Monday, April 4, 2011

Michael Bayly on Expulsion as the Cost of Discipleship: Further Reflections on Catholic Identity

In the response of Fr. Andrew Hamilton to Cardinal Burke re: Catholic identity to which I linked earlier today, Hamilton says that the price of walking with Jesus in a path that seeks to abolish barriers between those who count and those who don't is that we will be targeted by those who oppose this message--even within our own ecclesial communions.  Hamilton says that to call this experience martyrdom may be overdone, unless we understand the martyrdom as being martyred for the sake of charity.

The Greek word "martyr" means, of course, "witness," and from early in Christian history there's a venerable tradition of recognizing that people can witness to the gospels in ways that fall short of actual physical martyrdom, but which nonetheless proclaim the gospel in a way akin to martyrdom.  Early in the history of the church, particularly in the Irish church, after the period of actual physical martyrdom ended, the phrase "white martyrdom" began to be used to describe those who chose a monastic life as a way of living their commitment to the gospels, and who were not following the path of "red martyrdom" of those executed for their discipleship.

I'm thinking of Hamilton's notes on the cost of discipleship and the price their own faith communities can sometimes make people pay for walking in the path of Jesus now as I read Michael Bayly's moving meditation on the gospel read in Catholic churches yesterday, John 19:1-41.  The gospel is about Jesus's healing of a blind man, who is then expelled from his community of faith because his healing offended the leaders of that community.

What Michael has to say about this gospel echoes (in my view) Hamilton's response to Burke.  He says, 

As I listened to this Gospel reading this morning, and to the insightful homily that was shared in response to it, I couldn't help but think of the communities and individuals expelled today from the "official" church by a ruling clerical caste that refuses to "see" the presence and action of God in its midst. I think of these communities and individuals again as I write these words.

I think of communities like St. Mary's in Brisbane, Australia, and my own faith community here in the Twin Cities, The Spirit of St. Stephen's. These are communities so deeply rooted in the Gospel message of compassion, justice and inclusion that they have upset the orthodox leaders of today. These "leaders" (clerics, really) seem more intent on establishing a ghetto of "true believers" than in following Jesus' example of radical hospitality. Those communities that do endeavor to embody such hospitality are deemed to be in error. They cannot be tolerated.

I think of situations where the local clerical leadership has banned LGBT people from speaking on "official" church property. These people's experience of God in their lives and relationships are deemed unacceptable and incapable of facilitating new understanding and thus potential growth in the "official" church.

And I think of individuals like Roy Bourgeois, threatened with expulsion from his religious order because of his support for female ordination. Again, here is someone recognizing and living out the radical message of the Gospel being punished by the "religious leaders" of the day. Such treatment, of which there are many more examples, seems to be the age-old price of "seeing"; an age-old cost of discipleship.

Perhaps the most painful dilemma with which the pretension of Cardinal Burke (and the rich and powerful men who surround him) to own Catholic identity unilaterally confronts many of us is this: the witness that Cardinal Burke (and his rich and powerful benefactors) give to Catholic identity undercuts what many of us understand is at the very heart of Catholic identity.

And the only choice we seem to be given by the princes of the church and their worldly handlers, if we want to remain authentically Catholic, is to turn our back on the very Catholic identity that these men embody.

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