From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Just don’t get it

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 4, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

It’s a phrase we hear a lot these days: “They just don’t get it.” Frequently it’s accompanied by a sad wag of the head and/or a devilish cluck of the tongue. The combination of sound and gesture is a unique expression in human communication used by one who presumably has gained an insight and cannot for-the-life-of-themselves understand why another person who is supposed to have the same background hasn’t grasped the same point. And the point, once grasped, usually is rather simple or basic. We never use “They just don’t get it” in reference to someone suffering from with Alzheimer’s. Rather, it is used to comment about the intelligent, and those who, by rank or position, are supposed to be in the know.

“Not getting it” does not reflect a lack of intellectual ability. Rather, the phrase points to a lack of some simple, basic connection with reality. The connection cannot be taught. It must be gained through insight or grasping a more global picture of things.

I remember, for example, the day in geometry class when I “got it” – realizing (finally) the connection behind all that fiddling with compasses, curves, angles and dissected lines. In a moment of insight all the struggle with mechanical details and mathematic formulae fit into a broader picture. It finally became clear what “proving theorems” was all about! (The report card changed, too!)

As another example, I also remember the afternoon when, in the midst of a parish planning session, one of the lay participants startled us all by blurting out excitedly, shouting, “I get it! I get it! We are the Church!” A tear trickled down my cheek; years of preaching and teaching had paid off! (Perhaps my old geometry teacher had the same feeling.)

We hear the often self-righteous gibe about “just not getting it” nowadays in light of the so-called “Crisis in the Church” over the pedophilia question. The hierarchy of the Church, especially the bishops, bear the marks of the verbal whip.

If ever there were a time when we needed to “get it” regarding the role we Christians play in world, it would be now. In the current frenzy, when priests, bishops - and the Church itself - have in many circles become media fodder (even if not totally unde-servedly), we hear almost daily, “They just don’t get it!”

Without arguing various aspects of the pedophilia question, if we are not attentive we will start believing the false image the media creates regarding who constitutes the Church. Who are the “they” being etched into our minds by the media and others? Who belongs to this hierarchy they purport to know so well?

In some situations “they” (the hierarchy, that is – the bishops, priests and deacons) may not get the picture which the laity seem to see so clearly about how to handle those who engage in sexual abuse. The point, however, runs deeper. Do any of us “get it” when it comes to making references to our hierarchical Church?

It is possible that, in addition to often misspelling the word, we also miss its root meaning. We cannot speak of the hierarchy of the Church without including ourselves. As my parishioner shouted at the parish planning session, we are the Church! And we are members of a hierarchical Church. Despite all the teaching, writing and preaching since Vatican II, many people still see the Church as Higher-archical. (The geometric symbol of a pyramid fits quite properly here!) According to this image, the pope tells the bishops to jump; they, in turn tell us priests to jump, and we, in our turn, tell the laity to jump. And the laity merely are to ask, “How high?” We chuckle at this little inside joke, but it betrays a serious misconception of Church which, by divine plan, has its roots and identity intimately bound up with Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus Christ is the central focus and anchoring point of the Church, the People of God. (Perhaps a circle more appropriately comes to the geometry student’s mind here!) To the extent that he is truly such both in doctrine and in practice, we’ll get it. To the extent that the circle corrupts into a pyramid – to the extent that community and unity are traded for power and position – we fall into misleading notions of who we are and what we are to be about.

Circles need centers to be circles, but every point in the circle is just as much a part of the circle as any other point. Likewise, the Church needs headship (Christ) – and those who sacramentally present him to the community (bishops, priests, deacons) in order to be his Church. But everyone in the Church is as much a part of its reality as everyone else. There is only one head (the traditional use of the word hierarchy) but no part of the body is more or less important or more or less needed than the other. (I understand that an early Christian writer already said that.) There is no “they” opposed to an “us” in the Church. There is Christ-and-Us.

In that sense we are all part of a hierarchical Church. The very roots of the word tell us so: hieros (priest)-archos (ruler). Jesus and his call to love and service are the central anchoring points of our community of faith. Bishops, deacons, priests – and laity as well – all have a place in a hierarchical – that is, Christ-centered – Church. All are equally responsible for the welfare of Christ’s community. His very person is the moral measure for us all and calls us all to face the challenges of the contemporary world in light of the truth of his Gospel and his saving presence in our world.

All the followers of Jesus, the Priest in the Christian community, are ruled by him. When we don’t get this point, whether we are laity or clergy, we can (and do) get into big trouble and the whole Church suffers. But when we get it right and grasp the truth of who we are and the privilege that is ours as servants of Christ, then the world is brighter and the Kingdom of God has come closer to its promised fulfillment.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane. Harcourt Religion Publishers has issued his book Catholics Believe.) (Download order form in pdf format)

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