Will you also go away?

These words were said by Jesus to the twelve at a particularly trying time when many of his disciples gave up following him (John 6:67). They could not take his message. Karl Rahner, a leading teacher of the Christian faith in the last century, gave as his view that the church of this century would be smaller and made up of people committed to living the Christian life in all its richness. They would be mystics. By this I think he meant they would be people who sought to ponder the gospels deep

They would be people who give themselves to God in such a way that they can live without demanding to have all their needs satisfied or all their questions answered. They would be able to stretch out beyond the present and be prepared to commit themselves without knowing where they are going. (Hebrews 11:8) Rahners language is always a little difficult, but lets try a little: ostensibly we seek the clarity of faith that never falters, but in reality we want only a freedom from doubt that waters down our faith and its decision. We think we are seeking the Spirit of faith; yet instead of the certainty of the Spirit, who dwells in the darkness of faith, we are seeking only the clarity of earthly truisms.

In other words, we always want manageable answers like the many in John 6. The culture we live in doesnt like mysteries and the mystics who are prepared to live with them. The tradition of celibacy for priests and religious in the Catholic Church is one example of this. The Sunday Mail (23 May) is not alone in questioning the relevance of it in the world today. The Mail is doing no more than seeking answers, something everyone expects. But sometimes the answer cannot be put into words, certainly not words that will satisfy. Jesus himself failed to convince his listeners but he did not water down his words. In fact, he seems to have been ready to let the twelve go if they could not live with the inability to understand now, though they would later.

This is a particularly turbulent time for the Catholic Church. The terrible deeds of some of her priests and religious in abusing children are coming to light and causing us to reach for the Book of Lamentations: all you who pass this way, look and see; is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me? (1:12) We have lived with this shame and sorrow for some years but we also see that this is a moment of purifying; revealing the wounds and dealing with them rather than covering them up.

Our church will be different; less honoured in a triumphal way, more respected in a simple humble way. The Archbishop of Harare told a group of students for the priesthood last week they could no longer expect to be looked up to if they walked down the street in a clerical collar. They would now have to earn the respect of people by their lives. So the choice is there; do we want to be with the many or with the twelve?

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