Our reflection this week flows from two interesting scriptures. The first is from the book of Numbers. The people of Israel were still en-route to the Promised Land when the Lord called them to gather at the meeting tent outside the camp. God took a portion of the Spirit that had been given to Moses, and distributed it among seventy-two men chosen to be elders. As soon as the Spirit rested on them they began to prophecy.
However, two of the proposed elders had remained back at the camp, and so were not part of the assembly at the meeting tent. But they, too, began to prophecy! Joshua heard of this and quickly told Moses to stop them from prophesying. Moses’ answer was simple, logical, and spiritually sound. “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people were prophets! Would that the Lord would bestow his Spirit on them all.”
In the Gospel, Jesus responded to a report that someone was driving out demons in his name. The person reporting tried to stop the exorcist because he wasn’t a follower. Jesus took the same approach as Moses. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
These two scriptures prompt us to ponder the role of the Spirit in the Church and in our lives. But we can’t realistically think about the Spirit or the Church right now without acknowledging the crisis we’re in.
We’ve been hearing about abuse cases for years, and we’re been The Pastor’s Reflections 2 Come Join Us! Sunday October 14th In the Parish Courtyard Following the 11:00 AM Family Mass 12:00 PM until 3:00 PM Music Face Painting Games for the Kids Beer -$2 Soft drinks – $1 Sausage, sauerkraut, and a roll – $3 Hot dogs, sauerkraut, and a roll – $3 shaken by each account. But this year, the cover has been lifted, and we’ve looked straight down into the pot. We’re reeling from what we’ve seen, not a case here or there, but thousands! The suffering and angst we feel is caused not only by the horror of the abuses, but by the knowledge of frequent cover-ups by the hierarchy and people in authority. We’ve seen dioceses claim bankruptcy because they weren’t able to meet settlements for victims. Only last week we learned of a 27.5 million dollar settlement made by the Diocese of Brooklyn!
As I was writing this reflection the words of Dylan Thomas kept ringing in my ears. “Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.” We all hear the rage loud and clear – rage against the church. But what is this “church” we rage against? We need to think about this.
Right now we’re beginning to see two churches, or maybe one Church with two very different faces. One is the church of pomp and circumstance. It’s the church whose structure is hierarchical. It has laws and a military-like organization. It’s the church of stunning structures of brick and mortar, and gold and marble. Maybe we can call it the worldly church.
The other church is the church that’s poor in spirit. It’s the church that has always suffered because it always pushed against injustice, and prejudice, and war. It’s the church of the martyrs. Maybe we can call it the struggling church, the church determined to liberate itself from the corrupting power of the world, the church of the beatitudes.
These two churches have marched side by side since Jesus returned to the Father. They’ve both flourished in their own way – the worldly church with its clear, hierarchical structures, and church of the beatitudes with its heart open to the Spirit. They often butted heads, but they also complimented each other.
Right now both churches are caught in a whirlwind. From within the storm we hear calls for a married clergy, and a priesthood that welcomes both men and women, straight and gay. Pleas can be heard for blessings on same sex marriages. Perhaps right now, the loudest cries are calling for a reformation of the hierarchy and its structures.
It’s ironic that in the midst of this terrifying crisis we’re hearing alienated people pleading for a place in the Church. This strange phenomenon brings us back to today’s scriptures. They focus an important spiritual principle. The Spirit is always with us, especially in times of crisis, but we must show deference to the Spirit. The Spirit can’t be contained or second-guessed. The Spirit is more powerful and wiser than any structure, tradition or leader. The Spirit moves freely into and through structures and hearts. The Spirit tears down and rebuilds. The Spirit purifies, transforms, and heals. The Spirit puts to death and brings to life.
As we navigate, confused and angry, through these dark times, we must trust the Spirit to see us through it. That means we have to be open to judgment and healing. We have to be brave enough to face the truth. We have to mourn. We have to come together. We have to believe, without any doubt, that Spirit offers peace to those brave enough to accept it.