I went to church in person today, for the first time since February 2020. I got up early and went on my own. I knew my kids wouldn’t want to go, and my husband decided to stay home too. I sprung the invitation on him as he was leaving to walk the dog, and I think I knew I’d be going alone.
Father Dennis invited us to see Palm Sunday as our return from exile from each other – that as vaccinations spread, the boundaries between us will fall. He asked us to think about where we’ve been and what we’ve seen, and to reflect on how the journey of the past year has changed us.
These are big questions – ones that I’m not prepared to explore publicly. One thing I have accepted is that I’m not interested in leaving the Catholic church. At the core of my being, I don’t want to leave. In my head, I get angry and think this isn’t the place for me. But in my body and in my quietest moments, I want to stay.
Kaya Oakes, in her spiritual memoir Radical Reinvention, sums up the feeling this way: “I’m Irish, and when you’re an Irish Catholic, even a radical one, some part of you is always going to be Catholic. It’s that God gene, but it’s also the narrative I was brought up with…There’s something appealing about the idea that my ancestors were…broke-as-hell, ghetto-dwelling, hard-swearing, garbage-truck-driving, potato-famine-escaping, gallon-o’-whiskey drinking, short-lifespan living Catholics. Yes, the Irish Catholic Church has even more ills to answer for than the American Church, but it’s also part of my culture. When I pray, I know generations of my family who came before me prayed the very same way.”
Later in the book, Oakes asks a nun what obedience means to her. The nun says she is called to be obedient to the gospel. I like that a lot, and I think Father Clay would too, as he explores the division and integration of liberal and conservative viewpoints in the church in this reading.
Your mission: To spread good news
Pope John XXIII is often seen as a hero by “liberal” Catholics, and Pope John Paul II is often seen as a hero by “conservative” Catholics. Both are now proclaimed saints by Pope Francis. I see a deep symbolism in their simultaneous canonization.
It is not healthy to think in terms of conservative and liberal Catholics. There are of course different points of view, and we need to be open to learn from the other perspectives. If Saint John XXIII is our hero, our task is to love, listen to and learn from those who hold Saint John Paul II as their hero. If Saint John Paul II is our hero, our task is to love, listen to and learn from those who hold Saint John XXIII as their hero. This will help us to broaden our understanding of what is true. Reality is what it is, but only God comprehends it fully. We so easily can believe that our vision is the whole truth.
Here are the questions we need to ask ourselves: Am I and is our church following in the footsteps of Jesus? Are we by word and example living the mission he gave us? His mission becomes our mission, to spread the good news. We must see how Jesus lived and taught if we are to know what the good news is.
Jesus taught us of the universal love of God, who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Jesus did not reject the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners, the adulterous and other who were outcasts of his religious society. His acceptance, understanding and love drew many of them in a happier and more virtuous life.
It is not enough for us to believe in Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus. Only then are we living as God wants us to live.
Jesus gave us the mission to spread the good news. We must not only understand the mission, but we must also realize that without a structure, the mission will easily die out. That need for structure in order to spread the good news slowly became the church. Structure is essential. Its purpose is to serve the mission.
I believe that a healthy structure must integrate both “conservative” and “liberal” viewpoints with eyes on the mission. I say this because I believe the conservative and liberal viewpoints are both rather narrow. We come closer to the proper structure when they are integrated. Then we have something much deeper than conservative/liberal. I say this because integration is not just horse-trading. It is not accomplished by putting in a conservative viewpoint here and a liberal viewpoint there.
Integration comes at some point in our open struggle with both viewpoints as we find a deeper truth that is neither conservative nor liberal but still holds what is valuable in each and is much more valuable than either one. We might even come closer to the views of Jesus.
This happens because instead of stubbornly clinging to our viewpoint, we are more open to allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us a new vision. The Holy Spirit is patient and subtle. Because the Spirit is love, the Spirit does not force us but respects our freedom. Therefore, the Spirit needs some degree of willingness on our part.
From the letter “Mother Church” in Mysterious Love by Father John Clay, (c) 2015