The Theological Foundation for Reform,
Renewal and a new way of being “Catholic”
What Christianity consists of through each age is based on 1) the Gospels and what that society’s current understanding of them may be, and 2) the evolution of the institutional church as it attempts to interpret and then carry along the message of Jesus, incorporating the various interpretations of the preceding ages. The longer Christianity goes on, the more necessary it is to go back, to make certain that we have our priorities in order and that interpretations arising in various cultures and ages have not infiltrated and camouflaged the original message and life of Jesus.
The structure of the church has historically evolved over time. There has never been ONE WAY – rather it was “what works” for the particular times. In St. Paul’s era, there was very little structure because Paul and others thought Jesus would return some time soon. So why organize?
After Paul’s death, those certain epistles which were not written by him – but rather in his name and thereby latching on to his authority (the letters to Timothy, Titus, Colossians, Ephesians and Hebrews were probably not written by Paul himself) – were concerned with structure.
The Church of the post-Paul time wanted a structure which would preserve what they had, what had been handed down. They had many presbyters and bishops – set up in a way that no one was a guru or a boss. The admonition of these epistles was for family men who knew how to take care of their own families, because they would protect the church in the same way.
But eventually, even those presbyters found that they could not always get along, and so in the second century a single bishop emerged to run the whole local show.
The description of “the Church” does not often occur in the New Testament, but “the churches” does. For the followers close to Jesus’ day and immediately after the times of the Apostles, all communities were local, and all had their unique demands and requirements. Only in the Letter to the Colossians and the Letter to the Ephesians does the expression “the Church” occur often.
Ephesians and Colossians are the two most important documents that set, or explain the set-up, of the emerging structure of the Church. The Church organized itself to protect itself against “new ideas” and “false teachers.” They wanted to preserve only what Jesus said. Of course, it worked in large measure. But it also brought the seed of not being able to appreciate new insights of the Holy Spirit and of going stagnant.
The Church of the eighth decade (according to the faux-Paul epistles) had criteria for presbyters and bishops that fit the times. Even later requirements for college education for priests – obviously not a requirement for the apostles – fit the need of running a parish. And that need still holds, for running a parish. However, for priests not running a parish or for those engaged in any number of other dimensions of ministry, we must call to mind the practicality set in motion by the Early Church: what works.
We don’t have any of the original copies of the New Testament. What we have are copies – made later by many who copied them by hand. And, in that process, transmitted many mistakes and many contradictions.
The New Testament consists of 27 books, with the key books being the four Gospels. The earliest Gospel was written by Mark about 35 to 40 years after Jesus’ death, and the latest of the four Gospels was John, written somewhere around 60 to 70 years after Jesus’ death. The earliest fragment of a Gospel is John 18 (“P52”), dating to early Second Century, possibly 120 C.E. to 140 C.E.
The earliest complete copy of John is from around the year 200 C.E., so that between the writing of the Gospels and the earliest existent full copy of even one of the Gospels we have today, there was a period of approximately 100 years or more.
Until the invention of the printing press in the late 15th Century, all copies of the Gospels and the New Testament were copied by hand. Only when the printing press came into existence do we find uniform copies. Prior to the invention of the printing press, we have nearly 10,000 copies of the Gospels in Latin, these being, of course, translations and not copies of the original. It is the Greek versions which are most important, and of these approximately 5,700 copies in Greek survive today – some few of them full Gospels, but most being fragments of various lengths.
It was not until the year 1707 that biblical scholar John Mill of Oxford considered that there might be mistakes in the copies. He reviewed only 100 manuscripts, but catalogued 30,000 places where there were variations. Among the approximately 5,700 various sized manuscripts of the Greek Gospels between the second and the fifteenth centuries which we know of today, there are variously catalogued 100,000 to 400,000 “mistakes” we can see. Most of these are unimportant, a misspelling, a skipping of a word, or something like that. But some are indeed substantive, for example:
- In the Gospel of Mark, an early version reads “in the prophecy of Isaiah.” But this prophecy did not come from Isaiah, but rather from Malachi. So a later scribe put: “as it says in the prophets …”
- “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone … one by one they all left …” This was not in the original version of the New Testament, because none of the early copies of John have this story and none of the commentaries of the day mention it. There is no mention of this passage until the 10th Century.
- The earliest copies of Mark’s Gospel end with “but the women fled from the tomb and they didn’t say anything to anyone, for they were afraid.” Later, scribes added the next 12 verses, including the oft-quoted “Go make disciples of all nations.”
