October 5th: A Two-Edged Sword
On a Sunday morning filled with sunshine I hopped the 23 bus to St. Paul’s outside the Walls for the Papal Mass celebrating the opening of the Synod on the Word. Normally the ceremony would have been held at St. Peter’s. But since it is the year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict chose to honor this plainspoken missionary who, with the help of women such as Prisca, Junia, Lydia, and Phoebe brought the Gentile world to Christ. I waited, along with 2,000 other expectant souls, while hundreds of Bishops, assorted priest functionaries and finally a gently smiling Pope, processed in to the solemn chant of the litany of saints. Yep, nary a female among them. Adding insult to injury, the litany’s 59 saints included only five women. So much for Prisca and her sisters. Yet I was expecting this. After all, it is why I came to Rome.
To console myself, I reflected how quickly the simple man from Nazareth would have shunned all the pomp and circumstance. I really couldn’t see him marching in all that regalia, though I do respect these bishop leaders of our church. For that matter, I couldn’t see Peter and Paul processing in the regalia either. After all, chasuble and miter are modeled on the garb worn by magistrates of the Roman empire, not earlier Christian leaders.
I wondered what it is about the psyche of Church leaders that needs all the processing.
Particularly annoying was the litany’s refrain: Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Umm, yes, Jesus was all about conquering, ruling and reigning. Not. Somewhere along the line, the successors of Peter and Paul seem to have missed the point about Jesus’ servant-leadership-even-unto-death. When did the processing, ruling, conquering model become tradition?
As the assembly joined the choir in chanting the Asperges Me (Wash me O Lord) I was taken back to fifth grade when Sr. Rosemary taught me Gregorian chant. I loved it, and still do. So many faithful women of the church taught tens of thousands of Catholic children not only Gregorian chant, but the deeper lesson of how to glorify God with the goodness of our lives. None of them ever seemed to need to process anywhere. They were just happy if we learned our lessons, learned how to pray and learned how to behave. That was plenty recognition enough.
To my relief, a woman proclaimed the first rather ominous reading from Isaiah 5: 1-7: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do…I will make it a waste, …for the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel...he expected justice but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”
The gospel from Matthew 21:33-43 for this Sunday, the 27th week in ordinary time, is even more sobering. Jesus addresses the chief priests and elders, telling of the landowner who planted a vineyard tended by unfaithful stewards who ultimately kill his son rather than yield good fruit to the owner. “What will the owner do to those tenants when he comes?” asks Jesus. “Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone… Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
Oh right. This is a “Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” How could I have forgotten? I ponder whether Church leaders could possibly have known what they were doing when they called such a dangerous synod into being.
It is painful and humiliating to face our unfaithfulness to the values of the kingdom. Our infidelity automatically means the kingdom will be given to others. This is because fidelity to the kingdom’s values, in itself leads to fruitfulness whereas infidelity makes fruitfulness impossible.
What stones rejected by our church, could be the priceless cornerstones for a new reign of God still to come? Some of my picks include the value of the feminine, the value of gay people, the value of acknowledging that, like Paul, we are imperfect and need Jesus’ example of forgiveness and loving beyond the rules. How about the value of married priestly calls, or in Henri Nouwen’s felicitous phrase, the value of downward mobility and even the value of the Eucharist?
If it is true that “the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword,” then we, the People of God, and our leaders should prepare to hear some things we would rather not hear.
Which of course, is I why I’ve come to Rome.
For video of opening Mass and Pope’s homily see this link: http://www.reuters.com/news/video?videoId=91671