Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sing a New Church Into Being

Sister of Mercy Betty Campbell welcomes
visitors to the house of refuge she runs for
women in Ciduad Juarez, across the border
from El Paso.  Catherine McCauley would
be very proud of how her spirit is kept alive
by women like Sister Betty. 
“Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB
Tune: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:

Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new church into being,
One of faith and love and praise

Radiant risen from the water;
Robed in holiness and light,
Male and female in God’s image
Male and female God’s delight:

Trust the goodness of creation;
Trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised
Sprung from seed of what has been.

Bring the hopes of every nation;
Bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice:
Let it sound through time and space.

Draw together at one table
All the human family;
Shape a circle ever wider
And a people ever free.

I was at Mass this morning with a group of Religious Sisters (one affiliated with the LCWR) and as they sang the hymn “Sing a New Church into  Being” I could not but help see the connection between Rome’s “crackdown on the nuns” and the issues surrounding Father Guarnizo and the refusal of communion to a woman at her mother’s funeral because the woman is in a same-sex relationship.

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:

Let us bring the gifts that differ
and in splendid varied ways,
sing a new church into being
one of faith and love and praise

Songs like this point out that there are two Churches today and that the Sisters have a radically different idea of “The Church” than do the clerics who are taking them to task.  It is not so simple as to talk about Magisterium and “rebels.” Now I am not going to make theological claims here, but as a historian I have to speak about differing theological opinions and how they play out.  Just as in the ninth century Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus held conflicting theologies of the Eucharist, so too we have to talk today about the conflicting theologies of Church held by some who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and some who are members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
      “Well,” some will object, “there really can’t be a conflict—CDF has the final word on the faith of the Church and so any opinions they judge erroneous are just that—erroneous.”   Well, you might think so, but that is precisely the problem.  The one theology of Church is top-down and “the faith” is determined by what the magisterium declares it to be.     The other theology of Church is “ground-up” and the faith of the Church is what the people actually believe.  While for the last century and a half or so the “top-down” model has prevailed, throughout the history of the Church’s two millennia there have been times when the faith has been a matter of “top-down” and times when it has been a matter of “ground-up.”  In the Arian controversies of the fourth century, for example, orthodoxy was not defined by the bishops (the majority of whom were Arian) and magisterium, but of the rank and file faithful whose faith in the divinity of Christ put them in opposition to an alliance of hierarchy and Emperor. In fact even Pope Liberius faltered in orthodoxy, acceding to a semi-Arian formula proposed by Basil of Ancyra that did not accord the consubstantiality  of the Divine Nature to the Holy Spirit.  It was the dogged faithfulness of the faithful themselves that maintained the orthodoxy of Trinitarian belief against the “magisterium” of the day.  
      And this is an issue not to overlook in this conflict between Rome and “the nuns”—the alliance of hierarchy and Emperor for the preservation of power.  True, there may be more Emperors these days but rank power has taken on other, more modern, incarnations.  It is very significant that the Sisters have been criticized for being “too involved in Social Justice,” as if one could be too involved in proclaiming Good News to the Poor.  What is going on here if this is the criticism?  Who has the true faith?
      The nuns, in their commitment to social change through groups like Network, represent a challenge to the existing power structures not only in the Church but in society.  One has to ask oneself these days if the hierarchy is being true to the Gospel or is it, as it was in the days of the Byzantine Empire,  “in bed” with the powers-that-be of the saeculum, (the fancy Latin name for whatever constitutes the current socio-political-economic  distribution of power.)  The nuns are on the side of the powerless—the poor, women, minorities.  I can’t help but wonder if the internal persecution of the nuns isn’t about their prophetic voice being raised for those who have no voice.  True, bishops—and the Roman See as much if not more than most bishops—have to worry about support from big donors while the nuns depend on their own work and the appreciative nickels and dimes of those whom they have helped over the years, but that makes me wonder all the more how much Rome sings to the tune of those ”devout” Catholics  such as Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus or Tom Monaghan, former CEO of Domino’s Pizza,  and other fat Cat’licks on whom the Holy See depends for the substantial donations that keep it out of the “red.”  (Or, depending on how you look at it, keeps them in those red dresses.)  As we all know nullum prandium gratuitatem—just to put it into ecclesiastical Latin—“there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
      Look at this song: “diversity,”  “male and female in God’s image,” “we’ve a song of peace and justice,” “drawn together at one table, all the human family,” “Shape a circle ever wider, and a people ever free”—my God, this is the stuff of Les Miserables; this is a world upside down.  This may be “Good News to the Poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind,  liberty to the oppressed, and a time of God’s favor” but it surely is a song that threatens the saeculum.  Of course, read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and be even more shocked about God’s plan to cast down those in power and to send the rich away hungry, but this is the heart of the problem.  These women take God seriously at his word.  As I pointed out in Monday’s blog—this is the crisis of spirituality today when so many of the men responsible for leadership may  be deep in piety  but have never matured in their spiritual life.  If they had the Church which they have been called to lead would be truly an evangelical Church rather than a faltering institution bleeding members who have been so disillusioned by the failure of faithful leadership that they can no longer stomach the pretense that this institution is the spotless bride of the Lamb.   

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