- In the Gospel of Mark, a leper asks to be healed, and Jesus “feeling compassion” healed him. However, it was much more likely that the original text said that Jesus “got angry.” In Mark, Jesus often got angry.
- In the original Gospel of Luke, when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The earliest versions give this as a prayer of Jesus for forgiveness of all the Jewish people. In later times, when there was hatred for Jews, this entire prayer was simply omitted in copies.
All this is to say, in this context of determining the elastic boundaries of Christian renewal, is that the Gospels must be interpreted with a broad brush, and not a fine brush. It sends us back, again, to the expansive observation that the purpose of the Church was as a vehicle for transmitting Jesus’ new way of living, new way of looking at things, new way to perceive the presence of God.
What we are discovering, at the same time that we discover the weaknesses in what we have for centuries presumed the Bible to be, is the magnificent diversity of its original meanings. The Jesus Seminars and the historical questioning have unlocked untold marvels of insight and beauty of Jesus’ message. On top of this reality came the realization – long known but never sufficiently appreciated – that Jesus and his contemporaries spoke in the Aramaic language, and not the Greek that the four canonical Gospels were written in.
Aramaic is a vastly different language than Greek. Greek translates easily and with minor contextual differences to Romance languages. Aramaic is a very nuanced language, filled with poetry and hidden meanings. Sentences and concepts can have literally hundreds of meanings in the Aramaic spoken language of Jesus, not just the few of the Greek. Thus, there is a newfound beauty and richness which brings to life new insights of Jesus’ teachings. It also leaves more to our individual interpretation, and less to rigid single interpretations – just as did Jesus’ method of teaching.
Once again, we have to conclude that it is essential to transmit the un-cluttered, un-adorned, life-giving message in tools, in techniques, in language, in actions, in situations that are meaningful and robust to their intended audiences.
The Particular Charism of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit
We did not start out with the vision we now have, but somehow the Holy Spirit moved us in this direction. We have no reason to believe the movement has stopped, or that we will ever be frozen in this or any one spot.
Most of the members of the dioceses come from a Roman Catholic background, and have brought with them at least a little of the Roman Catholic mindset. This served as a bit of a stumbling block or anchor, as reality “on the ground” forced us to recognize other methods and perspectives.
The Protestant backgrounds of some of our members brought their own mindsets and anchors. Despite their limitations, the mixture of our various Christian denominations and cultures has enriched and made the new Catholic/Christian activities and theologies which have emerged more real and more beautiful.
We initially tried, but we were not very successful at recreating the Roman Catholic model of parish life as the evidence of lived Christianity. It was pretty much all we knew, and we tried to pull it off, but with no luck. At that early time, the only priests who would have been attracted to us would have been those working on this same model. Only after the model changed did we have a different face and a different attraction. It is not easy to say why the model of parish life failed in this diocese – and is failing in many other new attempts besides ours.
Perhaps it is because potential “parishioners” were themselves used to something larger, mightier, associated with sturdy buildings as a sign of credibility. Perhaps potential parishioners did not feel comfortable in a small community of faith setting – ill at ease with the intimacy and the inability to remain anonymous. Perhaps it meant too much having to be on one’s toes and exposure of one’s inner self. Perhaps, once having left the routine of Sunday Mass, no lightning struck and they didn’t feel bad at all … so why go back? Perhaps some never got much out of the Sunday church service anyway, but only went to buttress their heavenly odds.
Concomitantly, we noticed that there was much demand for the blessings of the sacrament of marriage, for baptism and for funerals, and for other various ways in which we as individuals were ministering. Such demand generally came from people who did not attend church regularly, but who also happened to be wonderful people … seeking to be happy, open to meaningful explanations of spiritual matters, already involved in serious thought on the subject.
And so, we answered those calls – allowing for the room made by the Holy Spirit. Why, we thought, try to force round pegs into square holes that so evidently reject those attempts. Why not give them what they are asking for?
How our Dioceses speak to the world today
The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit comprise individuals and communities of Christian faith and action, who follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Ministries exist to serve the particular changing needs of others.
We band together in loving friendship and in purposeful ministry in order to be an effective vehicle/conduit that reflects the free and life-giving revelations of Jesus to others. We strive to live the Gospel Ideals in order to do this, and to model our Dioceses on the image of the Apostolic Church, as presented in the Acts of the Apostles.
