Friday, February 17, 2017
Ecclesial Myopia and Hypermetropia : an issue of focus
Of the two eye conditions, myopia is probably better known than hypermetropia. I remember one biology master being long-sighted whose glasses made his eyes look enormous! As for myopia, well, when I'm trying to see something far away, my face seems to resemble that of an overly confused mole. These are common problems in the human eye.
For the myopic, things that are near can have a staggeringly clear aspect while the periphery becomes somewhat vague. I know that I am especially clumsy with regard to things that are in my peripheral vision, and I cannot read signs until the last possible minute. For the hypermetropic, things are reversed. It is the distance that is clear, but things under the nose get missed. Apparently, this is all due to the shape of the eye and how the eye fails to be round.
I feel that the Church behaves in the same way, often to a staggeringly awful degree. There is a hypermetropia which misses people out because of looking with far too wide a range. There is a myopia that picks a person to pieces so that they cannot ever feel part of the Church.
In a hypermetropic parish, the goal is always to look to the future, bring in new members, minister to the wider community. Posters go up, slogans are emblazoned all over the Parish Notes, initiatives are announced at the end of Mass. What gets missed are the members of the church that are already there, and need ministry themselves. I remember asking what I believed to be really important questions to my former CofE priest. Whether or not they were important, they still deserved an answer, but I got none. I saw people leave the Church, but no-one called after them, no-one tried to get them back - to my shame, that included me! I was in a position of responsibility and I failed to run after them. I should have done better.
However, I failed to run after them because of myopia. I was focussed on the details, scrutinising the orthodoxy (or lack of it), and engaging in a battle with prevailing winds, rather than focussing on what mattered - the needs of the people in the Church. In many ways, my hands were tied by my circumstances but, in retrospect, there were things that I could have done. A myopic parish will be focussed on the minutiae, the fixtures and fittings, the amount of lace on the altar and where the Gloria should come in the Mass. Again, people will lose out by being part of the picky pedantry, or by witnessing the 3" Lace Brigade clash with the 5" Lace Division.
I have tried to learn from my failings to see people when it comes to matters ecclesiastical. I still fail - big time! Yet, all too often, the difficult person in the Church is encouraged to leave. I know: I was that difficult person. Too often, it is the one making the noise who is actually in need of ministry, not exclusion. Yet, also it is those who are silent too, who sit week after week, who lack a voice to deal with their pain in life until, one day, the priest opens his mouth in a sermon, and crushes the souls of these silent folk so that they leave and never return. This crushing can come hypermetropically and ignore them completely by trivialising something that they find precious, or it can come myopically and reduce a person to some caricature based on only one aspect of their being.
I fought, myopically, for orthodoxy. Of course, the orthodoxy is at the heart of our encounter with Christ. I do not regret trying to influence my old parish in the CofE back to orthodoxy, however flawed or useless were my endeavours. The key, though, is to use that orthodoxy as a correcting lens that will correct both myopia and hypermetropia at one fell swoop.
This is why the doctrine of the Primitive Church is so important. The search for what is orthodox is over at the level of the Church while that Church is riven by internal schisms. It means that, if a parish wants to use that lens of orthodoxy to see what is right, it must use its scripture, its liturgy, its ritual to encourage that truly valuable person in the pew that they are in the presence of Almighty God Himself.
Orthodoxy reigns in the excesses of the hypermetropic parish whilst opening out the vision of the myopic parish. The central message of Christian Orthodoxy is "Where are the love for God and the love of God being exhibited and distributed?" We must remember that we can only love our neighbour if we love God first. God is the source of love and only by a life directed in His worship can we hope to love those around us. At Mass, our focus is on God who, through His Grace, is present objectively and actively both for individual and for the whole Catholic Church. At every level, individual, parish, Diocese, Province, Jurisdiction, the lens of Orthodox Christian belief can reach out if we focus properly on what it means. If Christ is both human and divine, then the Church can take both the benefits of being hypermetropic and myopic together into itself too. The Church's mission to its member is vital. The Church's mission to those who aren't its members is vital. Both can be cultivated if we hold fast to the true Doctrine of the Church in the spirit in which it was given to the Church.
That spirit, of course, is the Holy Ghost Who will indeed blow where He wills, but not to the confusion of His Church!
Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created;
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
St Odile, pray for the vision of God's Church that it may be clear and purified.