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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

374: Through the Eyes of Non-Violent Jesus

Announcement for our Emmaus Liturgy

Holy Week: Through the Eyes of Jesus Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021

As we approach our faith tradition’s highest holy days, our Emmaus Palm Sunday Liturgy will focus on seeing the week ahead through the eyes of Jesus.

A few Emmaus folks (Alice, Beth, David and myself) have been fortunate enough to participate in a seven part Lenten Series by our friend, John Dear, on the Nonviolent Jesus. Our liturgy will draw on some of the insights we all have gained throughout these class sessions.

During these seven weeks, but especially during this past week’s violent mass shootings, (and a previous administration’s escalating violent rhetoric), our nation seems to be up to its neck is a culture of violence! Drawing on Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s use of nonviolence, civil disobedience and non-cooperation, John Dear opens up the Holy Week scriptures for us to see the world Jesus saw, through eyes that are ultimately and non-negotiably non-violent, throughout his entire life…up to the very last breath Jesus takes.

Throughout our liturgy we will walk with Jesus as he walks toward and enters Jerusalem…we will look at the fulfillment of the Oracle of Zechariah and will see through the eyes of Jesus, the ultimate act of non-violent civil disobedience that he makes in the Temple. We will see how this dramatically leads to his arrest, conviction and death. And as John Dear continually prompts us: come, see and walk with Jesus toward our own personal Jerusalem, reflect on our own actions of civil disobedience and non-co-operation with systems of injustice and inequality.

We are all invited to come and experience walking through Holy Week through the eyes of Jesus.

Alice Waco

Beth Jordan

Victoria MacDonald

Day 374 Thursday March 25th, 2021

To save the Church, Catholics must detach themselves from the clerical hierarchy—and take the faith back into their own hands.

(These are excerpts from an article in America Magazine by James Carroll. Thanks to Beth Jordan for the idea!)

The virtues of the Catholic faith have been obvious to me my whole life. The world is better for those virtues, and I cherish the countless men and women who bring the faith alive. The Catholic Church is a worldwide community of well over 1 billion people. North and South, rich and poor, intellectual and illiterate—it is the only institution that crosses all such borders on anything like this scale.

As James Joyce wrote in Finnegans Wake, Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody.” Around the world there are more than 200,000 Catholic schools and nearly 40,000 Catholic hospitals and health-care facilities, mostly in developing countries. The Church is the largest nongovernmental organization on the planet, through which selfless women and men care for the poor, teach the unlettered, heal the sick, and work to preserve minimal standards of the common good. The world needs the Church of these legions to be rational, historically minded, pluralistic, committed to peace, a champion of the equality of women, and a tribune of justice.

But Catholic clericalism is ultimately doomed, no matter how relentlessly the reactionaries attempt to reinforce it. The Vatican, with its proconsul-like episcopate, is the pinnacle of a structure of governance that owes more to emperors than to apostles. The profound discrediting of that episcopate is now underway.

I want to be part of what brings about the liberation of the Catholic Church from the imperium that took it captive 1,700 years ago.

In North America and Europe, the falloff of Catholic laypeople from the normal practice of the faith has been dramatic in recent years, a phenomenon reflected in the diminishing ranks of clergy: Many parishes lack any priests at all. In the United States, Catholicism is losing members faster than any other religious denomination. For every non-Catholic adult who joins the Church through conversion, there are six Catholics who lapse. (Parts of the developing world are experiencing a growth in Catholicism, but those areas face their own issues of clericalism and scandal—and the challenge of evangelical Protestantism as well.)

The power structure is not the Church. The Church is the people of God. I refuse to let a predator priest or a complicit bishop rip my faith from me.

But to simply leave the Church is to leave its worst impulses unchallenged and its best ones unsupported. When the disillusioned depart, Catholic reactionaries are overjoyed. They look forward to a smaller, more rigidly orthodox institution.

The renewal offered by Vatican II may have been thwarted, but a reformed, enlightened, and hopeful Catholic Church is essential in our world.

On urgent problems ranging from climate change, to religious and ethnic conflict, to economic inequality, to catastrophic war, no nongovernmental organization has more power to promote change for the better, worldwide, than the Catholic Church.

So let me directly address Catholics, and make the case for another way to respond to the present crisis of faith than by walking away.

