Friday, January 27, 2012

Lay Wisdom Leads Away from the Church

here is no returning for the vast majority of bishop members of the Purple Culture, no returning to a time when error or imperfections could be admitted. The assumption of perfection and infallibility has permanently disabled members of the culture from emitting such human utterances as “I was wrong,” and/or “I am sorry.” When wrong or sorrow is obliquely admitted, it comes out with fingers pointed outward as in “certain theologians were at fault.” Those cultural assumptions lie buried beneath consciousness and often creep into prelates’ giving mouth to trivia.
We need not be surprised that a third of Catholics have left the Church in this country. The wisdom gleaned by the laity in the everyday grindings of work and human relationships hones their experience to recognize the basic truths of living and loving. They also recognize the gap between their lived experience and that of the ‘let’s pretend’ experience common to those enclosed in the purple culture. This recognition is especially true for younger generations who have never permitted fear, gathered from teachings and preaching, to gain root in their psyches. Nor do they accept a portrayal of God as more beast than loving creator. The centuries-old instilled fear of damnation is so incongruent with a loving God, they reject it spontaneously. If it’s all about love, then God wants love to motivate us, not fear.
And so these young people go elsewhere – to a more promising spirituality or church.
A recognition of this lay wisdom lies beyond the ability of purple culture members. It will take a tsunami of departures and an inward tsunami of grace to bring about this realization.

We have the answer to another question raised in our opening issue, i.e. why don’t religions get together and mutually promote peace in the world, if for no other reason than our shared acknowledgment of the Golden Rule? The answer is evident. From the position of our Catholic leaders’ views on primacy, there can be no action that would admit a significant degree of validity in another religion. It is a matter of turf protection, and turf expansion. For an expansion example, look at how the Vatican has recently tried to gain Anglican recruits by assurances that the bias against women and homosexuals entering the priesthood is secure within the Roman Catholic fold. It is simply another tactical version of using ‘soup’ to get hungry (bigoted) people into the Church.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Love Struggles for Primacy in the Church

hat happened to the standard (love of neighbor) set by Jesus as the identifying hallmark for his followers?  The law of loving others was replaced early in the Church’s history, but a contemporary illustration will help us understand exactly what happened.

Peter Hebblethwaite, in his biography, Paul VI – The First Modern Pope, relates the following: In July 1967 Pope Paul VI welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras II, to the Vatican. “Paul insisted on no title other than the primacy of charity.” In his comments “Paul quoted his patron: ‘Be eager to give one another precedence.’” (Romans 12:10). “Among Athenagoras’ suite was the Metropolitan Meliton, his chief theologian, who dangerously remarked, ‘Paul VI has made the papacy out of date,’” meaning that Paul had changed the primacy from the papacy back to love.

One can easily imagine the consternation those remarks brought to members of the curia for whom the primacy belonged to the Pope – and derivatively to themselves. The incident was among other omens of the coming Vatican retrogression from the advancements made at the Second Vatican Council.

The example is poignant in that it illustrates the placement of primacy by members of the Church’s purple culture onto a particular person and not on the intention and purpose of the “way” movement begun by Jesus. Loyalty to monarchical personages had long before assumed the priority over love of neighbor. To maintain this altering of primacy down through the centuries, practices were introduced that in effect supported this substitution of the true primacy. Chief among them were laws promulgated to change the spiritual focus of members. No longer were we freed from laws as Jesus and then Paul declared, but were subjected to ever increasing obligatory practices.

Even non-obligatory practices were exalted and substituted for response to God in place of love of neighbor: devotions to saints (a number of whom were designated as patrons, converting heaven’s culture so that it replicates the patronage system of the purple culture), the rosary, pilgrimages, etc. Bishops, drawing on their own need for admiration, presented God as demanding attention rather than a God who loves and nourishes. Christ present in the Eucharist has been presented as one there to be acclaimed rather than as someone there to nourish our journey. All of these practices are good and valuable only if they contribute to our ability to love our neighbor. If they don’t, they are at best irrelevant. If they are substitutes, they totally miss the mark.


Hebblethwaite, Peter, Paul VI – The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993

Friday, January 13, 2012

Freedom in Love: Not for Sissies

octors are in the habit of telling seniors that “getting old is not for sissies.” Well, love is not for sissies either. 

