|Maroon Bells Colorado|
Sometimes I think of the Catholic Church as a massive, dominating, and unchanging reality much like these two 14,000 foot peaks just outside Aspen. I feel small, insignificant and inconsequential in its presence. However much I desire that it change or even how much I desire to change it, it is impervious to my desires or efforts. On the other hand, sometimes I feel part of a community of people who share beliefs and friendship and even a sense of faith about reality and about the Divine One. Even in those times, however, the monolithic institutional church feels distant and unapproachable.
Unfortunately the statements, policies and actions from the church come from that granite-like institution. The people who lead the church go to great lengths to set themselves apart from us, the regular everyday members. They dress differently, hold important offices, are not accountable other than to themselves, and actually understand themselves as radically different from the baptized faithful. The teaching on the ontological change wrought by ordination explains this misguided notion. (If you click this link to a Vatican document, search for ontological and you will see the relevant paragraph.)
All of the above creates a dual reality for the church. There is the official, institutional church with all its paraphernalia and authoritative teaching and there is the day to day life lived by ordinary, baptized Christians. While I have spent most of my life studying the former, I know that it is the latter that is the more important. Jesus didn't teach doctrine or creeds. He taught in word and deed a way of life to which he called his followers.
This way of life wasn't new. The belief system of Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and he drew on that tradition when he articulated the basics of his call: love the Divine One and love your neighbor as yourself. He not only taught this in parables and conversation but he also gave powerful examples by being with those considered to be sinful or corrupt by his community. His call to love was not in any way exclusive but racially inclusive. The institution that grew up around his followers was probably inevitable but unfortunately over time it eclipsed this radical call to live a different kind of life than the one which seemed normal and expected by what Jesus and Paul called "the world."
The Catholic Church and indeed any church is not and cannot be the end of a life of a religious life but a means to that life. It may be a necessary and at times an important means but by itself it is not enough. The focus has to be on the way of life. It was not an accident that the early followers of Jesus the Christ referred to themselves as followers of "the Way."
I need to spend a lot less time and energy on the means--the church--and more on the end--living the Way of Christ.