We’ve heard some challenging Gospels over the past last two weeks. Somebody slaps you? Hand them your coat. You doing well? You got some money in your pocket? Woe to you. If Jesus is your friend, he sure has a funny way of expressing it. But we can take consolation in the definition of friendship and love from St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas says that love is “wishing the good for the other person.”
The First Reading today from Sirach and the Gospel make the distinction between discerning/evaluating on the one hand, and prejudice/rash judgement on the other. Priests, spiritual directors, counselors and parents need to be especially careful with this. If you DON’T judge harshly when it’s called for, the person won’t grow and situation could get worse. If you do it incorrectly and damage a bruised reed or squelch the smoldering wick, it might takes years for a person to recover from just one hurtful statement that was carelessly said.
To determine what to say, you need to ask yourself some questions. What’s your motivation? What’s your standard on which you base your judgement?
The Methodist Church in the U.S. dates back to 1736 when John and Charles Wesley came to the New World to spread the movement they began as students in England.
“As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.”
That got challenged this past week. As one writer in First Things reported:
“By the time the General Council concluded its business on Tuesday, it had sent shockwaves through the United Methodist Church. Many Methodists in various conferences had assumed that the One Church Plan, which had the backing of the majority of the Council of Bishops, would ultimately prevail. This plan would have maintained institutional unity by allowing for doctrinal and ecclesial diversity
Instead, the evangelical-international coalition of General Conference delegates held together and defeated the One Church Plan—both in the legislative session on Monday and the plenary session on Tuesday. In its place, this coalition pushed through the Traditional Plan, which upholds the Book of Discipline’s current teaching.
At issue is the United Methodist Church’s beliefs on the human person, human anthropology, the role, definition and interpretation of the Bible and how this plays out in complex ways in contemporary society. They’re making judgements. It is so contentious, that they are talking about an all-out schism in the UMC.
Something similar already happened in the Lutheran Church about ten years ago. The North American Lutheran Church was constituted on August 27, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio, at a Convocation organized by the church reform movement called Lutheran CORE.
The NALC is “a church family committed to the authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. In keeping with the Lutheran Confessions, we believe all doctrines should and must be judged by the teaching of Scripture.”
That’s a judgement. Members of various Lutheran churches felt that this was not being followed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. https://www.elca.org So they left and founded the NALC.
In their desire to be faithful followers of Christ the NALC stated that they want to be “committed to moving away from a solely institutional understanding of the Church, to the Bible’s commission to be a community of followers of Jesus who focus on being disciples and making disciples.” Thus they “developed an initiative or strategy called “Life-to-Life Discipleship”!
Why do I tell you this?
The NALC has been talking about discipleship for the past few years. They had been working with Sherry Weddell from the Catholic outfit, Catherine of Siena Institute, examining her book “Forming Intentional Disciples.” They asked her where discipleship and service and spiritual renewal was happening in the US. She said, “Talk to Detroit.’ A lot is of remarkable things are happening in the midst of a decimated city.
In March of 2014 Archbishop Allen Vigneron, of Detroit announced a year of prayer for a new Pentecost. From that has stemmed a remarkable initiative in Detroit called Unleash The Gospel. https://www.unleashthegospel.org There is a spiritual and pastoral renewal happening in Detroit that is having a profound effect in a city that has been economically, socially, politically devastated since the collapse of the US car industry.
As Archbishop Vigneron wrote, “Over the last three years we, God’s family in the Church of Detroit, have already been experiencing a spiritual renewal as we have prepared and strategized for a missionary transformation of the Archdiocese.“
They also were talking to Sherry and her assistant Catherine Cooledge about Sherry’s other book, “Forming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.” They asked, “Are there’s any parishes where they are doing this?” Catherine said, “Well, there’s this small parish in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia…..”
And so that’s how two Catholic priests, Fr. Steve Pullis, Director of Evangelization, Catechesis & Schools and the Pastor of St. Monica Berwyn, ended up presenting and talking for several days to a bunch of Lutherans.
On a panel discussion “judgement” was a central theme.” What is the Bible? Why is the Bible? Is the Bible really inerrant? Who says so? Can you prove that? Do we need sacraments? If so, what is marriage?
We discussed that fact that analysis, discernment and proper judgement needs to be open minded, coachable, humble, docile. It has to have a spiritual character that is animated and guided by THE Holy Spirit. Finally – and here is THE sticking point – it absolutely needs to be grounded in truth.
There are a lot of opinions flying around the United Stated today about religion, gender, economics, information …. A lot of people are saying a lot of things and claim that they are speaking the truth. What is the motivation behind the measurement they’re using? What is the standard that keeps you going straight ahead?
Addendum. Several years ago Regnum Christi/Legionnaires of Christ were devastated when it was discovered that their founder had been living a double life. For the next several years, they dug to try and find “the truth” about who they were and why they were. The experience was outlined in the book, The Quest For The Core. I found it a fascinating book. In my opinion, something like this needs to be written about “the truth” concerning (arch)diocesan priesthood and (arch)diocesan and parish spirituality.