A Final Word
Over the years, I have discovered that keeping the focus on the life-saving relationship at the heart of our faith is not as easy as it might seem. I have regularly found that we are to be like Peter, making that unlikely trek across the water towards the one who alone can offer us life, while all the time battered by the uncertainties of an often incomprehensible journey (Matthew 14:22 – 33). Aware that if we take our eyes off Christ we too increase our likelihood of drowning, the at times relentless buffeting provided by our collective fears and disappointments can undermine our confidence.
I have learned there is a difficult trick to pull off: the attempt to pay attention to the certainties and opinions of others, on what needs to change in the church, while remaining open to those who say the opposite with equal fervour. Then there’s the need to go in search of those who no longer care either way, having become increasingly disillusioned over the years. Add into the mix fending off the seemingly endless media onslaught providing commentary on our many collective and individual weaknesses (both real and imagined) and even those well-used to dealing with such things can begin to wonder about the next step.
However, this is not a lament. Many of our problems are of our own making, and any authentic spiritual journey is going to regularly encounter the challenge to get back to what’s essential and to scrape off the accretions that inevitably attach themselves as we make our way. The hull of a ship as old as ours will always need to be scraped clean of barnacles.
The pope has identified clericalism as one such barnacle. Another is the desire to put rules above people. They tend to go hand-in-hand. The prioritising of rules over people frequently involves the prioritising of the power of an ordained elite over the baptised majority. The fact that the dignity of all the sons and daughters of God resides in baptism can easily be lost, mainly because the majority of us have long ago learned that we don’t know how to play the church game. For most, it isn’t a level playing field. We don’t have the theology or, quite frankly, the time amid our busy lives, to pay proper attention to what is at stake. An awareness of how things should properly function comes up for air now and then (see the documents of the 2nd Vatican Council) only to risk going under again as we either fail to pay attention or revert to the ways of relating and habits of thought with which we are familiar.
It is the ever-growing group of the disillusioned that preoccupies me the most. Rather than blaming them for having ‘given up on their faith,’ I find myself learning from them as they seek to live authentic lives without the supports that I have come to lean on heavily and continue to value. They deserve to hear the good news: that Jesus Christ wishes to walk with them in their lives as they are, gradually leading them forward to the fullness of life that he alone can give.
There is much about our faith that does not make sense to someone for whom a sincere and loving relationship with Jesus Christ is not central. The Catholic faith is not a system of doctrines, laws, practices or structures. It includes those things, but they are only of any use to the degree to which they provide support to, and direction regarding, the life-saving relationship at the heart of it all.
The task is simple to articulate, but challenging to carry out: each human being is to be offered the invitation to enter into the life of God in and through Jesus Christ. This is what all the baptised are called to do, through the witness of their lives and, when necessary, through their words. The church exists to assist you with that: 1. to nourish you with the Body, Blood and Word of Jesus, 2. to point you in the right direction and show you the path, 3. to intercede that God may help and guide you, 4. to provide you with God’s healing when you fail, 5. and to celebrate with you that God’s promises are coming to fruition in you. If each of us were to get on with living in the power of our baptism, the renewal of the church and its mission would take care of itself.