to contradict suffering

On the feast of St Mark the Evangelist
in memory of Sister Dorothy Folliard, OP

And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.  The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

It’s too bad Jesus forgot to tell his disciples about the canon law of the church which explains that baptized believers who don’t agree with everything that Peter teaches should not receive the Eucharist at the at the one table.  Do you think he just forgot?  Or maybe he really did include those instructions about excluding the ignorant and the public sinners, but the dense disciples just forgot to include it in this story.  It’s a good thing that our current church leaders understand how exclusive Christianity is supposed to be.  I mean, really, if we let everyone in, then we could not consider ourselves to be so special or blessed.  When Jesus prayed that we all be one, he didn’t really mean it, did he?

Sorry for the sarcasm, it’s a bad habit, I know.  But sometimes it’s hard to resist.  Do you ever read the gospel and wonder, where is the church which Jesus founded?  I wish I could belong to that one, instead of ours.  But perhaps I should not blame the Roman Catholic tradition, our interpretation of salvation history includes many stories of blessing one son instead of both: Sarah’s descendants and not Hagar’s, Jacob but not Esau, the sons of the west but not the east, the Catholics but not the Protestants, the so-called civilized but not the barbarians.  It seems that we are always trying to divide the blessing so that the people who deserve it can keep it, and everyone else can go without.  Unless, of course, there is an economic benefit to creating colonies of Christians to support “our” global economic order, then it’s fine to be “inclusive.”

Mathematically, this is a losing proposition for just about everyone.  It is just a matter of time until you will also get the short end of the stick, and another group will claim the blessing which your ancestors enjoyed.  And when we lose, we think some injustice has happened, but only when we lose, not when we win.

What will it take to reverse this way of segmenting the human community?  How can we include more people in the blessing, instead of fewer?   If we are going to be One in the end, as Jesus prayed, some kind of intervention will be necessary, we will need to think and act in a different way.  This is what Jesus prayed for. Shouldn’t we be praying and hoping for the same thing?  And speaking of hope, let’s consider this virtue.

Virtue ethics theory suggests that all of the virtues work together.  In a particular person, either they all work well, or they don’t.  If you are lacking in one area, you are also lacking in others.  Practically this makes a lot of sense to me.  You can’t have justice without courage, you can be temperate without prudence.  And with the theological virtues also, faith and hope depend on each other.  If you don’t have hope, you probably don’t have faith.  Likewise, if you can’t demonstrate charity (being friends with God) you are probably also lacking in faith and also hope.  I think that love is also very closely related to justice.  Hope also requires courage.

A number of years ago, on a very long walk to recover from a difficult experience, I found myself being content with life, but in a numb and perhaps paralyzed way.  I was not terribly distraught, as the worst of the trauma had past, but neither did I really see any hope for my future, or for anyone else’s future either, both on an individual and communal level.  Perhaps this numbness, and resulting inability to hope was not unrelated to experiencing an injustice in my life and having a considerable crisis of faith as a result.

Sharing a little bit about my struggle with a beautiful woman whom I had grown to love as a wisdom figure and role model in the faith, Sister Dorothy Folliard, OP, she recommended a book written by Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope. I want to share with you a brief excerpt from that book.

To believe means to cross in hope and anticipation the bounds that have been penetrated by the raising of the crucified.  If we bear that in mind, then this faith can have nothing to do with fleeing the world, with resignation and with escapism.  In this hope the soul does not soar above our vale of tears to some imagined heavenly bliss, nor does it sever itself from the earth. … It sees in Christ not the eternity of heaven, but the future of the earth on which his cross stands.  It sees in [Christ] the future of the very humanity for which he died.  That is why [the soul] finds [in] the cross the hope of the earth. … The raising of Christ is not merely a consolation in a life that is full of distress and doomed to die, but it is also God’s contradiction of suffering and death, of humiliation and offence, and of wickedness and evil.  Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine against suffering. … Faith takes up this contradiction and thus becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death.  This is why faith, whenever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.  It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart.  Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.

So hope requires standing in opposition to oppression and injustice.  Being friends with God means taking on God’s same attitude toward suffering and evil.  God is against those things, and has been patiently, or maybe impatiently acting all along to protest against evil and to contradict suffering.  Those of us who are friends with God, we are compelled to so the same, to protest against suffering, not for an eternal reward, but for human flourishing here on this earth.

I have been considering recently that the most powerful obstacle, to continued resistance, is that we don’t know what justice will look like, or more practically what kind of changes can we make in our world to actually bring justice to everyone and not just some?  And I don’t want to minimize this difficulty, because change will always involve some kind of loss for someone.  Even when change is good, change is difficult.

So at the risk of oversimplifying the answer to our reality of entrenched and paralyzing injustice, I really believe that the answer, or at least the first and most significant step on a long walk to freedom will involve preaching the gospel in its authenticity.   Our tradition has attempted to make the gospel message more complicated than it needs to be.   We have added burdens to the message, but instead of strengthening it, we have adulterated it.

“Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.”  This is the only authentic condition required for entrance into the church community and into communion.  People who attempt to introduce social or economic or other types of division into the church do not understand the gospel.  There is only one baptism which initiates the believer into the body of Christ, the church.  People who do not understand this are causing great harm to our common life and society.  The church needs to take the lead in demonstrating to the world what inclusivity looks like.  And those of us who hope in the future for which Jesus prays, we need to be preaching this to the ends of the earth.