Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Catholics of the Rio Grande Valley
March 16, 2008
“[you have built] a dynamic, progressive Vatican II parish in every respect—spiritually vibrant, financially solvent and generous with many outstanding charitable endeavors, many active volunteers in a wide variety of programs, extensive participation of members in educational and renewal programs, a large number of small church communities…and a strong, prophetic voice in the larger community.”
Bishop Peña to the parishioners of Holy Spirit in February 2003.
That Lenten sermon of five years ago is always worth recalling and reflecting on. Within a few short months of those words, the Bishop set in motion a process to produce a parish diametrically opposed to the one he praised—he has succeeded. We can wonder if, in this his final year as bishop, he looks upon this as one of his great successes.
Four Lenten Sundays
The last four Sundays of Lent brought us the woman at the well, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus, and finally, the Passion narrative. Water, light, dark, life and death—pretty serious stuff that focused our thinking on the nature of Christ and what he has brought to us by his life, death and resurrection.
I spent these last four Sundays with four different communities, celebrating in many different ways—a home Mass with a visiting priest and a familiar community, a para-liturgical service with Call to Action chapter leaders from all over the country, a standard upper-middle class suburban Austin parish’s celebration (professional music, lots of families with young children, lots of smiling faces, an air of formality) and finally back in the Valley at a small, relatively poor parish, with lots of honest effort but without many resources to create an inspiring and uplifting Palm Sunday liturgy.
Though wildly different, these celebrations were essentially the same—a community gathering to hear the Word, to give thanks for being bound to each other and to Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and to share the ritual meal that cements those bonds.
I think we need to periodically think about the three-fold core that makes up our Eucharistic celebration. The surrounding, peripheral parts of the liturgy should all point to and reinforce the essentials—the Word, the giving of thanks and the meal—not distract from and certainly not overshadow them. Those peripherals matter and how they are done matters but they are not the core of what we are about when we celebrate the Eucharist. That’s a lesson that was reinforced for me these last four Sundays.
from Jerry Brazier
But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.
from the Passion of Matthew, read on Palm Sunday
The veil of the sanctuary (in the Temple in Jerusalem) separated the sacred from the profane—only the chosen, ritually clean, and special ones were allowed inside the veil. With Jesus’ death the veil has been torn from top to bottom. There are no longer, in this post-redemption world, sacred things and profane things. It is no longer possible to compartmentalize our lives into the spiritual/religious/holy parts and the secular/human/everyday parts. Our relationship with God is carried out in our human, everyday, secular lives with the people with whom we share those lives. This is what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is about: the redemption of humanity, right now, not at some time in the future.
“..What occurred to me, the new insight is this: whereas before, I believed that issues of sexual morality polarized and politicized the Church; and while that’s true, to some extent, I now believe that polarization is less significant to the life and future of the Church than I had believed. The deeper reality that marks our ecclesiastical life is this: not in opposition to the Church’s teachings, but a sense of irrelevance. The Church is increasingly not polarized over these issues. Rather, large segments of the community have come to the conclusion that the Church is simply irrelevant in terms of having anything credible or useful to offer when it comes to human sexuality.
“Now let me illustrate this by making reference to what is, admittedly, an anecdotal experience from my own teaching at Marquette University. As I was teaching class, and after discussing the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, I had the students keep journals. And one student after that discussion wrote the following in her reflection journal; she said, “When it comes to the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality, I look at the Church much like I do my senile grandmother.” She continues, “I respect her as a dear old lady, but I don’t base my decisions on anything she has to say.”
from Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Bryan has a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical Institute in Rome and he is currently an Associate Professor of Theology at Marquette University
“In psychological and psychiatric terms, homosexuality represents a defect in the psychosexual development of the individual.
“It is not considered an illness but a human conduct that in the majority of cases is a learned behavior that may be altered to a ‘normal’ or natural order.
from Monsignor Juan Nicolau, in the McAllen Monitor, 3/9/08
Our Church institutional structure can be traced back centuries to the adoption of a Roman governance system centered on a supreme human authority. Until then, following the example of St. Paul, it adapted its structure to different cultures as it spread the Good News.
Scholars identify the chief characteristics of a Roman system as monarchical, dogmatic, male dominated, with overtones of infallible divine authority coupled with legalistic administration. Citizens were indoctrinated with loyalty to the state. Discipline, loyalty and obedience were the esteemed virtues.
In contrast, the early Church revolved around local leaders, often women, in house churches. Entire households were included. The sensus fidelium was sought in a consultative system structured for shared responsibility and collaborative governance. The legalism of original Jewish converts flexed in response to Paul's stress on Christ's universal message as gentiles were added to the Church. Esteemed virtues were love, compassion, and humility. Prophetic zeal for the Gospel message was the focus of their life.
The rigidity of this Roman System gave us the sinful division of East and West, the Reformation, the contra-reform against Vatican II and the current crisis.
Compare legalism, governance-by-divine right, and absolute obedience with compassion, subsidiarity, and respect for conscience. Which offers most to the adult, thinking, Catholic Christian community? It will be a long road back, but a clear awareness of the problem is a good start. As human instruments of God, the change begins within ourselves. The Roman system will not, cannot, change itself. Invest your time, talent, and treasure in the system that you want for the Church.
from ARCC, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
Prepared for all Valley Catholics and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues in the Church or have any other comments, please contact at: firstname.lastname@example.org