The Readings for Tuesday in the 14th week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Nequaquam, inquit, Jacob appellabitur nomen tuum, sed Israel : quoniam si contra Deum fortis fuisti, quanto magis contra homines praevalebis?
Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?
In Sunday’s readings, St Paul called the Church the “Israel of God” so it’s good to get reminded, today, what that means. Israel means one who wrestles with God.
Israel says to Joshua, “As we obeyed Moses in all things, so will we obey thee also” (Joshua 1:17) and we know how well they listened to Moses! That’s the Church. If you don’t believe me look at Matthew 28:17 (another verse 17). The risen Christ shows up, “And seeing him they adored: but some doubted.” Doubting him to his face they are. Here’s Jesus now! Oh, well, I don’t know…
But they don’t let go until Jesus blesses them anyway. That’s an honest picture of the Church. God is with us and sometimes we don’t like it. But may God have mercy on us anyways.
The Church is this wrestling partner and the bride of Christ, forever locked in a grapple, declaiming I will not let you go until you bless me. While we often think of the bride of Christ in romantic, sepia-toned, soft-focused images, the truth is the image we have for the church – for Israel – is often less Ward and June Cleaver and more Ralph and Alice Kramden. Even on her best days, the Church is more like Lucy Ricardo… Ricky, let me in the show! Loooceee!
So what does this mean for us, we who lovingly wrestle with God?
In the RCIA class last year one of the Disciples asked if they needed to accept all of the Catholic Church’s teaching before becoming Catholic at Eastet. It’s a valid question. The Church teaches a lot of things… some of which may draw you, some of which may repulse you. What do we do with that stuff?
If you’re joining the Catholic Church, you’re about to say “I believe everything the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”. Notice that you don’t “believe everything the church believes.” If you’ve decided to become Catholic or to return to the practice of your faith, I think it’s fair to assume that your goal, your desire, is to be a faithful Catholic – without reservations. But you might have some reservations at the present time. The journey is the thing. Is it your goal to be 100% Catholic 100% of the time, even if you can’t do it exactly, just yet? God doesn’t want perfect disciples and even the Doubters in 28:17 get sent out as Apostles.
The entire story of the Bible is filled with people who do what God didn’t want and yet God brings good out of it. If you’re trying to do what is right… even if you can’t make it yet… you’re much further along than some of the important folks in the Bible! We leave behind, today, the story of Jacob and leap into the story of Joseph tomorrow. God’s beloved is sold into slavery… becomes the leader of the known world. Ah, how can we dance with a God like this and worry?
In my journey through very conservative forms of Christianity, I’ve met a lot of folks who openly reject this or that teaching of the Church. Then they act as if they are the insulted ones in the relationship. I’ve always wondered why they bother to be Catholic or Orthodox. I don’t really know. They’ve stopped struggling. They’ve decided they are more right than the Church. But they are clearly not 100% sure: because if you’ve stopped being Catholic or Orthodox go be Protestant. Be faithful to your inner voice and follow your conscience!
But then there are many faithful others who struggle. They want to be this thing, but they have failures. They want to be Catholic, but really? This thing about sex? Really? This thing about birth control? Really? This thing about the Pope? Really? This thing about… I’m serious, they have trouble. But they admit they are having trouble, they struggle, they wrestle. They know that there is something here. They even know they are wrong. When they stumble, they go to confession, they talk to their priest, they abstain from communion… then they come back.
They don’t want the Church to change to please them. They want to – but they can’t yet – change. It’s just not happening. The issue is not how many times you fall: you have only to get up one more time than you fall. It’s only one more time.
I will NOT let you go until you bless me. One of these days, Alice. One of these days… to heaven.
Come back next week, try again. Even limping away, you win.