A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York!  Shakespeare said that in one of his history plays.  More than once the words seemed particularly apt to me this week.  Where I live it is not so much a question of the longing for sun to break through gray clouds after a seemingly endless period of gloom.  The sun shines regularly here.  But there are times when that can’t counter the sadness I feel as I watch the evening news or listen to the complaints of others chatting in line as they wait for the grocery checker.  There seems to be no end to the unfortunate stories.

War seems to be a regular and natural part of life and so are the stories about insurrection and terrorism and suicide bombings that take the lives of civilians and children.  The once suppressed pictures of flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes remind of us the price some pay for freedom and peace.  We weren’t supposed to see those pictures lest we wonder about the morality of our involvement in such conflicts.  Then we could talk about the disgrace of national politics where it seems evident that racism thrives even as does self-serving rather than the consideration of what is best for the people.  It again seems clear that some of the Catholic members of Congress are ignorant of or choose to ignore the Social Gospel of the church.  Granted, in our country there is a separation of church and state, but the moral issues the church’s Social Gospel raise vis-à-vis, the primacy of place of the poor, ought to have some impact on the political decisions made.  A friend remarked the other day that he thought most of the problems that caused the recent shutdown resulted from the fact that the poor class was the one that would benefit from the direction things seemed to be going.  If those benefits were for the upper 1% the outcome would have been different.  That may sound cynical, but not far from the mark.

What is valued most by many today?  Youth.  Power.  Wealth.  Physical beauty.  Judging by the age of some of the wealthiest CEOs and others in that coveted financial bracket, the numbers of those achieving those marks are growing.  I’m not sure about the relationship to this emerging statistic, but that could explain why the number of those young married or otherwise choosing not to be parents so they can live the good life is growing significantly.

The Pew surveys tell us that huge numbers are leaving the Catholic Church either to join other faith communities or not.  The number of former Catholics continues to grow as the numbers of practicing Catholics decline.  The Church is speaking to fewer and fewer.  Some of that decline can be blamed on the abuse scandals; some on the seeming irrelevance of the Church to life lived today.  (Pope Francis’s calling for a poorer church to serve the needs of the poor reverberates with some of those currently lapsed and some are returning.)

Of course some of the ultra-conservatives in the church are decrying Pope Francis as a Non-Pope, a term coined to voice displeasure with the image of a pope who serves rather than allowing himself to be served, a pope who identifies with the poor and choose to be among them, serving their needs, rather than living in and adorning himself with the splendor of previous popes.  He lives in common quarters and drives an old car.  He seems comfortable with the common folk and chooses to speak their language.  Imagine that.  The result is that he adds fodder for those who see him advancing those ideas called for by Vatican Council II that they judge to be among the worst things that happened to the Church.  They seek the restoration of more and more of the church that followed the Council of Trent.  They want the clericalism and the apartness of the church to be preserved even as they want the focus in the liturgical life of the church to be on the transcendence of God rather than God’s imminence.  They seek to return worship spaces (churches) to places for adoration of the Reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle, rather than places where the faithful gather to celebrate Eucharist to experience the transformation of the Bread and Wine and the transformation of the Assembly into the living Body of Christ.  They would seem to want to ignore the definitions of Church that emerged from Vatican II, that the Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God.

There is a lot to pray about these days, isn’t there?  It was in prayer this morning that an idea came to me that sparked this reflection.  The gospels tell us that crowds came out to hear Jesus.  Not all of them were converted by his preaching.  Confronted by the demands of his Good News, many went away shaking their heads, sad because for a moment they had thought he had something of relevance for them, especially the talk about a kingdom.  That translated to wealth and security to many.  When Jesus spoke definitively about embracing poverty, taking up crosses, serving each other rather than being served.  That is not what they wanted.

Then I remembered that Jesus spoke of the impact of the few, about faith the size of a mustard seed, about the bit of yeast causing the mass of dough to rise and I had an aha moment.  We ought to be concerned about the numbers, yes, but we must remember also that it is the power of the few that will make the difference.  Underground churches helped the faith of some survive in difficult times, as did small faith-groups.  The strong sense of community experienced there seemed to give flesh and blood to the Good News and make it practical and real.

As the Liturgy concluded this Sunday the hymn chosen to send us forth spoke volumes on these issues.  Go, make a difference/ you can make a difference in the world.  The power of the individual living the Gospel announced by Jesus continues to transform the world and inspire others to experience God’s love for them and therein find hope.  You can make a difference in the world!

Wouldn’t you know it?  I watched a news program Sunday and there was an amazing story of love transforming, changing the world.  A developmentally disabled lad attends a normal high school.  His disabilities are obvious and could have marked him as an object of ridicule, someone to be teased and bullied.  One of the members of the football team saw things differently.  He encouraged the coach to make the disabled boy a part of the team.  An important game for the team’s standing came up and the score was tied.  One of the team ran the ball to within a yard or two of the goal but before crossing into the end zone, went down on his knee.  The crowd was aghast and hissed and booed.  The players went into formation, this time with the disabled member on the field.  He was the one who received the ball, and shielded by his teammates, ran the ball into the end zone for the score.  The crowd roared their approvals as they experienced something they would never forget.

One of the team was interviewed and asked about his reaction to what the team had done.  Tears coursed down his cheeks as he spoke about the transformation he experienced in that moment.  Before, he said, he thought primarily about himself and his own success.  He saw himself as being above the rest.  But after that play he began to see the importance of the little guy and the disabled.  And, he said, he will never be that person he was before the game, never again.

So, in these dark times, when there is so much that seems to deny the Social Gospel of the Church and the worth of the poor, it is important to catch a glimpse of the light in that darkness.  Be strengthened by the faith community that announces that Gospel and calls you to be transformed, renewed, and sent to be Christ’s presence in the market place.  Pope Francis denies that the true church will be a small chapel where the elite practitioners of the faith will worship.  He says the church is an open space where all are called and all are welcome, invited to know that they are the beloved of God.  He thinks that even atheists who seek to do good can go to heaven.  Some groaned.  But more said, “Wow!  Imagine that!  I could believe that.”

In these dark times, there are reasons to hope and to believe.  So, go, make a difference.  You can make a difference in the world.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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