Friday, June 7, 2019

Bishop Bransfield Authors "One of the Finest Pastoral Letters on Poverty" Michael Sean Winters Has Read: My Response

In an essay about the scandal that is Bishop "$182,000 for Cut Flowers" Bransfield, entitled "Lavish living by Catholic hierarchy is moral corruption," Michael Sean Winters says that Bransfield has published "one of the finest pastoral letters on poverty I have read."

I read these nice words, which imply that we should give people credit for uttering nice words even when their lives totally belie their nice words, and I think immediately of what I wrote Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte, North Carolina, on 12 September 1997. Bishop Curlin was a friend of Mother Teresa. He spoke often of finding Jesus in the least among us. But when my theological vocation was shattered by Belmont Abbey College, my livelihood and health insurance taken from me for no stated reason, he refused ever to meet with me.

My partner, now husband, and I left the Charlotte diocese to seek employment elsewhere — we had no choice; we were providing care for my mother as she descended into dementia — and Bishop Curlin never saw my face, refused ever to hear my story, shut his door to me (though not to the wealthy men to whom his door was always open).

My letter told Bishop Curlin that finding Jesus occasionally in exotic places is cheap grace, while finding Jesus in the despised and overlooked in our own midst, on a daily basis, requires costly grace. The cost of grace is living the gospel, not merely talking about it. The letter states:

It's rather easy to speak of the presence of our Lord in beggars on the streets of Calcutta, but the gospel calls us to see Jesus in our midst—particularly in those in our own community who are despised, overlooked, ignored, treated as if they do not count as human beings. 
Who are those, in Charlotte? 
The gospel calls us to meet Jesus where we do not expect to meet him, in those we wish to shut out of our sight and minds, those we will not meet face to face. 
The gospel calls us to do this on a daily basis, not just on high-profile trips to Calcutta or shrines in faraway places. As The Imitation of Christ says, people will go to great lengths to seek God in exotic locations, when they might very well encounter God right in their own locales. 
Finding Jesus occasionally in exotic places is cheap grace. Finding Jesus in the despised and overlooked in our own midst, on a daily basis, requires costly grace. 
The cost of grace is living the gospel, not merely talking about it. It is costly to live the gospel daily, right where we live and move and have our being. 
People who only talk about living the gospel, but who do not walk its walk, will not be believed when they call others to follow Christ. When pastors of our church fail to see Jesus—to meet him face to face—in whole categories of people in their very midst, they will not be believed when they speak of encountering him in beggars in Calcutta. 
The church loses credibility when it sentimentalizes the gospel in this way, and lives the gospel only sporadically and in faraway places. The church gains credibility when it lives the gospel in its own home towns, through costly grace. … 
A church that really values Mother Teresa is one that really values the gospel. That church would be susceptible to conversion, even in its governing structures. 
Bishops who really value Mother Teresa will be different kinds of bishops than those who now seem to be the norm in our church, whose lives and practices are modeled on the mores of the business community, rather than the gospel. Rather than cutting deals behind the scenes with powerful men, they will be scouring the streets of their own cities to find Jesus there. Rather than refusing to meet those of their flocks who bring to them stories of great pain, pain inflicted by the church itself, they will open their doors to Jesus in their midst, make him welcome, and provide solace for his wounds. 
Thank you for listening, Bishop Curlin.

P.S. The second half of Ruth Krall's wonderful essay is soon to follow. 

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