I love being a Catholic.
There are many reasons for this: the sacramental theology, the belief in the goodness of all of creation, the sense of community, etc.
One reason is Scripture, and the reason is brought out in today’s Gospel and the readings. The reason is not that we necessarily have a sacred scripture, because all major religions have some type. Rather it is our catholic approach to scripture.
See, we Catholics are not fundamentalists, nor are we literalists. We certainly believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God, but there is also a human participation in the Scripture. Therefore the truth of Scripture is not necessarily in the words on the page, but it is beneath the words.
Underneath and at the foundation of the the words there is deep and abiding Wisdom.
Wisdom is the holistic way of seeing the world around us; and seeing our participation in the world around us. Wisdom is about connection and relationship. Wisdom becomes the Truth of the matter.
Jesus came and revealed the depths and heights of our connection to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; our therefore our connection to one another. He reveals the Wisdom of giving of ourselves so as to participate in these connections and in doing so, we find ourselves and we find life. This is very very hard to see when we approach Scripture in a very literal way.
Look what Jesus did in the Gospel today. He did not take the truth as it written on the page; in fact he implicitly makes the point that there is a human contribution that obscures the truth. He, based on his experience of the Father, his truth of the Father. goes into the written word, the law to bring forth the Truth.
Now, Mark has it seem rather harsh. How many of us will be cutting off hands and feet, tearing out eyes??? Again, a reason NOT to interpret literally. BUT, Jesus is being intentionally harsh to make a point. There is something more important here that what is merely written on the page. He wants us to look at our lives, and how well we are living them. He is intentionally shocking us to make us think about scripture. Are we living them so as to be connected to God and to others?
The truth is that Jesus wants us to be reconciled with one another; he wants us to treat people as people and not mere objects for our use and lust; he wants us to put forth the effort to build and strengthen our bonds; he wants us to be transparent to others. In all of this, we “love” others and as Jesus will also tell us; when we love others we love the Father.
So we as Catholics we must not be drawn into the trap of literalism and fundamentalism. This applies not only to scripture, but also our own dogma and doctrine. It is way too easy for us to use these to break down others and break down our relationships. We have to wrestle with Scripture and our teachings. Not just take them at face value.
This connects with our belief in the sacraments, sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality. This tells us that reality is always greater than what we see. THE reality is invisible, and must be uncovered. Truth is always deeper than what we see.
That is also why we are a church, a community. We help one another with this; we have a set of beliefs, a creed that help us to define how we discover the truth. Because this is not an individual sport, this is a team sport. The danger is that we can do violence to sacred scripture, and corrupt it with our own personal, individualistic interpretation. And we have a LONG history of doing this…look at we have done to the Jewish people.
Jesus himself is of a community, the Holy Trinity. Jesus formed a community of believers around him, and told them to go and make more; this is a communal endeavor.
And of course, we have that great Sacrament; Eucharist. A sacrament of the community for the community. If we were literalists, then the “truth” would be that this is only bread and wine. BUT, we are Catholic, beneath the bread and wine is the Truth, it is the body and blood of Christ.
Given to us to strengthen our connections with others. Given to us to strengthen our connection with the Holy Trinity. Given to us so that we will know to seek true the Wisdom; that lies underneath all. Given to us so that we will go forth and LOVE another.
See, isn’t it great to be Catholic!