|Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ |
To pick up where we left off—and I am anxious to get over this topic and on to some things that have happened lately—I had most recently posted that there are two distinct traditions in the Catholic Church in the United States. The one tradition, dating back to the Maryland colony and English Recusant Catholicism was a plainer, more Spartan Catholicism with a strong tradition of devotional reading, intellectual emphasis, and centered on devotion to Jesus Christ. The other tradition, arriving later in mid 19th century America with the waves of immigration, was given to more public displays of pomp and colorful devotion, less intellectual and more emotional, and centered more on devotion to the saints. That is an over simplification, of course, but I also recently posted references to some previous postings on this blog that elaborate more on the theme and give examples of what I am talking about should you be interested. And I suspect that it is a theme that I will return to time and again as it particularly interests me. In the very last posting earlier this week, I mentioned that Catholics whose spiritual life followed that old Maryland/Recusant tradition were more prepared for the changes of the Second Vatican Council while those who found comfort in the immigrant Catholicism found that the conciliar changes really ripped away much of that in which they found their Catholic identity. Most of those who want a full or partial restoration of the pre-conciliar Church come out of that immigrant Catholic heritage.
Now that we seen the Maryland tradition vs the Immigrant tradition, and the pro-Vatican II and contra Vatican II factions, I want to “slice the cake” of American Catholicism along another axis. Cardinal Avery Dulles writing in his book on the Catholicity of the Church, The Catholicity of the Church (Oxford University Press, 1987), stated that while the 1000 years of the Church were about evangelization (he actually says “witness”) and the second thousand years were about power, that the third millennium will be about service. I think—as regular readers can attest—that Dulles is among the best modern writers on the Church and that he is dead on with this statement. But that means, of course, that as a Church we are precisely at that place where the Church’s tectonic plates are shifting as the old millennium of power gives way to the new millennium of service. The ground beneath our Catholic feet is shaking and trembling and this causes fear and anxiety. Some of us, of course, are looking forward to this period of service; others are frightened by the loss of power as the old order passes away. I think this “ecclesiastical earthquake” is very much at the heart of the strife and struggles within the Church of today. I admit that I make fun of Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Cordileone and others for parading around swathed in their furs and yards of silk—but precisely because I see this as a ridiculous holding on to the symbols of a dying Catholicism, a moribund Church of power while the Church that is rising up is that Church of service. I think that Burke and company are buffoons, however, while the Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori types are far more dangerous because it is not the silken rags of faded glory that they are clinging to but real manipulative power that seeks to control—and bind—the hearts and minds of Christ’s faithful people. But again—for those who cannot conceive a Church of service and know only the past any loss of power seems to be a weakening of faith itself. On the other hand, for those of us who were raised in the old American Catholicism of the Maryland strain—Christocentric, intellectual, and devoid of the European trappings of princedom, the switch to the servant model of Catholicism is something that we welcome. The heroes to us are not the buckled-shoe and caped wonders, but bishops with their feet on the ground like the late Dom Helder Camara, or Tom Gumbleton, or Matt Clark. or Howard Hubbard—or even Avery Dulles, and certainly Carlo Maria Martini. We remember Paul Émile Léger who resigned his See of Montreal to work in a Leper Colony in Africa. To us the nuns of the LCWR are the heroes and American Church women who were killed in El Salvador in 1980 or Sister Dorothy Stang who was killed in Brazil in 2005 for defending the peasants there. We like Richard Rohr and Joan Chittester and Ronald Rohlheiser because they articulate a vision of the future that we recognize as truly Evangelical—witnessing the Good News of God’s Victory. I did a posting not long ago (August 18) on Monsignor Ralph Beiting, a remarkable servant of God who spent 60 years serving the people of Appalachia. I have known scores of priests and sisters—and hundreds of lay people—over the years who model this Church of the Servant Christ and I see this model of the Church slowly rising as the earth beneath the slipper clad prelates sinks into irrelevance—but that is history. History is about change. To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. Keep moving forward!!! To look back is to risk the Church becoming a pillar of salt.