Monthly Archives: April 2016

Free to collaborate in love

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Can this suggestion by Jesus undercut the overall tenor of the way these readings have been combined seemingly to try to argue for an authoritarian and patriarchal (based on the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes) view of church authority? What then if we refused to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but stoutly look for a transgressive reading that will liberate us from the more oppressively traditional interpretations?

In the first reading, some unnamed people have decided that they can speak with authority of the church and preach a rules-based slavish adherence to one part of the cultural heritage of the church. They say that you can’t follow Christ unless you are circumscised. Rather than reading this in an anti-semitic way, let us consider other church teachings over the years that have been needlessly prescriptive, oppressive or misguidedly heaped on the shoulders of the laity?

Unless you eat fish on Fridays you cannot be saved

Unless you go to church every single week you cannot be saved

Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved

If you use contraception you cannot be saved

If you disobey the clergy you cannot be saved

If you read and interpret the bible for yourself instead of trusting the church hierarchy you cannot be saved.

Some of these seem ludicrous to us today, but would have been the church’s common sense not so long ago. Some sadly there are still many people within the church who would subscribe. This is the prescriptive and narrow-minded side of church teaching, all of that which is dogmatic but not liberative and ignores the autonomy of the person to respond to God in free relationship rather than only through trembling obedience to the church. This compares to the circumcision argument in the first reading.

Along come Paul and Barnabbas from the apostles and elders and tell them they have no mandate to be so bossy. The wording is unfortunate “you have no mandate from us” as if Paul and Barnabbas et al run the church. The real point is “you have no mandate from God to be needlessly prescriptive and bind people into rigid, lifeless traditions”. The traditional reading here of course is that the “apostles and elders” are the proper authorities and the way we are church needs to always be guided by their authority. They are shown to be a liberative and wise authority that prevents abuses of power. OH IF ONLY!!!!

The fact is as women we know that the “apostles and elders”, or at least the officially sanctioned ones are all too often the ones doing the opressing, repressing and abusing. There are voices of abuse victims reverbating from several generations of having the courage to speak out and I think we risk a very serious sin indeed if we ignore these voices (like the blood of Abel calling for vengeance at the dawn-times of our tradition). There is also the present, ongoing prevention of women from having full participation and fair representation in how the church makes decisions about things that frankly men have amply demonstrated they neither understand nor are capable of understanding.

So the call to obey the “right authority” of the church is one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. There is danger here, engage hermeneutic of suspicion! But the overarching agenda to reduce unnecessary burden on the believer, yes this is an important point. To do this well, I think we understand in the 21st century, needs a degree of democratic engagement (time for the catholic church to come out of its medieval cave and realise this) and a respect for boundaries and for the autonomy of the individual. That is I can have a rational discussion with you about whether contraception is good, bad or indifferent but if my life experiences are very different than yours, and I in no way (or in minimal ways) am able to support the consequences of what you decide, then I don’t really get to make that decision for you. This is called respect, it’s a side-effect of character traits like peace, gentleness and self-control which are supposed to be  fruits of the Holy Spirit. But the spirit of slavery that Paul warns about is rife in the church, in the way authority cracks down on people but also in us, in the way we accept unwise authority and do not take responsibility to think for ourselves.

Even though there is this picture in the second reading of a dazzling construction that is the “city of God” and perhaps a metaphor of the church, and it has inscibed on it the names of the Twelve, again appearing to lend credibility to patriarchal authority. There are significantly no temples or lights in the city. The lamb is enough. We do not need other rituals or lights shedding light for us, each one who comes to the city can directly look upon “the lamb” for light and for inspiration, each of us can personally worship not through the mediating influence of a temple. The Twelve are mere gates or foundations of tradition, but who says there may not be other ways to come to the lamb, to the only light.

Once again there has been enough in the reading to engage my hermeneutic of suspicion but I can respect that tradition has at times a richness without being bogged down in the tradition, I can pass on through to Godself. It would be easier and safer if tradition was reliable and if church authorities were infallible but there is light more than sun or moon for us. There is the lamb.

