A pilgrim Church
Today’s readings: Exodus 16, 2-4.12-15; Ephesians 4, 7. 20-24; Jn 6, 24-35.
Exodus is always a most powerful metaphor that addresses directly the anxieties of people across the board and at all times. In the Exodus accounts there is a condensation of problems and issues that continue to characterise God’s people to this day.
The Second Vatican Council 50 years ago spoke of the pilgrim Church which “carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God”.
These words find a marvelous echo in today’s readings from the complaints of the people in Exodus against Moses and Aaron, to the false expectations the crowds had on Jesus in John’s gospel.
As long as we are all on a journey, we are always in becoming. That is why most significantly the Council chose clearly between the political images of the Church that are dated, and the biblical images that render more clearly the nature and purpose of the Church in the world.
There were times when we believed the Church to be a ‘perfect society’. But speaking of the Church in the world, the Council preferred taking as a point of departure the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of people because nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in the hearts of Christians as well.
This is the vision that needs revisiting. Particularly in times when we feel at a loss where identity and redefinition of our role and function in society are concerned.
In a less homogenous society, there are those who prefer to shut themselves up in cocoon form, opting for false securities.
Our being is in becoming, I would say even where doctrine is concerned. We always preferred to stick to dogma, but the worst thing that can happen to the Church in the transmission of doctrine is precisely when we stick to doctrine, losing touch with the anguish of those whom doctrine should serve.
At a point in time when a true spiritual revolution is underway, there are those who, just like in Exodus, out of fear look back and opt for old security. This is pure nostalgia of times when our beliefs were culturally and socially sanctioned even by the laws of the State. That made things very clear.
But the Church should rather be in the power of the Spirit. The future is in the hands of God because the future is God.
Believing is moving on, looking ahead. It is only fear that makes us look back.
The delicate mission of the Church in a society and culture that are fast moving on is not to bring everything to a halt. It is rather to provide the people with the antidote to all that offers im-mediate gratification, including ready-made answers.
The antidote to permissive living is not to preach the rules again or to become fundamentalist. Our culture is in search of a soul not of new and stricter rule of law.
Ethics without virtue is a little morality. It is like religion without God. We’ve come a long way before arriving where we stand. But that is exactly what we’re still trying to do, re-establish religion without God.
Life is difficult and complex and the Church’s mission in this context is surely not simply to preach what is licit or illicit.
The bread of life that people badly need is wisdom for the journey, it is the virtue that enhances true spiritual growth. This cannot happen without first reaching out to the people’s grief and anguish.
People can stay in for the wrong reasons, as the gospel suggests. They can also complain for the wrong reasons, as in Exodus.
Whichever way, the uphill struggle of the Church demands a public and credible leadership wise enough to interrogate people’s expectations and to listen attentively to their complaints.