The Readings for the Memorial of St Monica
Monday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Clauditis regnum caelorum ante homines! vos enim non intratis, nec introeuntes sinitis intrare.
You shut the Kingdom of Heaven to men! You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.
It’s important to hear these verses in a Jewish content. A scribe, a lawyer, was often one of the Sadducees. This tradition within Judaism was of a more literalist sort, invoking the scriptures in a fundamentalist way: “without” interpretation, has it were. The Pharisees, from the other side, were more inclined to circumvent some laws, to find ways to expand them. They were using scripture plus interpretation. These two might be seen as “conservatives” and “liberals” within the Judaism of that time, although there were other parties that were either more or less free with their understandings of the Torah. Some were so concerned about the state of affairs that they treated the whole temple as ritually impure. Others were so liberal that they never bothered to go to the temple at all. Jesus is yelling at both “revisionists” and “traditionalists” in his world. Conservatives and Liberals.
Sometimes it’s tempting to project these verses on our religious opponents. Certainly the plethora of (not so) good-natured religious jokes about Southern Baptists and drinking is a class of this:
Why do you have to take two Baptists with you when you go fishing? Because if you take just one, he’ll drink all your beer.
What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will tell you “howdy” when he sees you in the liquor store.
And often these verses get pointed as very large guns (because spoken by Christ, himself) at Jews of many different ages. And that is never, even in a pretend way, good-natured. Christian Anti-Semitism is a problem of massive proportions. It cost lives and prevents the haters from getting into the Kingdom as well as the Hated which last see Domincal evangelism as only more of the same.
It is tempting in today’s crisis, to point these verses at the clergy who were having illegal sex with minors. They certainly have avoiding the Kingdom of Heaven while, at the same time, preventing others from entering: not just their victims, but many others who are scandalized or spurred to levels of anger that keep them away.
Still, I can only judge myself. I would like to point these verses as very big guns (because spoken by Christ, himself) at me.
I’m mindful of how much of my life was spend finding ways to bend the rules, to be comfortable, to be left alone, whilst having a religious experience of my own choosing. I think of how my own parents, following my lead, have become activists in their own denomination (UMC), withdrawing support from their parish when the preacher speaks in a way they think of as oppressive. In the times I was “church shopping”, regardless of what denomination it was, I would only go to “friendly” places. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. I’ve even found them in Orthodoxy, and you can find them in Catholicism too.
When I hear about the current crisis I think of how easy it is, Revisionist or Traditionalist, for a Double Income and No Kids family to become a strong financial pillar in a local parish, to keep the pastor quiet about certain issues, to dance through a religious culture without ever setting off the landmines that might challenge one’s place. At the same time, one is preventing not only oneself from hearing the Gospel, but also others.
And we have many examples, I think: not just from my own orbit, but in other ways. For I know that there are many couples married for a while without kids. There are many writers who find the social (including environmental) teachings of the church to be annoying in a capitalist culture. There are politicians who prattle on to keep their positions. There are clergy and lay teachers who like the size of the donations that come from these parties; or, who actually agree that disagreeing with the teachings of the church is “OK in this area now”. And these can always be found. Just keep quiet about them, because you don’t want the Authorities to come down on them. But maybe the Authorities will change soon… Conservative or Liberal matters not.
And this Crisis, which is a scandal, a stumbling block, an injury, a wound in the sides of the victims as well as in the side of the Church, is caused by this culture. Yes: it is the specific sins of specific people. But the complicity lies far wider than the action. The action of complicit consent is practically a prime tenant of 1st World religious practice – regardless of religion.
When I hear conservatives or liberals complain… dissing the teachings of the church from either side, we are the folks Jesus is talking to today.