Here’s another great churchless teaching story from Anthony de Mello, my kind of Jesuit priest. The kind who was censured by the Catholic Church after his death for speaking the truth too freely. This is from his book, “Taking Flight.”
The priest announced that Jesus Christ himself was coming to church the following Sunday. People turned up in large numbers to see him. Everybody expected him to preach, but he only smiled when introduced and said, “Hello.”
Everyone offered him hospitality for the night, especially the priest, but he refused politely. He said he would spend the night in church. How fitting, everybody thought.
He slipped away early next morning before the church doors were opened. And, to their horror, the priest and people found their church had been vandalized. Scribbled everywhere on the walls was the single word, “Beware.”
No part of the church was spared: the doors and windows, the pillars and the pulpit, the altar, even the Bible that rested on the lectern. “Beware.” Scratched in large letters and in small, in pencil and pen and paint of every conceivable color. Wherever the eye rested one could see the words: “Beware, beware, Beware, Beware, beware, beware…”
Shocking. Irritating. Confusing. Fascinating. Terrifying. What were they supposed to beware of? It did not say. It just said “Beware.”
The first impulse of the people was to wipe out every trace of this defilement, this sacrilege. They were restrained from doing this only by the thought that it was Jesus himself who had done this deed. Now that mysterious word “Beware” began to sink into the minds of the people each time they came to church.
They began to beware of the Scriptures, so they were able to profit from the Scriptures without falling into bigotry. They began to beware of sacraments, so they were sanctified without becoming superstitious. The priest began to beware of his power over the people, so he was able to help without controlling.
And everybody began to beware of religion which leads the unwary to self-righteousness. They became law-abiding, yet compassionate to the weak. They began to beware of prayer, so it no longer stopped them from becoming self-reliant. They even began to beware of their notions of God so they were able to recognize him outside the narrow confines of their church.
They have now inscribed the shocking word over the entrance of their church and as you drive past at night you can see it blazing above the church in multicolored neon lights.