“Sisters, we live in parlous times.”* Those times were the later 1960s, and the speaker was Mother Eileen of the Akron Dominican congregation. Her pronouncement endures.
Parlous times indeed. The connection of these times and troubles with the times and troubles of the early Christian believers couldn’t be clearer than in the gospel story we heard recently about the beheading of John the Baptist. He was a clarion voice for the truth, unafraid to speak to the corruption and power of his day. He paid with his life.
Truth in a Tangle
Today we live in a knotty tangled world where truth and lies, good and evil, service and selfishness are so intertwined that we can barely separate the fibers. There is great difficulty in truth-finding, and there is great peril in truth-telling.
Pick any point on the globe on any day. Evils and terrors, rebellions, barbed wire and refugees from persecution, so many forgotten ones. There is the vast gap between the “justice” accorded to the privileged and the “justice” meted out to the disadvantaged. (A recent Time Magazine reported that a study of the top 350 corporations in the U.S. revealed a CEO-to-worker ratio of compensation as 312 to 1.) There is false news and “alternative truth,” and at our doorsteps, indefensible poverty and racism. Truth and falsehood tangle together in every newscast, every soundbite, every “tweet.”
Truth: Noble and Naked
Two weeks ago, in an ironic political drama, we heard the tributes to Senator John McCain, the ornery maverick, the worthy opponent, who spoke his truth, a civil servant who reached “across the aisles” to achieve not what he personally wanted, but what he thought was best for the country. Tributes to him contained a critique of present government, along with our palpable yearning for more public figures like him. Two days later, back to political deadlock.
Then there is our church, open now to public view of the protective treachery of leaders who have been entrusted with the shepherding of God’s people. They have failed us. No wonder they walk away, the wounded and broken-hearted, and their children see faith and/or religious practice as irrelevant to their lives. What a disappointment to Vatican II Catholics, still hanging on, still wanting to believe in their call to a holy priesthood with a full share of the Spirit by their Baptism; and how sad for the faithful women who do 80% of the ministry.
So of course we are asked: How can you stay? Your church has betrayed you–how can you remain faithful to Roman Catholicism?
First, I stay because I am not alone, but always a part of “We.” God’s Holy Church is not “It” or “They.” So WE stay believing that the “parlous times” of today are still actively addressed by the Gospel, because we still stand in the courts of Herod and Pilate, and under the cross, and before the empty tomb, and we mourn the malignancy of evil, and our own poor witness. Because we are God’s church by God’s choice and God’s faithfulness–not our own. Because Jesus is Risen and his Spirit never leaves us.
Because by our daily dose of the Scriptures, we are formed by the Word into Living Words of Christ who, as Catherine of Siena reminded God, is “Your Truth.” Because the Trinity in love overflowing serves us a banquet overflowing, and with it, the energy for loving service and prophetic hope and stubborn perseverance and mercy and forgiveness. Because held and entwined in such grace, how can we keep from searching for and speaking out Gospel Truth—even in these tangled “parlous times?”
* Sister Eileen Pentecost had family roots in the South.