Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Example To Us All

Did you see this article by J David Goodman in the New York Times?  There was a day when you would say: “DePrimo?  Hmm, Italian, must be Catholic.”  Those days are gone, unfortunately—but I hope this guy is on our team because this is what our faith is about—not Father Mumbo Jumbo Hocus Pocus with his biretta and pious condemnations of all things Obama.  There is no Gospel that is not the Social Gospel—no Message of Christ that is not Good News to the Poor, sight to the blind, release to captives, and freedom to the oppressed/      
On a cold November night in Times Square, Officer Lawrence DePrimo was working a counterterrorism post when he encountered an older, barefooted homeless man. The officer disappeared for a moment, then returned with a new pair of boots, and knelt to help the man put them on.
The act of kindness would have gone unnoticed and mostly forgotten, had it not been for a tourist from Arizona.
Her snapshot— taken with her cellphone on Nov. 14 and posted to the New York Police Department’s official Facebook page  late Tuesday — has made Officer DePrimo an overnight Internet hero.
By Wednesday evening, the post had been viewed 1.6 million times, and had attracted nearly 275,000 “likes” and more than 16,000 comments — a runaway hit for a Police Department that waded warily onto the social media platform this summer with mostly canned photos of gun seizures, award ceremonies and the police commissioner.
Among all of those posts, the blurry image of Officer DePrimo kneeling to help the shoeless man as he sat on 42nd Street stood out. “This is definitely the most viral,” said Barbara Chen, a spokeswoman for the department who helps manage its Facebook page.
Thousands of people commented on Facebook and Reddit, which linked to the post on Wednesday. Most of them praised Officer Deprimo, yet some suspected the photograph had been staged. Many debated whether the officer’s actions were representative of police officers in general, or were just unusually exceptional.
“I still have a grudge against law enforcement everywhere,” wrote one commenter on the police Facebook page. “But my respects to that fine officer.”
I don't have grudges against law enforcement officers--I know there are rotten apples in the barrel, but hey--show me the barrel that doesn't have a few.  But these men and women put their life on the line every day.  I never pass a police car or see an officer that I don't offer a quick prayer for them--but I hope that this officer will someday say a prayer for me 'cause I bet God hears this guy. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rethinking God VIII

York Minster
Years back I heard the story of a Catholic priest who was studying at Cambridge under the famous New Testament scholar, Bishop J.A.T. (“Honest to God”) Robinson.  This particular priest was quite an Anglophile (and Anglican-ophile), often affecting Anglican styles in dress and liturgy, and Bishop Robinson allegedly said to him one day: “Joe, why don’t you just become an Anglican.”  The priest’s response was: “Your Lordship, I am not one to jump from a sinking ship into a sinking lifeboat.”  Wise answer.
Last week I heard an Anglican bishop charge that the Church of England had a lot of explaining to do to contemporary society in the refusal to consecrate women as bishops.   The Church was in danger of becoming “outdated.” 
Now I am not opposed to the Church of England—or any religious body—ordaining whomever they please to whatever ministries they are called.  But this particular bishop is delusional if he thinks that the Church of England is outdated because they won’t let women be bishops.  The Church of England is outdated for many other—and I believe more pressing—reasons than an all-male-episcopate.  It has been outdated for a long time now—long before the question of women’s ordination ever came up.
I remember being in York about five years ago for a ceremony at the famous Minster (cathedral)—one of the splendors of medieval Christian faith.  That particular Sunday morning I wandered through the medieval city to see the ancient churches.  But most of the churches were now community centers or museums and only two or three were open for worship.  And those who were open for worship had maybe twenty or thirty worshippers attending Sunday services.  Less than 5% of the Anglican faithful attend Church regularly in England.  Of course that is not much different than the percentage of Catholics attending Mass in Spain or France or Austria or the Czech Republic.  And the number of Lutherans attending Church regularly in the Scandinavian Kingdoms is about the same.  The Church—Catholic and Protestant—has become irrelevant to the lives of many in Europe—and what is frightening, to increasingly more Americans as well.  But we should not be surprised.  The way God is talked about in churchy circles is simply peripheral to the lives of an increasing segment of our population.
When people say: “I’m not religious—I am more, well, ‘spiritual’,” I have to laugh.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred this translates as “I’m too lazy to get out of bed on Sunday morning  but I do like the occasional warm fuzzy I feel when I think of some cosmic power that beats the heart of the universe for me.”  Not that I don’t think that one can be spiritual without being religious: I do.  I know deeply spiritual people, holy people, who don’t cross the threshold of a church except for the social obligation of an occasional wedding or funeral.   I just meant that most of the people who make this claim have no idea of what it means to be “spiritual.”  What they are is colossal narcissistic ingrates who think everything is for them and about them.  But what is there that does draw emotionally and spiritually healthy people to Church?  It certainly isn’t the preaching in the average Catholic Church.  The god we hear about from too many pulpits is no more than an embalmed dogma dressed up in the rags of old religious pieties and tricked out to rule over the fears of those who have never been taught to think critically and for themselves.    
Liberal Protestantism has its own issues and they have been a long time a-breeding.  A half century and more ago C.S. Lewis described the deity that was to kill Liberal Protestantism by irrelevance:
We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see the young people enjoying themselves,” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”
Who wants to go to Church to be patted on the back and be given the insufferable pabulum of happy-clappy religiosity that makes no demands for critical self-reflection?  The Church of England and other liberal Churches have had their guts sucked out by an insipid moral relativism that is afraid to hold up the mirror of truth for us to look into and see what disfigured creatures we who once were the image and likeness of God have become. 
On the other hand, in so many Catholic churches today a neo-Jansenism has taken over where the Good News of Salvation has been corrupted into the Bad News of judgment.  God is the insufferable parent whom there is no pleasing except for a rigid and unquestioning crushing of the will.  Heavy burdens are tied up and laid upon the shoulders of men and women too fearful to resist by men who arrogantly suppose themselves to be the arbiters of the Divine Will.  The priesthood that once preached the Gospel of setting captives free is being turned into a race of orcs that seek to enslave the minds and souls of the faithful by a petty legalism that would embarrass the Pharisee and stupefy the scribe.  I am not surprised that religion is losing its hold on people who seek spiritual health as too often what we find in church is nothing less than toxic.
And it doesn’t need to be this way.  We Christians—and Catholics in particular—have a rich history of spiritual writers that point the path to a healthy religious practice.  Ignatius Loyola and John of the Cross and Francis de Sales and Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux all point the way to spiritual paths that bring people to spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and mental maturity.  But we rarely hear of such in the pulpit because few of the clergy, and the secular clergy in particular, know the spiritual tradition of our own Church.  We need a spiritual revival that begins with recovering not the legalism and pomposity of the pre-conciliar Church but the genuine Tradition that has been handed down as our heritage and birthright.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rethinking God VII