When we imagine how free we would have to become to love an enemy, one who has seriously harmed us or harmed a member of our family, we realize the distance we have yet to climb. We can track that climb with two measures; our ability to accept others, and our ability to forgive others. Love of others begins with accepting them as equals. There can be no hierarchy or caste in love.


We are often quite good at accepting an abstract humankind, but not always the individual we face. We cannot honestly say we accept others when we make them invisible, as with innocent victims of crime or war. It is only when we allow ourselves to put faces on them and see their wounds that we can accept them so that we care for them.
Freedom begins with acceptance, but it stretches toward fullness with forgiveness, our second measure. They go together just as God’s passion for us incorporates forgiveness before we even ask for it. We have all read of parents who have forgiven the murderer or rapist of their own child. We can only marvel at their freedom to do that. In our times it seems almost incomprehensible that one of the most difficult acts of forgiveness many of us must muster is to forgive the leadership of our institutional church, even though we know they are only blind from living in an unhealthy cultural box out of which their behavior springs.
It is indeed a steep climb to the freedom exhibited by the type of parents described above. Often we sense a greater distance ahead than behind us. The important thing to remember is that God is with us on this journey. We are each a freedom to be achieved, an image of God to be advanced, and God wants us to become our full selves, that image.
It is a rare person who is free of disability when it comes to loving others. There is the disability of not knowing what is the caring thing to do. Do I do, or do I do nothing? Do I hug, or do I correct? The answer of course is, wade in. Do the best we can. Making mistakes is part of life and of loving. Waiting on the sidelines for a surety that will never come is death to freedom.
There exist other love-inhibiting disabilities rooted in our natures during our formative years. They are not the same for each of us, but we should learn to identify them so that we can present them to Christ for healing. They are disabilities that can only be overcome with the power of God’s grace. To discover your own personal disabilities you might find a study of the Enneagram helpful.

Rohr, Richard and Ebert, Andreas, The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004.

Palmer, Helen, The Enneagram – Understanding yourself and the Others in Your Life, Harper Collins, 1991.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Freedom in Love: A Challenge for the Church

he ability to love others for their own sake is a unique human freedom from self.  It is true human freedom.  We can gauge our ability to love, our inner freedom, by the markers that Jesus outlined for us.   

To the degree that we are under the control of anger, self-deceit, envy, fear, greed, gluttony, lust, pride or sloth, loving others can only rise to a minimum level if at all.  If we love only those who love us, we are still at a minimum level of ability.  

If we love our neighbors, strangers and foreigners, we go up a level. If we continue to love and forgive those who have hurt us, we move up again. If we achieve the ability to love an enemy, to forgive and do good for an enemy, we are at an upper level. And if we achieve the ability to lay down our life for any of the above, we could not be more free. At that point we are truly the fullest image or expression of God that we can be. At that point we are fully human. We then love as God loves us. It follows that to love our neighbor IS to love ourselves IS to love God.


Church is a happening. It happens when people love each other, when they reach to be their best selves by loving. 

Jesus did not start a church. Jesus started a movement. At first it was called simply “The Way.” He wanted people to love each other. 

The word church has come to have many applications: 1. As an institution (The Lutheran Church, The Catholic Church). 2. As prelates or leaders who define meanings (as in “The Church Says.”) 3. As a building. Church is none of these in its real meaning. Nor is church a juridical construct, a system of rules, or a collection of beliefs, a credal ID tag. Church is not people bound together by utility. What creates church is love. Church is the community that love puts together and holds together. 

When a religious leadership puts itself ahead of Jesus’ purpose and portrays ‘membership’ or ‘loyalty’ as the true mark of being Christian, they have left Jesus by the wayside. If the Church community decides to insert a leadership, or useful buildings, or particular practices, those additions must all serve and promote the community by being in the service of love. 

So, we can extend our list of simultaneous happenings. Love of neighbor IS love of self IS love of God IS to create Church. It’s that simple! But it is only a blueprint. Love still has to be lived, and we should not confuse simple with easy. The climb to the top of love’s freedom is laden with obstacles and difficulty. More on that next time.

Do you think that our bishops look upon the Church as described above?

Called to Freedom, by Stephen Boehrer