"Following a Path"
This weekend two former popes will be declared saints in an elaborate ceremony in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican. Huge murals of these "holy saints" will be displayed on the facade of the enormous basilica. The current pope, along with his cardinals, bishops and a slew of various other assorted clergy will sit on a stage towering above the millions of ordinary people in the vast crowds who will cheer in adulation and offer prayers petitioning the new saints to grant them favors.
From my point of view, the scene that will be enacted at the Vatican this weekend provides a perfect icon of just how far official Christendom has gone astray from the teachings of Jesus.
On any given weekend, average ordinary people throughout the world come into a church and sit in rows of pews. Many will look up at images of holy people depicted in murals, paintings and stained glass windows. Sitting high up on stage are the clergy along with their retinue, the pastors and the priests (or rabbis and imams) - the educated, trained, and often-times "paid" religious professionals.
As to the average ordinary people in those rows of pews? They are often the "unwashed mob" - kept at "arms length" from the center of the action. Most of the "pew people" can hardly imagine that their ordinary lives could ever be as "spiritual" as the saints in stained glass windows. And when they look at their own lives, the people in the pews believe that they can never measure up to those trained, educated professionals sitting up on that stage who have devoted their lives to "God."
In the minds of many "average" people, being spiritual or being holy is the full-time job of the clergy. In fact, many people believe that this is why the clergy get paid - so that they can lead holy lives while everybody else goes back to ordinary living in the real, everyday world.
It's kind of like paying someone to go to the gym for you.
When I look at what Jesus taught and compare it to the institutional church, I see such a vast chasm of difference between the two.
Jesus gathered disciples like a master gathers apprentices. His invitation was "follow me" and that's exactly what the disciples did. They followed him. They walked along with Jesus and observed the path of his life. They watched him as he prayed. They observed him as he welcomed everyone with the open arms of unbridled hospitality and unrestricted compassion - no one any better than anyone else. They observed him as he honored the dignity of every human being.
And then those observant apprentices modeled their own lives after that of the master.
For the first few centuries after Jesus, the word "church" never even existed. Those early disciples called themselves "Followers of the Way"- a community of "saints" committed to live their ordinary, everyday lives by following the Jesus path.
Such a far cry from the mighty and often over-bearing religious institution in which the trained professionals are paid to follow the "way," and only a handful are recognized as "holy" enough to be recognized as saints, whose images are displayed in murals hanging from giant basilicas.
The Buddha taught
Everyone must strive.
The buddhas only point the way.
Those popes about to be declared saints in Rome this weekend, Pope Francis, all those cardinals and bishops and the retinue of clergy sitting on the stage, all the pastors and all the priests in all the churches everywhere, all the ministers, all the rabbis, and the imams and gurus in every corner of the world - they are all buddhas. They point the "way" for all to follow.
There are no average, ordinary people - every one of us is a "saint" as we follow the path.
Everyone must strive.