“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Luke 10: 2
God knows our planet is in peril. Everywhere we turn there is work to be done. Some advocates for a better world believe that divestment –pulling away from companies that have a vested interest in preserving the status quo–is one path to making change happen. The Gospel readings of the 13th and 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time suggest that perhaps that approach is older than we think. Both call for a radical simplicity and a distancing from ties that hold us back, or anachronistic practices that fly in the face of science and reason.
Last week we were told: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” This week we hear Christ tell his apostles as they set out to spread his message: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.
Follow the Money What does it say about the kind of institutional church we have today when we see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops re-state “the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts” with respect to Obamacare the same week that Cardinal Dolan is found to have moved funds to protect them from possible claims by victims of sexual abuse? How does Cardinal Dolan credibly express concern that not enough is being done to prevent the flow of church funds to “objectionable items” in the healthcare law when he is found to have taken steps secretly, with the unusually swift support of the Vatican, to protect Church funds from the legal claims of victims of the objectionable behavior of predatory priests?
These past weeks have also been filled with fresh news of educators and administrators in Catholic schools being ousted from their jobs because they could no longer deny the truth of their sexual identity. Dr. Bill Hudson. Carla Hale. Christa Dias. Because they wished to publicly affirm the dignity of their commitments to their life partners or the families they have nurtured. Because they wanted to affirm who they are even if the Church will not.
How many more people doing good work are we prepared to lose before the Church begins instead to lose the mentality of arbitrary exclusion?
We have seen thoughtful priests like Fr. Helmut Schüller who come bearing new ideas about how to find laborers for the harvest, turned away from speaking on Church property because the establishment cannot tolerate his challenge to the status quo. Others like Bishop Geoffrey Robinson are marginalized because they call for nothing less than a thorough re-examination of Church culture to root out sexual abuse for good.
Catholics need more than ever to ask ourselves who we are. A wise friend, David Cohen, widely respected for advancing social justice through his work in building legislative coalitions, strengthening democratic institutions and promoting grassroots advocacy, defines his Jewish identity as not so much “observant” as “observing.” It’s a distinction Catholics should find helpful. Being Catholic is surely more complex than having a club membership. Being Catholic should lead us to be observing and responsive to the needs of the community. It’s what we see Jesus do in story after story in the Gospels. He taught us to really see, to reject the letter of the law and grasp its spirit, to reach out and help lift others out of poverty, hunger, pain. Presented with the stultifying edifice of rules by the Pharisees, he often pointed to flaws in its architecture. Every one of his parables led to the foundational teaching: Love your neighbor as yourself. Catholics are called to do no less. We too must find our way through the Byzantine edifice of the institutional church and discover the beating heart of the Gospel of Christ. Part of the good news is that lay organizations, women religious, faithful pastors and some inspired bishops are leading the way.
Faith should always be a struggle. We do not have all the answers we would like to have about life and our place in the world. But we can be sure that it’s time to question our fidelity to the Gospel if we find ourselves dwelling in certainties that privilege us while denying others God’s love and the rights we claim for ourselves.