Listen. Do you hear anything? Is a conversation about God taking place at your Church? Or is it absent? Is silence the only conversation that you hear? The golden thread of conversation about God stitches together the hurly-burly of activity that takes place at our Churches. The conversation gives meaning to the motions that Catholics go through as we seek God. If you cannot hear the conversation, you are going through the motions without understanding why. You have become perfunctory. Your worship and your Church are dead. Get a priest and give them the last rites.
God is not dead. Far from it. God is very much alive. But the conversation about God is dead. To the enemies of God, killing the conversation about God is just as good as killing God. Moreover, the Church has become its own worst enemy. It is shooting itself in the foot and it is oblivious to the fact that it is doing so.
Catholics used to dive into the deep end of the pool that holds our knowledge about God and immerse themselves from head to toe. Now, we are afraid to get our ankles wet. We are now Catholics in name only. We are surface Catholics without any depth. We have become secular Catholics. Our Catholicness used to be thick; now it is thin - very thin. Its thinness makes it fragile - easy to shatter.
We have become perfunctory Catholics.
We go through the motions but we no longer know why.
Our Church has stopped teaching us the reasons for going through the motions. Perhaps it too has forgotten why.
There are many aspects to Christianity. The contemporary Church, however, does not give them equal emphasis. The contemporary Church has become morbidly obsessed with only one of them. The aspect of Christianity with which the contemporary Church has become morbidly obsessed is not even the most important aspect of Christianity. All of the energy of the contemporary Church - or so it seems - is devoted to its morbid obsession. Little of its energy is devoted to the other, more significant aspects of Christianity. The attention that the Church devotes to its morbid obsession has sucked all of the oxygen away from the other aspects of Christianity. The other aspects of Christianity are suffocating because the Church's morbid obsession is taking in all of the air.
What is the Church's morbid obsession?
The morbid obsession of the Church is its official code of conduct. The Church is morbidly obsessed with how we ought to behave as we make our escape from godlessness to God. Don't get me wrong. Optimizing how we behave as we make our journey from godlessness to God is a legitimate aspect of Christianity that falls within the legitimate purview of the Church's concern. However, when the Church becomes solely concerned with it official code of conduct to the exclusion of every other aspect of Christianity, its legitimate concern transforms itself into a morbid obsession for which a cure is needed.
Forgive my frankness. Some would call my frankness impertinence. However, I have a stake in the game. My life is better when the Church succeeds. My life is worse when it fails. Therefore, I am a fan of the Church. The Church plays a crucial role in the salvation of the children of Adam and Eve. The Church is very much needed. Yet, the Church is ablaze. Its enemies both from within and without have lit it on fire. It is at risk of burning down to the ground. While the flames shoot from the windows, its hierarchy is sleeping inside tucked comfortably in their beds. Exigency compels me to enter the Church and slap the hierarchy in the face to rouse them from their slumber.
Here comes the slap.
The Church is sliding head first into bankruptcy. Fewer and fewer are going to Mass. None are going to Confession. The only sacrament holding its own is the sacrament of extreme unction and this is so only because the dead have little choice.
The children of Adam and Eve judge the performance of the hierarchy of the Church with their feet. From their massive stampede out of the doors of the Catholic Church, they have made their adverse judgment known.
I have even heard my bishop justify the abysmal drop in the number of people seeking God at the Catholic holy places by saying that the same stampede out the doors is also taking place in other non-Catholic Churches. Instead of taking responsibility for the poor performance of the hierarchy of the Church, he is offering an excuse for it. We are all failing together. It is a problem that is beyond my and my colleagues' control.
There are many scandals in the Church but none worse - none worse - than the failure of its hierarchy to lead the children of Adam and Eve from Catholic holy place to Catholic holy place on the escape route from godlessness to God.
The New York City Police Department runs a program of self-criticism called CompStat by which it uses crime statistics to evaluate the job performance of its bosses. Given the deplorable Catholic statistics, if such a program were applied to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, many heads would roll. Shall we wait until the number for Mass attendance falls into the single digits before the leaders of the Catholic Church are fired for incompetency? If the abysmal failure of the leadership of the Church does not suggest the sacking of its entire hierarchy, it ought to, at least, suggest the timeliness for a change in strategy.