What if multitudes of the faithful, appalled by what the sex-abuse crisis has shown the Church leadership to have become, were to detach themselves from—and renounce—the cassock-ridden power structure of the Church and reclaim Vatican II’s insistence that that power structure is not the Church? The Church is the people of God. The Church is a community that transcends space and time. Catholics should not yield to clerical despots the final authority over our personal relationship to the Church. I refuse to let a predator priest or a complicit bishop rip my faith from me.

The Reformation, which erupted 500 years ago, boiled down to a conflict over the power of the priest. To translate scripture into the vernacular, as Martin Luther and others did, was to remove the clergy’s monopoly on the sacred heart of the faith. Likewise, to introduce democratic structures into religious governance, elevating the role of the laity, was to overturn the hierarchy according to which every ordained person occupied a place of superiority.

I brought up James Joyce earlier, and his declaration that Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody.” But, referring to the clerical establishment, not to that “everybody,” Joyce also said, less sweetly: “I make open war upon it by what I write and say and do.” That spirit of resistance is what must energize reform-minded Catholics now—an anticlericalism from within. That is the stance I choose to take.

If there are like-minded, anticlerical priests, and even an anticlerical pope, then we will make common cause with them.

Joyce was a self-described exile, and exile can characterize the position of many former Catholics, people who have sought refuge in another faith, or in no faith. But exile of this kind is not what I suggest. Rather, I propose a kind of internal exile. One imagines the inmates of internal exile as figures in the back of a church, where, in fact, some dissenting priests and many free-spirited nuns can be found as well. Think of us as the Church’s conscientious objectors. We are not deserters.

Replacing the diseased model of the Church with something healthy may involve, for a time, intentional absence from services or life on the margins—less in the pews than in the rearmost shadows. But it will always involve deliberate performance of the works of mercy: feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, visiting the sick, striving for justice. These can be today’s chosen forms of the faith.

It will involve, for many, unauthorized expressions of prayer and worship—egalitarian, authentic, ecumenical; having nothing to do with diocesan borders, parish boundaries, or the sacrament of holy orders. That may be especially true in so-called intentional communities that lift up the leadership of women. These already exist, everywhere.

No matter who presides at whatever form the altar takes, such adaptations of Eucharistic observance return to the theological essence of the sacrament. Christ is experienced not through the officiant but through the faith of the whole community.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I in the midst of them.”

The exiles themselves will become the core, as exiles were at the time of Jesus. This is already happening, in front of our eyes.

In what way, one might ask, can such institutional detachment square with actual Catholic identity? Through devotions and prayers and rituals that perpetuate the Catholic tradition in diverse forms, undertaken by a wide range of commonsensical believers, all insisting on the Catholic character of what they are doing. Their ranks would include ad hoc organizers of priestless parishes; parents who band together for the sake of the religious instruction of youngsters; social activists who take on injustice in the name of Jesus; and even social-media wizards launching, say, #ChurchResist.

As ever, the Church’s principal organizing event will be the communal experience of the Mass, the structure of which—reading the Word, breaking the bread—will remain universal; it will not need to be celebrated by a member of some sacerdotal caste. The gradual ascendance of lay leaders in the Church is in any case becoming a fact of life, driven by shortages of personnel and expertise. Now is the time to make this ascendance intentional, and to accelerate it.

The pillars of Catholicism—gatherings around the book and the bread; traditional prayers and songs; retreats centered on the wisdom of the saints; an understanding of life as a form of discipleship—will be unshaken.

(Greg Boyle Retreat)

The Vatican itself may take steps, belatedly, to catch up to where the Church goes without it. Fine. But in ways that cannot be predicted, have no central direction, and will unfold slowly over time, the exiles themselves will become the core, as exiles were the core at the time of Jesus. They will take on responsibility and ownership—and, as responsibility and ownership devolve into smaller units, the focus will shift from the earthbound institution to its transcendent meaning. This is already happening, in front of our eyes.

Tens of millions of moral decisions and personal actions are being informed by the choice to be Catholics on our own terms, untethered from a rotted ancient scaffolding. The choice comes with no asterisk.

We will be Catholics, full stop. We do not need anyone’s permission.

Our “fasting and abstaining” from officially ordered practice will go on for as long as the Church’s rebirth requires, whether we live to see it finished or not. As anticlerical Catholics, we will simply refuse to accept that the business-as-usual attitudes of most priests and bishops should extend to us, as the walls of their temple collapse around them.

Read James Carroll's entire article from America Magazine:

James Carroll Explains Why Priesthood Should Be Abolished

PBS Amanpour and Company

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