On this rock and with this stone

The saying, “Preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other,” is most often attributed to Karl Barth, though there is no indication of a particular speech or writing in which he actually made the statement.  However, he often spoke of the need for people of the faith to connect everyday events with biblical principles.  He warned “the Church” that if its preaching simply repeated the same themes over and over, it could become irrelevant in the lives of people.

The Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, educates and serves more people than any institution on our planet.  The Catholic School system offers unequaled elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education around the world.  Catholic Charities, Cor Unum, and Catholic Relief Services responds to the needs of people regardless of denomination.

The attention given to the selection of a pope by the media must befuddle religious leaders of other denominations.  Major media outlets offer live reports, special interviews, and daily commentary — mostly positive — beginning with the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI [on Feb. 11th] that he would resign the papacy.  Immediately speculation began as to who the 266th pope {265th or 267th might depend on who is counting} might be.

AND NOW, WE AS A CHURCH must take advantage of the position and attention afforded to us and offer inspirational leadership that gives meaning and purpose to all people —— or squander the moment, and take a step toward becoming a quaint hold-over-institution  from the past.

The Church is in to be in the world, without being “of” the world.  The Church is called to shape society and not to be shaped by society …… but what does that really mean?  Certainly truth is not merely a matter of opinion polls and surveys.  But, at the same time, if the Spirit is given to the Church — to the CHURCH — cannot men and women of sincere faith, educated men and women reveal God’s word from the pew, from the conference room, from the food-kitchen, from the college campus,  from the kitchen table, and from the sidewalk?  Is divine wisdom given only to the 115 Cardinal electors?

If popular opinion is “correct” and if popular opinion is actually revelation, then how does the Church adapt?  If popular opinion is, “in-correct”, then how does the Church form the mind and heart of the populace to “think” and thus act differently?  No one can deny that a number of church teachings are “believed” by far less than half of those who call themselves Catholic.

Pope Benedict XVI said that he no longer had the strength — physical, mental, or spiritual — to lead the Church in this day and into the future.  To 115 men from around the world came the task, the challenge, of selecting someone to lead a Church with 1.2 billion followers around the world.  [The world’s population is 6.7 billion people … thus depending where you live, it will seem like everybody is Catholic …. or, no one is Catholic.]

In the United States, more than two-thirds of people 19-35 believe that priests should marry and that same-gender couples should have the right to marry.  These 19-35 year olds are to be the future of the Roman Church —- or to be a large number of former Catholics.  While many 55 years of age and older find their consciences pricked by the young priests who teach about the “sin”of birth control, very few of these 19-35 year olds give any serious attention to such preaching.  Yes, more and more young people are paying attention to the anti-abortion preaching, but they also yearn to hear preaching against racism…..which they seldom, if ever hear with more than a passing reference.  Catholic Clergy are at pro-life [i.e. anti-abortion] rallies, but are rarely seen in significant numbers at MLK celebrations or speaking against housing developments that in effect segregate.

Listen to the words from this weekend’s scripture from Isaiah [43:16-21]:

Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.

“I am doing something new!  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Clearly this scripture speaks to each of us …. God says he is doing something new — could it be that he wants to do something new within each of us.  It speaks to our hearts ….. new things are being done …. either we perceive it and understand or we fail to perceive it and miss out on the new and cling to the old.  Remember the magi who saw the new …. and the majority who missed it.

Without a doubt, many people are hoping that the new Pope will hold on to the old ways of the past … reinforce the traditions.  But, I would believe that most are hoping that, while standing on a proud tradition, the new Pope will reflect a joy that comes from faith ….an enthusiasm for life … a compassion for others ….a magnetism that will draw others to faith and not merely to public appearances.

Was Jesus a traditionalist or a reformer?  Was he a reformed-traditionalist?  Did not Jesus himself do something new?  Did not Jesus challenge the life-less traditions of the past?   Did he not say that “the Sabbath was for man and not man for the Sabbath!”? He respected the law, but he said the greatest of all laws was to love with one’s heart, mind, and soul — and one’s neighbor as oneself.  He recognized that people do not always agree, but he said instead of an “eye for an eye” … we should pray for our enemies and turn the other cheek?  He went against societal dictates by sitting with the women at the well … and then there is the matter in today’s Gospel selection.  [John 8: 1-11]  Jesus did not denounce the law, rather he offered a nuanced teaching regarding the law.

The LAW, according to Moses, called for the woman caught in adultery — not the man of course — to be stoned to death.  Jesus invited the one without sin to cast the first stone.  He did not condemn the woman, he did not relegate her to second class status … he did demand that she wear a BIG “A” on her forehead.  He challenged her to go forth and to sin no more.

So now for us …..

[1] Regardless of who is chosen as Pope … the Church will change … because no two people are exactly alike.  The discussions of the Cardinals over the past week have caused certain issues to come to the attention of all …. and all are watching …  So … how are we to be new?  How will we be Church in a new way as individuals and as parishes?

[2] To those who preach the gospel — is there renewed energy?  hope?  discouragement?  what does the Spirit say to you in this different time?  how will ministry be different for you?  how will YOUR leadership be different?

[3] Does the Gospel call us to forgive those who think differently than us?  Do we walk around with the stone in our hand?  We won’t throw it, but we still hold on to it.  Are there those we have judged harshly?

[4] Philippians [3:8-14] calls us to strain forward, and to continue our pursuit of a goal.  What is your personal goal for the coming month?  What is it that you are pursuing?  Do we pursue the preserving of the faith or the proclamation of the faith?

Our Church was built on the ROCK of faith.  Our faith stands as the ROCK upon which the Church is built.

Each of us holds a stone or several stones.  We can use the stone to break a glass — or to join with others to build a wall that divides — or to build a road, a path into the future.  There are 1.2 billion stones/rocks for the future of the Church.

Rocks …. stones … us.


About thegospelforliving

Retired Catholic Priest - now serving the community as a paralegal and charter school consultant.
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1 Response to On this rock and with this stone

  1. Bud Wagner says:

    Your thoughts are so refreshing. Thank you for all that you are doing with this. Bud

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