To some, it may appear that the current turbulence in the See is a waffling wave action generating greater and greater swells, which leave the laity to wonder if it’s time to stock up on dry goods. Many of the clergy appear to be wobbling along as well, perhaps even to their own agendas, as they also try to fulfill their responsibilities to the laity, not only as it relates to sex abuse issues, but also in discerning the difference between pastoral opinion and dogma.
Dear Pope Francis:
You must understand that to us Vatican outsiders it’s as if we’re watching roulette balls stacked in a holding pattern waiting for slots to fall into. Nevertheless, we should not view the current state of church affairs with overwrought handwringing, even if the Owner of the vineyard has, on occasion, cautioned His stewards and lay folk alike by means of having donkeys talk and rocks spew water, even mentioning that He could raise up stones to do our jobs. Yet, I continue to attend mass, trying to winnow and hone whatever comes my way, praying that the vineyard Owner moves the steward’s lips to God’s ear to my common senses.
The recent news out of Pennsylvania seems to be revolving around the issue of who was abusing whom, for how long and from what lofty height – giving us that chill of suspicion, and engendering running thoughts that our streets are no longer safe to walk.
In defense of proper perspective, there is some precedent for fallen mans’ behaviors. I recall how Lot, the only man worth saving from the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah, later sired a son during drunken sex with his daughters. I’m pretty sure that most of the faithful understand that there is nothing new under the sun; that is until the Son returns.
We Want to See Christ on Earth
Still, our subliminal need to see Christ on earth appears to conjoin with the need, nay the demand, that our stewards fill that void; or at least make a sanctified show of it. Some stewards try and do so by way of arriving on prayerful tiptoes. Others run headlong into the robes. Some arrive with their gender priorities up in the air, hoping that the laity will find it to be a moot point – given the social currents and the new and varied selections from which to choose. Then there is the aging factor, which tends to be the great equalizer in all things human.
In some unfathomable instances, there are those who demonize the role itself and end up on the fast track to hell. But then again, as I understand it, hasn’t hell become a byword for bogyman or just some questionable proposition, perhaps even in your own mind? Forgive me if I am misstating reports that could simply be heresy, hearsay or stale news.
Who has the Compass?
Maybe a conspiracy of silence has allowed these concerns to grow undisturbed to such an extent that, although we still have some inkling about the general direction in which the church is going, we may have momentarily lost sight of it. This state of affairs may have been promulgated by the perceived unrealistic expectations of the laity themselves, whose contentment lies in our reliance on our shepherds to lead from behind, thereby allowing us to grow boundlessly in all directions; while only occasionally asking ourselves, “who’s got the compass?”
It seems that we are becoming more doubtful and agitated as our moral and ethical fence line migrates with the expanding universe of less certain minds. This gives me to recall my reading of how the Owner of the vineyard had become upset with His people who, in recognizing their need for guidance, demanded of Him that He give them kings to lord over them. They didn’t buy into the proposition that the vineyard owner Himself, indwelling each person, was believable. Even if possible, such an accommodation would result in there being too many cooks in the kitchen and a threat to one’s safe space.
As you may recall, such a gambit was early on attempted with failed results, leaving us wearing leaves. In deference to our free will, which we quickly adapted to the fashioning of whips, the vineyard Owner honored our wish to govern ourselves by way of our own devices, mostly handhelds. We, in turn, relegated Him to the task of patiently waiting by the phone or foxhole, or sneaking about like a worrywart with a stick, prodding us at inopportune moments and whispering, “be careful not to put your eyes out with those things!”
We Feel Lost
You see Francis, some of us are now feeling like we’re lost seekers in the Wizard of OZ Classic. Do you remember when, after all of that traveling and travail, the seekers finally returned to OZ with the witch’s broom handle, only to experience a moment such as the one in which we now find ourselves; wishing only to return home with no way to get there? Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal them not to be standing before the Great Grantor of Wishes, but some wizened guy working a vintage iPhone with all those clunky dials and levers. In answer to their angry demands, the flummoxed wizard actually provided at least a partial answer that may be applicable to our own situation. “If I hadn’t already given you a brain, heart, and courage you wouldn’t be holding that burnt end of the broomstick that I asked you to fetch and shorten.”
I’m certain that such a startling challenge would not be what we would expect were we to
demand like answers from the Almighty. But history suggests that His responses to our call have been met by even greater severity and a demand for even greater tasks. This is no way detracts from His sense of humor; as evidenced by His use of dogs, donkeys, inanimate objects and actors behind curtains, by which to make His point, get a work done, or quash a work that’s not to His liking.
For example, He sent an angel to fetch Elijah who, in the wake of slaughtering several of his competitors, found himself to be on the run and bit suicidal. But after heeding an angel’s call and taking a forty-day hike in the desert, he returned only to hear God whisper, “what are YOU doin’ here?” By that time I doubt Elijah had the energy to cop a plea, off himself or trek back to his safe space. So he took the assignment.
In a similar instance, God actually had Jonah eaten for a while – at least until he delivered the message to Nineveh. Not only did Jonah not get away unscathed, but after grudgingly carrying out his chore he developed this strange taste for revenge and an inexplicable need to carry matches.
We Have an Earthly Perspective
It appears that we manage to consistently come at heavenly things from an earthly perspective, with a proven ability to make riddles of roles and doctrine, while at the same time losing our bearing in the slightest breeze, as we find ourselves alone at the helm of this thing called life, more often than not bolstering our false courage by repeating the mantra of the Cowardly Lion, “I do believe in spooks!”
It gives one pause to imagine Attila the Hun or Napoleon astride his stead, or even myself muttering unconvincingly,“I can do this thing”, while the vineyard Owner, working with only what I allow Him, finds a way to give me no less than what I demand of Him, and even a few things I didn’t think of; like shepherds with blessed hands and not enough broom to sweep them all away when I get caught up in the moment. And there is even that last thing, a home to which to return after my chores are done.
As for my immediate worry, it’s about how we are going to fill the cracks in the church parking lot. In response to the weightier matters discussed I am at a loss. I can only attest to my own strain and resentment over having to be an unwilling participant in problems of my own making, not to mention these disturbing doubts I’ve recently been experiencing, wherein I find myself confusing silence with peace. This said, I might take this opportunity to suggest that the best use of postage stamps and bandwidth could be achieved by parading neither scandal nor the Mia Culpa Circus through the media or mailbox.
As for my take on pastoral and dogmatic issues, I believe I have an old, maybe readable, copy of ‘Dogma for Dummies’ scribed somewhere on my heart, for which I’ll have to rummage about and get back to you. I’m sure we’ll puzzle our way through this day as we did the last.
Then there is always prayer.
by Scott Wiley
About the Author. Scott Wiley trained as a psychologist. As a member of a mixed military services unit, he provided psychiatric services to active duty military personnel. He has since transitioned to a civilian career and provides psychological evaluation and treatment to individuals and families. He is an active member of the American Psychological Association and an adjunct college instructor with postgraduate training at the University of Virginia, University of Maryland, George Mason University and Virginia Tech.