October 19, 2018
Galatians 2:1-14; Luke 11:1-4
Most of us panic when problems develop in the church, as they have now, with the current crisis. People are angry and people are disagreeing and of course there’s something terrible going on and we have to get to the bottom of it.
But in another way this is old news, it has always been so, even in the very early Church, as Paul makes clear in Galatians when he says that he “opposed Peter to his face,” or maybe more accurately, stood before him “toe to toe,” accusing him of hypocrisy in his attitude towards the Gentiles. And this is sacred scripture, this is the Bible, and I think what that suggests is that in some way the very conflict is God’s will, is inspired, is something we should learn from: it tells us: the church is never perfect in its human dimension and there is always conflict and this conflict can have great spiritual value, itself.
This is Peter after all, who is not only the first Pope but the one who denied Jesus three times. Who jumps out on the water and sinks.
Here’s how the contemporary Trappist monk Michael Casey puts it:
Spiritual experience is so deeply satisfying that many who taste it wish to experience it more fully. And so they enter a monastery. The honeymoon may continue for a time as they adapt to a new mode of living, but eventually the waves of consolation cease and the novice is left with the monotony of daily chores, the ambiguities of community living, and a persistent dryness in prayer. To fill this emptiness, temptations of various kinds begin to intrude upon awareness which, even if they are successfully repelled, cumulatively cause weariness and discouragement.
So what does the fervent seeker after God discover in the monastery? Not the immediate presence of God, but the absence of God. . . . A monastery exists to guide us into the realization that our desire for God will be satisfied only in eternity.
Substitute “church” or “parish” for monastery and we’ve got it. The Church as human institution is full of good things, too, is wonderful too—I’m so tired of people who stereotype it as completely corrupt and terrible, because it isn’t–but whenever the Church does let us down, whenever it does fail to live up to some childish, immature image we still carry around with us, rejoice, be glad, because we are being called in those moments to look beyond the human to God himself.
When someone points at the moon, Augustine says, we should look at the moon, not at the finger that’s doing the pointing.
When we go to a restaurant, we don’t eat the menu.
Or as I heard Pope Francis once say when he came into a room and everyone was shouting Papa! Papa!: no, no! Jesus! Jesus!
This isn’t to undermine anybody’s faith but just the opposite, to bolster it, to strengthen it. The biggest threat to belief is the low that always follows the high, the coming-back-down-to-earth that always follows from a retreat or an intense, spiritual experience. We can think we were being foolish when we felt such joy and such faith. It’s the desolation that’s real. The depression. But no: the joy is real, the high is real, the dove doescome down from heaven. Believe that. And the desolation is real, too, the temptation in the desert, because it humbles us and tests us and calls us to trust in what we can never achieve on our own, however deep our devotion.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name; thykingdom come.