Friday, April 27, 2012

Will I Die For Her?

All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn ). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are.

Naturally this should not be taken to mean that I am not completely supportive of this teaching, or solidly anchored in it. In this regard I am always reminded of the words of Saint Augustine: what is so much mine as myself? And what is so little mine as myself? I do not own myself, and I become myself by the very fact that I transcend myself, and thereby become a part of Christ, a part of his body the Church. If we do not preach ourselves, and if we are inwardly so completely one with him who called us to be his ambassadors, that we are shaped by faith and live it, then our preaching will be credible. I do not seek to win people for myself, but I give myself. The CurĂ© of Ars was no scholar, no intellectual, we know that. But his preaching touched people’s hearts because his own heart had been touched.

Homily, Chrism Mass, 2012

Reflection – So what if you disagree with the Church? What then? What if you have carefully considered a matter (say, contraception), have looked into it to the best of your ability, and have concluded that the Church is wrong? What then?

If you are a priest, in a sense the answer is relatively simple, if not easy. We promised at our ordination to teach not our own opinions but the teaching of the Church. When I stand up in a pulpit, the people of God have a right to hear from me the Catholic faith, not Fr. Denis Lemieux’s opinions about the Catholic faith. I do realize that many of my brother priests struggle mightily over this (I honestly do agree with the Church’s teachings on all matters), but for us clergy it is a question of the right of the our people to receive Catholic doctrine from their priests, and our solemn promise to repect that right.

But I realize that priests make up a small percentage of my blog readers. What about the rest of you good people? What if you don’t agree, really and sincerely do not agree, with this or that Church teaching? Is the right attitude to just chuck it, then? Become an Episcopalian/Anglican, or perhaps just do whatever you think is right and show up in the communion line regardless?

These are not simple questions—I do realize this. While I consider the Church’s teachings in matters of sexual morality to be beautiful and life-giving reflections of God’s Eternal Wisdom (and by the way, let’s face it – most of the dissent from Church teaching is around sexual issues), many and possibly most Catholics in North America do not see it that way.

I have no wish to excommunicate or anathematize people. I am not, temperamentally, an Inquisitor. No thumb screws in my desk drawer! My whole formation in Madonna House is to seek and work towards unity and community of love.

It seems to me that the current state of division and disunity in the Church is a call to all of us, whatever our own ‘private opinions’ are, into the passion of faith. We are all called, the ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ alike (oh, how I loathe those labels!), to really ask ourselves how much we belong to Christ.

To what extent am I not my own? To what extent have I allowed Christ to truly be my Lord and Master, to truly have access not just to my theological opinions but to my inmost heart? To what extent am I living, not out of my calm-or-not-so-calm assurance that I am right and they are wrong, as if that matters, but out of the mercy of God, a mercy that calls me into such a depth of mercy that my own heart is broken open by love?

I don’t agree with Joan Chittister. But am I willing to die for her? I really don’t agree with what those priests in Austria did with their ‘Call to Disobedience.’ But am I willing to kneel down before them to wash their feet?

It seems to me that there is not going to be a quick resolution to the current crisis of theological dissent and disunity in the Church. Am I willing, not to get mad, not to get all arrogant and superior, but to weep for my own sins and the sins of my brothers and sisters? To listen to the woman who feels called to be a priest, not with scorn or contempt, but really listening to her, meeting her with love, even if I sincerely believe her sense of call is misguided? Am I willing to do that? Are you?

And is the ‘liberal’ Catholic willing to listen to the ones who they might be tempted to reject—the rosary-clacking, baby-foot-pin wearing, Pope-loving traddy types, to bring that same compassion and true listening spirit to the ones they may dislike and certainly disagree with?

If we cannot—well, the Church will just go on being a big disunified and disedifying mess, and so much of the energy we should use to preach the Gospel to the nations will be dissipated in quarreling and wrangling. There is indeed a need for real dialogue, real education, real theological exploration and expounding of Church doctrines. But there is a much deeper need for mercy, for listening, for tears of repentance and compassionate hearts. Without this, we can be as ‘orthodox’ as we please or as ‘progressive’ as we desire and it will avail us nothing.

So, with that I will suspend my current theme of ecclesial obedience and leave it all in the deeper call to obedience to the Good Shepherd, to the one who lays down his life for his sheep and calls us to lay down our life for one another and for the world in that deepest unity of all, the unity of the martyrs and confessors, the unity, the communion, of the saints.