And so we pass onto the gospel and see what this “lamb” has to say.

Jesus here once again like last week shows that his words and deeds are identical to the words and deeds of God (here called the father). The Spirit is also brought into the discussion and we see the identical interests and work of the Spirit as one with the “father” and with Jesus. So in a sense there is grounding for trinitarian understanding here, but it is also about an alignment of interests and trusting collaboration as discussed last week. Love of Jesus is shown by keeping Jesus’ word. It sounds as if Jesus has made promises about the reign of God and if we love him we will try to keep those promises. But it is a mistake to see the vocation here as merely words, preaching in the narrow sense. The word of God is elsewhere called “alive and active” it actualises what it preaches. And that is what we do to keep the word of Jesus. So then we are brought into trinitarian action through love. I don’t say we become God, as I am not attempting idolatry here but we ARE CALLED to move toward becoming one with God in interests, intention and action. So that if our response to our vocation was perfect we WOULD be drawn into God’s identity but at least through our love for Jesus we achieve this partially (and more when the Spirit teaches us).

Lastly as a look forward to next week’s attention, if we loved Jesus we would rejoice that he was going to the “Father”. So if we selfishly hand onto the feet of Jesus and try to keep him here as a rigid idol or a fossilised token of assurance then we are not loving Jesus. Jesus asks for the same freedom and autonomy he is offering us. We become unified through the Holy Spirit’s movement and out love-response not through obedient or co-dependent toxic relationships.

And if that is Jesus’ desire then it really needs to become the church’s desire too. We the church will resemble our beloved Christ when we stop trying to control people, when we trust people’s free love-responses and movement toward the beloved. In a flawed and hurtful world that is very hard to believe of course. But this is what it measn to love God. Challenge accepted.

Love one another

I had the opportunity to preach (or offer a reflection if you prefer) this week at my church. As always I felt privileged to do so. This week’s gospel and my reflections on it have been poignant for me because I am very aware that it is the love and generosity of others that puts me back together when I am broken, weak or lost. The liturgy I was privileged to lead today would also have fallen apart without the loving support of a whole lot of people who know more than me and particularly of my youngest son who came back from his “holiday” at his dad’s house just to help me do the liturgy 🙂

For the sake of brevity I am going to pass over two of the readings and dive right into this radical and stirring gospel. Jesus here is teaching us something about relationships, is calling us to a courageous way of relating that involves our trust and the autonomy of the other. If we accept what Jesus is showing and telling us here, it could revolutionise both the structure and working of the church and our personal lives.

Jesus, quite beautifully begins by giving us a glimpse into his own life with God. There is a relationship here that is not about control and obedience but such implicit trust that whatever Jesus does glorifies God and God responds immediately by glorifying Jesus in Godself. We recognise this complete alignment of interests when we refer to Jesus as the “Word” of God. Jesus’ doings and very being constantly express God’s inner thoughts and agenda. Neither seeks to control the other, neither is required to obey, simply the good of one is identical with the good of the other.

We don’t quite achieve this in our relationships with others. We do not have perfect understanding and are reluctant to trust. Sometimes the closer we are to a person, an institution an idea or a way of life the more we are tempted to take ownership over it, to exercise control, to see deem others as inferior in understanding, morals or ability as a way of justifying our own control. At the same time, and particularly for women who get a lot of pressure to consider themselves inferior, there is the opposite temptation to shirk responsibility by clinging to the wisdom, ability or authority of another.

It could be tempting here to see the perfection of union between God and Jesus and decide that this is Ok for them because they are perfect and are always right. But we are not always right and neither are our fellow humans. And yet Jesus moves from this ideal and perfect relationship to turn to us, to flawed and clinging humanity and offer us too that trust and that freedom to breathe and grow.

