I got the impression from observing both the body language and the questions posed to our guest speaker last Sunday that, for many of you, her description of the role and place of women within the structures of the Roman Catholic Church was an “eye opener.”
You have now entered “my world” (a phrase I know that annoys many but it is nonetheless true) of Ecumenical dialogue with other Christian churches. Although the largest branch of Christianity, Roman Catholicism is not the only or (if you listen to the Eastern Orthodox Churches) the oldest or closest to the early “undivided” Church.
Sadly, while we all share a belief in Jesus as the incarnate Son of the Father and while we profess “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” – we find ourselves divided over so many issues.
Some of those issues are related to gender and sexual morality. Some are structural. Some of us do not share the same Creeds. Ethical principles divide us. Where and how authority is derived and what that means is yet another divider. And on and on it goes.
This year marks 50 years since Vatican II ended. It also marks 105 years since the Ecumenical movement as such began with a Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. But we Christians have so much more work to do. We are so different – and Jesus prayed, on the night before he died, that “we all may be one.” Learning about each other is a first step in a long slow process to become one again. Dear Lord, forgive us. We are so slow.
I just spent a few days visiting family down in Texas. Part of family ritual is to return to a place in family hierarchy one had as a youth so, of course, I have spent some time being berated for “being old,” “lacking spontaneity,” and “you’re becoming your father!” OUCH !
What made this trip so much fun was getting (and giving) the teasing that prevents us from taking “self” so seriously. I enjoyed watching my brother’s loving interaction with two rescue cats (cats that actually belonged to his wife but have adopted him and love him as one of their own – go figure!). Actually, his side of the room we shared growing up was akin to a litter box so I should not be too surprised!
I encountered a toddler on one of those shuttles in between terminals at the airport. She needed silly attention so I played peek-a-boo with her to the point where she waved bye-bye and blew a kiss when I was moving to leave. Her mommy turned to me and exclaimed: “Where were you the last three hours – we could have used you!”
In the journey that is called “life,” it is so often the silly and unimportant moments that can be soul nurturing. Christ is encountered in the ordinary and mundane as well as the extraordinary and prayer filled. Open your eyes and take a breath: see what is going on around you. You may find one of those “God moments” waiting for you.
October 15 is a special date in my memory: It is always the first day of class -“opening day” of the academic year at the Gregorian University in Rome (where I studied Theology for four years). The lecture halls were post-medieval. The professors were utterly demanding scholars, and the work load became shoulder crunching from first class through last exam ten months later. But I do look back with fondness at the challenges, the mind opening and thought provoking lectures, the papers to be written and the growth in spirituality that was destined, in spite of my shortcomings, to take place.
Parish life itself has those moments: moments we treasure from years past. We recall with fondness the things we have accomplished. On Sunday past, we thanked Charlene for years of service and honored her as a living link to parish tradition and joy. But personally I love how she lives and loves and leads us today with the courage she always demonstrates.
But here is the challenge: never stay in that past. It is a question of how we use and learn from lived experience and grow from there. How can we use our memory to make us always a more loving and better serving community? I am so grateful for what I have lived through, but I am more grateful that Christ is leading me forward to face new experiences. As a parish, we need to constantly remind ourselves that Christ leads us forward – never backward.
Last Sunday we had the first “Family Service” of this new year (if we count the year beginning with the commencement of the school year). I happen to enjoy this. I love to watch parish teens and tweens proclaiming the reading from God’s Word and leading our prayer. They are the ushers, the acolytes and bearers of the offerings of bread and wine. They are taking the place that will be theirs in Christ’s Church, if not here, then wherever they will worship as adults.
I love the imperfections. So the video (which worked perfectly in rehearsal) decided to act up! The undercroft which was too cold when I got there quickly became too warm when the bodies all assembled. And sound does not travel real well in that space: every itch, cough, movement, cry and sneeze is magnified.
Yes, it is true that our liturgy is to be a foretaste of the eternal heavenly liturgy where God is worshiped by the choirs of heaven. I can’t wait to see how God will react when a baby shouts “NO” during His sermon. I suspect God smiles when we focus on our youth and live with our lack of utter perfection. And in it all: God was praised!
Can you believe that it has been a year since the “Strong By 17” movement in the parish began? And now we are about to start all over again – as the cycle of life in the parish moves. We’ll be celebrating local festivities like John Lewis Day and plans for the next Winter Ball are already simmering. Religious formation of children, teens and adults has started (already secured the date of and Bishop to preside at Holy Confirmation). Stewardship meetings will begin anew as we grow into the second year of the long journey back to viability.
But – last week we all heard a religious prophet from the Church of Rome remind us that turning inward is never compatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are always called to “hear the cry of the poor” as the Lord does. We must see the “stranger in our midst” and remember we will be judged by outward acts of kindness to others. (“What you did to the least of my brethren, you did unto me.”)
We’re starting up parish life again – but never forget, it’s always first and foremost a matter of the Spirit, not the “stuff.”