Some make a virtue out of a necessity by saying that a smaller, purer Church may be a better Church. The coconuts who propose this argument forget that, like Jesus the physician, the mission of the Church is not to the healthy but to the sick. The Church is not just the Church of saints, it is the Church of sinners as well as saints. Why is it that a call for "purity " in the Church feels like the reemergence of the discredited ideology of Aryanism (not Arianism) with its vile distinction of superhumans and subhumans?
The contemporary Church is banging the same drum over and over and over again. Few are listening. What good is a radio station that broadcasts on a frequency to which nobody tunes in and everybody tunes out?
Insanity was defined as repeating the same tactic over and over again hoping for a different result. The hierarchy of the Church are in the grips of an insanity. It is time to bring the hierarchy to its senses.
How can the insanity be brought to an end?
In my opinion, it is not difficult to resurrect the Church. [But who am I and what is my opinion worth?]
All that is necessary is a tweak.
No change in doctrine is required - only a tweak in emphasis.
To reinvigorate the Church, a conversation about God needs to be started. The golden thread of conversation about God needs to be woven through the motions that Catholics go through as we seek God to give them meaning and expose their place in the larger context - the bigger picture. Without the conversation about God, we have become disoriented. Instead of moving from godlessness to God, we are whirling like dervishes in the hostile desert of godlessness. We are no longer making our escape. We are stuck in place. All movement has stopped.
The possible topics for a conversation about God are
- the Big Picture, that is, the escape,
- the escape route,
- the holy places that define the escape route
- the sweetness of paradise
- the sourness of godlessness
- the current of salvation,
- how we ought to behave as we make our escape
These are all legitimate topics.
But what ought to be the topic of the conversation?
The Church has made obedience to its official code of conduct its first priority.
However, other aspects of Christianity deserve a higher priority.
There is a sequence that must be followed in order to make a Catholic. Everything cannot be done all at once. It is a process with a beginning, middle and an end. Obedience to the official code of conduct of the Church is not at the beginning of the process. It is closer to the end. Introducing us to God and God to us is at the starting line of the process. Obedience to the official code of the Church is at the finish line. Why?
Only love opens the ears of the student to the instruction of the teacher. Without love, the ears of the student are closed. Getting to know God - not the Church's official code of conduct - teaches us that God loves us. Getting to know that God loves us initiates in us a desire to find out why. Why does God love me? To learn why, we seek God at the holy places. At the holy places, we have close encounters with God during which God transforms us. As God transforms us, we start to requite God's love of us. As our love for God grows, our ears open to His instruction. We listen to God, that is, we obey. Love begets obedience. Nothing else. The Church expects us to obey without love. The Church expects a loveless obedience. Sorry to disappoint you, obedience does not work that way. Obedience is not blind. Obedience arises only when the eyes are opened and love is seen.
I will not frame the problem without suggesting the solution. My criticism may be caustic, but ultimately, it is constructive. The slap in the face needed to be hard to wake up the hierarchy from their slumber. They are not light sleepers.
What are the other aspects of Christianity that we can make the subject of the conversation besides obedience to the official code of conduct of the Church?
For some of you, you will find it impossible to compartmentalize the official code of conduct from the other aspects of Christianity. Your minds are one-dimensional. To compartmentalize the various aspects of Christianity, you must have minds that are multi-dimensional - capable of handling multiple aspects instead of minds that are only capable of mushing aspects together. The pointing out of a limitation sometimes can inspire one to overcome it. We'll see.
First, let us explore another aspect of Christianity that I call the Big Picture.
What is the big picture?
A new exodus is afoot and is now in progress from holy place to holy place through the hostile desert of godlessness taking us from slavery under the yoke of pharaoh to freedom with God and their holy family in the promised land. By the way, you are invited to join it. Like foolish children, Adam and Eve ran away from their home with God in paradise and took us with them into godlessness. Godlessness is not a nice place. To rescue us from godlessness, God established an escape route, defined it with holy places, made a map of them and entrusted the map to the Church. The Church is the new Moses, the leader of the escape. The movement of the new exodus from holy place to holy place forms the needle of the compass that always points to God. Only by making our escape from holy place to holy place can we be sure that we are heading in the right direction. The escape from godlessness to God is primary. Nothing else matters. Everything else is secondary. Anything that interferes is suspect.
