Sunday, May 24, 2015

Let That Fire Fall From Heaven

Irish Crowds celebrating victory
in Same-Sex Marriage Referendum

Well, I was going to run quickly through Methodism and then into the Second Great Awakening, but that will have to wait a day or two as I want to make some comments about Ireland and the national referendum that overwhelming endorsed changing the national Constitution to include the right of same-sex couples to marriage.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said the Church (in Ireland) needs a “reality check” to see if it has drifted away from its younger members.  All due respect to His Grace, but sort of reminds me of the “Captain Obvious” commercials for   On the other hand, at least the good Archbishop is one step ahead of his American confreres (including those who work—or used to work—at the Vatican) in their ostrich-like head-in-the-sand approach. 
I remember reading a book several years ago, A Whisper of God: Essays on Post-Catholic Ireland by Richard Clarke, now Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland.  Bishop Clarke was way out ahead of his Catholic colleagues in identifying the reality that Ireland has over the past four decades moved very rapidly from a devoutly Catholic country where the faithful followed the directions of their parish priests to a society in which people think for themselves and have no difficulty in adjusting to the changed social realities.  Bishop Clarke (he was then Bishop of Meath and Kildare) and I shared a platform some years back when invited by a Roman Catholic Religious Order of men to help chart their future in Ireland.  He astutely named the very dramatic changes in Irish society and the impact those changes were to have on the Catholic Church in Ireland and what the Church must do if it wants to remain a part of Irish life.  We could use a similar analysis today.  Of course, Andrew Greeley warned us thirty years ago but remained only a voice crying in the desert.  Thanks to pressure from the infamous Cardinal John Cody, then Archbishop of Chicago, we chose to ignore Greely’s spot-on sociological research.  We need to be careful and ignore no longer or we will see—as the Pew Survey released last week—the Catholic Church shrink into total irrelevancy in American life. 
To a certain extent I think this does tie into the theme I am currently working on of the Great Awakenings.  I think an evangelical revival, a truly evangelical revival, not a fundamentalist reign of terror, is needed in America today to give a boost not only to the Catholic Church, but to all the Churches of Christian orthodoxy, that is to say all the Churches that profess the faith of the traditional Christian creeds.  As you probably note from earlier postings I am intrigued by George Weigel’s definition of Evangelical Catholicism.
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 think that if the Catholic Church wants to capture the spiritual imagination of the next generation it must address the following issues.
1.   Integrity.  The Church—and Church leaders in particular—need walk the walk they preach.  In particular they need to embrace a less materialistic and consumerist lifestyle and adopt the servant-model of Church in both their personal lives and episcopal ministries.  A key part of this re-visioning is to drop the C.E.O. model of the majority of bishops and the Renaissance Prince model of that wing-nut minority that parades around in Church-drag.  Pastors are neither executives nor princesses but loving fathers of adult sons and daughters. 
2.   We need to re-vision ourselves as Church not as an institution but as a people commissioned by baptism to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in concrete terms of establishing among ourselves and inviting others into a culture of community, peace-building, and a passion for a more just world, 
3.   We need to refashion ourselves as Church not only to be more inclusive and welcoming, but to put the emphasis on community—a family of people who know one another and are invested in one another’s lives as we encourage each other to grow in discipleship.  Part of this community emphasis has to be the development of small groups in the parishes to network in mission and fellowship. 
4.   We as Church need to redo our moral theology to bring its historic values—rooted in the scriptures and tradition—into dialogue with the social, biological, and psychological sciences to come up with a credible anthropology and, in particular, a sound theology of human sexuality.
5.   We as Church needs to permit greater inculturation in its worship, maintaining a unity of faith but recognizing the vast cultural differences that cut across not only nations and language groups, but age and economic groups within societies. 
6.   We as Church need to rethink and re-theologize our understanding of sin in a way that reminds us that we are a community of redeemed sinners and not an “us” (the saved) faction in an otherwise damned world of a supposedly unredeemed “them.” 
7.   We need a reemphasis on spirituality and an empowering of the average Joe or Mary Christian to develop a rich personal spiritual life, rooted in a personal friendship with Jesus as encountered in the scriptures, the sacraments, the community of the faithful, and the poor. 
8.   We need to move beyond the clerical/lay distinction in the Body of Christ so that each Christian is empowered to make full use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit entrusted to him or to her by God for the good of all the Church and indeed, the entire world.
9.   Without abandoning our historic faith and the creeds that express it, we need to move from a Church marked by doctrines and rules to a community of faith where people personally encounter Christ through the fellowship of believers, worship, preaching, and mission. 
There is some redundancy in what I propose and there probably are other features that I am overlooking but the current model of Church is not working.  Religion in general and Christianity in particular are fast losing their credibility in this post-modern world and it is time for a radical renewal of our identity as Church.  The work of theologians such as Avery Dulles, Karl Raher, Edward Schillebeeckx, Yves Congar, Hans Kung, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Richard McBrien, Jean Vanier, Elizabeth Johnson, Marie Dominique Chenu, and—surprising to some—Josef Ratzinger, make just such a renewal possible, even imperative.   Indeed, while I am not happy about the way Weigel unfolds his thesis in Evangelical Catholicism, I concur with him that the fundamental shift in Catholicism began not with Vatican II, or even with Pius XII’s revolutionary encyclicals Mystici Corporis,  Divino Afflante Spiritu, and  Mediator Dei, but can be traced back to the fundamental shift in Catholicity by Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century.  Leo’s embracing of the cause of the non-establishment working class with Rerum Novarum, his naming the very non-traditional John Henry Newman to the cardinaliate, and his reconciliation with democracy in his recognition of the Third French Republic may seem to us today small potatoes, but they signify a very dramatic shift in the direction of the Institutional Church that would bear fruit in the Second Vatican Council.  Up to that point the Church had been little more than a well-embalmed vestige of Renaissance Catholicism, but Leo breathed the Spirit upon those bones and we have seen them slowly come back to life.  Now is the time to unbind the resurrected Church and let it go free into the future where we, as Church, can fulfill the great commission to bring the Good News of God’s Kingdom to all nations.  Happy Pentecost.  


