Sunday, July 13, 2014

Evangelical Catholicism--The Church's Great Potential I

John Paul II, his concept
of Solidarity could yet
make him great
I wrote yesterday about George Weigel’s book Evangelical Catholicism and said that while I disagree with how he unfolds his basic premise—some real set-backs when it comes to how he envisions Liturgy, Academia, Religious Life, Priestly Vocations, the role of the laity—in an “Evangelical Catholicism,” I am energized by his basic premise. 
Let me insert another quote from his book. 

The Leonine Revival that reached its fulfillment in John Paul II and Benedict XVI , heirs and authentic interpreters of the Second Vatican Council, is inviting the Catholic Church to Galilee, and then beyond Galilee.  The Catholic Church is being invited to meet the Risen Lord in the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and Prayer and to make friendship with him the center of Catholic life.  Every Catholic has received this invitation in Baptism, the invitation to accept the Great Commission, to act as evangelists and to measure the truth of Catholic life by the way in which Catholics give expression to the human decency and solidarity that flows from friendship with Christ the Lord. 

I am less positive about Popes John Paul and Benedict as the heirs and authentic interpreters of the Second Vatican Council.  Legitimate interpreters—absolutely, it is in their power to interpret the Council as they choose—but “authentic?”  I think not.  There was a new, and to the minds of many of us, somewhat suspect hermeneutic given the Council after 1980 or so, a hermeneutic that Pope Francis, thanks be to God, seems to be undoing.    More about that, perhaps, down the line.  And I should explain Weigel’s remarks about a “Leonine Revival.” Weigel claims—and quite rightly I think—that the papacy took a new direction towards the modern world under Leo XIII.  I think Leo is a greatly overlooked Pope, every bit in his day as revolutionary as John XXIII or Pope Francis in their respective periods.  I will try to do some entries on Leo to illustrate this point, but today, and in the next few entries, I want to look more deeply at this quote and its implications for what Weigel calls “Deep Reform in the 21st century Church.”  Let’s look at this idea. 

The Catholic Church is being invited to meet the Risen Lord in the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and Prayer and to make friendship with him the center of Catholic life.

We are called to meet the Risen Christ in the Scriptures, the Sacraments and Prayer and to make friendship with him the center of our Catholic life.  I think this speaks right to the heart of the renewal of Catholicism for the 21st century.  My issue with Weigel is how he unpacks the implications of this brave statement.    
One of the areas that I think Weigel neglects in his book is the Catholic commitment to Social Justice.  There are reasons for this.  Social Justice was a major theme in the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI.  Weigel’s hero—and for whom he was the quasi-official biographer—John Paul II, shifted the meaning of social justice in his magisterial documents.  He didn’t do away with it by any means, but he did subordinate it to his own political agenda. 
John Paul II had a mission and it is a mission for which he will be remembered in history and that mission was to bring down Marxism as a political force holding a significant portion of the world in economic and dictatorial thralldom.  The collapse of Communism is undoubtedly the greatest (of several remarkable) accomplishment of his reign.  But it came at a price.  John Paul could not do it alone and he needed the support of the “Western Democracies”—most notably Britain and, even more, the United States to do it.  To forge this alliance John Paul became quite selective in his support of various movements for justice around the world.  In particular, he insisted that the Church not come into conflict with American foreign policy in Latin America.  From a political perspective this was not an unwise choice.  The Soviet Union and its satellite states presented a far greater and more immediate threat to human freedom than the second rate dictatorships in Argentina, Salvador, Brazil and other western countries.  First knock out the big guy, and then turn your energy on the banana dictators.  Unfortunately, however, it politicized the Church’s commitment to Human Rights in such a way as to leave the local Churches of Latin America out on a limb and provide the ambience in which Archbishop Romero, the four American Churchwomen, the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador and tens of thousands of lesser known victims were martyred.  It also gave a very strong opinion to American Catholics that the abuses of human rights in Latin America were a moral evil with which we, as a Church, could live. 
Of course it is still a treasonable offense in most quarters of American Society to question the integrity of the Reagan Presidency.  Let’s be honest, the policies—moral or immoral—worked for us and the American Ethic is not is something objectively right or wrong, but “does it work for me.”  And, for the greater part, the same people who have all but canonized Ronald Reagan have also idealized John Paul II.  This is not to say that John Paul was not a great Pope—he was—but, as is often the case with great people, there was a shadow side to him, and to his papacy, as well.   And part of that shadow side is that despite the rhetoric of Solicitudo Re Socialis and Laborem Exercens,  there was a definite shuffling of Social Justice to the bottom of the magisterial deck.  More recently many American voices from buffoons like Glen Beck to various pseudo-evangelicals have condemned “Social Justice” as a “codeword for Communism.” Some of the Katholic Krazies have been quick to climb on this bandwagon as well.  John Paul, and to some extent Pope Benedict, bear the responsibility for this de-prioritization of Social Justice in the Catholic world. 
Pope Francis has revived Social Justice as a fundamental building block of contemporary Catholicism and he has met with a lot of criticism for this from circles both inside the Church and from without.  But an Evangelical Catholicism, rooted, as Weigel insists in the scriptures, draws from both the Hebrew Prophets and the Christian Gospels the conviction that the Kingdom of God requires a reordering of the social and economic structures of contemporary society in such a way as to faithfully assure that each of God’s children has that share of this world’s goods that God wills for him or her.   This does not mean that each person is to have an equal amount.  Nor does it mean that one’s personal goods are to be taken from him or her to provide for another.  But it does mean that Christians, and Evangelical Catholics in particular, need to commit themselves to work for a reform of the social and economic structures that permit some to have obscene excess while others lack basic necessities.  Such gross inequality is contrary to God’s will and thus to the Kingdom of God.
Ironically for the way in which he compromised the Church’s commitment to this sort of distributive justice, John Paul provided the basic plan for it in his concept of “Solidarity.”  John Paul was clear in his critique of both Marxism and Free Market Capitalism that we must develop a culture in which we understand that we have a mutual accountability with every other person on this planet.  I am my brother’s keeper.  His needs must be my concern and my needs must be his.  Such needs are not limited to the economic or social but reach into the areas of spiritual welfare as well.  Such inter-dependency is not limited by borders or race or religion but extends to the entire human family.  In fact, if we every open our ears to listen to the word of Christ, John Paul’s greatest historical contribution may end up not being the fall of Marxism but the rise of a new mentality of Solidarity from which we can create this Utopian  dream of a world in which each of God’s children has the share of this world’s resources that our heavenly Father desires for her or for him.  Ooops, I forgot about Original sin.  Sorry, won’t work.  Jesus wasted an otherwise perfectly good Friday afternoon hanging on the Cross.    

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