Monday, May 2, 2011

John Paul's Beatification: A Solution for the Divided Church? Perhaps Not (2)

I'd like to append a brief theological postscript to what I posted yesterday about how the beatification of John Paul II has revved up the mean machine within the Catholic church in recent days, as some of Bl. JPII's most ardent fans use the occasion of his beatification to issue new, even more hateful reminders to many of their Catholic brothers and sisters that we're just not wanted in the lean, mean Catholic machine of the new millennium.  New, even more hateful reminders--and this boggles the mind--to survivors of clerical sexual abuse that they're unwanted, that they're self-absorbed whiners who can't appreciate that the real, true Catholic church is all about winners and losers.

And survivors are losers.  They became losers from the time they were molested by priests as young people.  And now they need--so I hear many of those celebrating the legacy of Bl. JPII in recent days saying--to disappear again.  Get lost.  Out of sight, out of mind.

The elevation of Bl. John Paul II to the honors of the altar has become the occasion for an outpouring of venomous hatred on the part of many Catholics--hatred directed explicitly towards many of their own brothers and sisters, including some of their brothers and sisters who should have the strongest claim on the heart and conscience of any community that seeks to be known as humane.  And to my mind, that outpouring of hatred deserves attention as a theological datum in and of itself--because of what it says about the legacy John Paul left to the church.  And what kind of church we've become in the wake of his papacy.

When I posted yesterday, murrbrewster left a comment in response to my posting that's very good.  This morning, I replied to murr, and because what I say in my reply is really a theological postscript to what I posted yesterday, I'd like to lift that exchange out of yesterday's comments section and turn it into a posting this morning.

Murr writes:

I'm at a loss to see what any of it has to do with your own relationship to the man on the cross, or the person sitting next to you. It's all pomp and nonsense.

And I reply:

Thanks, murr. At one level, I see the point you're making, and think it's absolutely right.

But the other side seems to me to be this: all symbols, religious or otherwise, are mediated to us by human communities. The church plays a significant role in transmitting to us over the course of history the memory of Jesus (and symbols based on that memory).

And so a serious problem ensues when the church's behavior occludes or even contradicts the symbols it wants to transmit to us. That problem is a problem of dissonance that causes great pain to many people who have first learned about and encountered Jesus as a symbol of the divine within the Catholic tradition, but for whom the Catholic church is now in many ways a counter-sign to the gospel it proclaims.

I think many Catholics live today in that tension between what the church has told us to believe, and what the church has become. And I suspect that the number of those living in that space of pain and tension is only growing larger, and will increase significantly following JPII's beatification. 

I'm not saying anything I haven't said in many previous postings, in the comment I've just excerpted above.  But I do think it's worth making these points again, in light of JPII's beatification, and, above all, how that beatification is being "received" by some of his most ardent supporters.  In light of the renewed hostility those supporters now find themselves energized to display against brother and sister Catholics they envisage as losers in a war in which they are the winners.

As I've said frequently in previous postings, I see the church as caught between the "already" of Jesus's death and resurrection and the "not yet" of the final eschatological fulfillment of Jesus's proclamation of the reign of God, a proclamation that culminated in his crucifixion and resurrection.  In this in-between period--in the period of history prior to the eschaton--the church is always imperfect.  It's never complete.  It's always on pilgrimage.  It's on pilgrimage with everyone else in the world towards a reign of God promised by God to all creation as the final fulfillment of Jesus's redemptive act on the cross.

It never possesses all truth in itself.  It learns from the Spirit's action in other religious communities and in the world at large.  The church never completely fulfills Jesus's vision of the reign of God.  It often tragically betrays that vision, sometimes in gross ways--as it has done in the period of "holy" wars, of the Inquisition, of pogroms and mass murders of the Jewish people, in its subjugation and exploitation of the native peoples of non-European nations, in its support of slavery, in its complicity with the Holocaust, in its historic, gross abuse of women (and execution of so-called "witches" for centuries), and in its historic abusive treatment of gay and lesbian human beings.

The church is not perfect.  It often grossly betrays the ideals it proclaims to the world.  It does so in its own behavior.  And when it does so, the church creates for many of its own adherents a serious theological, existential problem: this is the problem of knowing how to keep clinging to and finding meaning in the very symbols by which the church has mediated the memory of Jesus to these believers, when the church's practice betrays those symbols.

In my view, many Catholics live right now in that space of severe cognitive dissonance created by the disparity between what the church proclaims to us in its core symbols, and what it actually does with those symbols in its own practice.  My meditations in recent days, vis-a-vis the beatification of John Paul II, have had to do with the tragic disparity between the symbol of Jesus's crucifixion, a central Catholic symbol, and the real-life, real-time show of the John Paul II beatification--and its aftermath, in the outpouring of ugly, venomous remarks by many orthodox Catholics energized by the jubilation who are now intent on reminding some of their fellow Catholics that we aren't and haven't ever been welcome in the JPII mean machine.

And who are now even openly attacking and taunting their brothers and sisters who are coping with the effects of clerical sexual abuse when they were children.  Attacking and taunting these brothers and sisters precisely to demonstrate their support of the beatification of the former pope.

And so I conclude that not only do many Catholics already live within that space of severe cognitive dissonance created by the disparity between what the church proclaims to us in its core symbols, and what it actually does with those symbols, but that the tension, the space of cognitive dissonance, will only grow larger as a result of the beatification of the previous pope.  More and more Catholics will now find themselves marginalized--actively driven out--by the mean machine of the church of Bl. JPII.

To many of us, this response to the beatification of a pope--this way of celebrating the beatification of a pope--seems incomprehensible, because we have long understood catholicity to be all about including and not excluding.  About loving and not hating.  About welcoming and not slamming doors in people's faces.

About looking at Jesus hanging on the cross and remembering that the path to real victory in Christian faith lies in failure, weakness, and death, not numbers and muscle and power.  The real victory in Christian faith lies in opening one's arms to the other, particularly in her anguish, because in his own anguish on the cross, Jesus opens his arms to the entire human community and the cosmos.  The real victory lies in that gesture, Christian faith has long taught us, and not in the opposite gesture that seems all too prevalent in the mean machine that the Catholic church has become in the wake of Bl. John Paul II.

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