Thou Shalt Not – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Mark 9:38-40, Wednesday of Week 7 in Ordinary Time

The Gospel today reminds me of one time, when I sat with Fr. Bill Kreutz, S.J., over coffee and he asked me, “Arnel, why are our students going to Victory Chapel across the street?” I think Fr. Bill knew the answers to his own question. But, maybe, he just wanted to assess if someone else had the same hypotheses. “Fr. Bill, I have no way of knowing the exact reasons why; I could guess, though.” “Go ahead,” he said. “Well, I know that they have good preachers over there. Not just anyone can go up and explain the Bible. Their preachers are trained to preach well, so the young people don’t feel their time is wasted listening to them. Secondly, their music. It’s multi-instrumental, hip, very ‘today’, but very Gospel-based; lots of ‘Jesus’ in the lyrics, very conversational, really praying while singing. Next, I bet people there aren’t terrorized into obeying rules they don’t understand, especially by using hell as a tactic. Also, they pray with a lot of spontaneity — there’s less worry about the right way or the wrong way to pray. Finally, I think they work hard on fostering a really cheerful and welcoming atmosphere. I mean, they don’t have matrons chasing you with a pashmina shawl if you’re showing too much skin.”

I’ve read several parts of the Final Document of the latest Synod of Bishops. They entitled it “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Maybe I’m slow-witted, but I found the Final Document filled with generalities. I was wishing to read more specific statements — and, yes, more apologetic statements, even — you know, to the sexually-abused, to gays and lesbians, to women — in other words, specific statements of commitment to issues that today’s youth would want the Magisterium to face and address. I found out that the Final Document simply referred you to the same doctrines, from years past, that tried to tackle the same matters — but are still insufficient in protecting the vulnerable, still blind to gender issues, and awfully quiet about women, the youth, and the sinfulness of Church leaders.

I was praying about all of this yesterday with a heavy heart. I was thinking, what did I wish and expect the document to have said, especially in this Year of the Youth? I came upon a crazy idea. If I was a presentor at the Synod, which I’ll never be, I have ten talking points for the Synod. And since clergy are fond of “Thou shalt not”s — our kind of thing — I composed ten very specific “Thou shalt not”s. Not for laypeople, but for us clergy.

You want to hear them?

  1. Thou shalt not be homophobic. To not be homophobic, accept your true sexual orientation as a priest and be comfortable with it.
  1. Thou shalt not be sexist. Don’t you notice how many more women there are, than men, who serve your parish on a daily basis?
  1. Thou shalt not scold your congregation at Mass. They’re adults, not children. And they’re God’s children, not yours. The louder you go, the less they’ll listen.
  1. Thou shalt not use your mouth more than your ears. Preach less, listen more. If there’s ever a muscle on your body that you should be working out, it should be your heart, not your biceps, triceps, abs, and glutes. And, least of all, your tongue.
  1. Thou shalt not deliver long and rambling homilies. The Mass is all about Jesus, not about you.
  1. Thou shalt not talk about sinners as “they” or “them.” Say “us” and “we,” but, best of all, say “I” and “me.”
  1. Thou shalt not think that you’re the smartest guy in the community. That was true in the Middle Ages, when the priest was the most schooled man around. No more today. So, respect and not insult the intelligence of the people.
  1. Thou shalt not preach about forgiveness unless you’ve really learned how to apologize yourself.
  1. Thou shalt not use too many “Thou shalt not”s. Nothing turns off the youth more than shoulds, musts, and “have to”s that you neither explain nor live out yourself.
  1. And, lastly, Thou shalt never let go of personal, contemplative prayer. It is your direct line not just to God but to yourself — to who you truly are, warts and all.

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name — but he’s across the street. Victory Chapel.” Jesus replied, “Don’t prevent him. Whoever is not against me is for me.” I can almost hear Jesus say, “Don’t look across Ateneo for an answer. Criticism, like charity, begins at home.”

*image from the Internet

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