Discerning in a Divided Church – Raised Catholic episode 32

The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Notre Dame Cathedral, photo by Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute

Today is episode 32: Discerning in a Divided Church

Well, hi, friends.  You don’t have to be an actively practicing Catholic to know that the American Catholic Church is pretty divided these days. We have polarizing figures, demonization, easily identifiable camps, uncharitable language from faith leaders on social media to Catholic news outlets, even to some pulpits, and honestly, this not a great representation of the Church that Jesus gave us, so today we’ll be looking at it, and consider some ways we might prayerfully discern and respond to this divide.  

The first is to consistently engage with Scripture, and I’ll include some ideas on Bible reading plans for you in today’s show notes, but I am increasingly convinced that this is a time for individual Christians to get back to prayerfully reading the Bible for ourselves. This month, I am joining author and speaker Beth Moore along with a whole bunch of others in intentionally praying and getting into the Scriptures each day in July.  This idea of Beth’s is a response to the Church’s obvious struggle and division right now across pretty much every Christian denomination – it’s a way for us to intercede on behalf of the Church and the world and to gain some clarity ourselves. I’m reading a chapter from the Book of Matthew each day and praying and journaling along with it, and one day this week, I read the part where Jesus overturns the tables in the temple.  And I read something in that passage this time that I had not noticed before, and I wonder if you’ll hear it too, so here it is:

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things He did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.”

So okay, what do you think that looked like there in the temple, as Jesus overturned those tables and then, in the aftermath of all that activity?  It’s not a calm and tranquil Jesus who reacted to the misuse and abuse of His Father’s House that day. It’s pretty clear He was angry as table turning is not typically known as a peaceable activity.  Just ask the Real Housewives. And likely the moneychangers were also angry at the disruption of their business and the threat to their livelihoods, and so I imagine there might have been yelling, maybe even a threat of physical violence.  As I read this passage, I imagine the crowd, the babies and children crying, the mothers and fathers shepherding their families through all that hostility and disorder.  It was a mess, chaos, confusion.  yet amid all of that, did you notice what happened next? I’ll read it to you again.

“The blind and the lame came to Him at the temple, and He healed them.”

Well friend, when I read that, I sat back in my chair because this is a perfect picture of the Church today.  Here again we have abuse and misuse of power within the Church. We see defensiveness and anger, there’s tribalism, clericalism, uncertainty, indignation.  Nothing is as it was before, and no one knows quite what to do next.  Many Catholics who stuck with the Church through the last two decades of crisis and scandal are now making their way to the exits and it’s hard to deny that in our Church today, the tables are being overturned.  In the chaos we’re experiencing, some want to go back to the way it was before in some idealized time, of course they do, but friend, there’s no such thing. Regardless of what some might say, there’s no perfect time in the Church’s history and there’s no ‘going back’, there’s only moving forward in the light of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard it said somewhere that if you’re going to clean the house, you’ve got to move the furniture.  You’ve got to overturn the tables.  And that, as painful as it may seem, is what is happening now in our messy Church.  The Holy Spirit is bringing light to every dark corner of our past and present – you can read all about it in the headlines just about every day. And in the midst of all of that mess, incredibly, there can be still healing if we ask for it.  The blind can see, and the lame can walk. God is still moving, still healing, still making us whole, even in the chaos, if we ask Him.

The second recommendation I have for you as we deal with the reality of a divided church is to critically and prayerfully discern the content and the voices that we’re taking in these days.  This week on Instagram, I saw a quote by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  The original poster, and most every Catholic commenter immediately inserted Sheen’s words into their own narrative of the state of the Church today.  Each one used the quote as a weapon to attack or defend their camp of what they considered to be heretical clerics or faithful clerics.  And I wonder what your thoughts will be, so here’s the quote:

“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious.  It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church.  Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and your religious act like religious.”

Good quote, right?  Well, as you might imagine, some commenters used it to call out the USCCB, or controversial voices like Archbishop Vigano or Fr. Altman who was recently removed from ministry by his bishop for his behavior.  Still others thought the quote was a great swipe at Pope Francis. And all of this based on a quote from Sheen, who died in 1979, and who to my knowledge had no foresight of what the state of the Church would be here in 2021.  It’s clear how divided we are, how interested we are in furthering our own narrative, how unconsciously tribal our reactions have become, and this is kind of a mess, don’t you think?  Within the Church we seem to be choosing the voices that sound the most like our voice. We believe ourselves to have the expert opinion on every moral and political issue, so we’re blindly building camps and factions and this kind of behavior is not of God. Just Like in that table-turning scene from the Book of Matthew, it’s downright ugly.

In the midst of all of this noise, we need the thing that we, in our agitated and arrogant state, are the least likely to ask for, and it’s healing.

The blind and the lame who approached Jesus in the mess of the temple that day were desperate.  They knew their need and they knew there was only one person who could heal them.  If we as a Church could humble ourselves, see our need and seek out God’s direction in this time, I believe we’d find the clarity that we most need to move forward.  Our eyes would be opened. We’d walk away from this chaos, inspired and whole, into whatever is next.

As I read the scriptures this month, I’m finding parts of Jesus that, to be honest, didn’t fit into my narrative.  I’ve been challenged to pursue Who He really is rather than the caricature that I’ve made.  And I’m using the fruit of the Spirit to discern my teachers in this time, too: you know, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. When someone speaks, whether it’s a Church leader, someone in government or on social media, I’m taking a beat and paying attention now to how their voice settles in my spirit. I notice if I feel peaceful, encouraged, challenged, or inspired. On the other hand, if I feel agitated, angry, or fearful in my spirit – if someone’s words promote quarrels, factions, envy, or dissention, I know that’s not a voice for me to follow, as that is the fruit of the flesh that we hear about in Galatians, chapter 5. And it’s not about agreement about what their words are saying.  I am discerning in my spirit.  

And discerning voices by the fruit of the Spirit or the flesh is one way to make our way through the division and chaos that we see all around us in the Church today.  As Jesus said in the Book of Matthew:

“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Archbishop Sheen was right when he said that it’s up to us, blind and lame as we are. It’s up to us, and not the clergy, to save our Church, and I believe it will be those who humbly ask for God’s healing here in the mess and who prayerfully discern and listen to the Spirit’s leadings – who will have eyes to see where to step out in whatever comes next. And friend, I know this is a challenging message today, but this is what we’re called to.

Thanks so much for listening today.  If you’d like to engage with me on this topic, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. And this week, I want to tell you about an exciting new journal called Common Horizon which explores Catholic Social Teaching.  From Here Media is a trusted voice of mine, and I have a piece in their latest issue which I’m so excited about. You can still get your copy, so I’ll link to From Here along with its creator, very trusted voice Alissa Molina.  Before we say goodbye today, let’s pray together.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Lord, even in the chaos we recognize our need for healing.  We want to see, and we want to move according to Your will so, Lord, reorder our thinking and move us to humbly discover Your will for our lives today. And please bless our broken Church and us and our dear ones too in the next chapter of what You have for us.  We pray for all of this in Jesus’s name, amen.

Okay friends, thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.

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