We also use as our guides, the Epistles, the Documents of Vatican II, the Documents of the Latin American Bishops promulgated in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, and the goals and ideals enunciated so late in the history of the Church by that segment of the Church so institutionally overlooked and so rich in spiritual treasure: WOMEN – as so wonderfully enunciated by the Women’s Ordination Conference.
Our primary Vision is to be a dedicated group, within the larger One Church, made up of distinct vocational or avocational ministries and small communities of faith, each one with its Deacon for service and/or its Priest for the Eucharist and the other Sacraments (sacred moments), and its Bishop as a mentor/servant to them all.
We believe that a community without the Eucharistic is missing Jesus’ fundamentally Buddhist way to pierce the veil to this beauty of the underlying Spirit. We choose “Eucharist” in its early-church relevancy, and not necessarily in its last millennium, highly-ritualized disguise. The community is a family and families always eat when there is a family celebration, and those meals are usually informal and pulsating with realism. That does not mean that the same format for “Mass” is the only or the best format for contemporary people to participate in Jesus’ Eucharist.
We ask for and we grant open Communion with all the other branches of the Catholic Church, because we believe that barriers are not part of Jesus’ command to “Love one another.” We are also in communion with all people and with Orthodox and Protestant branches of Christianity. We welcome all at our Eucharist. We welcome new forms of Eucharist, fitting for the times and the people who live in these times. We are “in communion,” in fact, with all people and all God’s universal expression.
Following the example of Jesus, the Christ, we believe that our two main missions are: to Preach the Good News, and to Heal the sick and the broken, in the name and manner of Jesus. We try to realize that when we give, we become. In whatever place we may be, our role there is to bring peace and wholeness to that place, healing brokenness in whatever form it takes. All of us are somewhat “broken” and so we have a challenging future of service, each to the other. Ministry for us, then, is always a reciprocal endeavor.
We do this first through “Being” (recognizing our Christ-Consciousness) and next through Doing (action, like Jesus). As the old African proverb says: “When you pray, use your feet” (or whatever else is at hand). We find it integral to our being Christians to not only have empathetic connections with individuals, but also to be committed to social justice to the marrow of our bones: we abhor social structures which demean who classes of people, and we are passionate about changing them.
It sobers us to observe that the only time Jesus ever got angry was when he went to church. And the only people he ever got angry at were church “leaders.” We bear that in mind as we continually evaluate what kind of a diocese we wish to be and what we wish to grow toward. God help us to be as humble and unaffected as was Jesus.
Because of all this, we have a Christian Moral Dedication which we try to follow (See the Section “About the Priesthood”).
Our Liturgies may follow a Rite similar to that of the Roman Branch of the Catholic Church, or they may be very different with alterations inspired by the Holy Spirit in each Community and in each Celebration. We believe that each Community together with its Priest may plan each Eucharist as the Holy Spirit moves them, while holding – as we do – that Eucharist is both the real presence and the reminder of the God who embodies, gives existence and life, to all that is … from the physical/spiritual Jesus, to the physical/spiritual each one of us, to every physical form and atom.
We trust the Spirit enough to provide us with new possibilities and new insights as we need them, that this Spirit is an evolutionary force of God’s life-giving presence in the world. We are here to draw attention to God’s deep presence, available to all from within, merely by the asking and the seeking. We have our model in doing this in Jesus, who did it so perfectly.
We do not see evangelization as a process to restore and add members to a church or to build the infrastructure of organized religion. Rather, we see facets of the external “church” as tools to help individuals enlighten themselves through discovery and expression of the God-Within preached by Jesus.
Our goal, as was Jesus’ goal, is to bring the Good News, to those who are ready to hear it, of the Beyond that lies Within, just beneath the surface – the Reign of God / the Presence of God which infuses all that is with existence, life and benevolent meaning.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we see that the Spirit is always racing ahead … and producing unexpected and unpredictable events and reactions. When “Church” freezes the Holy Spirit into scripted actions or defined structural responses, it, in effect, has tried to box in the Spirit. The result is stagnation.
To think that we could possibly categorize and structuralize all the movements of God’s Spirit is to try and catch the wind. It shows a lack of trust in God; it closes its eyes to the unpredictable facts of living all around us; and it squelches our freedom, joy and hope. The Church’s task is to open up individuals to all these.
