“Holy Distance” is not for Me

Photo Above: Inks Lake – December Sunset

During this past Lent, I spent most of my prayer time preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. It seems odd that I, a cradle Catholic, married and fully participating in the Church would not have received Confirmation in the formation of my youth. But much to my surprise, that is what happened. After discovering the errors of my formation, I set about righting my way. There were obstacles, but none that prevented my Confirmation. As I prepared, I attended daily Mass more frequently. On the first day of my re-entry to daily Mass, I awakened early, before my alarm. I took that as a sign to get up and go to Mass. I knew I was supposed to be there. The homily addressed the need to offer forgiveness, to let go of our anger, hurt and hate. This topic is near and dear to my heart; I was engaged in the topic as well as the presentation by the homilist, however, he turned the concept inside out by stating that you can also give a “holy distance” to those you feel are behaviorally unreceptive to you. I thought, WOW, that is a new take on the Great Command of Love Your Neighbor. I also recognized myself in his description of “holy distance”. I was a recipient and participant in “holy distance” with him. I spent the remainder of my Confirmation Formation and Lent contemplating this very concept. It has continued to plague my mind as the liturgical year begins anew in Advent.  I had to ask myself the following questions:

1.What does “holy distance” mean? (How should I interpret this concept?)

  1. What does it mean to be the recipient and participant in “holy distance”?
  2. How can one live out their Common Priesthood, when applying “holy distance”?
  3. Looking at Holy Scripture, the Great Commandment, and the acts of the Good Samaritan, how can I reconcile my Life in Christ, when I am the recipient of “holy distance”?[i]

I feel estranged in my home with Christ. Is this how the injured person felt each time someone passed him on the road before the Samaritan found him.  In that story both a Priest and a Levite pass the injured man, but a Samaritan stop to give aid, to care for and to love another human. It did not matter what the man did, who he was, or how he came to be in this state. Care and love were necessary (LK 10:29-37). It is a very strange place to be, indeed, on the outside. My Confirmation snafu resulted in my Celebration of the Sacrament. It took place with grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. For me it was an example of how God recognizes my inability to engage others when I feel ostracized by an exercise of “holy distance.”

Ultimately, the meaning of “holy distance” cannot be a pastor giving up on their call. It cannot mean that a person that is right in front of him, sharing in the fullness of the Church, is ousted or expelled because they are not liked. If I turn to Scripture for the answer it is not in the Mission of the Twelve, “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness (Mt 10:1)”. But there is a reference to the lack of reception from your host that may apply in the following quote on the Commissioning of the Twelve,

“Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. Coming Persecutions (Mt 10 5-15).”

Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals is about unwelcome responses, and maybe that is “holy distance”.  Removal of a blessing could very well be about the lack of success in reaching the people for the purposes of conversion. It is not about personal differences in Church management. How am I to reconcile this “holy distance” with the call of all Baptized from Jesus to care for his lowliest and neediest? This desire to live out the values of Christ are the very essence of my purpose in life. Am I to ignore a need in order to protect myself? I think not. I have worked very hard in my life to have my professed theology and my lived theology be one and the same.

If I look to the Canon of the Catholic Church, I find that shepherds are to know their flock. They are to seek them out. The difference between the mission of the Apostles and the assignment of an Ordinary seems to be where one resides. Parish life in the USA conveniently provides a residence (Rectory) for the Priest.  This is both a convenience for the parish as well as the Priest.  While every parish is a part of the overall mission of the church, the stress of living in constant community with the faithful has changed. Shaking the dust off and the striving to know the faithful are not tandem acts that reconcile themselves. An unliked parishioner is not the same as a person without peace. However, I can stretch myself enough to see that a Pastor might feel unwelcome and that some parishioners lack in their offer of peace. Even with an empathetic understanding of the lack of peace, I cannot reconcile myself that “holy distance” is the proper course in the mission of Christ. As I read the following Canon, I do not see any wiggle room for giving “holy distance” in parish community by the Pastor.

“Can. 529 §1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. Therefore he is to visit families, sharing especially in the cares, anxieties, and griefs of the faithful, strengthening them in the Lord, and prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas. With generous love he is to help the sick, particularly those close to death, by refreshing them solicitously with the sacraments and commending their souls to God; with particular diligence he is to seek out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, those exiled from their country, and similarly those weighed down by special difficulties. He is to work so that spouses and parents are supported in fulfilling their proper duties and is to foster growth of Christian life in the family.

  • 2. A pastor is to recognize and promote the proper part which the lay members of the Christian faithful have in the mission of the Church, by fostering their associations for the purposes of religion. He is to cooperate with his own bishop and the presbyterium of the diocese, also working so that the faithful have concern for parochial communion, consider themselves members of the diocese and of the universal Church, and participate in and sustain efforts to promote this same communion.”

This Advent has been a time of preparation for the coming of “Emmanuel, God with us”. It is a time to spread the Peace that is beyond understanding and a time to reconcile my own inequities and biases.  I have fully decided that “holy distance” is not for me.  I will ignore the advice I received from the pulpit less than a year ago to give those that disturb my peace some “holy distance”.  I think instead I will offer the Peace of Christ that I receive in the Eucharist to that person regardless of their mindset and actions. Because I believe “holy distance” is an out, it is an easy release from the stress of dealing with the choice to be Christ-like in relationships. It gives an out that does not allow Christ to fully breath inside of me.

God is the breath that gives life to my soul and slices off my rough edges. Through the Eucharist I receive the Risen Lord of Peace. Eucharist is the Thanksgiving that I do not deserve but I am privileged to receive. Because I am receiving this precious gift at Mass, I am called to go out and spread the Good News. The final blessing sends forth the people to live in the world. I am both a host and a guest in my work for Christ. So, as I celebrate this liturgical waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, I will continue to spread the Joy of living with the knowledge that God’s gift to me is for service with others. My salvation is about belief in Christ, but it is also about understanding the call to be in relationship with others in that belief and spreading that belief. God is among us in many ways, and how we address the passing of peace from one to another does not allow for “holy distance”.  It is meant as reconciliation that promotes the flow of God’s love and presence.

In closing, this commentary on “holy distance” is directly related to my mission in Christ. I invite God into my conversations to help me to channel my words.  I wish and pray for all to experience the joy of waiting on the celebration of Christmas and be present to the remainder of Advent.  Allow the peace brought through the Birth of Christ in the baby Jesus to bring you closer to others to share in the love that has offered us a place in God salvation plan.  May your Christmas blessings be many and shared in Joy!

[i] For transparency, I do not have a good relationship with this homilist. It is not necessary for me to give the details of this ongoing broken relationship. I accept my responsibility in giving up all personal efforts to reconcile, or to seek a productive relationship. I believe that I am collateral damage, because the real problem is between my spouse and this particular priest. I am unsure I have any personal knowledge of this priest as a person. My experience with him is limited due to the schism with my spouse. However, I can say with all honesty that I have seen this priest’s good side with others. I have also seen his inability to offer relationships to some, and it seems indiscriminate in his disposition. Priest are people, faulted just like me. I pray for him, and that others do not feel the “holy distance”, as I have.

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