Discussion Thought of the Day:
12 After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. “Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. 13 “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. 14 I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. 16 I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. 17 Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice! John 13:12-17 (TEV)
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” 13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14 so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” 15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.” 16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
Matthew 15:12-20 (NLT)
“Today how can anyone deny the fact that some men of the church are in a state of moral ruin? The careerism and the temptation to worldliness that the successor of which Peter speaks so often are very real evils. Some people imagine that they are products of the pope’s imagination. Alas , clerical narcissism is not just a literary theme. The sickness can be deep-seated.
In order to turn the tide, we must first reform our interior life. The church depends on the purity of our souls.” (1)
The quote in blue comes from a book, basically an enhanced interview with a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Africa. His story is a remarkable blend of suffering and hope, of wisdom born from times of real persecution, and a desire to see Christ. This is the story of a man who came from a village in the middle of nowhere, became a priest and bishop in a place where his predecessors were jailed and murdered. His dependence on God was tried in a way we can’t quite imagine, here safe and comfortable in the USA.
His critique of leadership in his church is accurate, and perhaps even more accurate in the Protestant church, and in my comparatively little corner of the church universal known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. His presentation of where hope is found? It is also I believe accurate.
If the church is spoken of as being immoral, most would assume we are talking about either sexual immorality or fiscal impropriety. I am not naive enough to deny that exists, but the Cardinal speaks of something just as devastating. A sense of careerism, and a sense of clerical narcissism pervades the church today.
We see the results in the church, as parishes are closing, and others in steep decline. Where men are not entering programs that lead to ordination. Some will blame these things on finances, others on the decline of births among sections of the population. Some will say the decline is because they don’t appear to have the right sense of mission, or the appearance of the church, how it looks and sounds is not up to an ideal.
This is a sickness, and it is not imaginary. These attempts to fix it are attempts to clean up the appearance, to clean up the exterior, while the defiled nature is left intact. That is why a pastor or priest can easily fall into the sin of careerism, can quickly abandon the basin and towel and find the office and title, far away from the parish so appealing. (though we might on occasion return to give somone else a break)
So where is the hope? Cardinal Sarah pointed out these challenges given St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis, and their focus on the interior life. To realize that the church does depend on the purity of souls. Not pure by their own work, but by a interior life that is simply depending on Christ Jesus.
There in meditating on His work as we are united to Him in Baptism,; it begins the cleaning fo the inside. There as we kneel and are given the body and blood in the Eucharist, we find ourselves being cleansed still. There as we deal with our brokenness and confess it, as we hear God absolving us, we find that the old nature has been nailed to the cross. That the old Adam was drowned in those baptismal waters, that we are free and able to die to self, to give our bodies over as living sacrifices.
This is where the church finds it hope. Not in men who are pure by the sweat of their own brow, but by men who are broken, yet, who find themselves at the cross. Who are drawn to Jesus who is lifted up, and find themselves being healed, who realize that healing is needed by those around them. The purity found in walking with Christ, in meditating on that which He has promised and accomplished.
The interior life is not something of our own making or sustained by our internal strength. It is the work of poiema found in Eph. 210, the work of art created in our lives by Christ. That is where the church finds its hope, for in shepherds who are so broken, who are the chief of sinners, if in them we see God at work, then the church has hope. As in their own healing they begin to wash others feet, as in their healing they bring healing to others the hope is magnified. The church then hears hope, It comes to know and share that hope with those who are around them.
Our church needs to be defibrillated, but that can only happen as hearts stone hearts are broken and removed, and hearts of flesh, filled with the Holy Sprit as God promised He would.
It is knowing the promise of God, the love and mercy we find as Christ is revealed, and depending on it, that we will find the hope for the church. May its shepherds learn to cry out what they teach others to.cry out. LORD HAVE MERCY!
(1) God or Nothing Robert Cardinal Sarah, Ignatius Press 2015 pg.100