In coming to the readings for this week, I find myself in the thick of things, like all the characters we meet in these three stories—trying to show gratitude for something miraculous like Naaman is, identifying with the suffering of Paul and desiring the freedom that comes with the word, and wanting so much to have the strength to be gracious and faithful, like the Namaan in the First Reading and the Samaritan who is healed of his leprosy in the Gospel.
I see the same efforts toward graciousness and faithfulness in the local parish to which I belong. People encounter God there. They care about one another and do their best to honor the presence of God in each other. It’s not perfect, but there is something about the trying—the loving and forgiving and making of mistakes—that brings us closer to God and to one another.
But I find myself stumbling over the workings of the institutional church, disappointed by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in this country and in parts of Europe, deeply saddened to learn that those who are in a position to make decisions that could allow for greater accountability and inclusivity often choose not to do so. These questions about who is responsible to whom and for what, questions about who has a place at the table have been with us for some time; they’re hardly new. These crises only highlight them in a way that calls on us not to look elsewhere, that encourages us to keep our focus on what is most crucial to the survival of our community.
Maybe this is the way that I can be gracious, maybe this is the way that I can be faithful. At first glance, it might look otherwise, but the more time I spend praying with the concerns I have about what I see in the Catholic community, the more I am convinced that they are valid and need to be raised in order for us to move forward in a way that promotes the kind of freedom that comes with the word that 2 Timothy proclaims. Taking an apophatic approach to the church, saying that this is what the church is not, leaves room for a kataphatic approach to the church to emerge, saying that this renewed vision of the church of the future is what the church can be.
Jen Owens lives in an intentional ecumenical community in Kensington, CA. She is a parishioner at St. Augustine in Oakland, CA.