Holy Week begins today with Palm Sunday. Fittingly, last evening my wife and I attended a splendid Berea College production of Webber and Rice’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The familiar score and story had me tearing from the overture on.
Of course, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a brilliant musical that captures the final events in Jesus’ life. As in today’s liturgical readings, the play takes us from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to his cleansing of the city’s Temple, his betrayal by Judas, his trials before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod. It finishes with his death on the cross and a reprise of Judas’ questions about Jesus’ place in history and among the world’s other spiritual geniuses.
Through it all we agonize with Judas about accepting blood money and with Mary Magdalene about her unrequited love. We shake our heads at Jesus’ uncomprehending, self-interested and cowardly disciples. We’re amazed at the fickleness of the crowd and by Jesus’ compassion, indecision, fear of death, and forgiveness of his executioners.
The rock musical score is haunting. The lyrics are hip and inspiring. I found it amazing that the story though repeated so often retains the power to move its audiences. I felt grateful to Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for their audacity in making the tale so accessible and meaningful to contemporaries.
Similar feelings have been evoked this Lent by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” That too was on my mind as I watched “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That’s because during this year’s Lent, members of my parish community have been studying the pope’s publication.
Through it, I think Pope Francis is calling us to do something like what Webber and Rice have done – make Jesus and the church once again relevant to a world that has long since dismissed them as quaint and detached from daily life.
As we’ve studied “The Joy of the Gospel,” all of us have marveled at Francis’ own courage, boldness and audacity. Almost from the beginning, our group has asked each other, “But what should we do in this parish in response to the pope’s general directions?”
At Lent’s conclusion, I suggest we reprise that question. So I’ve put together a proposal about responding to “The Joy of the Gospel” in the context of our Berea Kentucky parish, St. Clare’s Catholic Church. Think of it as a kind of capstone to the Lenten reflections I’ve shared here over the last six weeks. Then tell me what you think of it. Is it feasible? Is it relevant? What else or instead might we do?
Here’s the modest proposal.
Towards a Program for Implementing Pope Francis’ Directions for Parish Renewal at St. Clare’s
– In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” (JG), Pope Francis has called for a “new chapter” in the history of the Catholic Church and for the church to embark on a “new path” (JG 1, 25),
– On which things cannot be left as they presently are, (25)
– But must include new ways of relating to God, new narratives and new paradigms (74),
– Along with new customs, ways of doing things, times, schedules, and language (27),
– With emphasis on better prepared and delivered homilies (135-159),
– And expanded roles for women who are recognized as generally more sensitive, intuitive, and otherwise skilled than men (103, 104),
– Along with outreach to Christians of other denominations who share unity with Catholics on many fronts (246)
– The pope identifies the struggle for social justice and participation in political life as “a moral obligation” that is “inescapable” (220, 258),
– And sees “each and every human right” [including education, health care, and “above all” employment and a just wage (192)] as intimately connected with “defense of unborn life” (213),
– While completely rejecting war as incapable of combatting violence which is caused by “exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples” (59),
– And by unfettered markets and their “trickle-down” ideologies which are homicidal (53), ineffective (54) and unjust at their roots (59),
– The pope’s call to change is addressed to everyone (not primarily to pastors and bishops) (33),
– And since responses must be governed by the principle of decentralization (16, 32),
– And are (under this principle) to issue mainly from parishes (not in Rome or the diocesan chancery) because of parishes’ highly flexible character and sensitivity to the needs of the local people (28),
– Whose inventiveness is limited by little more than the openness and creativity of the pastor and the local community (28),
– Who are instructed to act boldly, and without inhibition or fear (33),
– In implementing processes of reform (30) adapted to particular churches (82),
– Whose initiatives are to be respected by local bishops (31),
IT SEEMS NOT ONLY FITTING BUT IMPERATIVE THAT THE PARISH OF ST. CLARE ANSWER THE POPE’S CALL, ASSERT ITS LAY LEADERSHIP AND ADOPT THE FOLLOWING MEASURES OF REFORM.
* On the first weekend of September 2014, sponsor a three-evening “Tent Revival” on the front lawn of St. Clare’s church – focusing on “The Joy of the Gospel,” under the leadership of an invited speaker like Matthew Fox.
* Following the revival, assign to all parish members the reading of Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel.”
* Move the time of the main Sunday Mass from 9:00 to 10:00 to enable parishioners to attend a weekly “Sunday School” (from 9:00-9:50) at which the pope’s Exhortation will be discussed.
* Move the weekly “Spanish Mass” from 11:00 to 12:00 to make room for the new Sunday school initiative.
* Take advantage of the uniqueness of St. Clare parish with its presence of several former women religious, at least three ordained priests (in addition to the pastor), theologians, artists, musicians, scholars, and activists.
* Within that context, somehow “call out” the charisms present within the parish and brainstorm with those involved about employing their gifts to renew parish life.
* In accordance with the recognition of special giftedness of the St. Clare community, change customs around Sunday homilies by establishing a rotating schedule involving our parish’s trained homilists (especially women) – and including the pastor – to preach at Sunday Masses.
* Instruct homilists to relate their 2014-2015 homilies not only to the Sunday readings, but to “The Joy of the Gospel.”
* Instruct homilists as well to include in any treatment of the abortion issue, complementary calls to resist war, capital punishment, free market policies that cause world hunger, cut-backs in social services, etc.
* At election time, develop and distribute “voting guides” evaluating candidates on the basis of Pope Francis’ criteria of the inter-connectedness of all human rights, rejection of war, unequal distribution of wealth, and defense of unregulated markets.
* Institute and prominently advertise a parish counseling service to dissuade young people from entering the armed forces.
* Plan a large group trip to the fall 2014 “Call to Action” Conference including the pastor.
* On return from the “Call to Action Conference,” devote at least one “Sunday School” session to presentations about the conference.
* On an experimental basis in lay leadership, ecumenism and in changing paradigms of worship and ways of relating to God with new narratives and paradigms, sponsor a once-per-month lay-led ecumenical communion service paraliturgy. This would feature bold experiments in music, dance, and forms of prayer. It would take place at 3:00 Sunday afternoons in addition to and/or as a substitute for attendance at Sunday’s new 10:00 Mass.
* Insert prominently in our parish bulletin and in all official parish publications, the following statement of inclusivity. “All Are Welcome: In keeping with the inclusivity of the Christian tradition as emphasized in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” with its emphasis on the dignity and worth of all people, St. Clare’s parish values and embraces diversity. Employment, membership, and participation in any church activity are open to all without regard to ethnicity, race, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability or religion. (This is a slightly modified version of the statement of inclusivity of Berea’s Union Church.)
* Begin planning for and implementing all of this immediately assigning target dates to particular items above and those to be added subsequently.
* Revise or re-create a statement like this “Proposal for Renewal” to present in written and oral form to our diocese’s new bishop on the occasion of his first visit to St. Clare’s parish.
So what do you think?