Admitting systemic failure

This doesn’t require much commentary from me–we see it in action right now in the world. The Church has little moral authority in the world, and one of the big reasons (though not the only one) is the sex abuse scandal. We tend to be kind of a passive laity–and I’m pointing fingers at no one, because I feel as powerless and baffled on how to fix things as anyone else–counting on the vertical structure of the Church to fix the problem, while we go on with business as usual. Clearly, it doesn’t work. There *has* been harm inflicted on the spread of the Gospel, and that blame lies with the Church leadership for continuing to bungle and protect itself–but also on us, the laity, for clinging to the way things have always been done, and not stepping up to be more active in our faith and our Church, when clearly the way things have always been done is no longer sufficient for the times and issues we face.

I don’t know what the solution is. But there has rarely been an excerpt that has seemed so clearly written for this moment in time, even though it was written fifty years ago.

When your weakness isn’t sin

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I am slowly exploring the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius via the book “The Ignatian Adventure.” This week’s focus is spiritual freedom: the knowledge and acceptance of one’s gifts and weaknesses and, through that knowledge, the freedom from the tethers that bind you to the world.

It’s a very appropriate thing to do during Advent, really. But what I’m realizing is that I automatically associate “weakness” with “sin,” when sometimes it’s not actually sin, it’s just weakness. Sometimes you are trying to process too many things at once and trying to balance too many people’s needs and hurts, and you mess up and hurt someone’s feelings. You didn’t do it on purpose. You lie awake half the night worrying about it. You want like crazy to fix it. But the reality is, it was your weakness that caused it.

Weakness, but not sin.

I actually think those screwups are harder to deal with than outright sins. There’s a remedy in the Catholic tradition for sin. But those weaknesses that aren’t sins, just ordinary human messups–how do you make reparations for those? More importantly, how do you keep them from happening again?

It’s a good reflection to undertake during Advent: the knowledge that we are never actually going to get it all right. A wakeup call, a recognition of how deeply we need the grace that was given to us through the Incarnation.

If you can accept your own weakness instead of railing against it–if you could give yourself the grace to know that you are loved despite your weaknesses–now that would be spiritual freedom, indeed.

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A place for everyone

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Right now, the Church is doing a lot of soul searching about how to evangelize the “nones.” In my opinion, we’re driving the “nones” away by, among other things, insisting that in order to be welcome in our midst, they have to come all the way to meet us where we are, instead of us going out to meet them where they are.

Of course, we have a vision we want others to share. But we also have to recognize that conversion is a lifelong process, and we’re not done with it, either. Nobody’s saying we can’t belong, so why should we say that to others?

We need to accept the imperfections in others, because we’re all walking the same path, even if we’re in different places along it. Jesus didn’t get tax collectors to stop being dishonest by standing apart and wagging his finger at them. He went into their houses and made friends with them, and they realized he had something they wanted, which made them want to change. He didn’t go to them with a pre-existing condition: “I’ll come eat with you if, first, you promise to change.” No, he went to them with no guarantee that they’d step up to the plate. He made the effort, and that was what made the difference.

Notice also, he didn’t go into the house saying, “I’ll come eat with you and give you a witness talk to convert you.” How off-putting would that be? No, he just went, trusting the relationship to do the work of conversion. And it did.

So I think evangelization begins with evangelizing ourselves. We need to work at excising judgment and conditional love from our attitudes, and replacing them with a genuine, unconditional desire for the best for others. Not a desire to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong, and how they should change for their own good. Not a great academic argument based on dozens of source documents.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that kind of stuff, and it’s good for our own growth in understanding. But if that’s how we start conversations with those outside the faith, we might as well not bother. No one listens to that kind of message. It’s a waste of time.

No, we need simply to wish the best for others, and model a life of joy and peace that will make others go, “Hey…I want that! How do I get some?”

Right Words, Wrong Message

I had to go back to the source myself on this one. There’s a lot to think about here, and Pope Francis doesn’t dig in and tell us exactly what he’s referring to. He just says sometimes we set up “false gods or a human ideal which is not really Christian.” He goes on to say that sometimes things we treasure, or which have been very helpful in the past, no longer are helpful because the culture, and thus the people we’re speaking to, have changed around them. I’d encourage you to read all of #41-43 (and beyond).

I see this dynamic play out when praiseworthy commitment to the teachings laid out by the Church leads us to judge and exclude people because they don’t measure up–even though none of us, in fact, measure up. I point back to the posts on imperfect practice of the faith and whether we view sin as a stumbling block on the way to something better, or a pit of mud we can’t escape.

As hard as we are on ourselves, most of us recognize that we can be loved by God despite our sins. But someone else’s sin, which takes a different form than ours, we often can’t or won’t overlook. We’re inconsistent about our approach to sexual sins, for one thing. And other sins–greed and dishonesty come to mind–we accept with a shrug…if we acknowledge them at all.

To me, this is an example of how we take a true message–what we are called to as Christians–and as we bring it down through the filter of our worldly biases, we corrupt it into something different. Something that achieves the opposite of what Jesus intended; namely, division and exclusion.

That’s my take. What’s yours?