Mal 1:4b-2,2b,8-10 (please note: “a” or “b” refers to first or second part of verse, respectively); 1Thes 2:7b-9,13; Mt 23: 1-12
“The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”
This morning, I took these words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel and substituted “Pope and bishops” for “scribes and Pharisees” and “chair of Peter” for “chair of Moses.” Then I thought about how that sounded for a few minutes and noticed my reactions to it
Initially, my “free to be you and me” spirit (I am a child of the 60’s, albeit a young one) bristled. I should listen to whatever they tell me? Who do these guys thing they are?
Wait a minute….they think they are representatives of the risen Christ. And, it would appear, so does Jesus. So I came to an indirect encounter with what the Church calls “religious assent.” Or, as I like to think of it: when the representatives of the nation of Jim Philipps assemble around the table to talk about moral decisions, the Pope and my bishop need to have seats at the table. And not the seats in the back where nobody else can hear them, but places of honor.
Next, I thought about the second part – “don’t follow their example”. Well, there are many ways I would certainly like to follow the Pope’s example – as a theologian, as a man clearly devoted to peace, as a man not afraid to speak out against injustice in the world that he sees, as a man who cares greatly about the Church.
Yet there does seem to be a prevailing sentiment among the hierarchy today that the Vatican II Council was not as revolutionary as has been made out to be. That it wasn’t a spiritual explosion which challenged all of us – laity, clergy and religous – to a deeper understanding and participation in this Mystery we call the Body of Christ. That the Council didn’t remind us of a basic truth – while the Church HAS a hierarchy it is not defined by this hierarchy. God calls a People within which some are called to lead and to teach and to correct. The difference is not subtle.
Here is where I think Jesus is calling me not to follow their example. There are many among the leaders of the Church who seem quite content with – in fact, may even be encouraging – a relationship with the laity that is more like parent to child than that of mature adults working towards a common goal with unique charisms and callings. We will never find mature Faith in that sort of relationship. We will never find the Holy Spirit there.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgirm)
(My book entitled, “Turning Points – Unlocking the Treasures of the Church” offers a fuller presentation of my take on Church history in general and the Council in particular. It can be purchased through www.twentythirdpublications. com or through amazon.com and barnsandnoble.com.