“Little children” Jesus acknowledges our feelings of vulnerability and ignorance. We face big mysteries like our own mortality, like infinity, like the complex, rich, diverse life of our planet. We try to sort out the important from the trivial but our perspective changes even as individuals. How do we reconcile what we think we know with what others seem to believe? Jesus admits we will feel alone with this, but then Jesus himself will be heard to cry out that God has “abandoned” him.

This is the price of being trusted and treated as an equal. Is it good news? That we cannot stand back and cling to an idea of Jesus doing all the work of salvation and struggle that we are called to. We are invited into an independence of thought an action, to seek to glorify God through our choices in love not in mere obedience. We are called to be so committed to the reign of God, that all of God’s agendas of justice are what glorify us too.

How reckless of Jesus to first pour everything out for us and then trust us with the precious seeds of a better world. Human history is full of our failures as church and society to do this work, to relate in this way. My own personal history mirrors this constant failure in a microcosm. I would expect Jesus to know better than to keep trusting me, but Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, I want you to love one another” not recalling the reckless and trusting love but showing it as a model for how I ought to be.

Those times that we get this right, that we love each other with the reckless and undemanding love of God then we are a powerful sign of God’s reality. The world sees that our discipleship has meaning when we do not turn our backs on abuse victims, or asylum seekers, or the elderly or struggling families. The world sees that we believe in something greater, when we stop trying to control or narrow others and instead work to understand, affirm and liberate all into the good news and justice of God.

Looking around, I see people here who live this reality, and I acknowledge that I have been drawn to Christ and back to Christ repeatedly not by constricting traditions and heavy-handed language about “Lord, Lord” but by the way individuals and families reach out to each other or reach out to me. We are all called to follow the radical call to trust, to liberate and to love. We are fortunate to have each other as examples of how powerfully a kind word or deed can preach hope and life. Let us take up the challenge to glorify God by how we love each other. Let us always seek to broaden our circles of influence, not with control but with trust and support of each other’s discipleship and a determination to bring love to others.

I now invite you to reflect on any aspect of the readings that speaks powerfully to you, and when you turn to speak to the people sitting near you to sense in their loving discipleship the presence of GOD.

Sabbatical

Here are the readings for the coming week.

I of little faith must job-search this week (around continuing to work one more week in my present position) and because doing my blog reflection is a hundred times more fun then if I allow myself to keep it as a responsibility I will spend hours here and then end up with no job.

If/when I am assured of 30 hours of reasonably paid work (or fewer hours of well paid work) for the coming week then I will with joy come and write my blog. I hope that my blog pleases or amuses God but I know that not paying my bills and not feeding my child wouldn’t.

Anyone who reads this keep me in your prayers and I will get back to ranting ASAP.

Agreeing with apostles and bishops (for once)

Let me start by agreeing with a bunch of bishops on something (for a change). The US Catholic bishops quote themselves as saying:

Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the Eucharist.

-U.S. Bishops, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions

My instinct is to wholeheartedly agree, because they are telling us to put the poor at the centre of our faith-life. I want to consider the quote more in the light of this week’s readings (and will resist the temptation to hold up the quote against the ACTUAL track-record of the clergy’s work and teachings to see if there is any consistency.

In the first reading, Peter is refusing to be silenced because he takes his orders from “God not men”. Go Pete! In the gospels and other writings Peter comes across as very relatable- flawed, passionate, impulsive, stubborn, honest, over-emotional and courageous (but also at times cowardly). He doesn’t come across as a great stuffed shirt of a patriarch, he comes across as a hot-blooded activist that Jesus often has to pull back into line but that is willing to stop and face his flaws and take responsibility for his mistakes. Peter rants and raves, promises and weeps, always comes back and gives it all another crack. Peter requires a lot of calling from Jesus, a lot of refocusing, a lot of forgiveness. I relate to this Peter who listens to Jesus and repents every time but who tells other authorities something along the lines of “#$%^ off”!