At a holy place, a close encounter with the living God takes place. During a close encounter with the living God, we include God in our lives and God includes us in theirs. At a holy place, a connection is made between earth and heaven. Through the connection, the light of paradise illuminates the darkness of godlessness. No one walks away from a close encounter with the living God unchanged. No one walks away from a close encounter with the living God empty handed.
Examples of the holy places upon the earth at which close encounters with the living God take place are the Mass, Confession, the other sacraments, works of charity, acts of kindness, prayer especially the rosary, Eucharistic adoration, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, fasting, the gathering of two or more together in God's name, bible study, suffering, the hour of death, etc.
The job of the Church is to be grease for the wheels of the escape and not an obstacle in its way. The job of the Church is to facilitate the escape and not to filter it. The job of the Church is to get all of the children of Adam and Eve into the life boats and on their way to safety. No exceptions. The Church shall not toss anyone overboard into the shark infested waters of godlessness regardless whether they be saint or sinner - regardless whether they be naughty or nice - regardless whether their thinking is 100% consubstantial with the official thinking of the Church or less than 100% consubstantial. If a soul has a desire to seek God, the Church must accommodate him or her. Under no circumstances, shall the Church turn a seeker of God away. "There is no place for you here" are words that are never to be said to a soul that seeks God.
Remember what defines us as Catholic. Contrary to the opinion of those who are trying to establish a Catholic identity or a Catholic brand, It is not our thinking that defines us as Catholic. It is our seeking. Catholics are souls who seek God at the Catholic holy places. We become Catholic feet first not head first. The question that establishes a Catholic identity or a Catholic brand is not 'what do you think?'. The question is 'what do you seek and where do you seek it?'. Remember that it is going on safari that makes us a Catholic not reading about the safari or thinking about the safari. Catholicism is done more with the feet and less with the head.
The Holy Spirit is tugging at our souls and the curious are following the tug back to its source. The Church is here on earth not to get between the Holy Spirit and the curious. The Church is here on earth to clear the obstacles between them out of the way. The Holy Spirit does the work of conversion not the Church. The Church simply paves the way.
The job of the Church is to take us on expeditions during which we explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. It is exploration that is done not indoctrination a/k/a catechesis.
Christians are explorers.
We have explored the continents. We have explored beneath the sea. We have explored outer space. We have explored the genetic constituents of our very being. Yet, mankind’s grandest adventure is still the exploration of the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God.
The foregoing was a description of the big picture. As you can see, the big picture is an aspect of Christianity that can be a huge topic for conversation about God. In fact, the big picture is so important for the children of Adam and Eve to understand that it ought to displace the official code of conduct of the Church as the main topic of Catholic conversation.
But, I am not yet finished providing you with alternative topics for Catholic conversation besides the official code of conduct of the Church.
Now, let us explore two other aspects of Christianity related to the Big Picture.
I call them the engines that generate the current of salvation. The current of salvation flows over the escape route carrying the children of Adam and Eve from godlessness to God.
The field on which we play the game of life is tilted. The game is rigged. God has given the Church an advantage. The advantage is the current of salvation. With the current of salvation on its side aiding and abetting it, the Church ought not to be losing the game. It ought to be ahead on points and not behind on points. Something in the Church needs to be screwed up big time in order for the Church to be squandering its advantage.
What are the engines that generate the current of salvation?
There are two engines.
Let us first talk about one of them, the sourness of godlessness.
