In a letter to Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, coined the phrase “read the signs of the times.” If I were to weigh in on my view of the signs of the times, I would say everything is out of balance. Everything is spot on or close to it – as for the overall teachings of the church, but from my Catholic view of the world:
•It is out of balance in the focus of Jesus in the Eucharist, and needs to be balanced with awareness and cultivation of the Holy Spirit within us.
•It is out of balance in caring for the souls of the dead and the unborn, and needs to be in balance with unity; living a part of the Body of Christ.
•It is out of balance with the idea of liturgy, and needs to be counter-balanced with mission; apostolic works, and evangelizing the living.
•It is out of balance with clericalism and the idea that priests are “all that.” They are, but while the hierarchy trusts a bunch of men who have been ordained, they do not trust the laity. A small percentage of them have broken the trust with sexual misconduct. A larger, but still small percentage preach their version of the truth. Diocesan priests are overwhelmed with responsibility and requirements for pastoral ministries. So, we trust these ordained men, the majority of whom are trustworthy, but we do not trust the equally educated, equally sinful laity to chip in on a deeper level. I can see where having the ordained in charge lessens the amount of people over whom the Church must oversee. Then, I’m not sure how much oversight is given to priests.
We live in a world where men are not feeling called to the priesthood (or are not responding to the call). The faithful are hungry for truth, and all they get is a 10-20 minute homily at mass. Yes, we have radio shows, books, lectures and the like, but we need more people involved in grass roots efforts, too. We need the laity to understand their call to receive communion, and to be dismissed to go out into the world to share what they have received; to share Jesus in word and deed.
To do this effectively, we need people who understand their place in the Body of Christ; to understand that we are no longer individuals, but a part of us resides in all of those who live in shelters, and in those who sit on our borders longing for a better life. A part of us lives not only in those who are incarcerated, but in a co-worker, grumpy boss, and in a person who just cut one off in traffic.
To do this effectively, we need the ordained to trust the laity, and if not us, then to trust the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Even mistakes work towards the good of those who love Christ. I do not believe that we can make things any worse than they are now. Then again, I do have my fears that more people means more damage, but as I pray, I feel compelled to trust the Holy Spirit. I feel compelled to have faith. I mean, the Bible is pretty clear that evangelization and diaconate work in its original Greek meaning of service are the role of the entire Church.
We live in an era where co-dependency and lack of boundaries impact our relationships with others. Things can get sticky, and sometimes dicey. We live in an era where people seem to believe all efforts must result in victory, or why bother? Why visit someone in prison when there is such a high recidivism rate? Why give cash to someone on the streets when they are likely to buy drugs or alcohol? Why? I think Mother Theresa summed it up best when she talked about being faithful, instead of worrying about being successful. If we are successful, we are drawn to pride. If we are little and just trust, then we are drawn to humility.
We live in a time when significant prayers are needed. We live in a time when our internal relationship with God needs to be set on fire. We live in a time where Jesus is the answer to depression and addiction. We live in a time where people are verbally persecuted for living and speaking the Gospel. This should not surprise us. Jesus predicted that this would happen. So, we need to support each other in our endeavors. We need to be open to constructive feedback when God might be speaking through others in order to perfect our efforts. We need to know more fully how much God loves us, and out of a response to that love, set the world on fire with our endeavors of letting Jesus work in and through us.