Are we really supposed to see in this Peter the grim-faced fun police, first pope who made a centralised and controlling institution out of Jesus’ words of subversive justice? I think the church fathers along the way (aided and abetted by that anti-hero Constantine) have reworked Peter in their sour-faced misogynist image.  I could imagine working-class, awkward Peter coming into a pub and I would drink with him. I would drink with the fisherman-turned agitator who loved the street-preacher, Jesus recklessly but sometimes failed to deliver. “Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor.” Yes because from the first it was the fishermen not the pharisees that Jesus’ message touched and when pushed they simply refused to shut up. They were imprisoned, tortured, killed for their beliefs. Their adventures to me strike a parallel with the events retold by Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette, her autobiography.

The Spirit of God was in fiery Peter, in the suffragettes. She moves people to commit all and risk all for justice. Do we hear her? Perhaps not always but the heroic stories around people who ask for, struggle for and achieve social change, those stories burn within us; echoes of the story of Christ.We experience Christ in the Eucharist then (if the bishops are to be believed) as broken, powerless, committed to justice, poured out for others, unable to stand by and allow injustice to prevail. Christ would not be silenced, Peter would not be silence, throughout history there have been people who will not be silenced. Will we?

But Peter was like us. He denied Jesus and knew his own flawedness and was alone and saw the one he loved die. He returned to the mundane world of surviving and went fishing. His old occupation was empty, there was no success until Jesus spoke to him and his heart fired with love he had to leave it again and reclaim his broken call. Oh how I relate to Peter in this reading. Jesus blesses and gives fruitfulness to their work even as he calls them away from it. Peter is in “sin”, if he was Catholic he would be excommunicated for his radical sin of denying Christ but Jesus feeds him. The bread of life is what brings us back to Christ, not a reward AFTER we purify ourselves. His will to return is enough.

Jesus knows that Peter loves him, but he asks for words and deeds to support the strong feelings. Jesus’ call to Peter is stronger than work, stronger than possessions, stronger than the security of the boat. I often wonder if I cling to the church as a sort of boat, ensuring I don’t drown in the overwhelming world. But when Jesus calls dare I jump over the side of the rules and traditions and all I know and swim only toward the one who knows and loves me? Peter has overcome cowardice, the fear of walking on water, the terror of being persecuted, the lure of the safe and ordinary life. Peter’s whole heart has always leapt with passion into Jesus’ mission and in response to the person, Jesus in his life; but sometimes Peter has turned back at the final leap, has kept back some rational part of himself from wholehearted commitment to the struggle of the reign of God. Jesus must understand that reluctance. Jesus persists.

Likewise with the women called to ministry. The church has forbidden us to talk about this issue or think about it. This call has always fired our hearts with elation and tears and made us feel we would dare big things as we run to the side of the one who loves and calls us. When the chips are down we are afraid of our flawedness, of our powerlessness and again and again we crumble before the church who tells us we are mistaken, we are not called, that it is water we are attempting to walk on, that we will be judged if we don’t learn to deny our call and we suffer in silence and bury all our hopes in the tomb like the obedient wives and daughters we have been raised to be.

But when Jesus rises and comes to us in our mundane work and calls us again and again. what can we say? Do not we wish to leave it all behind and be in that light? Is not the call so strong that we want it even if we don’t know what it is, we want to plunge in and swim and….and then what? How do we unsilence ourselves, for after taking Jesus’ bread we are left with the grumpy humans who do not appreciate our message or our audacity? Can we claim Peter as a male “sister in the struggle”.

We can’t stop teaching. We can’t stop preaching. We can no longer collaborate with the suppression of our vocations. Any pope or bishop who tells us we may not speak our truth is only a man, but like Peter we answer only to God, not to men.2016 might well be high time to renew pressure on church authorities to ORDAIN women. We might need to boycott church events, to go on strike with the unpaid work we do, to write letters and to attend vigils and protests. Can we do any of that? (are there even enough women left in the church to do it?) Instead of putting out $10 in the plate “for the support of priests” what if we each put a card saying “ordain women” EVERY WEEK!! And then give the $10 to St Vinnies, or Oxfam or something so we are not profitting from our protest.