The sourness of godlessness is one of the engines that generates the motive force for the escape. It pushes the children of Adam and Eve out of godlessness and through its exit. Godlessness sucks. In godlessness, we are like fish out of water. We do not belong in godlessness. Disease, war, poverty, oppression, inequality, crime etc make godlessness sour. Our rationality tells us to stay away from the sourness of godlessness. The sourness of godlessness is harsh but effective medicine. The reality of godlessness shatters the illusion conjured up by the serpent that a life lived as gods in godlessness is better than a life lived with God in paradise. Disabused of the illusion, when the gift of paradise is delivered to us - and its delivery is ineluctable - we will not repeat the mistake of our parents, Adam and Eve and the mistake of a gaggle of angels led by Lucifer. We will not abdicate paradise for godlessness after the gift of paradise is delivered to us. The prodigal son will not go back to the pig sty and neither will the children of Adam and Eve. The effectiveness of the medicine in getting us to keep paradise after paradise is delivered to us justifies its harshness. The harshness does not cross the boundary into cruelness because God has made our lives in godlessness brief. The brevity of life is proof of a merciful God. If God were cruel, God would makes us spend many lifetimes in godlessness.
The sweetness of paradise is the second of the two engines that generates the motive force for the escape. It pulls the children of Adam and Eve toward paradise and through its entrance.
God inserted a delay between our creation and the delivery of the gift of paradise to us. The delay gives us an opportunity to experience godlessness for ourselves. Reality shatters illusion. Because our experience is limited to godlessness, we have no experience whatsoever with paradise. Any knowledge of paradise, therefore, must be revealed to us.
The Son of God paid us a visit for thirty-three years at and about the city of Jerusalem in a region of our planet called the Middle East more than two thousand years ago.
The thirty-three year Visit was an apocalypse.
It revealed to us the nature of God.
What do we learn about the nature of God from the thirty-three year Visit?
From the Nativity, we learned that God is humble. At the beginning of the thirty-three year Visit, the Son of God entered our world at Bethlehem. To accurately represent the hierarchy of the relationship between creator and creature, the Son of God ought to have entered the world on a level high above us as the heavens are high above the earth. However, He did not so haughtily enter the world. He entered the world on the same level as us - an equal to us in our humanity - a partner with us in our suffering. He did not claim superiority to us but equality with us. God rubbed elbows with us. They say God pitched His tent with us. The Son of God came not in power. The Son of God came not in wealth. The Son of God came in poverty and weakness. Love took flesh in a manger inconspicuously in the boondocks of time and space.
Rejoice in the humility of God!
From God doing the job themselves instead of delegating it to a subordinate, we learn the importance God placed on the love note delivered to us at Bethlehem and the guarantee of its genuineness delivered to us at Calvary. At Bethlehem, the Son of God became, like us, a creature who suffers. Suffering is our native tongue. Suffering is the only universal language that survived the confounding of languages that took place at Babel. God became a creature who suffers at Bethlehem to speak to us in our native tongue at Calvary. Speaking to us in our native tongue makes sure there is no misunderstanding. At Calvary, the Son of God gave us the guarantee that the love note delivered to us thirty-three years earlier at Bethlehem was genuine. How did the Son of God guarantee the genuineness of the love note? His love for us survived the torture and death we inflicted upon Him. If His love for us were counterfeit, it would have faded as we tortured Him and died when we killed Him. But it did not. It survived. Its survival is the guarantee of its genuineness.
Rejoice in the love note delivered to us at Bethlehem!
Rejoice in the guarantee of genuineness of the love note delivered to us at Calvary!
From His feeding the hungry and healing the sick, we learned that God is kind.
Rejoice in the kindness of God!
From His survival after we tortured and killed Him, we learned that God is omnipotent. Let me add something that some may consider scandalous about the Resurrection. The real miracle of the Resurrection is not that He defeated death. Indeed, the defeat of death was an awesome display of His omnipotence. However, the real miracle of the Resurrection is the survival of His love for us. He continues to love us nonetheless even though we tortured and killed Him
Rejoice in the omnipotence of God!
