McCarthy: ‘Take the message to Jerusalem’

By Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy

Twenty-eight years ago I read an article in “Sojourners” by John Stoner. It was entitled “Take the Message to Jerusalem.” For eight years before I read it I lived by what its thesis is and have tried to so direct my energies since.

It has been the continuous refrain of the Church of Rome since the days of the WW II Holocaust that the Church did not fail in its responsibilities toward the Jews of Europe or do anything wrong, only individual Christians failed in their responsibilities and did wrong. Such a stance is, of course, infuriating to Jews and non-Jews alike.

The reason the Roman Church makes such a claim and the reason that so many are repulsed by it is the result of an equivocalness that Church leadership presents to the world, intentionally or unintentionally, in the employment of the word “Church.”

In brief, in Catholic thought the Church qua Church is sinless (holy), while the individual person is the sinner. The Church here meaning the ontological reality Church. However, there is an incarnational, economic, political, sociological, legal, bureaucratic, humanly structured system that is also Church and this entity is far from free of wrongdoing. The ontological reality Church is sinless, holy, but its incarnational manifestation is not. It does wrong and fails like any other institution and is open to exactly the same critique as any other humanly-operated institution, namely, “See here, you are not doing what you were created to do,” or “You have not done what you were supposed to have done. Correct yourself.”

Between 1933 and 1945 the Church, the incarnational Church was one of the few institutions that in the world that had the resources to prevent the Holocaust. It employed them quite sparingly, as it is doing today in relation to the five-year-and-running mass murder of the people of Iraq brought about intentionally by the United States and Britain.

The incarnational, institutional Church with its great wealth, communications potential, and organization abilities, to say nothing of the superabundance of Divine life and grace within it, could be the single most effective force in the world for good, if it would simply repent and convert and become what it is—holy. Holy here being defined by the words, deeds, life, death and resurrection of the Holy “made flesh,” Jesus.

The absolute validity of the Sermon on the Mount and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies taught therein, as well as, the absolute validity of the Cross and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies lived thereon is not derived from reason in the first instance. It is derived from the supreme spiritual authority of the One who spoke the words, the One who lived these words unto death on a cross, who is the One who brought the universe into existence, namely, the Word (Logos) of God incarnate, Jesus.

Now, it is people who say they believe—have faith—that Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, who compose the membership of the variou Churches. It is institutional leaders, who say they have such a faith, who are the people in charge of these Churches. It is primarily, and maybe exclusively, that the request—even demand—can be made that they live, individually and collectively by what they say is the truth they believe in—Jesus Christ as their Lord, God, and Savior, as their Way, Truth and Light.

It is unrealistic, Utopian, to believe that people in any significant numbers will follow Jesus’ teachings without faith in Jesus as Lord. It is contrary to Jesus’ teaching to force people by coercion, threat, etc., to follow His teachings as a substitute for or a shortcut around converting to faith in Him, e.g., by making laws and forcing by threat of governmental violence, e.g., jailing, fines, property confiscation, death, etc., those who do not believe in Him as Lord to live according to His truth rather than their own. “If Christ has not risen our faith is in vain,” says St. Paul. Said another way, “If a person or a group did not believe Christ is risen or the truth that His resurrection proclaims, it would be irrational to follow Him. In vain would anyone follow Him. The Sermon on the Mount and the Cross, which is its ultimate expression, would be “folly and a scandal,” would be absurd.

Therefore it makes no sense to ask or demand that the Central Committee of the Communist Party, or Halliburton, or the Democratic and Republican Parties, or any military, or the New York Times and Washington Times, or Boeing, or Blackwater or the CIA or any government, or members of any other religion to follow the teachings of Jesus on what is good and what is evil or anything else. Such institutions do not exit to follow Jesus, “to Baptize and to teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.” They have other purposes, ways and means, which those who enter into them accept as their own.

But the Church also has its purpose for existence, which those who enter it accept as their own. That purpose is to bring people to genuine holiness by bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, The Holy One incarnate, Baptizing them and “teaching them to obey all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.” The Church also has ways and means given to it by Jesus to accomplish its purpose, namely, to assist people in becoming what they are, Holy; to assist the Church in becoming incarnationally what it is ontologically, Holy. And, these ways and means are not the ways and means of Halliburton, the Pentagon, corporate mass media, the WTO and what so many of the Churches have adopted as their modus operandi to prosper and survive incarnationally.

The Church is never more political, never more effective politically, than when it whole heart, whole soul , whole mind and whole strength commits itself unreservedly to the explicit mission Jesus created it for and commissioned it to do—bring the holiness with which it has been endowed incarnationally into time and space so that all people may become what God through His Word created them to be—Eternally Holy—by Way of imitation of and participation in the Life and Spirit of the Holy One “made flesh.”

Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine) of the Catholic Church. He was formerly a lawyer, university educator and founder and original director of The Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a co-founder of Pax Christi-USA. For over forty years he has directed educational programs and conducted spiritual retreats throughout the world on the issue of the relationship of faith and violence. For more information, go here.

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