I’ve been thinking ahead to my Sunday homily this weekend at St. Mary’s pro-Cathedral. The readings provide a timely remedy of the tensions and evils within the church.
Battle imagery is often used to describe the struggle between God and the devil experienced in personal and communal good and evil in the world. Ignatius of Loyola 500 years ago used the metaphor of two armies waging war. Ignatius asked: which army are you fighting for, God’s army, of that of the evil one?
These days military imagery might be less popular, but children still play at goodies and baddies and we adults too often reduce other people to the labels “good” or “bad” forgetting that both good and evil are found in everyone including ourselves.
Healthy and honest people growing towards maturity will recognise both good and evil within all members, systems and structures of their institutions.
This reminder is timely for our church which exists for the ultimate good and fails to live this ideal.
Because the people of the church including priests and bishops struggle with doing good and avoiding evil, the church institution will tragically reflect this imperfect and even criminal reality.
This is a fatal obstacle for those who place all their hope in the institution expecting perfection in the church and its members. It is a tragic reality that sin and corruption is the only face of the church that many people see.
The mature person is able to not only live with this ambiguity, but realises that if I myself am an imperfect work-in-progress, then I can find a home in an imperfect institution as long as the goal of the institution is the abundant life promised by and found in Jesus Christ.
When our hope is in Christ, we are able to benefit from and thrive in a church of seriously flawed members and ministers. We are able to thrive because the church on earth is not simply the people who make up the church, but a privileged and divine arena vibrating with God’s active mercy, healing and love.
I can be at home in such an imperfect church when I realise that in the sacraments of the church, Jesus Christ bridges the distance between my desire and my reality, healing my imperfection and sin, and leading me to the life I seek. In the antiphon of this Sunday’s psalm we acknowledge that this divine life “gives joy to my heart.”
While priests and bishops have essential ministries in the church, the Holy Spirit breaks into the church and the world through any person who is open to the action of God.
We have seen this in the many dark times through the history of the church. When corruption is evident and even rife in the ministers of the church, the renewal of the Church comes through people who often consider themselves to be powerless and without influence.
It is not the Sacrament of Holy Orders that creates professional Catholic Christians, but the Sacrament of Baptism. People who are baptised are therefore not “lay” (ie non-professional) Catholics or lay Christians. People who are baptised are PROFESSIONAL people of faith.
Moses, the leader of the people, conversed with God and then bestowed this spirit on the seventy elders. However Eldad and Medad who were not present for the anointing, arrived home and “began to prophesy in the camp.” Their unauthorised preaching upset Joshua “the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth.” Joshua was put out that these two were acting as professional prophets and he called on Moses to stop them. But Moses responded: “Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!”
The same point is made in today’s gospel reading: “John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”