It’s April, the days are shorter and the fire threat in my little part of the world has died off for another year. I’m about halfway through the book I’m writing – still unnamed – and, like a distance runner, I’m wondering if I can ever ‘dig deep’ enough to see my way to the end or will I give up.I’m writing what I think is called a focused memoir, with the focus on vocation, my vocation first expressed in religious life then detouring into other areas, some of them not always to my liking, but all of them steps along the way. I think I could do with a cheer squad while I keep putting the words together: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now for an Easter offering. Locked Doors is a Gospel reflection for the second Sunday of Easter. I know, I’m a couple of days late! You’ll find another seven for the following weeks on the Connexions page.
My youngest grandson is crawling – well, more like swimming across the floor, exploring lots of interesting and touchable things. Which meant that before he and his parents came to lunch on Easter Sunday we needed to install a portable gate to lock off stairs that headed down. It led me to reflect on all the locking that I do – the car, a computer password, the doors of the house, windows locks to comply with insurance regulations, a swipe card that unlocks money at the ATM, and so on. I closed off the stairs because I feared Jack would fall down them. I lock everything else because I fear others who might want to harm me or take what is mine.
Locking a door gives one a feeling of security. The Apostles gathered behind doors that were closed and locked because they feared, probably rightly, that they would be hunted and executed like Jesus. They talked endlessly and in circles about what they were beginning to believe was Jesus’ resurrection. The implications were beginning to dawn on them and they didn’t know how to handle them.
Which sounds like the Catholic Church right now. There are constant allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, official investigations, court cases and widespread scandal. The institution that we call the Church doesn’t really handle accusations and criticism well.
If I image the Church as a building then it always seems to be locked: locked in by rules and male authority figures, secrecy, celibacy and somehow always being right. Extreme efforts are made to protect the Church and avoid scandal, which has led to cover-ups and increased scandal. The media, which often tries to set the agenda, cries out for transparency and commissions articles about a deep-seated problem Church problem – the abuse of power. When the Church is under siege it metaphorically locks the doors and windows and hunkers down hoping the shouting crowds will go away.
If you lock doors then others are kept out –women, locked out of any possibility of full membership or Asian and African Catholics whose traditional culture is generally passed over in favour of European religious traditions. Bishops complain that their regional authority has been hijacked by bossy Vatican officials.
The Catholic Church is a divine institution, run by humans. There will be sin and eventually the media will find out and report it to the world. As a result good priests can find themselves bracketed with abusers and then feel unsupported by a hierarchy who seem obliged to follow “party lines”. Rightly or wrongly, we ordinary Catholics can feel let down by the Church that we respected and assumed was perfect and unchangeable. We can walk away, and multitudes have, or we can acknowledge that sin is a reality, that power corrupts. Instead of voting with our feet we can face the fact that the Church is a living, breathing organism that makes mistakes. We can remember that we, you and me, are the Church.
If Thomas had not questioned Jesus’ resurrection then maybe we would not have the courage to question unhealthy and unnecessary Church practices. If Thomas had not asked to touch the wounds in Jesus’ body then we would not be free to recognise the reality that the Church in our time is wounded. If anything can get rid of the religiosity that sometimes defines Catholicism it’s recognising the wounds that are caused by greed, the abuse of power, by sin.
I would like my grandchildren to be a living part of a Church that listens rather than denounces, a Church where the Holy Spirit feels at home because everything is not cut and dried, a Church that has the courage to say “We were wrong” and the audacity to face the new and the untried.