Friday, September 26, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 14

The following is a convoluted explanation of the reasons for my hesitation to baptize, confirm and give first communion. You may find it interesting. I will discuss the curses associated with First Holy Communion and the curses associated with Baptism.

I knew an old preacher who used to say, “You build the church and preach the Kingdom. Most people do it the other way around. They preach the church and build little kingdoms for themselves.  Where the Kingdom is preached, the church is built. Where the Church is built, the kingdom is preached.”  Most of the time, we preach the church. Some people talk incessantly about the church, fascinated by the latest gossip from Rome. Others preach the church by insisting that you can only be saved by their church no matter how tiny or recently founded, and that your church is wrong and you will go to hell for belonging to it. Protestants, Catholics and even the non-denominational denominations preach the superiority of the churches.  

The phrase “build the kingdom” just doesn’t appear in the New Testament. It appears possibly once in the Old Testament. “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10) Jeremiah is over kingdoms and nation to build and plant. In the text, these seem to be already existing kingdoms and nations.  The phrase “to build the kingdom” just doesn’t appear in the Bible, no matter how often you have heard from enthusiastic preachers or bureaucrats of religion. 

When someone talks about “build the kingdom” they are usually hoping for a corner office at the chancery and a nice budget.  We preach the kingdom. I say it to the point of being tedious, but kingdom in Greek and Hebrew is a very inclusive word. It means royalness, royal house area or persons ruled by a king. It is primarily the quality of royal dignity. For 21st centurists a kingdom is an archaic sort of governmental system or a specific geographic territory, like the kingdom of Great Britain. For those who lived at the time of Christ, kingdom was a quality of royalty that conferred authority over people and places.  Jesus came, not building, but “preaching the kingdom.”   “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matt 4:17) 
Preach the Kingdom build the Church. 

My job as a pastor is thus church-building and kingdom-preaching.  The sacraments exist to sanctify the faithful, that is, to make them holier. Teaching, praying for the faithful, and the administration of the sacraments in an appropriate way are my job as pastor. I am also charged with the oversight of the physical goods of the parish — that is the finances and buildings.   

I am a pastor who is to house and feed the sheep. I am not an evangelist. You who are reading this have that task, which is to invite people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You can do that by learning how to pray for people by visiting the sick and feeding the hungry as well as all the other works of mercy. You are Christ’s face on the street. I am Christ’s face in the parish.  

So many clergy never say no because they believe that this will “evangelize” those who are alienated from the church. Quite the opposite, it isn’t evangelism. It is enabling behavior and is dishonest.  A sacrament is a commitment to the Lord and the Church. To confer sacraments on people who have no intention of fulfilling the covenantal responsibilities to which the sacrament binds them is harmful to those individuals and to the wider Church.

Haven’t you read what St. Paul says about the Holy Eucharist?  “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on them. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1Cor 11:29, 30)  St. Paul says that receiving communion unworthily is poisonous, certainly spiritually and even physically.  A Sacrament is an oath to the death.  That’s what the Latin word sacrament means.  

If you want your child to be confirmed or to receive First Holy communion without intending to teach them to practice the faith, you are causing them to commit perjury. You are making them oath-breakers. You are encouraging them to lie, to break their marriage vows, to live as people without any moral backbone. Is that what you want for your children?  By forcing them to Confirmation and Communion when you yourself don’t go to weekly Mass you will make them disrespect you as an unfaithful person, a lying oath-breaker. You want them to take a solemn oath that you yourself disregard. Is this what you want for your children? 

The same is true of Baptism. If you have a child baptized and have no intention to bring them up in the practice of the faith, you are committing them to a responsibility that they cannot fulfill. One day they will stand before the throne of God with their souls stained by the waters of baptism which they and you made foul by neglect. You and the sponsors you choose make the most solemn promises at Baptism to raise this child in the faith. You will stand before God someday, responsible not only with your own damnation, but also for the damnation of these children whom you promised to raise as Christian, but taught to live dishonest lives. 

By baptizing children whom you will never teach the faith and to whom you will never give honest and good examples, you are perjuring yourselves to them and to God, and this comes with a frightful curse. You are a curse to yourselves and to these children.  

To my fellow clergy who think this harsh, remember what good and gentle Jesus says to the beloved disciple, the one who taught that God is Love in Revelation 3:16 “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  

We think we are being pastoral. We are not. We are enabling and infecting the whole body of Christ with a bland passionless Christianity when the world is longing for the real thing. The world is desperate for people who give their lives for the wellbeing of humanity and we pander to people who want to have a nice party and photo op.  

Rev. Richard T. Simon

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