From the survival of His love for us, we learned that the very essence of divinity itself is indestructible love for us. The dial that controls His love for us is in His hands not ours; it is set to the highest degree and it is locked in place. Our wickedness toward Him did not extinguish His love for us or reduce it by even the slightest degree. We committed the sin of sins against Him, yet He forgave us. We impaled Him on the sharp hook of salvation while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable with the same insouciance with which a fisherman impales live bait on a sharp hook. Yet, He loves us nonetheless. He loves us nonetheless! Like silver, we tested Him in the fiery furnace and he emerged with His heart still filled to the brim with love for us. Buckets of blood spilled through the wounds we opened in His body with lash, thorns, nails and spear. On the cataract of blood, His life exited His body. But not a drop - not a drop - of His love for us spilled. Throughout His unholy baptism in the boiling cauldron of suffering into which we immersed Him, He clung to His love for us and His father, held tight and did not let go. He clung with the crazy, vice-like grip of the drowning man who clings to a life preserver while adrift in the raging ocean during a fierce storm after his ship had sunk. His love for us and His love for His father were His life preserver. Love was the Son of God's only hope. The Son of God trusted love and love returned His trust.
Rejoice in the indestructibility of God's love for us!
Behold above to learn how you can extrapolate from the thirty-three year Visit to insights about the nature of God.
Rejoice in the beauty of the nature of God!
The tendency of the contemporary Church, however, is to make a different kind of extrapolation. The tendency of the contemporary Church is to extrapolate from the thirty-three year Visit to rules of conduct to govern our behavior here on earth as we make our escape on the escape route from godlessness to God. Theses extrapolations are legitimate but they distract our attention from the insights about the nature of God. The primary purpose of the thirty-three year Visit was to demonstrate to us - not just tell us in words - the sweetness of paradise. The contemporary Church has divorced itself from the primary purpose of the Visit. The contemporary Church no longer makes these insights the topic of Catholic conversation. Instead, the contemporary Church harps and harps and harps on how we ought to behave. The contemporary Church prefers its role as a government that tries to rule us to its role as a Church that introduces us to God and God to us. We do not need another little Caeser. We need a big God. The thinking of the contemporary Church is all about regulation - its official code of conduct and not about revelation - what we know about the nature of God and how do we know it. What a distortion of priorities!
During His thirty-three year Visit, the Son of God painted an incontrovertible self-portrait of divinity so the children of Adam and Eve would have absolutely no doubt about the nature of God. God admonished us in the Ten Commandments to not make representations of them. Why? God knew that any representation of them made by human hands would be inferior to the representation of them that the Son of God would give us at Calvary. Any representation of the nature of God made before Calvary or after Calvary must yield to the representation - the self-portrait - that God gave to us at Calvary.
What other insights has God given us that are not about optimizing our behavior as we make our escape from godlessness to paradise?
From a life in godlessness, we learn that the serpent lied to us - godlessness falls far short of the representation of it that the serpent painted for Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
Rejoice that reality shatters the illusion!
From the brevity of life in godlessness, we learn that God is merciful. God could legitimately be viewed as a sadist if God kept us in the shit hole of godlessness longer than a lifetime. That God does not speaks to God's mercy.
Rejoice that life in godlessness is short and God is merciful!
From the persistence over time and propagation across space of the good news of great joy despite its entering our world so long ago and so far away - in the boondocks of time and space - we learn that God is active in our world and keeps the memory of the thirty-three year Visit alive primarily through the Mass but in other ways as well.
Rejoice that God is still active in the world!
The sourness of godlessness and the sweetness of paradise create a potential difference. All that was needed to induce the current of salvation to flow was a conductor. The most Holy Trinity placed the Son of God between the world of godlessness and the world of paradise to serve as the conductor. The current of salvation flows through Him. Nobody comes to the Father except through Him. He is the bridge between godlessness and God. He is the way, etc. Through the bloody wounds we opened in the body of Christ with lash, thorns, nails and spear, the current of salvation flows. The current of salvation carries us from godlessness into the loving embrace of God. The Son of God is the sweetness of paradise. Like honey for the bees, the sweetness pulls us toward paradise and through its entrance.
Rejoice in the sweetness of paradise!
During the thirty-three Visit and at other times, God gave us foundations upon which we can confidently rest conclusions about their nature. These foundation are great gifts that God has given us. A humble, kind, merciful, omnipotent God whose love for us is indestructible. Wow! How do I enlist? Where do I sign up? How do I join the kingdom of an all-powerful king who loves me so much?
Rejoice in the foundations of faith!
