People have very complicated relationships with the Church and the individuals who chose to be part of the structure, the insitutions and the organizations. It is evident in the stigma currently attached to Catholicism, the denigrating remarks about the Catholic school system and the criticism and cries of hypocrisy. There are ironies embedded in all that: the Catholic school system produced criitcal thinkers who could effectively debate and challenge authority. The culture of Catholicism produced a commitment to compassion that raised the concerns about gender inequalities and blatant injustices that enabled and empowered persons to scrutinize the practices of the Church itself. And in a world characterized by the use of symbols, there was a realization that the very symbols of the Church can be percieved and interpreted as exclusionary and divisive. That’s where it might be time to take a step back. The readings of this week introduce a dimension worth considering: there is Paul from his letter to the Corinthians, and then the Gospel with Jesus encouraging the exhausted fisherman to put nets in the water once more.
In the recounting, both Peter and Paul describe themselves as simply “sinful”, unworthy of the relationship and connection to Jesus. I wonder if today, they might use the word “human” as easily as “sinful” was chosen. Each of these passages describes an individual drawn to God. And the relationship becomes the most central and meaningful experience. It is not about power or rules, status or control. Instead, it is about that connection. Paul references his past and his transformation; Peter is stunned by Jesus’ request and then the catch that defies his imagination. Both Peter and Paul fasten their gaze and attention on Jesus, invest in the connection. And in turn, Jesus’ gaze grasps the reality of the humans beings before him. The connection fascinates and animates, enthuses and empowers. And it leaves them as human…to become even more human and discover all that means through every experience life dares to present: the triumphs and the testing, the failures and the fallacies, the celebrations and the challenges. The connection endures at times in spite of humanity, not because of it.
Sometimes, the story of the institutional structure overpowers the meaning of the personal connection. What is to be sought is the connection; the insitution can enhance that and just as easily obscure it depending on the circumstances. To realize that no one human is perfect is to trust that an institution built by humans will bear foibles and flaws and faults. There is a sense in which expectations of the Church are stereotypically ideal, and sometimes sadly disconnected from an understanding of human abilities and limitations. What matters and what remains esssential is the appreciation of the bond, the conection between God and an individual.
Engulfed by the chaotic uncertainty of our time, by the scandals that have stressed and scourged the Church, the reality of personal connection to God sustains. The two thousand year history of the Church has been punctured by multiple crises generated by the flawed decsions and choices of created beings. And yet, Peter and Paul are reminders that what really matters is that personal connection. In every age, there are those mystical moments when individuals are illuminated by that very connection and it is their light that dispels the darkness.