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“There is a need for spiritual  vitality. What protection is there against the danger of organization?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: When a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

So says Pope Francis. Dangeously close to the mark, almost searing in its contemporary application. However it will take a long ime to get those JP ll bishops out where the action is or “at the periphery” as Francis calls it .Most of those bishops are “church men” who live in the ambit of ecclesial structures or the first place at the banquet and almost never in a position of any vulnerability. They either lead the parade or they are not in it. You never see them in coffee shops, jazz clubs, marches for justice (unless they’re pelvic oriented) and least of all, never  with the poor. They are quite comfortable in the seats of power, places where they can control the agenda. Poll after poll uses words like “disconnected from the world”, “irrelevant”. Most kind of like being called “Excellency” or “Your Grace”—but never Tom, Dick or Harry. You never will see them at public lectures by world class intellects which blow through town, never with note pads in tow taking down scraps of wisdom and insight like ordinary seekers of truth. It may help them contextualize the gospel but they are not interested. Why should they come as humble learners? It’s obvious— they are the teachers, hardly ever the listeners. See Bonhoeffer quote with his picture.

There are still enough sycophantic Catholic organizations which think it a coup to have them come and talk but the truth is they hardly ever have anything cogent to say.Their language is Churchese a kind of Mom and Apple pie discourse  sprinkled with holy water and hardly ever passed through the crucible of human experience much less linked to contemporary struggles for global or eco-justice.

This  disconnected behaviour often is an institutonal hazard—forgetting the reason for your  very existence and turning inward. St Paul referred to “the powers and principalities” and that great forgotten lay Epicopal theologian William Stringfellow wrote brilliantly about these entities—-the bad or twisted energy which nestles in institutions of all kinds, which turns them away from their original purpose- in this case God’s reign of peace and justice.In stark terms here, people begin to worship the church and not the kingdom. Survival of the institution claims our allegiance. All Christian churches have been guilty of this—people will be fired (see  Ratzinger’s horrible treatment of theologians —-to protect his version of the truth) the sex abuse scandal —the bishops forgot the gospel to protect “the good name “of the church.”

In 1992 the Anglican primate George Carey observed that “ the chief occupational scandal of our time is not the disunity of the Christian church but  the institutional preoccupation of the church in the face of the suffering of the world.”

Both Carey and Pope Francis call attention to  the “ sickness of the church wrapped up in its own world.”


1 Comment »

  1. 1
    wmgrace Says:

    The truth of the matter is that it takes guts (intestinal fortitude, courage) to change. Not taking the extremely difficult actions required to heal the church and make her responsive to the real, challenging issues we face in the world today is simply opting for the status quo – that’s the definition of cowardice. How many of these “church men” are capable of change?

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