As I write this, Australia has just emerged fresh from the turmoil of a good thorough dunking - like one of those beach waves we call ‘a dumper’ - that was our national federal election. For those not from our shores, this election was a contest between our two major parties, resulting in our standing Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party pulling a surprise win (in his words “miracle”) over Bill Shorten’s Labor party. And so, as we speak, the Liberal party is in the leadership of Australia - land of beer and togs, sun and sand, ‘golden soil, wealth and toil’. Such is life! Social media’s fingers have been smashing out a missile of responses, ranging from ‘Yes, there is God! This is the best thing for Australia,” to “I’m disgusted with our country and want to wash my hands.” If you think I’m going to enter that fray, sorry to disappoint you. Instead the whole thing got me thinking about the Church. Why?
One of the comments I’ve heard since the result is how the Labor party ‘overplayed their hand’ and turned off a lot of Australian voters by appealing to ‘class warfare’. You know the concept, get the media machine churning, pit one type of citizen against the other, create a straw man or two, then hope the swing goes favourably in your direction. In this instance, the votes didn’t swing Labors way and the alleged approach back-fired.
Now I’m no political analyst, and I’m sure there was more to it than that. But I have been around Church ministry long enough that when I read those commentaries I couldn’t help but think, ‘Hmmm, that sounds awfully familiar… why is that?’ If you’ve been around long enough to know that the Church has some distance to go before becoming the pure Bride she is called to be, then perhaps you could could finish this article for me! But for what it’s worth, here’s my reflection.
How To Ensure We Lose
Class warfare in the Church’s ‘campaign’ for self-renewal is a death sentence. And yet sadly, despite the good public hiding of our current times, it somehow manages to be alive and well. How?? I guess ‘them’ and ‘us’ are easy terms to play with. Maybe it’s something in our human psyche that loves - needs? - a bad guy and a good guy, a winner and a loser, a right side and a wrong side. Fear after all is a good political motivator. I’m not saying right and wrong don’t exist, they do. The problem is, when you’ve got a Church that’s meant to be united over our common salvation through grace in Jesus Christ and the great commission to tell as many people about that good news as possible, what could go wrong?? I know, I know - I’m an idealist.
Apparently, all you need to do is convince us that the real issues are secondary to that primary one, and that the enemy is really each other. Then sit back and watch us destroy ourselves. It doesn’t take long. In the book of Acts the bone of contention was the circumcision issue. After all, that Paul guy was a suspicious character and those Gentiles were a dodgy mob. Today, class warfare in the Church raises it’s head in turf wars between parishes, dioceses or organisations; in conflict between leader’s ego’s and personalities; or in ministry jealousy and competition - all behind the scenes of course. Funny human beings that we are, we forget that God can see through our walls and hears every private conversation. Jesus’ reminder that “what you speak in whispers will be shouted from the rooftops” comes to mind. Ouch! There may need to be some serious humbling done before some of us enter the kingdom.
It’s the TesSeracT, stupid!
If we are seriously going to realize a new evangelisation of our nation and indeed the world, then we have got to put aside our left/right/traditional/progressive divides and stop fighting the wrong enemy. Don’t get me wrong, there is an enemy, but I tend to agree with Pope Francis about who that is. Instead, like Adam and Eve and the Avengers around the Tesseract, the devil (yes, I said the ‘d’ word) has got us all busy arguing with each other, and distracted from our true mission. Of course, when we read Jesus’ parable about the weeds sown among the wheat, and the landowner says “an enemy has done this”, we know exactly who we have in mind. It’s that bloody other mob! Those ones over/up/down there who are ruining the Church. Doing the liturgy wrong. Head stuck up their… you know what.
I’m not suggesting that left/right/traditional/progressive angles exist. It’s fine to see things differently to others. To be passionate is good! To have different points of view is healthy. But let’s learn a lesson from this recent election. Most Australian’s don’t want to align themselves with a party that pits one group against the other, much less a Church that is “closed in on itself” as Pope Francis said, fighting over who sits where at the table, or what the right way to serve dinner is. We simply cannot afford to indulge in this any more. And it pains me to say, but the change of heart required has got to start at the top. If you are leader in the Church- clerical or lay, diocesan, parish, movement or school - that means the change has to start with you. We need to become aware that people are listening to the side remarks we make and take their cues from us. Culture flows downhill, and the one thing we simply cannot afford the Church of the future to be marked by is internal politics. There’s just too much at stake.
So today I want to appeal today to the entire Catholic Church of Australia: let’s get on the same page! ‘How on earth can we do that?’ you may (rightly) ask, ‘You couldn’t get a more divided, argumentative lot!’ Yeah I hear ya, especially if the recent Plenary Council submissions are anything to go by; we’re a pretty diverse mob, I’ll give you that. And yet somehow we’re also meant to be coming alongside our Protestant evangelical brothers and sisters in the even greater task of ecumenism! Talk about our work being cut out for us. How are we going to do that?
With all this in mind, I’d like to suggest that right now - three weeks out from Pentecost - is the perfect place to start. Right now is that time of grace when those first flawed apostles, women disciples, and 120 ‘lay believers’ all gathered together around Mary the mother of unity, and prayed for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If there’s going to be a renewal, it’s got to be in the power of the Holy Spirit or not at all.
Come on team
Your homework: check if you’re not part of the problem. If we are, then we need to examine our hearts and repent - yes, even if Lent is over. I seem to recall someone saying that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we are going to earn - let alone win - the contest for the hearts and minds of this nation in continuous motion called ‘Australia’, there can be only one team on the field. We can be as diverse as you like, but last time I checked, that’s what ‘Catholic’ means, right? At the end of the day we’re all meant to be wearing the same jersey, the one emblazoned with the name ‘JESUS’ on the front. If you’ve covered over that name and replaced it with your key sponsor (read ideological position) now would be a good time to get the order right.
Who’s keen to play?