Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Because the First Shall Be Last

Those who attack the Pope and the Vatican, thinking that this might bring down the Catholic Church, will never succeed. They are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They are beating the donkey on his rear end instead of on his head; a donkey only moves faster when you beat its tail. The Catholic Church is not the Pope and cardinals. The Catholic Church is us.

For the Church to die, my faith will have to die, and yours. Our hope, grounded in faith, will have to be destroyed. Our charitable works, moved by faith, will have to end. And critics will have to chastise and ultimately destroy not Benedict XVI, who (horrible to think) might have had knowledge of abuse in Germany while he was a prelate there. They will have to destroy you and me.

They will have to silence people like my friend Z, who ministers to dying people as a physician in the OR of a leading Boston hospital. Or J, who selflessly tends our rectory garden, utterly pro bono, all summer long, even while Finbar, the zany rectory dog, uproots anything planted. Or F and C, who take communion to the old and enfeebled of our parish, though they are quite old themselves. They stop to say a rosary at each rest home.

Critics will have to bring down famous Catholics, too—not famous like BXVI or JPII, but famous like Mother Teresa, like Francis of Assisi, or like Jesus of Nazareth, who still lives in each of these beautiful human beings.

This line of thinking occurred to me this morning after I did two things. (1) Read a New York Times op-ed piece about the history of abuse in Germany, called “Benedict’s Fragile Church.” (2) Read my daily gospel chapter, in this case, Matthew 3, the story of Jesus’s baptism by John.

It struck me as remarkable that Jesus’s public life began by submitting to baptism at the hands of a wild-eyed prophet in the wilderness, wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. The wild-eyed one asks, whatever for? You should be baptizing me! Jesus answers, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And bows down and is submerged in the waters of the Jordan.

On Maundy Thursday, one of the most beautiful days in the Christian calendar, our priest, Father Barnes, will wash the feet of twelve parishioners, recalling Jesus and the apostles on the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus bowing down again, and again water. Two thousand years later, His Church rolls on like the Jordan.