For those following the Catholic liturgical calendar, last Sunday was the 32nd in Ordinary Time and the Gospel reading was Mark 12:38-44. This is the familiar reading where Jesus criticises the scribes for wearing their long robes out in public, to gain the esteem of onlookers. After that, he praises the humble widow who gives all that she has in the temple offering.
For the last several years I’ve been using books published by the Redemptorists, which offer short meditations on the gospel reading for each week during the year. This year’s book, by Ciarán O’Callaghan, is called The Year of the Suffering Servant: Getting More out of Sunday Mass in the Year of Mark (Redemptorist Communications Ireland, 2011).
At the end of each reading is a section called ‘Coming back for another look.’ This week I was intrigued by what O’Callaghan asked us to think about in light of this scripture passage. The previous week, he had asked us to think about whether the Catholic Church is in retreat from Vatican II, and this week he offers what he sees as evidence of this: a resurgence in clericalism, as symbolised by the re-introduction of cappa magna. Here’s what he says:
Ciarán O’Callaghan on Cappa Magna
This is a text that needs careful reading by all in the Church, but especially by those in positions of leadership and influence. The kind of religious hypocrisy that Jesus condemns in the scribes can occur in any religion at any time. I offered my view last week that the Catholic Church is in retreat from the vision and renewal of Vatican II. For me, another sign of this is that in recent times some cardinals and bishops have begun to wear once more a long robe called cappa magna which has not been used since 1969. It’s a seven-metre long silken train with a huge hood lined with ermine in winter and silk in summer. Cardinals wear a red cappa magna while bishops wear a purple one. I do not suggest for one moment that those who wear this ridiculous garment are in any way comparable to the scribes of Jesus’ day.
But what does it mean that some of our Church leaders do so in Jesus’ name in the midst of the worst economic recession the world has ever faced and in the context of the gravest crisis our Church has known?
What does it mean in the context of Jesus’ words in today’s reading?
Jesus called his disciples to let go of so much for the sake of the Gospel – trades, possessions and families. He challenged them to give their very selves for the Gospel. Above all, they were to serve others even to the point of giving their lives as he would at Golgotha. In this regard, the widow in the Temple models Jesus’ idea of discipleship for all who would follow him.