We suspect that the future will not hold a singular spiritual perspective or organizational structure, but many thousands of them. We honor the myriad differences of the expression of God in all God’s people and in all of God’s universe, known and yet-unknown. We bless the present and future multiplication of creative expressions of faith, and we recognize cultural pluralism as the wondrous expression of our fecund God.
Our dioceses rejects the time-worn belief that there is a chasm between the sacred and the profane, spirit and world. We see God’s pulsating presence in every nook and cranny of the physical universe, giving it existence, life, meaning and love. There is not the supernatural vs. the natural; there is only One: all that is, is within God. There is a reason in John 17:15 that Jesus did not pray that his followers be taken out of the world: it is that this is the world given to us by the Father to discover God-Within.
Our participation in the dawning of the pastoral church in the new Christian era, is not a restoration of things past; it is a willing transformation – led by the Spirit – toward something fresh and unknown, whatever that might be. We predict nothing. We predetermine nothing. We anticipate nothing … other than that the Spirit is with us, and that she will excite our future with love and joy and a realization of the blazing presence of God in all we do and all we are.
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
– Native American wisdom
The Pastoral Perspective
The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit seek, first of all, to be an openly welcoming church, assiduously tearing down all barriers that keep people from participation in the experience of God, fashioned in community with other people of similar good will.
Secondly, we seek to manifest the Gospel messages in current, relevant and meaningful terms to people in today’s world who are hungry for real spirituality – not sugar-coated, condemning, authoritative, or codified institutional religion.
In the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus erected no walls to keep any category of people on the outside. Quite the contrary, Jesus made consistent, conscious effort to include those whom society rejected.
Jesus was constantly in the company of women, who were ostracized and shut out from meaningful participation and leadership in the Israel of Jesus’ time. Mary Magdalene, Martha, and other women were his “administrative staff” for travels and lodgings.
His mother, Mary, was with him more than might be expected for a grown man of that time and era. It was a woman at the well whom he approached. It was a woman, Mary Magdalene, whom he was said to have loved deeply and who was the first to find the empty tomb and report the resurrection to the apostles. It was mainly the women who stayed by Jesus’ side during the crucifixion.
Jesus called the little children to sit with him, at an era when children were not to be seen and were considered of so little importance that they were not mentioned or noticed. Yet Christ used them as models for us all to be like. This was a slap in the face of his culture’s caste system.
At a time when the Jewish people were captive to the Roman empire, Jews kept themselves separate by ritual purifications, circumcision for males, food laws, and all sorts of structures that were designed to keep them from being assimilated into another culture. The Romans were their despicable captors.
Yet, Jesus accepted them and interacted with them respectfully. He cured the daughter of the centurion and said he had not found greater faith than that of the centurion in all of Israel. Another centurion, at the crucifixion, stated that surely this was the Son of God.
Those who were sick or were mentally ill were ostracized and considered possessed by demons. Yet Christ took them to himself and treated them with human respect and with the recognition of their status as children of God.
On and on, in case after case, story after story, Jesus raised no barriers to anyone. His love and absolute acceptance was pervasive. And so, how could we do less? We in the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit try to keep that ideal. Everyone is welcome to the love of Christ. Everyone is welcome in this church which is dedicated to birthing this Christ-force in the world.
Gays and lesbians are welcome, for this is their church also. Divorced people seeking remarriage are welcome; if God is love – the surest thing we know – then it is God who gives them the free gift of love again … and we do not need to validate that for God. People who disagree with what others hold as dogmas, doctrines or creeds, or people who may have a different philosophical approach to life, but who still hold to the centrality of Jesus’ message – all those find a place with us if they wish.
People who follow their own consciences, even if those consciences are in conflict with what others find to be “moral” – such as people who live together outside the marriage bond, people who have abortions or practice birth control, people who make judgments about life and death issues, etc. – there are no barriers to these or any other people within the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit.
It is crucial to the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit that we place no more restrictions on people than Christ would have placed. We do not wish to merit his excoriation as modern-day hypocrites who would place burdensome laws and rules on people which do not recognize the spirit of God living within them.
Ours is not a welcome that ensnares them, only to ultimately want to transform them into our version of who they should be. The first public face of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit is its openness to one and all, an openness that is sincere and that honors each and every person as a reflection, a manifestation, an individuation of God. Within such an environment, it is our desire that people will be able to grow at their own divinely-inspired pace and direction.
