The Church Does Not Have The Formative Power That It Has Had Throughout History

We can no longer be inveigled,

through fear and guilt,

into believing that beads, statues, prayers and rituals

hold the power to decide the states of our souls and our fates in the afterlife.

Yet, this lack of formation also presents a real opportunity for the church.

What church authorities still refuse to recognize

is that they cannot rely on the medieval tactics of spiritual coercion and shame

to keep us in the pews.

Instead, we have to be met where we are,

to be engaged in a dialogue about the larger questions of our lives.

We have to be addressed as mature, thinking adults,

because we simply do not feel compelled to go to church in the way

that previous generations did.

The old symbols of the church do not speak to us

in the way it spoke to the generations past.

Rosaries, statues of Mary and images of the saints,

are subject to much ridicule,

and crosses have become more recognizable as a fashion statement

than as a reminder of the living, bleeding God

who was killed in an effort in reach out to us.

But perhaps this is more a result of church's unwillingness

to risk breathing new, creative life into these sacramentals.

What really is the difference between grasping at rosaries versus Buddhist prayer beads? Aren't both of these actions, at their heart,

the movements of vulnerable human beings seeking some sense of peace,

some discipline of prayer,

some tangible feeling of comfort

amid so much of life's chaos, sadness and uncertainty?

The Christian mystical tradition

and the Catholic notion of sacrament

could offer so much to quell our longings.

But, sadly, the only identification that they make with Christianity today

is with biblical fundamentalism and a strange caricature of Jesus.

Sadly, Catholicism is identified with moralistic repression,

and a group of disconnected men

who are uninterested in listening to the experiences or questions of the laity,

most especially its female, LGBT, and divorced members.

There is such a richness of ideas and beliefs

that have come out of the Catholic tradition

that would do much to help us find the sacred in our everyday lives.

We see the grace of God working through all of nature to reach out to us,

to perfect us,

and to help us become fully realized in the goodness of our humanity.

It is a sacramental worldview

that allowed Catholicism to give birth

to figures such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Teilhard de Chardin.

The activist, the mystic and the scientist were all deeply grounded

in the Catholic belief

that there is no limit to the ways in which God reveals Godself to us,

whether it is through the broken man in the gutter,

the power of contemplative prayer,

or the unfolding of the cosmos.

We have been abandoned during a time unprecedented spiritual hunger,

living in a period when the rate of divorce skyrockets,

the effects of technology separate us from family and neighbors,

and a frenetic busyness controls our day to day activities.

We seek to reach out to the tangible things of nature

in a poignant struggle to find grace.

How much fuller would our experience be

if the church ceased to focus strictly on the ways in which we ought to order our existence, and instead

guided us in finding the innumerable ways

in which God breaks through to us in our ordinary lives.

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