Sometimes we want to think that churches and other religious centers should always be places of peace and calm. That will never be. Churches, and all organizations, face a common, insurmountable problem. By definition, they are made up of people.
In a society were interdependence is de-emphasized, many people choose to keep their contact with all organizations to a minimum. In a way that makes sense. The fewer people we interact with, the fewer people we can have conflict with.
When Christians contemplate the life of Jesus, they are faced with a different view. We are taught that one person of the Divine trinity chose to leave an environment of perfect love and peace to spend more than 30 years with human beings and all their passions, mistreatment and, in his case, to suffer crucifixion at their hands. He knew what was going to happen and he came anyway.
It has long been the teaching of the church that the interaction of members of the church helps us learn how to love one another. The ancient Christian teacher and writer Tertullian once said “Solus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – A Christian alone is no Christian.
I have heard this put many ways over the years. One preacher told us we were all rocks on the bottom of the river and the way we push against each other is what polishes us to get ready for heaven. However we put it, it is easy to say and follow when everything is going smoothly. It is quite a different thing to remember it and live it when a given church (or parish) is in the middle of chaos.
This question has become totally not theoretical for me and the fellow members of my local church in the last few weeks. A month ago we had two full time priests and, as far as most of us knew, everything was going well. Now both of those priests are gone, maybe permanently, and we have fill-in priests and are dealing with our bishop to get help to keep the parish going.
In addition to all the chaos and confusion, we are seeing people leave while others stay and people are taking sides. Instead of a spirit of love and cooperation, we are in danger of creating an environment of anger and self-righteousness. The question is now whether love or anger will prevail.
I am reminded of an episode called “The Day of the Dove” from the original Star Trek television series. In that episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves trapped on the ship with an equal number of Klingons in an endless series of battles. They realize that when they are killed in a battle, they return to fight again. The solution comes when they realize there is a creature on board who has created the conflict and feeds itself from the hatred it is generating.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was telling this story in a science fiction format in a setting “where no man has gone before.” But there is nothing new in this concept.
The Christian teaching is very clear that there is one who wants to destroy our souls and poison everything good in us that God put there. Whether you call our adversary the devil, Lucifer or the destroyer of souls or any other name, he exists. He seeks to put us at each other so that we forget we are here to show God’s love.
In times of chaos and anger, we have to decide what we want for our souls and those of our neighbors. There is obviously hurt and anger and shock. We may feel the need to lash out. At a minimum we need to express our hurt and anger. Hopefully our friends involved in the situation will be able to provide ears or shoulders as needed.
But we need to keep in mind that at each moment we are feeding ourselves either the “good food” of love and understanding and peace or the “bad food” of hatred, anger and self-righteousness. No matter how much we feel wronged by others, if we dwell in that hurt or anger we harm ourselves, not them.
The “winners” in this will be those who turn to God the soonest. The more it hurts, the angrier we feel, the more important it becomes to turn quickly. He is waiting to help us. He will help as much as we let Him. He is calling to each of us, no matter what “side” we are on, to turn to Him now. He won’t make us turn. If we insist on being miserable in ourselves and to others, He will honor our choice.
In some ways we want to cry, “Why us?” but in a sense it is a tribute to our spiritual readiness. We are being offered a test at the next school grade level in our spiritual journeys. How soon will we be able to “pass the test” or “win the game” by turning completely to God?
It is my fervent hope that we all choose God sooner rather than later. May our parish become a place where all who come, or return, are welcome and see only the love of God.