When day broke there was a meeting of the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes. He was brought before their council, and they said to him, If you are the Christ, tell us. He replied, If I tell you , you will not believe, and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on, the Son of man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God. They all said, So you are the Son of God then? He answered, It is you who say I am. They then said, Why do we need any evidence? We have heard it for ourselves from his own lips. (Luke 22: 66-71)
A FEW YEARS AGO I bought a small book on the papacy in a shop just outside Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. I was struck by the large number of popes who were corrupted, murderous, unfaithful. So here in this gospel trial-scene we have a window into religion that is broken at the top.
When I was eighteen I joined an order of Franciscan Brothers and in the early training period some part of each day was given over to housekeeping. A broom was put in my hands and the brother in charge told me, "Sweep this staircase, beginning at the top and work your way down." I just followed orders not thinking of any deeper meaning until much later: any institution looking to reform itself must start at the top. Pope Francis understands this as he calls for reform of the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Vatican Bank.
Wherever there are human beings, there is sin, a wise nun said to me once. And so here is Jesus, lost in this sea of religious leaders driven to protect their institutionalized religious ideas. It's about protecting power too, isn't it: all the levels of leadership are assembled there - the big guns. Jesus seems to indicate that any idea of their understanding him is hopeless.
I may not be able to do anything to reform headquarters, whatever that may be. But I can hold close the psalm-prayer when the possibilities or opportunities for the reform of Christ's Church falls to me:
A clean heart create in me O God,
renew within me a right spirit,
do not thrust me away from your presence,
do not take away from me your spirit of holiness.
Psalm 51: 10,11