Sunday, January 30, 2011

What burdens do church leaders place upon their own shoulders?

In Matthew 23 Jesus denounces behaviors of the scribes and Pharisees.  The chapter describes seven “woes” when religious leaders hypocritically do not practice what they preach, create rules from which they exempt themselves or try to “appear” rather than “be” holy. 

The Biblical commentary on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website explains that Matthew saw these same behaviors in his own church.  Thus he also warns Christian leaders to not adopt these attitudes or practices.  Almost 2000 years later, how well do church leaders avoid the “woes” of MT 23?

When I hear of excommunications or threats of them justified by infallibility doctrine, I can’t help but think of MT 23:13, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”  What are church leaders doing to throw open the gates of heaven?  Have they learned the meaning of, “I desire mercy not sacrifice?” (MT 9:13, MT 12:7)

When I see formation programs focused on indoctrinating people to become dogmatists rather than humble servants, I can’t help but think of MT 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.”  Do church leaders set converts a stronger example of forgiveness or judging, of serving or being served, of holding others accountable or themselves?

When I hear of bishops such as those in the dioceses of Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego, CA; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; Wilmington, Del. and most recently (1/4/11) Milwaukee, WI filing for diocesan bankruptcy to protect church financial assets rather than testify to the truth about pedophiles and cover-ups, I cannot help but recall MT 23:17, “Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?”  Should we follow bishops’ examples sacrificing the church’s integrity to protect its fortunes?

When I hear of people being excluded from ministry due to trivial matters while thousands of sexually abusive priests and the bishops, cardinals and popes who enabled them retain their ministerial ranks, I cannot help but think of MT 23:24, “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!”  Why is a pope, who enabled pedophiles, beatifying another pope who enabled pedophiles while condemning as ecclesial criminals those who equally see Christ in male or female priests?

When people judge and market themselves as superior Christians for promoting certain causes yet maintain a chokehold on their personal wealth and independence rather than fund things like healthcare for the poor, I can’t help but think of MT 23:25,"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”  Why do church leaders praise people who champion causes that mostly impact other’s autonomy but who snarl at causes that will impact their own financial autonomy?

When I see church officials defend secrecy, evade accountability, demonize cries for reform, or sacrifice truth to appear free from scandal, I cannot help but hear Jesus cry, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.”  (MT 23:27)  Is it more scandalous to air scandals and address them or pretend they don’t exist and perpetuate them?

When I hear of Pope Benedict praising Joan of Arc (1/26/11), a woman the church killed for heresy, while he creates a culture that censures, sanctions and excommunicates today’s prophetic voices, I can’t help but recall MT 23:29-31, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood.’”  Do today’s Princes of the Church heed or treat prophets any better than the ancient Kings of Israel and Judah did?

When I hear of clergy imposing restrictions upon life situations they will never experience, I can’t help but hear the words of MT 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”  What burdens do church leaders place upon their own shoulders? 

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