Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Pillar of Salt" vs. "Salt of the Earth"

Ordaining two priests for the diocese of Stockton last month, Bishop Stephen Blaire put a twist on the usual "salt and light" message in his homily, offering a rather frank assessment of the state of the church as the Californian prelate sees it.

There are some in the Church today who do not look forward in hope with the eyes of faith but tend to be preoccupied with looking back in some kind of nostalgia for a Church they never experienced prior to the Second Vatican Council. I encourage you to study the history of the Church as a living and developing tradition and not to look back as Lot’s wife did or you might end up being a pillar of salt rather then the “salt of the earth.”

Those looking back want to give to the Church new forms of triumphalism, juridicism, and clericalism. The triumphalist wants to exercise authority through aggressive condemnation and excommunication and believes that the Church not only has the truth but also all the answers to every modern dilemma. Christ is indeed the Truth but we must seek out with humility and in light of the Gospel how to respond to the many and varied demands of living in today’s world. We are a servant Church which proclaims the truth in love. We do not impose the gospel on the world. We seek to persuade by grace.

The juridicist searches out laws new or old to justify personal positions or ideologies in the Church. Especially they like to focus on liturgical practices. They incline to creating unnecessary hoops for people to jump through. The Church, of course, needs law to insure good order. But the purpose of all laws in the Church is the same as for all the works of the Church: “propter homines and propter nostram salutem” - for us, for our good and for our salvation.

The clericalist exaggerates the authority of the priest creating a new authoritarianism. The clericalist operates as if the priest is entitled to special status and privilege in the Church and in society. He gives little merit to collaboration with the laity. The ordained priest, however, represents Christ the Head and Good Shepherd of the Church. As Head of the Church Jesus came not to be served but to serve. As Good Shepherd he gave His life for the flock. The good priest patterns his life on Jesus the servant of God and remembers that the whole Church (Head and members) is the Body of Christ.

I have always treasured the words of my first pastor when I was newly ordained: We are here to serve the people and to do it with a touch of class....

After being a priest for forty years I realize each day how terribly weak and inadequate I am. God has anointed us as priests to represent Christ and to serve in His name. So often we blur this image, but in a marvelous and mysterious manner God accomplishes His will though our ministry. “Do you love me?” the risen Jesus asks us as He did Peter. Like Peter we respond: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus says to us, in spite of all our denials, in spite of all our limitations, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.”