In the aftermath of recent shootings and ongoing violence in our nation, we return to debates about gun laws and mental illness. This time, it seems that evil’s presence is also central to our conversations as we acknowledge that various earthly enterprises contribute to the insanity that allows terrorizing acts to pervade. As a Catholic priest, I encounter plenty of nuttiness resulting from church promotion of, and sometimes obsession with, legalism, orthodoxy, scrupulosity, pharisaical attitudes, and other ideology that Jesus argued against and viewed as evil.
Over the past quarter century, there has been an exodus from the Catholic Church by those who became sick or tired of the craziness, especially after the clergy sex scandals and lack of compassion for victims and other marginalized people via hierarchical narcissism and apathy. While we need structure and organization, we don’t need rigid, arrogant, doctrinal, self-protective, condemnatory Catholics that feed the insanity; instead, we need pastoral care from those with a shepherd’s heart. Pope Francis, by appointing broad-minded cardinals in the United States (McElroy, Tobin, Gregory, Cupich…), has made a strong statement that leaders are servants, not monarchs, who offer compassion, not condemnation, and who think not just with the church but, first and foremost, with Jesus. In a recent Pentecost homily, Francis said, “We cannot become starched Christians, overeducated people speaking of theological matters while calmly sipping tea. Rather, we must become courageous Christians who go in search of those who are the very flesh of Christ.”
Jesus struggled with religious leaders of His time who were more concerned about liturgical, dietary and Sabbath laws than about treating one another with dignity and greeting them with a spirit of hope. Many Catholics are, likewise, frustrated by our modern institution when it chooses condemnatory practices rather than healing ones. But I think we are turning a corner by addressing our lunacy and deflecting it while helping to dispel ensuing evil. Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, in a recent article on Struggling With Christianity, quoted Brian McLauren’s assessment that there are more than two choices for frustrated Catholics. Not just to stay compliantly or leave defiantly, we could do as Jesus did when confronted by the insanity of church leaders and laws that made life very difficult for Him: we can stay and speak out in reasonable, logical, and faith-filled ways. Jesus stayed and spoke boldly, in unorthodox ways, against the Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and other starched, overeducated clerics who promoted violence.
In his 1983 bests-seller, People of the Lie: Hope for Healing Human Evil, author M. Scott Peck claimed that evil exists in individuals, communities, and institutions. At times we are vulnerable to its power. Rather than succumbing to it, we can face it as Jesus did: claim it, name it, shame it, and tame it. And we can gain protection from the Holy Spirit. As we approach another Pentecost, let us receive the promise of Christ, the gift of love that will remain with us till the end of time. This feast follows the Ascension in which He rose on high and invites us to rise above the insanity and evil that we create here on earth. It is not about changing guns laws or mental health laws or even abortion laws; it is about changing hearts. By imitating Christ, we will stay engaged and become a more sane church and society, promoting logical, rational, healthy, holy, and wholesome attitudes through a culture of encounter that confronts evil and drives it away.