  1. "Up to that point the Church had been little more than a well-embalmed vestige of Renaissance Catholicism..."

    Yes, yes, yes. And Renaissance with all the residual feudalism and very little of the forward thinking. And this mindset seems to me to infect the vast majority of the folks who might be called Katholic Krazies. My sense is that they are less interested in actual reverence (contrary to their stated claims) than they are in preserving a "Renaissance Faire" aura in the Mass.

  2. WONDERFUL! AMEN-ALLELUIA! Such an excellent post! Keep working on that Great Awakenings insight and keep posting on it!

    I just this minute saw (at another blog) the entire transcript of Pope Francis' VIDEOMESSAGE (!) to an ecumenical gathering in Phoenix yesterday, in which he says, "Now I want to say something that may sound controversial, heretical even . . . " Can you imagine a Pope THIS normal, THIS in touch, THIS down to earth. And he adds "So I want to be with you as just one more participant" - and the blog put with that a picture of Francis sitting on one of the benches in the Chapel at Casa Santa Marta before (or after) his morning Mass . . . just like one more participant. Take a moment to go look (and follow their link to the HORRENDOUS Rorate Coeli blog, largely the theological venting point of an ex-Episcopalian now (married!) Roman priest, Richard Cipolla of the Bridgeport Diocese, who is a huge promoter of all things anti-Francis and (naturally) of the Tridentine Mass.

    1. It is sad how Rorate Caeli has devolved into a bizarre rant. I have never agreed with its agenda of restoring the pre-conciliar liturgy but when I first started to roam the blogosphere it focused on Liturgy and had some well-thought out postings that were at least worth reading. But these last two or three years it has gone down the rabbit hole into that parallel universe of krazy katholicism. On the other hand, the krazier they become the more obvious it is to rational people that this restorationist agenda, liturgical or otherwise, is just off the flippin' wall.