Whenever someone says a different opinion or challenges a long held belief, that individual is often pegged as a troublemaker by the people around that person. Yet these individuals who are accused of being troublemakers are often doing a good service by pointing out problems that the group or community doesn’t see or refuses to deal with. In the Roman Catholic Church, many of the saints that are celebrated for their holiness were often viewed as troublemakers during their lifetimes. These saints were viewed as troublemakers because they were willing to confront their church or their community to look at the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized as creations of God worthy of love.
The biggest troublemaker in the Church was Jesus himself. From my understanding, one of the things that made Jesus such a troublemaker was Jesus’ habit of challenging prejudices that prevented people from loving each other. Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ prejudice against impure sinners by associating with tax collectors, fallen women and other “impure” people. He challenged the prejudices of his fellow Jews by praising the goodness of the Samaritan and the Roman Centurion. He challenged the attitudes of superiority of the wealthy and occupying classes by praising the poor, the meek and the persecuted. Jesus challenged the resentful attitudes of the oppressed Jewish population by asking them to love their enemy and to turn their cheeks in response to violence. In all of these cases, Jesus challenged those around him to cross religious, ethnic and communal boundaries to accept into their hearts those who were different from themselves.
In this way, Jesus was a subversive figure. In challenging the prejudices of the people around him, Jesus was also challenging the values of the legalistic religious authorities and the violent occupying Roman rulers. When someone challenges the values of the group, it often poses a threat to those in the group and they often retaliate to try to silence the challenger. This accounts for the brutal way in which Jesus’s life ended.
Here are some examples of Jesus being a troublemaker. Mark 2:14-17 describes Jesus keeping company with tax collectors and sinners.
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In Luke 7:37-47, Jesus challenged the prejudice of his Pharisee host against a fallen woman:
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Jesus asked his followers to love Samaritans, who were looked down upon by many Jews. In Luke 10:25-37:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus challenged the hatred of his Jewish followers towards the occupying Roman forces by helping a Roman Centurion to heal his servant. In Matthew 8:5-13, it is written:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
One of Jesus’s greatest challenges was to ask people to love their enemies. In Matthew 5:43-48, it says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Here are some examples of Catholic troublemakers.
Dorothy Day was a Catholic anarchist and social activist who with fellow Catholic anarchist Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Day challenged the conservative Catholics of her day by advocating for rights of unions, African Americans and the poor and dispossessed. At a time when conservative Catholic priest Charles Coughlin was attacking Jewish bankers and spewing anti-Semitic diatribes, Dorothy Day defending the integrity of Jews and protested against the Nazi’s anti-Jewish policies. Though she was against anti-Semitism, Day was also a pacifist and was against the U.S. involvement in World War II. She decried the American hypocrisy of fighting for democracy against Nazi Europe and the Japanese imperialism in Asia while tolerating lynching and racial segregation in the American South. She conducted civil disobedience protests against nuclear warfare in the 1950s, supported the anti-war efforts during the Vietnam War, and stood in the fields with Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers in the 1970s. Though she often clashed with the Catholic hierarchy, Dorothy Day is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.
Father Andrew Greeley was a sociologist, author and Catholic priest. He spent a lifetime annoying and exasperating his superiors with his New Deal liberal politics, advocacy of immigrants and the poor, and his criticism of church teachings on sex. The American bishops rejected the findings of a survey that Father Greeley did in the early 1970s that found widespread dissatisfaction among American priests. Greeley criticized Archbishop John Cody for closing a number of inner-city Catholic schools. He was an author of numerous fiction books that were filled with clerical intrigue and explicit sex, which garnered a lot of controversy. Father Greeley was criticial of “Humanae Vitae,” the 1968 papal encyclical reasserting the church’s condemnation of contraception. In the late 1980s and 1990s, Father Greeley wrote articles demanding that the church take action against pedophile priests. He also criticized the hierarchy’s condemnation of gay priests, saying that the facts do not justify the hysteria against them and saw no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. In all these issues, Father Greeley was labeled a troublemaker by many Catholics. If the Church had listened to him on many of these issues, especially when Greeley loudly sounded the alarm against the sexual abuse of children within the Church, they wouldn’t have many of the problems they have now.
Father Robert Nugent was a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT rights group, and fought for the inclusion and acceptance of LGBT individuals within the Catholic Church. Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick founded New Ways Ministry in 1976 to service to the needs of gay and lesbian Catholics who were hurt by the treatment of the Church and the greater society. Father Nugent was inspired by Vatican II to fight for those who are marginalized in society, and this led him to minister to the Catholic LGBT community. The work of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeanine Gramick led them in conflict with more conservative Catholics and they were eventually silenced in the late 1990s by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger because of their refusal to accept church teaching on the “intrinsic evil of homosexual acts,” and dared to say that homosexuality was not a sin.
Oscar Romero was the Catholic archbishop of El Salvador in the late 1970s, at a time when the El Salvador government inflicted violence and human rights abuses to the poor of the country. When he was elected by conservative bishops to be archbishop in 1977, it was assumed that Romero would be a predictable orthodox leader who would not create any waves against the status quo. When his friend, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, and a grandfather and a seven year old boy were ambushed and killed in March 12, 1977, Romero denounced the killings and began speaking out for the suffering of El Salvador’s landless poor. His sermons were broadcast over YSAX, the archdiocesan radio station, where he denounced the the violence of El Salvador’s civil war. He tried asking President Jimmy Carter to stop sending weapons to the El Salvador government, to no avail. After a national sermon was broadcast where he urged soldiers to stop killing their fellow countrymen, Archbishop Romero was assasinated on March 24, 1980.
Daniel Berrigan is an American Catholic priest, anti-war activist and a poet. During the 1960s, he was involved in several protests against the Vietnam War. Berrigan, his brother the Josephite priest Philip Berrigan, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton founded an interfaith coalition against the Vietnam War. In 1968, Father Berrigan traveled with Howard Zinn to Hanoi to bring 3 captured American servicemen home. His most famous anti-war activity was his participation with the Cantonsville Nine, a group of Catholic peace activists, in destroying draft records in Cantonsville, Maryland. He went into hiding, until the FBI caught him and Berrigan was in prison until 1972. After the Vietnam War ended, Berrigan continued his peace activism, helping to found the Plowshare Movement and opposed American intervention in Central America, the Gulf War in 1991, the Kosovo War, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He is also active in anti-abortion and anti-death penalty protests, and has spoken out for the rights of gays and lesbians.
Sister Dorothy Stang was an American nun who fought for the rights of migrant farmers in the Amazon and criticized their exploitation by the land developers and rich farmers. Dorothy’s mission in life was to help the poor and to create a more favorable relationship between people and their natural environment.The landless poor flocked to the Amazon forest during the 1990s in hopes of owning their own property through a government program that promised them title to the land. Large land owners and ranchers took the titles to the lands that the poor had settled in and the poor farmers wound up under a system of debt bondage that was little more than slavery. With the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Dorothy Stang tried to create communities of the poor, where they could learn their rights as Brazilian citizens and where they would learn to preserve the Amazon forest. These efforts won Sister Dorothy the emnity of rich landowners and corrupt officials. As a result, Dorothy Stang was killed by henchman of a rich landowner.
A trailer to the Dorothy Day documentary “Don’t Call Me A Saint”
A youtube video of Father Andrew Greeley, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times
A youtube documentary on Archbishop Oscar Romero
A youtube documentary of Father Daniel Berrigan
A trailer to the documentary “They Killed Sister Dorothy” about Sister Dorothy Stang