On the one hand: I get really disgusted by the interference of religion in politics. I don’t fucking want prominent politicians showing public support of Israel because a prophecy says that the Second Coming of Christ can only happen when the Holy Land is at war. I don’t want people making laws that hurt my ability to do what I want and need to do because they decided that’s what Jesus would want them to decide for me. I don’t want politics tangled up in any religious belief except “Love people; be good to the poor,” and I want them to do that anyfuckingway, not because any book told them to.
On the other hand: I get really disgusted when a priest makes a homily in which he carefully avoids taking any side whatsoever, whether or not I agree with it.
It happens so often. It’s amazing the routes a priest can take to avoid alienating anyone in the congregation in either direction. I think of the homilies in the weeks following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, of Michael Brown, when the intercessionary prayers all skirted the edge of saying something– “We pray for justice for ALL people,” emphasis on the ALL. Prayers for justice for all are good and necessary; but then they’d pray for “a solution” to violence, without making any statement about what the cause of the problem was, or what form a solution might take. Something they’d get as specific as “A solution in keeping with God’s plan,” which, again, absolved them of having to contemplate what that solution might look like.
In his (otherwise very good) homily on the Feast of the Holy Family this week, the priest at my home parish spoke about the “challenges” to the Catholic institution of marriage. “There are… many threats,” he said, with an all-encompassing hand gesture and an uncomfortable smile, “to marriage as it should be.” LIKE THE GAYS? I briefly considered shouting up into the vaulted ceiling; come on! Say it. We all know what you mean. Say it. How does an institution as old as ours get away with that kind of passive-aggression? Isn’t this the church that birthed liberation theology?
Earlier this month, I attended a protest at my university in response to the failed indictment of Michael Brown’s shooter. It was hosted at the cathedral on Loyola University’s campus – a motion of solidarity with dozens of churches, all denominations, in the south and west of the city. Mass would be followed by a march. The church was crowded when I arrived, and it filled up more and more as the service continued; standing-room only, front to back. The priest’s homily was short. In it, he said the word “Ferguson” (a word I’d heard avoided and avoided and avoided in the weeks preceding, when they prayed every Mass for “an end to violence in our communities”). He said “injustice.” He said join us. He said that it was the mission of the Jesuits to seek justice; that it was the reason for the university’s existence. That what the students crowded into the church were doing was right and just.
The speakers from the community stood at the pulpit, up beside the altar, to talk to us all. As we exited the church, they rang the bells – installed just a week before – for a funeral.
It was a political action. It was a political gesture. It was a political statement, and I was more moved than I had been by my church in years. I felt– for once, briefly– less like I was putting up with the institution in the hope of seeing it change, and more like I was watching do what it was intended to do. I am leery of saying things like I felt the presence of Christ, but– I felt, at least, the example of Christ.
What does the Church have to fear from saying something, every so often? What can an institution this vast have to fear from speaking about specific events, about living in the time in which it exists? A priest whom I very much respect spoke once about this to me – about the struggle the Church experiences, as a behemoth meant to stand firm and unchanging in values through the centuries. About the caution required in deciding whether an issue is persistent enough to give the Church an official stance on it. About the danger of making the Church a mouthpiece for any single person, any single political issue or opinion – about the tenuous hold on the millions of opinions making it up it has, our Church whose name means universal.
I don’t know. I’ve always thought that the Church forgets, sometimes, the extent to which it has its foot planted firmly in the world. Its pointy miter, its crooked staff, might stir the clouds in Heaven, but its mouth, its hands, its feet, are here on Earth. There comes a point where we are too large to have an opinion just starts to sound like an excuse.