Monday, April 14, 2008

"the children of those who murdered the prophets"

This morning I read and reflected the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel in which Jesus has very harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees. This picked up on some reflections I have been engaging in regarding pastoral ministry lately. Specifically two things I have recently posted. One from Saturday in which I wrote that "It is a constant battle not be a phony in my pastoral ministry. I'll be honest, I fail because I need to 'finish the task'. What is the task? Or, more fundamentally, is there a task?" The second instance was something I reflected on earlier this month: "I know that in pastoral ministry, when people seek advice and counsel, most often the last thing they are looking for is to be challenged in their lives by the Gospel, by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Hence, too often, what counts for pastoral ministry is what most counsellors would call enabling behavior, amounting to nothing more than telling people what they want to hear, watering down Jesus' call to discipleship". So, as always, Jesus' words are also for us, for the Church and for me specifically.

Among the several appellations given to the scribes and Pharisees by our Lord is "blind guides" (Matt. 23,16). This blindness, observes Stanley Hauerwas, "is not unrelated to their desire to be guides" (Matthew pg. 199). Even in the Church, those who want to lead and who are even called to lead "often fear those they lead" (ibid). Specifically, "they fear hurting those they lead", mistakenly thinking "that their task is to make the life of those they lead secure" (ibid). Disciples of Jesus are not called to lead lives of safety and security. Yesterday's second reading shows that the earliest disciples understood the radical nature of Christian discipleship: "But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps" (1 Pet. 2,20b-21). Peter tells us that our calling is to suffer for doing good. In other words, suffering for doing good is our baptismal vocation. Suffer we will, but we must not suffer in a silly manner, in ways that are Pharisaical, but in an authentic, not a dramatic, fashion.

Those of us who lead in the Church sometimes "hide from [ourselves] what [we] know to be true because [we] think that those whom [we] lead cannot bear the truth" (Hauerwas pg. 199). Hauerwas concludes that the same lack of sight that plagued the scribes and Pharisees "is a blindness that threatens the church no less than any people" (ibid). There is a difference, however, the "difference between the Pharisees and those who would lead Jesus's people is that the latter lead a people who have no reason to fear the truth" (ibid). The truth dear friends is that we are close to God's "upside-down kingdom", but if we wish to enter we must learn "to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord" (ibid). Those who learn this and allow their lives be illuminated by this truth are free and joyful. Too often we "become lost amid attempts," like the Pharisees, "to make our difference depend on matters that do not matter" (ibid). For example I am not Catholic because I do not eat meat on Fridays, I do not eat meet on Fridays becaues I am a Catholic. I remain free to have a hamburger, especially if I observe the penitential nature of Friday in some other way, like performing acts of charity, which is probably better. I do not attend Mass on Sunday because I am Catholic, I am Catholic because I attend Mass on Sunday. These examples are not just shallow attempts at playing Captain Conundrum, but efforts to get things the right way 'round. Yesterday, quite by accident, I stumbled across a homily preached by Archbishop Niederauer at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco's Castro district last Fall, in his characteristically wonderful and clear manner of speaking he made this point very well and linked it back to the central act of our faith- Eucharist:

"Around the Archdiocese of San Francisco, when I talk to our young people at Confirmation, I remind them and their families of the same truth that I’m calling to your attention this morning. Do you recall what probably bothered the Pharisees most about Jesus Christ? His awful taste in people! Their exact words were: 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!' And twenty centuries later, Jesus Christ is still welcoming sinners and eating with them. Indeed, feeding them with his own Body and Blood.

"We Catholics are a Eucharistic people. We are not a people who believe that, on the night before he died, Jesus had supper with his apostles and told them, 'Crawl the mall in memory of me.' Or, 'have brunch in memory of me.' No, we are the people who believe that, on Holy Thursday night, Jesus took bread, broke it, and said, 'This is my Body.' Then he took the cup filled with wine, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Then Jesus said, 'Do this in remembrance of me.' So each Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we do this in remembrance of Jesus Christ, and we believe that it gives meaning and purpose and direction to everything else in our lives, even the mall and the brunch."

Eucharist, which means simply giving thanks, is the key that unlocks our baptismal calling of learning to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord, with whom we have died, been buried, and risen to new life. Hence, it is the key to living authentically, that is, truthfully.

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