Yes, it is easy to become distracted

In this morning’s New York Times is an article by Nicholas Kristof which is one of the more thoughtful reflections on the Catholic Church today I have ever read. He speaks so well about the true church, the people, and the relentless efforts by many day after day to fulfill our baptismal obligations, to care for the poor and others in need, to love one another.

Yes, it is easy to become distracted by the betrayal we have been (and continue to be?) subjected to by the clerical hierarchy of the church. But the people I minister to, men in maximum security prisons, aren’t concerned with what goes on in diocesan offices or in the Vatican. If the pope and all the bishops were to drop dead, their lives wouldn’t change; their hunger and need for encouragement, support, and spiritual sustenance wouldn’t be diminished.

When I am standing at a cell door, the temporal presence of the Roman Catholic Church exists in only two people: me and the man on the other side of the door. Building the kingdom, proclaiming the good news, is  a “now” phenomenon taking place at the micro level in millions of instances every second of the day all over the world. What the pope or bishops think or declare about anything isn’t really part of the picture. It seems that the work of the church goes on in spite of them rather than because of them.

That’s an unfair statement. The deposit of faith has been developed, clarified, and passed down throughout the centuries by the same type of people who seem so out of touch today. But what they do and what they teach are two separate things. Once the sheep learned to read, things began to unravel.

The gospel message began to be seen more clearly as getting lost in all the pomp, rituals, as well continued bogus claims about the origins of some of our sacraments. Elaborate schemes to maintain any and all vestiges of power while suppressing  prophetic voices questioning the mythology, are becoming more and more visible and, naturally, more repulsive.

Going through the Vatican museum a couple of weeks ago, I noticed my pace quickening as the reality of that whole farce sank in further and further. How did such a  self-serving charade ever get started? Certainly not from the gospels, the teachings and practices of Jesus.

We humans seem to be unimaginative when it comes to conferring importance on things or people we hold dear. Sacred objects need to be gold. Monuments to saints – even those dedicated to living with and for the poor – are soaring, domed, cavernous structures filled with marble masterpieces, vast frescoes and mosaics, and paintings by the masters. All priceless stuff.

Leadership of our faith tradition are given a hierarchical structure, titles, positions of power, fine places to live. Then, of course, they develop their own laws, norms of behavior, rules of obedience and secrecy, and declarations of infallibility  to keep those under their spiritual care out of the sanctuaries and where they belong.

Read the Kristof article if you can find the time.

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