Governing or Loving?
Well, the chatter has begun: Will Pope Francis retire? This, while speculation grows considering the possible repercussions of the synodal process initiated by the Pope. Our attention glues to those very important issues which are, alas, distant from the lives of everyday people. Who gets to be a Cardinal at the unexpected consistory in August? Why is the Pope calling a consistory in August? What is the meaning of this or that pronouncement by this or that prefect of a dicastery? Which politician has been castigated by which bishop? Are the political forces aligning pro or against…? Forty years a priest and the ecclesial/political chatter persists. The Church, claiming neutrality in the world of politics, sits comfortably within the political world it has created for itself. I recall from my seminary days in Rome when we, young seminarians, were assigned with preparing a dinner for a group of cardinals—a dinner, not characterized by simplicity. Why the extravagance? Was it necessary? It was expected.
Like it or not, the Church is a political entity in the world, despite purporting not to be of it.
Recently I have been reflecting upon Jesus’ injunction to Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Our traditional Catholic interpretation is that Jesus was giving instruction for Peter to govern the Church. But it is important to note that the instruction is a response to Peter’s assurance of his love for Christ, given in the context of a meal. There are many levels on which we can interpret this exchange: sacramental, ecclesial, but also the straightforward, human level. The latter being, I suggest, the most demanding and neglected. There is a significant difference between an injunction to govern and a call to demonstrate one’s love. I think we need to shift focus from the commission to rule to the demonstration of love. We must heed the instruction to physically be present with the other, to eat meals together, as it were.
This is a difficult time for my Church. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is intimately involved in addressing the repercussions of war in Ukraine. Currently, my parish and others are discerning how best to address the practical needs of people (mainly women and children) who have fled the devastation of war. We are being challenged, as we were during the Soviet repression of our Church, to stand with and for our people. Yet often this desire has been condemned as an expression of nationalism rather than solidarity. Being with the people is acceptable, but be careful not to get too close. Do not be “political.”
This is a challenging time for the universal Church. The world is changing radically and rapidly. Social norms have undergone immense upheavals in many countries. Scientific developments have caused people to fundamentally alter their understanding of human identity, sexuality and what it means to be human (for example, LGBTQ+). These new understandings often collide with positions the Church has enunciated. Are the people, adopting these positions, to be welcomed or convinced that they are misguided? If they are to be governed, the answer is clear: correct your ways. If they are to be loved, they should be welcomed and embraced. We are hypocritical to say, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We judge people sinners, demanding that they must change their ways in order to be embraced by the Church. We see our sin as somehow less serious than “theirs.”
If we are to respond to the world in love we must engage with that world, not as temporary visitors who may retreat into the safety of our church community. Rather, love demands that we enter into the reality of the world (the reality we participate in constantly) with the aim of bringing the balm of the good news: the good news—not laws or condemnatory statements—but rather the joy of the resurrection, the enlivening power of the Spirit. Too much of the political face of the Church has been formed by political ideologies that deal with questions of power. Can the bishops find the courage to disavow power in favour of the simple message of love?
Power’s enticement is the lure of governing: you can get results. It is the temptation of the world. Yet Christ’s cross is the sign of failure. Not ultimately, but in terms of political success. Christ’s glory lies in the strength of transformative love—a love that transfigures the world and calls forth the Holy Spirit for all to see and embrace. Let’s “feed Christ’s sheep,” not with the lavish dinners expected by some Church hierarchy, but with the hospitality of Christ’s bread and fish roasted over the fire, offered to tired fisherman after a frustrating day out on the waves.
Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.