Sunday, April 21, 2013


   One important message coming from the Boston bombing comes from some relatives of the two young men who set and exploded the bombs.  Some of the family experienced government repression and injustice and as a result now feel a paranoid-type suspicion and anger toward all governments.  Sadly suspicious, they said that our government caused their young relatives to become angry and act violently.  Their message is that people act according to the government they live under.

   In a very important way, they are right.  People live and act within their own cultures, and governments deeply influence a country's culture.  The same is true in the spiritual realm.  We Catholics live within a church government that is an absolute monarchy, and that has created a culture whereby our leaders allow little or no appeal to contemporary experience and insight, and no open discussion of some of the most important moral questions of our time.  Our closed-in church culture runs all the way down to the way priests are trained and formed, the way parishes are organized and run, and thus to the way many Catholic live.

   So, what Pope Francis recently said is especially noteworthy.  "A church that does not go outside itself, sooner or later sickens from the stale air of closed rooms."  The church, he added, suffers from being self-referential, only looking to and relying on itself.  This kind of self-centeredness "leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism."  He went on to say that it prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.

   Francis' words remind me of Pope John XXIII's opening the windows of the church to let the Spirit fly in.  But the windows were almost completely closed soon after Vatican II.  For one thing, most Catholics still receive their understanding of their faith from Sunday sermons, which tend to be restricted to the spiritual life at home and in the church building itself.  In this culture, "Evangelization" means calling stray Catholics back into the church building, rather than sending them out to prophetically transform the world--individuals, families and the structures of society--in the loving and saving grace of Christ.

   As far as I can see, today's priests are still being educated and trained very much in the pre-Vatican II, closed-in, clerical mindset.  They still learn "churchy" theology and they still live in their own convoluted, clericalized world, separated from the everyday life of their parishioners and from the everyday world where today's moral challenges are screaming to be met and answered.  They preach and teach from within their own world, leaving the laity very much on their own, and all too often unable to discuss the challenges of today in a spiritually adult manner, and without falling into propaganda and partisanship.

   Francis' immediate answer is for Catholics to rely on the power of their baptism.  This is a spiritually powerful message.  By our baptism we are formally initiated into the newly evolved world that Christ has won for us, within which we can discern our personal vocations and gifts, and act upon our call and responsibility to engage today's culture in a way that elevates and corrects it so that it becomes more luminously human in Christ's grace.

   So we possibly have a new beginning.  In a wonderful way, Francis has introduced a "new culture" and a "new spiritual government" for Catholics to live and act in.  It is the culture and government of Christ himself.


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