Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Easter, 2013

“The church is called on to emerge from itself and move toward the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential (ones): those of sin, suffering, injustice, ignorance and religious abstention, thought and all misery,” Bergoglio said.(from "Pope Francis called on the Catholic Church to refocus its energies outward." by Andrea Rodriguez The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, March 27 2013, below)
And to that impressive list, the then Cardinal Bergoglio might also have added, "Ecclesiastical alienation, excommunication and ostracism!"
Evangelism has many faces, and many feet and even more voices. And too often, its purpose is more to "grow the business" of the church memberships and the church coffers, while the individual's soul gets lost in the "growth" process. In other words, the church's needs trump the spiritual needs of the individuals attracted to the spiritual values, processes and especially relationships that are potential within the church community. However, as this and other churches are too often dominated by men, whose capacity for relationship verges on the non-existant, given the male penchant for "fixing the carborator or the transmission" (the human/spiritual equivalent is to expose oneself to the penitential, seeking forgiveness for one's sins, and then to receive the appropriate penance, perform it, in a perfunctory manner and return to everyday life.)
Humans are not surrogate autos for surrogate mechanics looking for new projects, even in the name of God, of Jesus, or of Christ. Humans are much more complex that autos. In another perspective, humans are not subjects for surgical intervention, in the manner of the cancer surgeon removing a cancerous tumour. And too much of church attention has been focussed on the sins of the world, begging the question, "Is the church too eager by half, to provide spiritual relief and forgiveness for those many sins still lying secret in too many closets?"...and thereby generate more numbers in the pews and more dollars in the coffers, not to mention more bragging rights among the various world religions, for highest growth rates, and for largest percentage of practicing converts.
Forcussing on the existential needs of individual people, all of us in deep and profound spiritual need, if the truth were told, requires and must be premised on the church's doing its own "inner work".
That would require the church to acknowlede its own often glaring and far too visible and far too covered over, denied or ignored carnal and venal sins, by those in ecclesiastical leadership.
Ironically, church dogma is often at the core of the church's own spiritual wilderness.
However, there is an even deeper irony.
Church dogma is fixed, engraved in whatever current type of stone is available and worthy of "sacred" status, and not open to critical examination, the sine qua non of the spiritual process.
Any relationship with God, with the Resurrected Christ, has to include, if not operate on the premise of "struggle": the struggle to persist in questioning God's meaning, purpose and gift to be derived from our heritage, our history, our biography, our current situation and our potential in the future. And that persistence includes many nights of "unknowing" and "wandering" through the wilderness, (Gethsemane, being the Biblical model) even into our own death, as part of the uncovering, evolving and discovering of our relationship with God, and the Resurrected Christ.
And that process cannot be restricted to the individual human being, but also must apply equally, if not even more crucially, to the ecclesiastical "being" called the church.
Too many Christian churches proclaim their "brand" of the faith as the "right" and "only" faith, when they have to know, and to acknowledge that such "advertising" is merely to present the kind of face to the world that inspires confidence. After all, if church leaders do not have confidence in their faith's dogma, liturgy, history and "rules and regulations" then who will?
Ironically, (and this being Holy Week on the Christian calendar, it  might seem especially appropriate to say it) the church would be far more emblematic, representative and incarnational of the Risen Christ, if it were to take the position of the Jew left dying in the ditch in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, vulnerable, confused, ignored and beaten, and open to the authentic service of the hated Samaritan who provides solace, and pays for recovery. (With deep and profound gratitude to Professor John Kloppenborg, St. Michael's College, class on Parables, 1990)
That stance, authentically incarnated and not painted on like mascara, could and would go far to hearing the deeper meaning and prayer of the then Cardinal from Argentina, now the current Pope Francis I.
And that would sound a completely different and clarion call to discipleship, from a totally transformed church, from one triumphally pontificating its successes, to a solitary, painful and struggling walk with the most vulnerable, seeking the forgiveness it currently so proudly announces as the carrot to entice ordinary people, each of whom are more than aware of their own failings...if the church itself were to shed its triumphal robes, rings, ermine and spiritual "hubris" then even the most skeptical would have to re-examine his or her distance from the institution that is attempting to bring the Risen Christ into the lives of the dispossessed.
First, the church has to become, itself, dispossessed, of all power and might and honour and glory, and beautiful architecture and massive buildings and bank accounts....and then, perhaps, its pursuit of an effective, long-lasting and enduring relationship both with God and its people might emerge.
Easter 2013 is only a few days away.
May each of us pause, pray and reflect on our own capacity and willingness to accept that we, too, are closest to the Christ of Calvary, if we are willing to become the "dying Jew in the ditch" vulnerable and open to the hated Samaritan's agape love.
Happy Easter!

Pope Francis called on the Catholic Church to refocus its energies outward.
By: Andrea Rodriguez The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, March 27 2013
HAVANA—Pope Francis issued a strong critique of the church before the College of Cardinals just hours before it selected him as the new pontiff, according to comments published Tuesday by a Roman Catholic magazine in Cuba.
According to Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio urged the Vatican to eschew self-absorption and refocus its energies outward.
“The church is called on to emerge from itself and move toward the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential (ones): those of sin, suffering, injustice, ignorance and religious abstention, thought and all misery,” Bergoglio said.
Ortega said Bergoglio’s comments were made to cardinals as they gathered to select Benedict XVI’s replacement, and reflect his vision of the contemporary Catholic Church. He said Bergoglio later gave him a handwritten version and permission to divulge its contents.
“Cardinal Bergoglio made a speech that I thought was masterful, insightful, engaging and true,” Ortega said.
Ortega added that the remarks offer insight about the direction in which the new pope could take the church following his March 13 election.
In his statements, the future pontiff also warned of the dangers of stagnation.
“When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick. ... The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism.” Bergoglio said.
He also criticized “a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself.”
Finally Bergoglio said that whoever became the new pope should be “a man who ... helps the church to emerge from itself toward the existential outskirts.”
Orgeta first revealed Bergoglio’s comments in a weekend Mass, and they were published Tuesday on the website of Palabra Nueva magazine, along with a photo of the two men embracing after Bergoglio had donned the papal white robes and rechristened himself Francis.

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