives.  Nothing else was to be more important because nothing else held the Creator’s promise and the future it revealed.  We cherish a story that forms the center of our lives: one that, at the same time, others find at best suspicious and at worst life threatening.
When people look askance at our story and hesitate over the hope we offer, we do well to remember that they have good reason.  They’ve been burned and they’ve seen others burned by stories that are too big and promise too much.  They’ve suffered at the hands of true believers pushing themselves and their interests under the guise of universal truth.   They have seen it and they still see it.
If, as Luke encourages, we’ve made Jesus’ promise the center of our lives and we’d like to see others have the same gift, it helps to remember that the heart of his story isn’t an idea, it’s love: the Creator’s love for us.  Words can lie.  Actions can lie.  Love can’t lie.  If we love, we give what we’ve been given.  The explanation can come later.