As you can see for yourselves, there are plenty of other topics for conversation other than the official code of conduct of the Church. The official code of conduct of the Church is only an aspect of Christianity. It is one aspect of Christianity but not the only aspect of Christianity. It deals with the optimization of our behavior as we make our journey in the new exodus from godlessness to God. It is not the most important aspect of Christianity. Other aspects of Christianity are more important - much more important.
Rejoice in the multiple aspects of the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God!
Johnny Cash wrote a song entitled, 'A Boy Named Sue'. It is about the problems that arose in the life of a boy whose parents named him, Sue. Sue meets his dad at the end of the song and finally gets the explanation of why his dad stuck him with the name, Sue.
"Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you "Sue.'"
The son understood and reconciled with His dad but the ending of the song is still telling.
"I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, now and then,
Every time I try and every time I win,
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him
Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!"
These two verses sum up the problem of the Church's morbid obsession with its official code of conduct. The Church as demonstrated above has plenty of other topics to talk about with the children of Adam and Eve. The official code of conduct of the Church is Sue. Talk about anything else but not about the boy named, Sue!
Rejoice in the talent of Johnny Cash!
To reinvigorate a dying Church, we must start the conversation about God - not about the Church's official code of conduct. We must reacquaint the children of Adam and Eve with God, the escape, the escape route, the holy places that define it, the sweetness of paradise, the sourness of godlessness and the current of salvation. These topics are the golden thread that weaves its way through the motions we Catholics go through as we seek God. These topics give meaning to the motions. These topics put Catholics in the deep end of the pool that holds our knowledge of God. These topics give our shallowness depth.
But it must be a conversation and not the same old monotonous monologue. What good is a radio station to which nobody tunes in? The Church needs to become interactive. It must stop playing solitaire and start playing poker. The old Church held the opinion that knowledge about God flows down hill from the clergy to the laity. The laity were the students and the clergy were the teachers. This is a misconception. This model no longer works. Moreover, there is a better more accurate model. God is the teacher and both clergy and laity are the students. We are engaged in the enterprise of exploring the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God together. Let me emphasize the together, non-hierarchical aspect of the enterprise. God does not give the clergy a monopoly over holiness. It does not drip down from them to us. The laity can teach the clergy a thing or two about holiness. The new Church must discard the robes of arrogance and become as humble as the Son of God at Bethlehem. In the give and take of a conversation, the strengths and weaknesses of our thinking bubble up to the surface. Only when we involve ourselves in the conversation, do we develop a sense of ownership in the topic of the conversation.
The monologue that the priest gives us at Mass is the worst thing ever to happen to the Church - unless it becomes a part of the conversation. When a sermon is part of the conversation, the whole parish makes the conversation their own. A sermon can be leaven for the flour if it is part of the conversation. When a sermon is divorced from the conversation, however, it is the dead fig tree that does not bear fruit. Feedback makes priests better preachers - it hones their skills. Unchallenged, the priestly monologue typically achieves, at most, mediocrity. We do not want mediocrity, do we? Mediocrity will not resuscitate the Church.
I once took part in the discussions on a blog of a seminary located on the east coast. Apparently, they did not like my feedback so they closed down all comments. Their antipathy to engaging in a conversation typifies the sclerotic, one way, uninteresting mindset of the old moribund Church.
The morbid obsession of the Church with its official code of conduct must be cured. It must be dialed back. Air must be given to the other aspects of Christianity to stop them from suffocating.
Here is a challenge. Here is the gauntlet I throw on the ground. Change the topic of the conversation. Change it to revelation from regulation. Stop telling the children of Adam and Eve how to behave. Start telling them about the nature of God. See what happens. Engage in the common enterprise of exploring the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God as equals. Enter into the enterprise with the same humility as Jesus at Bethlehem. Go on safari together. Explore. See where it takes you.
By failing to make the topic of the Catholic conversation about the nature of God, God has become a stranger to us. We do not know the living God. It is time to show the children of Adam and Eve that God is our friend.
The golden thread of conversation about God saturates the holy places with meaning. It ties everything together into a coherent whole. The Church must engage in the conversation about God. It must enter the fray. It is now or never.