Saturday, October 29, 2016


   How many times have we heard, "The Catholic church is not a democracy?"  And how many times have you heard the response, "Well, it certainly should not be a monarchy."

   For the first four centuries, the church was a way of life for the followers of Jesus. The top-down, monarchical structure of the church arose in the fourth century when the pope took to himself the title of the Roman Emperor.  Since then, church teaching has become more and more legalistic and less and less pastoral.  Against strong resistance, Pope Francis is trying hard to make church teaching once again pastoral.

   In truth, the church is a democracy--not a political democracy where power is given to the leaders by the people, but a spiritual democracy based on the fact that all members of the church enjoy equal baptismal dignity.  Among the spiritually equal, some are chosen for the service of leadership, not for the imposition of leadership from above, which Jesus explicitly condemned. (Lk. 22:25-27).

   The victory of the American nuns over the anti-Christian monarchical attack by Vatican officials is a clear example of Catholic democracy.  And Pope Paul VI's frightened rejection of the majority report of the Birth Control Commission, and the continuing refusal of Vatican officials to respect the discernment of spiritually adult married Catholics regarding responsible contraception, is a clear example of anti-Christian Catholic monarchy.

   Every member of the church receives directly--democratically--from God his or her individual and social talents and vocation to build up the Kingdom of God on earth, i.e., the reign of order, justice, peace, joy of life, gratitude and love.  Within the one living, evolving Catholic faith, all members of the church are able to discern God's intentions for themselves and for their spiritual participation in our society.  And all are prophets, who are called and empowered by God to work to elevate the institutions of our society, and humbly correct them, making them ever more luminously human in the loving, saving grace of Christ.

   The laity are responsible to contribute their discernment and understanding of the faith to the church.  From their everyday experiences e.g., regarding marriage, parenthood, sex, education, work, science, the arts, politics, economics, etc., they are called to contribute to what the church authorities need to know in order to teach authentically.

   The hierarchy and pope therefore must discern and listen to the faith of the laity.  Today, at least here in America, such discernment and listening are not possible.  No workable mechanism exists.  The living faith does not flow freely through the church.  And even if there was a mechanism, I doubt that many bishops have the spiritual insight and maturity to discern the laity's faith.  And given the bishops' clerical and monarchical mindset, they are disposed to disregard the laity's deepest insights and needs, attributing them to today's "secular" culture.  

   When the church falls behind the times and the laity, hungry for contemporary spiritual nourishment and formation, are not fed, it is easy to see why they walk away and seek nourishment and formation elsewhere.  And the bishops, within their ever emptier churches, are clueless as to why the laity are leaving.     

   Here is one example of how far behind the times the church has fallen, and how badly adult spiritual formation for the laity is lacking.  We know that our dogmas don't change but our understanding and appreciation of them continues to grow, i.e., to evolve.  So today, when we ask, "Who is Christ?" or "Does Christ make sense today?" we need a 21st century, evolved answer.  So let's start by going all the way back in history and then coming into today's world.

---the earth was a formless waste, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.  (Gen. 1:2)

   The mighty wind was the Spirit of God, bringing order, peace and beautiful form to the chaotic universe.  As I say more fully in my page, "A New Creation Story," the Hebrews described the coming of the Spirit into creation as God's anointing the universe, thus filling it with God's presence.  The Hebrew word for the God-filled universe is Messiah; in Greek, Christos; in Latin, Christus; in English, Christ.  So, who is Christ?

Christ is the GOD-filled, living, evolving universe.

   Two thousand years ago, the evolving Christ-universe took human form in the person of Jesus.

   To see Jesus correctly is to see God and all of  evolving creation in one person. 

   When Jesus said that the he was the way, the truth and the life, he was speaking as the Christ.  He was saying that the way to God is through deep, loving involvement in the everyday, evolving world, with a special option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast. 
   When Jesus was born, Christ was already almost 14 billion years old.  And Christ has evolved for the past 2000 years.  While Jesus is no longer physically with us, his ever evolving Christ-Spirit will be with us until the end of human history.  By "ever evolving" we mean that the Spirit of Christ will continue to lead us forward in our humanity with his ever-unfolding, inexhaustible truth and glory.      
   With Christ's evolving Spirit within us we will be increasingly able to understand and handle the challenges of marriage, education, politics, economics, etc.  We will be able to speak and act in ways that are increasingly discernible and effective to everyone who witnesses us and works with us.  This evolving clarity of the Spirit of Christ in our everyday world is the glory of Christ and of our spiritual democracy.

   Catholic democracy is not a rebellion against church authority.  It is not picking out this or that part of church teaching as in a cafeteria.  It is the Spirit-inspired movement of the whole Catholic faith and church, in which every member contributes their particular God-given discernment and activity for ever greater order, peace, justice, joy of life, gratitude and love.  In Catholic democracy, church teaching will become more relevant, understandable and acceptable to church members and to the world at large.  And the universal, Cosmic Christ on earth will be more clearly recognizable and glorified.

   In all that we are and do, let us give all honor and glory to Christ, to whom be all honor and glory now and forever.





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