Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time Reflection
All of us can live but we cannot live without hope. You cannot look to the future if you do not first know how to value yourselves, if you do not feel that your life, your hands, your history, is worth the effort…Hope is born when you are able to feel that all is not lost; and for this to happen it is necessary to start “at home,” to begin with yourself. Not everything is lost. I am not lost; I am worth something, I am worth a lot. I ask you for some silence now, and I ask each one of you to ask himself or herself: “Is it true that not everything is lost?” “Am I lost?” “Do I have worth?” “Am I worth a little, a lot?” The biggest threats to hope are those words which devalue you, words which suck out your value and you end up feeling down, is this not so? Words which make you feel second rate, even fourth rate.” (Pope Francis. 13 January, 2020.)
Because of the properties of salt, it has always been associated with Wisdom. Salt acts in preserving, purifying and protecting from corruption those authentic values that bring forth the best of what it means to be human.
Yet at the same time, salt can cause us excruciating pain when applied to an open wound. When our teachings and codes devalue others, our words can indeed cause others great pain. If our worth is seen from a particularly privileged position, it is difficult, if not impossible to truly understand the damage we are causing.
As the religious words that devalue others have become canonised, have become ritualised and sacralised over long periods, we are no longer able to see the suffering that they cause. This is the nature of discrimination that separates and excludes, “words which make you feel second rate, even fourth-rate.” How often God’s Word within Scripture is captured, manipulated and used to enslave, to belittle and to corrupt. But perhaps the greatest temptation that we may face is the presumption that we are called to defend God and to defend our notion of God’s will and God’s Holy Word.
Do the religious words that we use have integrity and coherence?
On the one hand, we will speak beautifully the exalted state that the laity shares through baptism: “The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king” (CCC 1546). As long as these priests, prophets and kings remain silent in the assembly of the church all as well. When it comes however to action against disgraced clergy, we speak of them being “reduced to the lay status”. The language used becomes stripped of its integrity and coherence.
Clericalism makes its clerics superior to the rest of the church in power, the presumption of holiness, absolute parochial authority and as the keepers of accountability. It moves clerics light years away from the Jesus who “did not see being equal to God a thing to be clung to.”
The theology of priesthood insists that the ontology of the male human being is changed by priestly ordination. Translation: the male priest is not like other human beings. Ordination gives them a special mark, an eternal one. Then, out of that reasoning, they connect their special character, their special place in the church, their special authority, their special holiness. This type of doubletalk which lacks integrity and coherence becomes for us stumbling block as we grapple with what it means to have intrinsic human dignity.
This loss of integrity and coherence causes a dissonance within ourselves; a disquieting disconnect. The preacher to the Papal household, Reneiro Cantalamessa, refers to the intellectual suicide that accompanies all types of fundamentalism. There is an even darker side to this great disconnect, this internal dissonance, which takes hold of our hearts; this is hypocrisy!
Hypocrisy is deﬁned as simulating qualities in a false pretence of being holy or virtuous. Hypocrisy has played a significant role in the history of bigotry, wars, persecution, church-state relationships, and “selective indignation”. Jesus strongly condemned it and the projection which name-calling accusations and scapegoating often involve.
Darkness of heart will grandstand, “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, a phrase that injures, demeans, judges, and ostracises people who are made in the image of God. At the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry is the way he drew people close to him, listened to them, touched them, broke bread with them, wept with them, and treated them with dignity, as equals.
Our seraphic father, St Francis, understood how such creeping hypocrisy could enter into our hearts and so warned us not to go about the world contending about words… “When they go into the world, they shall not quarrel, nor contend with words, nor judge others… as becomes the servants of God and the followers of most holy poverty”.
This is the holy poverty that saves us from imposing our will on the meaning of God’s Word.