Monday, June 18, 2012

Thank You Ignatius Loyola For the Loyal Service of Two Sons

I am a great admirer of the Society of Jesus.  I owe a lot to them for the education they gave me—especially teaching me my Latin which in turn has given me a necessary tool to be a historian.  Two Jesuits I particularly admire are the late Cardinal Avery Dulles and the very much alive Father James Martin.
     One of my colleagues who is a theologian, or at least a professor theology—I really don’t think he does the original work that would qualify him a a theologian though, like most academics, he has sufficient ego to claim a designation he hasn’t earned—dismisses Dulles as a “conservative” or even “reactionary.”  I think the gentleman is simply jealous of Dulles’ record of publications as well as his being honored by a red hat late in life.  I was always surprised that Dulles was so honored as I find his ecclesiology nothing less than subversive of the current Church order.  That, by the way, is to me a positive thing. While his book Models of the Church is his classic work—and I think prophetic for calling us to move beyond the institutional model to see the Church in its fullness—it is his book, Catholicity of the Church, that I have really enjoyed.  In Catholicity of the Church Dulles tells us that the predominant characteristic of the papacy’s first millennium was witness; the second millennium was characterized by power; the third millennium will be a time of service.  As a historian I think Dulles is spot on but while he speaks of the papacy, I think this is true of the Church at large.  The first millennium with the great evangelization of the then-known world was a time of witness to the Gospel.  In its second millennium the Church became entangled in the web of earthly power as it joined throne and altar to extend its authority into law.  And we are now entering a time when some—those prophetic souls who chart the course—see that we must give ourselves to service of humankind. 
      I think it is this shift of the Church’s tectonic plates that is at the source of so much of the tension in the church today.  It is very hard for many people to walk away from the power model.  Power is addictive.  Many people cannot imagine a Church that is not based on power—heavenly or earthly.  Ironically Jesus instructed his disciples to eschew power—“you know how it is among the Gentiles; how their great ones made their power felt over them; it must not be that way with you.”  The gospels tell us that Jesus “spoke with authority” but they do not ascribe power to him. Indeed, while he said that he could call upon legions of angels to come to his aid, he never did.  It is the conversion of the heart, not compulsion or a conversion by force, which characterizes the teachings of Jesus.
      In the Church’s second millennium power proved to be too tempting for churchmen (and notice, I mean churchmen)  to avoid.  Some—like Peter Damian or Gregory VII or Innocent III—for the most part used power well.  Others like the Medici Popes Leo X and Clement VII or Cardinal Wolsey, abused their trust. 
       When I see nuns—whether habited ones like the Little Sisters of the Poor or out-of-habit ones like the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Mercy—running nursing homes or day-care centers or infant-homes or shelters for women and children, I see the sort of service to which we are all called as Christians.  I see some prelates who fall in that category too.  I knew—only slightly—Cardinal Dulles in his final years and found him a humble man, more professor than prelate, devoted to getting his students to think both critically and profoundly.  I remember the late Bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane.  I never knew, except by reputation, Dom Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil.  His famous quote is: When I feed the poor,  you call me a saint; why I question why they are poor, you call me a communist.  I see Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston who moved out of the mansion and is normally seen in his simple Capuchin robes and who, at least used to, work in soup-kitchens.  Bishop Hubbard of Albany has a good reputation for not taking himself too seriously and keeping his feet on the ground and his heart with his people.  I have had the privilege of sitting down with Bishop Tom Gumbleton—a man who has suffered terribly at the hands of other prelates for his witness to the Gospel.  But for the Cardinals Burke and Law, for Bishops like William Lori and Thomas Olmsted, for Grand Poobah Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson and laity like George Weigel or Russell Shaw the model of power is just too hard to walk away from.  Che peccato as we say in Rome—what a pity! (Literally, “what a sin” which might be more accurate.)  The future lies in the models of service, not of power.   When we say we are afraid of losing our religious liberties, what we really mean is that we are afraid of losing out ability to dictate to the larger society how people should live and reproduce and express love.  We think that we should be able to dictate to the world what we perceive to be God’s law.  Jesus never told us to do that.  He told us to win people’s hearts not control their lives.  Win their hearts and their behaviors will follow but simply try to force your ways on them and they will never surrender their hearts.  Service is the way to win hearts for Christ   
      And then there is Father James Martin—a Jesuit and associate editor at America Magazine.  Boy does he get the religious crazies upset and why—well, most of all because he makes a rational case for rational Christianity.  Father Martin is not some way-out radical—though their fields  (journalism and theology) are different and so a direct comparison is impossible, I find him more reserved in his opinions than the late Cardinal Dulles.  Father Martin only writes (or says) what most thinking Catholics are saying at their dinner tables, their book-clubs, their faith-sharing groups, their Adult Ed classes etc.  He has come out solidly behind the American nuns and now he has written an interesting article about DeLaSalle Christian brother Louis DeThomasis, president of Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota, which is a thoughtful critique of Catholic faith and practice in our contemporary world.  Of course Father Martin is in a long tradition of America editors who speak up in a Church culture where the leadership wants you to pay, pray, and obey.  But the reason that the boys in red don’t want you to think for yourself and ask the tough questions is that, frankly, they don’t have answers nearly as rational as your questions.  When reason fails, they appeal to “Tradition.”  There is nothing wrong with Tradition, of course, but Aquinas would be the first to say that when reason and tradition diverge, reason trumps the commonly held perceptions of the Faith.  This is not to say that appeals to Tradition can be discarded when irrational but rather that the understanding of the Tradition, when it is against reason, is a distortion of the authentic deposit of faith.  In other words, a religious doctrine which deviates from reason, does not correctly apprehend the Tradition handed down from the Apostles.  There are many such “doctrines” circulating today that would require a Catholic to reject scientific knowledge and reason if he or she were to hold them.  It is time that such “doctrines” were seriously studied and redefined for our current age.  Faith, of course, transcends intellect but it does not repudiate intellect as some would have it.   God blesses simple hearts, but not stupidity. 

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