30 Ordinary B – October 28, 2012 — The Church Evolving and Surviving
According to Celtic mythology there is a thin veil between heaven and earth. When we experience hardships and the possibility of death that veil is stretched very thinly. Some say God appears more present in our lives when the veil is thinnest. 
For many of us our lives are stretched. We spend much of our time moving from one place to another, from one task to another. We worry so much about what tomorrow may bring it is difficult to focus on what is before us now. Sometimes life is a series of moments in between what is no more and what is not yet.
This in between time is where most traditional religions are today. Membership in the majority of mainline Jewish and Christian congregations is dwindling. Here in the Diocese of Albany we have closed churches and merged faith communities. While the numbers of our lay ecclesial ministers is on the rise the number of ordained priests is in decline. At present we have 90 active priests in our Diocese. Some estimates predict that by the year 2020 there will only be forty priests to serve parishes.
Today is World Youth Day and Priesthood Sunday. We take this time to think about what kind of church waits ahead for our young members. We also can assess who we are as a church and the thin veil that separates the present from the future. How do we work together, what roles do each of us play? In the opening of the 2009 pastoral convention in Rome Pope Benedict XVI said: “They [the laity] must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’, for the Church’s being and action ….” 
One could say that ordination to priesthood is not the sacrament upon which the future of the church will depend. Baptism is.
Although priests do many things like hearing confessions, anointing, baptizing and witnessing wedding vows, the most visible role he has is to gather the “baptized community into communion.”  We are taught that priests do so during the liturgy of the eucharist acting in the person of Christ. How the priest carries out that role is very important. How he draws the assembly into the liturgy is essential. Is the congregation active or passive during Mass? Are we actors or spectators?
I am not referring to singing or saying prayers together. Rather, how well do we understand the teaching of the church: “In the liturgy the whole public celebration is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is by the head (Christ) and its members (you and me).” 
According to our Catholic religion, the presence of Christ in our midst is expressed in a threefold manner. In Word and Sacrament, in the person of the priest and in the community of the baptized. These three relationships are inseparable and must be made obvious during the liturgy. An overemphasis on the differences between the priesthood of the faithful and the ordained priest does not help us understand how all of us, ordained or not, participate in the action of God when we celebrate sacraments.
Gender issues also muddle the situation. That only men are permitted to be priests in the Catholic religion is explained in iconic terms. Jesus was a man. This Christological perspective by itself can diminish the definition of the church and the role of the holy spirit in our lives.
Understanding the ordained priesthood in this larger context can be useful as the church addresses the shortage of clergy. We are aware that theologically, liturgically and historically the roles and styles of liturgical leadership are not static but always evolving.
When I read the gospel of Mark for today I thought to myself didn’t we already do this one? However, there are two stories in Mark that deal with eye sight. Our first impulse is to think that these events are about healing. Can we also think about them as moments of “insight.” In the first story (Mark 8:22-26) the unnamed blind man was passive; he was brought to Jesus by others. In today’s story (Mark 10: 46-52) Bartimaeus is aggressive. He himself pushed through the crowd taking it upon himself to gain insight about Jesus and his mission. He then chooses to follow Jesus.
These stories beg a question. Are members of the church today like the first man willing to be led along in our quest for insights? Or will the members of the church of today be more assertive about taking a role in developing a church for the future. Can we balance both approaches?
Last week I saw a Stephen Belber play called, “Don’t Go Gentle.” It is about a former judge trying to make amends for a lifetime of spiritual flaws. In one soliloquy about racial justice the judge said, “Sometimes the rules have to change in order to evolve, in order to survive.” The Celtic tradition about thin veils between heaven and earth invites us to think about how we as a church are evolving and surviving. It just might require changing some of our rules.
1 Some say that Samhain, a Celtic observance now celebrated as the Eve of All Saints or Halloween, is one of those times when God draws near to us
2 Pope Benedict XVI, Opening of the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome. Theme: Church Membership and Pastoral Co-Responsibility (Basilica of St. John Lateran, 26 May 2009)
3 Janowiak, Paul. Standing Together in the Community of God: Liturgical Spirituality and the Presence of Christ. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2011, 128
4 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7
5 David Coffey cited in Janowiak, ibid., 135