Is it me or does an unfortunate nosy-neighbor strain sometimes creep into our beloved mother Church? As I commented here the other day:
“I’m not wildly interested in hearing about other people’s sins but I’m always interested in looking more closely at my own: my fear, my self-righteousness, my hardness of heart, my terrible pride, my abysmal lack of charity. All the things that lead to loneliness and isolation and the desperate hunger that lead to wanting to anesthetize the pain with sex, food, booze, shopping, drugs, porn…I would like to hear more homilies on the beauty of the Narrow Gate! That Christ calls us to come fully awake, fully alive, fully open to joy…That doesn’t come from following a rule book and even less does it come from constantly peering around to make sure everyone else is following the rule book. Of COURSE when you’re awake in love, you’re not going to cheat on your spouse. Of COURSE you’re not going to be frittering away your life energy on porn.
And of course you are going to feel your own pain and loneliness and hunger and fear very deeply, so deeply that at times it seems it cannot be borne. You’re going to be pruned into compassion. That is our whole value as followers of Christ: we allow our suffering to make us available and vulnerable to the suffering of the world; to the terrible sexual and emotional wound at the heart of mankind”…
I thought about that for awhile. I started thinking about the kind of homily I'd give if I were a priest. Now don't get me wrong: I love priests. I have no desire to be a priest. Priests are doing just fine. But as we enter Holy Week (during which our poor priests are going to be vastly overworked), just for the heck of it, here's the homily I’d give if I were PRIEST FOR A DAY:
"To be a follower of Christ is to participate in the victory of love over fear. And just on the off-chance we've veered from our place at the back of the church with the tax collector, folks, we’re not "following the rules" so we can look good in the eyes of our also-following-the-rules fellow church-goers. Come ON, my brothers and sisters! Those people were the PHARISEES! Those were the people who killed, and who continue to kill, Christ! Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs!
Here’s how you know your life in Christ is bearing fruit:
In spite of your own suffering, loneliness, and pain, you're welcoming. You're warm. You're kind (or you're at least shooting for those things, and not just toward the people who can "do" something for you, but everyone). You’re in immediate, intimate contact with a few active drunks, someone who’s headed into or has just emerged from a psych ward, an incarcerated felon or two, several porn addicts, a young girl who’s pregnant out of wedlock, several women who have had abortions and are in silent, excruciating mourning, at least one stripper, several people in desperately unhappy marriages, about to be evicted from their apartments, or dying, a minimum-wage worker or two, at least three people who are certifiably insane, at least one U.S. Army chaplain and one peace activist (even better if they’re both priests and the latter is in solitary confinement in a federal prison), several homeless people (the more the better) and a whole TON of gay people, transgender folks, and sex and love addicts of all stripes...
If that’s not part of your circle--in my case, that IS my circle--you're not getting out enough. If you aren’t sharing your struggles and heart with that circle, at the very least in prayer, something is wrong. Because those are the people Christ hung out with. Because “those people” are us: the people, the only people, suffering, struggling humans. Because if we’re going to be inviting people to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, we sure as hell better be inviting each other into our homes, our tables, our hemorrhaging, conflicted hearts.
If you're afraid all that is going to "lower your standards," you're very much mistaken. There's no lower standard than self-righteous fear.
Share the joy, man. Tell a joke. Lighten up. Eat a meal with some friends. Exchange stories of how you’re walking toward the light. One morning you’ll wake up and realize you are 'following the rules" and then some. You’re not going to Mass just on Sundays, but every other day—because there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. You’re not going to just three AA meetings a week, but five—plus a trip to the jail to talk to the drunks there. You’ll realize you haven't added it up but you're probably giving away at least ten percent of my money. You’ll realize, with total wonder: I have not watched porn, masturbated, had sex outside marriage, or flirted with someone inappropriate for weeks, months, years…
You’ll realize: I actually let that guy who cut me off in traffic yesterday off the hook. I actually felt a stab of what felt suspiciously like affection toward my mother-in-law, my junkie son, my sex-worker neighbor, the Marine Corps soldier, the bleeding-heart liberal (depending on your stance, one of these is sure to be difficult), my boss (bonus points if you're self-employed), the young girl who, from a one-night-stand, is having a baby…
You’ll realize: Oh. THIS is what Christ meant! I don’t have to be boiled in oil or have my eyes gouged out. This is laying down my life: this sharing, this exchange, this richness, this mercy, this mystery.
You’ll realize that love is a way more tender--and way more exacting Master--than fear.
|THE CASBAH CAFE|
LET'S HAVE COFFEE!