Right now it’s hard to escape election talk – by politicians, by commentators. News bulletins are dominated by smiling, hard-hatted, crowd-greeting political candidates. In a few weeks, along with the rest of the country, I will line up to vote for the political party that I am trusting will deliver the kind of policies that they have promised will benefit ordinary Australian families – I hope! Expectations surrounding hope are like Emily Dickenson’s “thing with feathers”. So often they float away, too light to sustain reality.
“We had hoped . . . “summed up the complaint of two of Jesus’ disciples plodding their way between Jerusalem and Emmaus, mourning not just a friend but their expectations that, among other good things, he would be the political saviour of Israel. Their hopes dashed, they were turning their backs on Jerusalem, and with it the dream that had seemed so close, so right.
Catholics today, especially those who are older, are treading their own road to Emmaus. Vatican 2 had raised hopes and expectations that all of us, not just the clergy, are Church. As the years went by being a catholic seemed to becoming more – well, user-friendly. Then the clerics in Rome, watching their power dribble away, issued directives aimed at reining in experimental liturgical practices and out of the blue the sexual abuse scandals became general knowledge. Suddenly catholics had to face a lot of disconcerting and unpleasant facts.
At the time I was employed as a Pastoral Associate and I had had my own dreams of how Catholicism might move into the twenty first century. I had hoped that each language group might have liturgical language and practices that were more in keeping with their cultural practices. There was a possibility that the church’s educational focus might focus more on adults than children. I was feeling almost confident that at last women might take their rightful place alongside men in all aspects of church. And I assumed that when the church talked about marriage and families it would be in the company of married men and women.
It hasn’t happened as I had dreamed it might. Now, adding to the disillusionment, our only Australian cardinal was sentenced to a jail term on sexual abuse charges. Just as the Emmaus two plodded along, weighed down by expectations that they were finding hard to relinquish, I too can find it hard to believe that God is somewhere, anywhere, in this twenty first century Catholic church.
Just as the Friday we now call Good looked like the end of the world to the Apostles locked in an upper room and the two disciples trudging to Emmaus, so too do my expectations of how Church could be. What I’m learning as I walk my Emmaus road is that it’s longer than I thought and, more importantly, that my Church dream may not be the blueprint God had in mind!
But I don’t walk alone. There is a great company of us, and in our midst is the Christ, the risen Jesus, stirring the fire in us just when we feel it’s gone forever, assuring us that our hopes for the future, if not the details we hold dear, are in safe hands, that he will be with us – today and all the days to come.