13 Mar 2011
“‘I am the true vine … Live on in me, as I do in you.’” (John 15:1a, 4a) In the name …
We’ve barely started Lent, but we’re already taking a break today. We do so because every year on the second Sunday of March we pause to remember and to re-dedicate ourselves as we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our church denomination. This is now our 114th anniversary. We do not need to explain who we are any longer by what we are not. We have entered into our second century as a church community. We are bringing together a Catholic worship and a progressive theology and practice. This is who we are. What we’re doing is looking at church differently. Fr. Rob Nemkovich sent me an e-mail titled “Different Ways of Looking at Things.” A couple of examples: A little boy went up to his father and asked: “Dad, where did my intelligence come from?” The father replied, “Well, son, you must have got it from your mother … because I still have mine.” Start off expecting one thing from the father’s reply, then discover that he’s got a different way of looking at things. “Mr. Clark, I have reviewed this case very carefully,” the Divorce Court Judge said, “And I've decided to give your wife $775 a week.” “That's very fair, your honour,” the husband said. “And every now and then I'll try to send her a few bucks myself.” Again, start off expecting one thing, then come to find out that the ex-husband has a different way of looking at things than does the judge.
We should not hesitate to say, with all joking aside, that we as church also have a different way of looking at things. We are a reforming Catholic church. I was speaking with Fr. Sen. Banas this past week. He’s fluent in both English and Polish, and he told me that he does not refer to today’s Feast Day as the Feast of the Institution, but as the Feast of the Founding. Institution doesn’t convey the original intent of the Polish as well as Founding. Institution has to do with the mechanics of the church; its rules, procedures and bureaucracy. That’s not what we’re celebrating today. Instead, “Founding” focuses our attention on our principles, the reasons why we started a new church.
All Christian churches accept the New Testament as authoritative. If we read all 27 of those books, I cannot see how anyone can walk away with the impression that the most important message there is institution. Read the stories of Jesus’ life in the four Gospels, and that may not be a bad idea as we have just entered Lent. Listen to what He says and then try to find where He has much concern at all for institution. It’s not there. Read the letters of Paul. A lot of them arise because of problems in the early churches that he has organized. Nowhere does he write to a hierarch of any of those churches. He writes to the entire community of believes. Where does institution fit in there? Think about the book of Revelation. Amid all of the other imagery, the author reveals that in heaven there will be no Temple because the presence of God will be direct and universal. Institution disappears.
Institution has its purpose. It is what allows the church to continue. It is what allowed the church to reach us over these past 2,000 years. Organization is necessary, but the organization, the institution, serves a higher purpose. When the institution starts to serve itself, that’s when problems start. The institution of the church provides the platform for the life of the church, but the institution is not the purpose of church. We’re not called to maintain the institution; we’re called to advance the gospel. This is one of the first lessons from our founding. We changed the institution of the church 114 years ago, but we remained church. Some people can place too much emphasis upon the institution and think that it is the only God-given way to worship. But the institution serves the church; it is not itself the church. Jesus didn’t organize the institution of the church; He is the church!
So what we celebrate today is not the institution of our church, but the reasons for our founding and all that came to emerge from those first principles. Democracy is one of the ways that we look at church differently. It is a re-working of our whole Catholic identity so that it includes and respects the inspiration and authority of all the members of church. This is why Bp. Hodur spoke about priests and bishops as teachers of the faithful, why he encouraged his parishioners to think for themselves, to ask questions of the church, to challenge the church. The Sacrament of the Word of God was called into existence so that every member of the church would be informed about her teachings. Then from this basis the church would be governed by Synods and the majority vote of all her members. General Confession is based on our church’s trust in the personal conscience of her members, that adults can confess directly to God and not necessarily through the priest, telling him every lie, swear and whatever else may have been committed. Absolution comes through the church, but confession is between God and the individual.
Think about the fact that we don’t teach original sin because it doesn’t fit with the idea of a loving Creator, or our rejection of eternal damnation because it contradicts a forgiving God. A married clergy, Adoration Society women in the front pew, women voting in church before they could in the United States: We were once on our way to truly standing up for the full equality of women. Wednesday one of the acolytes asked Rev. Cynthia if she were our new bishop. That young person didn’t see male or female. It didn’t make a difference. There is still hope. And all of this is possible because we see church as living, growing and changing. We see church as the Spirit guiding us now. Church is not only institution that comes to us from the past. The church is Jesus in the present and our relationship with Him. These are the things we celebrate today on the 114th anniversary of our founding as we pause from our just-started Lenten journey. We offer our prayers of thanks for our church, and we also pray that we may continue to do what we can to keep building our church community upon the founding principles of those who have come before us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo