04 October 2018

Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi! Rebuilding a Church in "Silent Schism"

My God and My All! Deus Meus et Omnia! All good wishes to my Franciscan Sisters and Brothers on this patronal feast! I hope it is a day filled with Franciscan joy and simplicity and that this ancient Franciscan motto echoes in your hearts. In today's world we need more than ever a commitment to Franciscan values, not least a commitment to treasure God's creation in a way which fosters ecological health. Genesis tells us we are stewards of this creation and it is a role we need to take seriously. Francis reminds us of this commission of ours, not least by putting God first in everything. (It is difficult to exploit the earth in the name of consumerism when we put God first, and in fact, allow him to be our God and our All!)

Another theme of Francis' life was the rebuilding of the Church and he came to know that it was only as each of us embraced a life of genuine holiness that the Church would be the living temple of God it was meant to be. The analogies between the Church in Francis' day and our own are striking. Today, the horrific scandal facing a Church rocked by sexual abuse and, even more problematical in some ways, the collusion in and cover-up of this problem by members of the hierarchy, a related clericalism Pope Francis condemns, and the exclusion of women from any part in the decision making of the Church makes it all-too-clear that our Church requires rebuilding. So does the subsequent scapegoating of Pope Francis by those who resist Vatican II and  an ecclesia semper reformanda est (a church always to be reformed).

And so, many today are calling for a fundamental rebuilding of the Church, a rebuilding which would sweep away the imperial episcopate along with the scourge of clericalism, and replace these with a Church which truly affirms the priesthood of all believers and roots the Church in the foundation and image of the kenotic servant Christ. The parable of new wine requiring new wineskins is paradigmatic here (and part of the reason we speak of ecclesia semper reformanda est). On the other side of this "silent schism," some are calling for a Church that retreats into these very structures and seeks to harden them in an eternal medieval mold. Yes, in some ways we are already a Church in schism; we are a divided household, so it is appropriate that on this day we hear Jesus' challenging commission to his disciples (Luke) or grapple with the lection from Job where Job struggles to come to a mature and humble faith in the midst of his suffering, and to do so in order to remind us of the humble world-shaking faith of St Francis of Assisi.

Francis of Assisi, despite first thinking he was charged by God with rebuilding a small church building (San Damiano), knew that if he (and we) truly put God and his Christ first what would be built up was a new family, a new creation, a reality undivided and of a single heart. Ilia Delio, OSF has a penetrating analysis of the current situation in the church entitled, Is New Life Ahead for the Church? (National Catholic Reporter)  Like so many today, Delio calls for the systematic reorganization of the church and the inclusion of women at all levels of the church's life, but she adds the need for a scientifically literate theological education as part of achieving the necessary rebuilding. So, in a broken world, and an ailing church, let us learn from these  Franciscan "fools for Christ" and begin to claim our baptismal responsibility to work to rebuild and reform our Church into a living temple of unity and love. The task before us is challenging and needs our best efforts.

Again, all good wishes to my Franciscan Sisters and Brothers on this Feast! Meanwhile, as a small piece of my own continuing education towards a genuinely "scientifically literate" theology, I am trying to finish Ilia Delio, OSF's book A Hunger for Wholeness before I hear her on this theme on retreat the weekend of the 12-14. October.