8 Mar 2009
“May your eyes watch night and day over this Temple, the place where you have decreed you shall be honoured.” (1K 8:29a) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
About ten days ago the Calvo household purchased its first ever power tool. I know that sends shivers up many a person’s spine. A sordid tale has been shared often enough that I’m not at all handy with such instruments, and that I could be downright dangerous with a power tool. Sharon talked over the phone with her very handy brother Kevin. They discussed together what to buy, and my only job was to walk into Sears and pick it up at the counter. So once I got it, I called my brother-in-law Kevin. In our conversation I mentioned to him that the parish had just bought a brand new front-loading washing machine and dryer. With the old washing machine and with a light hanging right above it, I told him, you could look into it and see everything without any problem. With the front-loading one it wasn’t as easy. So I told Kevin I took out my new power drill and drilled a few holes in the top of the washer to let some light in. It actually took him a little while to realize that I was only joking. For a while he thought I actually had done it. That’s how much the anti-handyman he thought I was.
With this said, I want to get to the main point of today’s sermon. Today we celebrate the 112th anniversary of the founding of the National Catholic Church. I think one of the most poignant monuments we have ever erected as a church stands at the entrance of our first church in Scranton, PA. At the threshold of its main entrance is a plaque that lists all of the names of the original parishioners of that church. Without them, the plaque says to me, everything that lies inside of those doors would not have been possible, and if that first church had never come into existence, there is a very real possibility that none of our other churches, including ours here today, would ever have been organized.
But how did they do it? How did this group of immigrants, not long in this country, find the will and the way to build a brand new form of the Catholic church? These were not highly educated people with formal degrees hanging on their walls. Many of them didn’t even speak English, which forced them into enclaves separated from the rest of American society. I don’t even know if many of them could vote in American elections. So where did they learn all about the workings of democracy? They had dangerous jobs in the coal mines too. The ones who survived tragedy and injury on the job then faced shortened lives because of black lung disease. While struggling even to survive, how is it that these people ever came to find the time, energy and will to build this church of ours? The lack of formal education, the language barrier and the hardships of their lives, how is that this people, the ones honoured by that plaque at the entrance of our first church, how is it that such a people ever came to hope for and create this church where every member is entrusted with a share of her leadership?
Now there are some people who could be pretty worried about me playing around with a power drill. They may even think I would drill a hole in a brand new washing machine or something. And likewise, there were, and there are, an awful lot of people who worry about what might happen when the entire membership of a church is entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of Catholic leadership. It all depends on how you define “Catholic.” If Catholic means the Mass and the sacraments and all that is associated with them, then our democracy doesn’t drill any holes in the proverbial washing machine. But if Catholic means first and foremost the top-down leadership of the church, then yes our democracy has played a little bit of havoc with the institution. We should remember though that there was church long before there was organized-church. The New Testament story is one of Spirit-inspired communities. They gathered wherever they could and broke bread together at an actual meal because Jesus gathered together with His followers at the Last Supper and said do this in remembrance of me. The church hop-scotched across an empire family by family, community by community not as an organized institution led by her hierarchy but as inspired believers brimming with enthusiasm and the energy of passionate belief. The church has been around since the first Pentecost Sunday because through Jesus the Holy Spirit has defined, inspired and led the church. As she grew larger, leadership became a necessity. This meant, however, that leadership flowed from the church not the church from her leadership. The church defines how she will be led. Leadership, in fancy words, is contingent. The essence of the church is spiritual. And so when we define Catholic by means of the Mass and the sacraments and all that is spiritual, we are standing firmly within the history of Christ’s church.
How we choose to lead this church of ours, in other words, does not make or break us as Catholic. Sharing the leadership among the clergy and laity only insures that the faith is embraced by more members more completely. Commitment is always stronger than commandment. Our Catholic democracy invests all of our members with preserving and advancing the faith. This, again, is why we have our unique sacrament of the Word of God. All members need to be taught not only about what we must do as church, but why, so that dialogue is possible, so that the Spirit can work through the consensus of the many. This compels the church to think about her positions and to constantly evaluate them because of that question “why?”. This keeps the church alive and vibrant, and open to the leadership of the Spirit.
Catholic democracy no more guarantees that the worst-case scenarios will happen any more than having me drill holes in the washing machine just because I have access to a power drill. Those fears are simply unfounded. On the other hand, the spiritual benefits of trusting in the authority of all the baptized seems to truly be Catholic since Catholic by definition refers to the whole and all-encompassing nature of Christ’s church. And it is in this sense of our broadly shared Catholic faith that we celebrate our 112th anniversary as church this day, and for her we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)