I am not a big fan of taking the long view. It may sometimes be wise, even necessary, in human terms. But I’m far more attracted by what is probably the most neglected of Jesus’ sayings: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk. 12:49)
The U. S. bishops are meeting in Baltimore this week for their annual get-together. The scuttlebutt is that they will be mostly discussing matters internal to the Church in America. If they were asking my advice – for some reason, they seem to have forgotten to call – I would strongly urge that they begin with a collective session of lectio divina about kindling fires.
I’d also suggest a few other things. To start with, forget about being nice. It doesn’t work. Be gentlemen. Be kind. But forget nice. As learned Latinists, you no doubt know that the word comes from nescius, which means ignorant. It came, early in modern languages, to mean foolish. Today, an idiomatic translation might be: clueless.
Kindness, of course, is a different matter entirely. Our Lord was kind – kind enough to tell people the truth. His combination of hard and soft is always what we need. Nietzsche, who was brought up among fussing women in a wishy-washy Protestant pastor’s home, emphasized the need to be hard. Like all heretics, he had a point, but rode it a bit too hard to the neglect of other truths.
Christianity, as Nietzsche noted, has been becoming overly feminized, as has the developed world. Mary is the model Christian and the people who have been pushing the Communio theology are right: our first orientation has to be passive, to receive what God is telling us as the Virgin received the Word into her womb.
Women are quite capable at times of some of the masculine virtues, of course. But forget the politically correct notion that there are no specifically male and female virtues. In the normal course of things, when the refrigerator needs to be moved, it’s father and son, not mother and daughter, who should do the heavy lifting.
And in the middle of the night, if there’s a noise downstairs that sounds like a burglar, you don’t nudge your wife and say, “Your turn. I went down to check last time.” Be men. Think big. Act big, too. Play big-league ball.
The LCWR, the media, and other softballers will continue to try to thwart you with talk of patriarchy and the old boys’ club. Be true gentlemen. Listen to all sincerely, but listen to God more.
Christ Cleansing the Temple by El Greco, c. 1570
Beware of the two great distortions, bordering on heresies, in our time:
– “Judge not.” Yes, that’s in the Bible, but Christ had no difficulty also stating the difference between right and wrong. In fact, you may have noticed that there’s more than a little holy anger in the Gospels and dire prophetic warnings to individuals and whole groups. Christ is the model. Are you going to follow Him or take the easy way, the one that only seems compassionate? (See “nice” above.)– “But Jesus welcomed everyone.” Yes, he did, but on His terms, not theirs. If Christianity means just accepting everybody as they already are, indeed as they demand to be accepted – evil capitalists and mean orthodox Christians excepted, of course – why have a Church at all? The politicians are already quite prepared to tell everyone (with the same exceptions just noted) how wonderful, unless it’s “amazing,” they all are. Leave that sort of thing to the snake-oil salesmen.
Be clear about this. The person who invented the phrase, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” was no real Christian. Jesus does both, and Catholics are practitioners of the both/and, not the either/or.
Do you think Mother Teresa would have thought she’d done enough if she had just picked up beggars in Calcutta and not also talked about the callousness of heart and self-indulgence of the wealthy nations who were – safely, legally, and far from rarely – doing away with their own children in the womb?
Be prepared to suffer for the Faith. The world will always play the role it must when it hears the truth. Welcome fair criticism, but accept it in the right spirit. When John Paul II called for a “purification of memory” as we approached the beginning of the new Christian millennium, he was utterly frank about the Church’s past sins. But he never let humility and truth turn into a kind of “Kick Me” sign on the Church’s back.
Know that many Catholics, and non-Catholics, are with you. Seek them out. And the best way to do so is to lead from the front. The apostles knew it was a bad idea, in a sense, for Jesus to go into Jerusalem at the end. But they saw who He was, what He was willing to risk, and they were willing to risk much themselves so that at least they could die with Him.
I know several of you, and know that some of you know all this. But we need you to inspire even more of your fellow bishops.
You have lifetime tenure and jobs that make a real difference. Most people are stuck in humdrum tasks that don’t seem to mean very much. This is an exciting moment in Catholic history that offers opportunities for all the imagination, intelligence, and daring that you can bring to the many challenges at hand.
So make the most of it. Cherish it. Blessed are you.