I love my Church. I enjoy reading papal encyclicals, studying the Bible, listening to prayerful music (everything from a capella chant to modern rock). I’m far from perfect, but I am trying to follow Christ.
I am considerably less fond of my local parish. I get tired of fighting over whether I or the lousy Religious Education program have the right to teach my children. (“But she won’t know the First Communion song!” protested one person. I’m sorry, is that in the GIRM? I don’t recall reading about an official “First Communion song” that’s required for the sacrament.) The sheer blankness of our church (white ceiling, nearly bare walls, no stained glass, tabernacle hidden around a corner behind the altar) is depressing. My husband leaned over to me during a particularly notable meditation hymn this morning and whispered, “Puppies are cuddly, puppies are cute…”, a reference to a truly (intentionally) awful bit of singing in Veggie Tales’ Esther. I have sat through previous music choices that could most easily be explained as resembling “The Rainbow Connection,” the heavy-on-the-banjo song Kermit the Frog is singing at the opening of The Muppet Movie. The organist once played “Everything’s All Right Now” from Jesus Christ, Superstar during communion (no, I am not making this up; I really wish I was!); when we pointed this out to the priest, he mildly said, “Well, it would depend which song from the musical she played…” (If you are fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with that particular musical, the key points are that it denies the divinity of Christ and has him sleeping with Mary Magdalene.) I won’t even go into the lyrics of “Pass My Love Around,” a frequent choice for what is supposed to be the somber, penitential, but hopeful “Lamb of God” section of the liturgy.
And we’re known as one of the more liturgically conservative parishes in the area.
This morning, however, took the cake. The sermon was a long, mushy defense best titled, “Can’t we all just get along?” We were chastised for infighting among Catholics. (True; we should always be charitable.) We should stop arguing about who is a “good” Catholic and who is not. (Um… wait a minute… that sounds suspiciously like a swipe at people (including bishops) who have publicly denounced “Catholic” pro-abortion politicians.) Some like modern music, some think we should go back to Latin, turning the altars around, and chant! (Well, it would beat “The Rainbow Connection!”) Some think this, some think that, some say the Church should liberalize our stance on contraception… (First time we’ve ever heard contraception mentioned from the pulpit in ten years (except for the pro-life mass, but that was just for the pro-life committee), and all that was said was that many think it should be declared not a sin?! How about a reminder that it is still a sin whether you like that or not?).
So, we need to stop this infighting, the pastor told us.
On a strangely related note, the morning paper brought an opinion piece from Cal Thomas, “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” Thomas discussed the Episcopalian Church’s decision to end the ban on ordaining more active gays. After the brouhaha over Gene Robinson, and the resultant exodus of moral conservatives, the Episcopalians decided to sidestep the issue by simply not ordaining any more gays for a while. Now, they’ve decided they need to be inclusive and wholeheartedly embrace those living homosexual lifestyles by ordaining them. “Inclusivity,” Thomas pointed out, “has nothing to do with the foundational truths set forth in Scripture.”
My pastor would beg to differ. Looking at today’s Gospel reading (the feeding of the multitudes with five loaves and two fish), he concluded that Jesus fed everyone without asking them about their personal behavior or beliefs. This feeding created a unity, “Even if they were not themselves aware of it.” And the important thing is this unity, right?
Hmm. I don’t have a degree in theology, so maybe I’m just not being nuanced enough or something, but I seem to remember Jesus later criticizing the crowds for following Him only for food. He seems to have thought that the “unity” of having eaten the miraculous meal together wasn’t enough: He wanted their hearts and minds.
In John 6, Jesus tells the crowds they have to eat his body to have true life within them. Many of those who had followed him to that point abandon Jesus, grumbling, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” Darn it, there’s that exclusivity thing again: those who rejected the teaching left. Jesus did not chase after them calling, “Hey, it’s ok; you don’t have to believe that part if you don’t feel like it! Just stay united in physical nearness, if not belief; that’s enough!” No, Jesus turned to the apostles and asked, “Do you want to leave, too?” Peter answered that they knew Jesus was the Messiah, so where else would they go? The goal was unity with Jesus, so Peter would try to understand truth.
Unity is wonderful. Buying it by excusing sin is not (and it would only produce a false, superficial unity, anyways).
Pretending that sin is not sin is neither charitable nor Christian. Paul does not admonish us, “If your brother offend you, just ignore it for the sake of unity.” No, he tells us to charitably confront his sin, then take it to the church, then, if he still fails to repent, turn him out of the Church until he brings himself back to unity.
In order to repent, someone has to know he/she has sinned. If ignorant, how can the sinner repent? If the sinner doesn’t repent, how will he reach Heaven? What of anyone who failed to warn him he was on the way to hell? Do you think we’ll get off on the excuse, “Well, we were trying to keep our numbers up and didn’t want to scare anyone off” or “But it isn’t *nice* to tell someone their life choices are wrong! That’s judgemental!”?
We have a word for it: irenicism, the chasing of unity at all costs by constructing a lowest-common-denominator kind of peace. Sort of a, “Well, we all believe in Jesus, so can’t we all just *love* and forget about sins and doctrinal arguments and get along?” We don’t all agree; we need to acknowledge that and continue the search for truth in all its (His) fullness.
Maybe I’ve been beating around the bush. Maybe the question should be, “Unity with WHO?“ Each other? I’ll join a garden club if that’s all I want.
Heaven is to be in full communion with God, who is Truth. One Truth, not many.
To be within the unity of the Church is to be conforming our hearts and minds to Christ, not just to each others’ opinions.
Pretending that the false unity of many different “truths” is the goal ignores the real goal: Heaven.
(Where I suspect Jesus Christ, Superstar will not be on the playlist.)