A Dynamic and Engaging Presentation of the
Beauty of the Christ Message
We can knock down all the barriers we want, but once people feel welcome enough to want to join with us, it is necessary to present the other public face of the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit. That face is our constant attempt to present the message Jesus had for us all in such a way that it be recognized as relevant, meaningful, engaging, exciting, fulfilling, challenging, joyful, creative and dynamic. Here people should be able to find ways to live the experience of God, not just learn about God.
Christianity lived through the first sixteen or seventeen centuries of its existence under the clouded impression that there were two existences: God’s world above is perfection and our world below is sinful, imperfect, buffeted by “Satan,” struggling to escape its “bondage,” trapped in evil so powerful that, without Jesus’ saving hand, we would be incapable of pulling ourselves from everlasting damnation.
This frame of mind believed that everything we did not understand — and that was most of everything, from the physical universe to human bodies — happened because ” God did it,” and it was a “miracle.” Enwrapped in all this was the fact that life was relatively bleak. If you had a bad day, you did not call your friend on the phone and chat; you did not go out for dinner or a movie; you did not plop your feet up in front of the TV.
There were no vacations to look forward to, or any DisneyWorlds to visit. Life held not much reward, and so people generally looked forward to their reward in heaven, and could endure the difficulties of this world if they kept their eye on the next.
Science changed all that. As we discovered that God was not pulling the strings to directly intervene in making things happen, humanity lost interest is any such distant, non-involved God. The myths that motivated humanity dissipated. The fear of retribution became more remote. Enjoyments were closer at hand. Life gradually took on more fulfillment here and now.
At the same time, we discovered the fantastic story of creation, how, approximately 13.7 billion years ago, Great Power expressed itself in physical manifestation. We saw that incredible odds were overcome time after time, so that today’s results (and tomorrow’s) could occur. We learned how an evolving creation brought forth the almost unbelievable array of diversity, all part of an interlocking system of life.
We discovered, only recently in the 1960s, that the basic “building blocks” of all existence, the stuff of which subatomic particles are made are energy waves! The same energy that originally moved to put the universe into being is the oneness of energy that we now see which underlies every facet of that creation. A oneness of Energy that is so intelligent that it manifests itself in this incredible diversity all around us, an Energy that is not only Intelligent, but is also Spirit, Power, Life … God.
Our conclusion has to be that we live within this Divinity and this Divinity lives within us. We are all – all of creation and all people – manifestations of this God, whom the Christian Gospels tell us is Love. The one word that sums up this magnificent beneficial movement is Love.
Seeing this, knowing this, understanding this … we can marvel at the eloquence, the brilliance, the simplicity of expression and lived-life that Jesus brought to us. He personified these truths. He knew them and expressed them. He shunned being acknowledged as God himself, because he knew that we are all manifestations of God, and even said that greater things than he did, we would do.
He made manifest the Christ-power within himself by his conscious choice of Love at every instance, his not keeping that God-Power-Love to himself but by his prodigious sharing of it with those he contacted and then with the rest of us through time. His life’s message was that this is to be our lived-experience as well, not simply our allegiance to guidelines, principals, mantras, or doctrines.
The spirituality of Christ is a one-world view. It portrays God as imbued within the universe, not separate from it. Today, people have returned to this perspective as their motivating outlook on life, although many have never articulated such words or thought the philosophy of life through. It has just become innate within us. All of the world around us soaks in on us and tells us this is so.
And so the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit recognize this beauty of the unfettered Christian message in today’s language and today’s perspective. The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit see it as powerfully motivating and magnificently joyful. The Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit know that this message, transmitted clearly, has the searing ability to light up the cynical among us, the burned out, the spiritual seekers, the jaded floaters-through-life, and those left perplexed by a myriad of competing notions about how things are. The preaching of this message is who we are and what we must do.
It is proper that our ordained personnel and our local communities seeking camaraderie and strength identify primarily with the Catholic Dioceses of One Spirit for the limited hierarchical structure they provide – limited necessarily to produce freedom and vitality. For those who find Apostolic Succession and faculties from bishops to be important, One Spirit Catholic Dioceses provide ordination and incardination.
One Spirit Catholic Dioceses do not hold Apostolic Succession as a sine qua non to God’s graces, because that comes to everyone at every time and at every place, regardless of what we do or who we are. However, a continuum from the beginnings of Christianity to today and beyond is valuable and with merit, and these dioceses provide that.