Massacio's Crucifixion, typical
of late medieval art emphasizing
the humanity of Christ
Well, let’s get back to our postings on revisioning God (see entries for November 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17).  I had mentioned how our concepts of God have evolved over the centuries since that point at which what are known as the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—made their first contact with Y-WH Sabaoth some four thousand years ago when He first picked up with this wild and unshaven band of nomadic outlaws from Ur of the Chaldees.  I mentioned in previous postings that it took the Hebrew people some thousand years or more to come to monotheism and to realize that this God of theirs was not one of several gods but is God Alone.  In the process too they seem to have consolidated Him with another deity they knew and worshiped—Elohim.  And then it took some time more to realize that while this Deity was far from vegetarian, human sacrifice was not on His menu.  Along the way various new stories emerged about Him and how the world and all its inhabitants came to be and sometimes those stories conflicted with one another.  That was not a problem—the People of God could live with some ambiguity.
Christianity provoked new developments in our understanding of God as the believers in Jesus as mashiah gradually came to appreciate that Jesus somehow shared in the Divine Nature of the Deity he referred to as his (and our) Abba.  From this awareness developed the notion of the Trinity—that God is One in Divinity but three in distinct Persons: The Father (Y-WH, The Son (who is become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth) and the Holy Spirit.  This did not happen at once—nor was the awareness complete in biblical times but only in the second and third centuries with substantial disagreements lasting into the fourth and fifth and—at least in regards to what the Divinity of Jesus means—even later. 
With Christianity and the emergence of a Trinitarian awareness, the Second Person of the Trinity—incarnate in Jesus—eclipsed the primacy of the First Person (Y-WH, the Father) not in theory but certainly in the devotional life of the faithful.  Jesus, as the Mediator with the Father, became the Presence of God most familiar and most adored.  Jesus was seen primarily as the Great Heavenly High Priest who stands at the heavenly Throne of Grace interceding for us.  He also was seen as the King who will come at the end of time as Judge and Ruler.  But this perception too would change in time.  In the late eleventh century Anselm of Canterbury wrote Cur Deus Homo, a theological treatise explaining why (cur)  God (Deus) had become human (homo)  in the Incarnation of the Divine Son as Jesus of Nazareth.  We won’t go into his answer here, but we need to note that historically this would also cause a great theological shift as Christians from the twelfth century through the fourteenth centuries would greatly emphasize the human nature of Christ whereas for centuries from the sixth through the eleventh they had emphasized his Divinity.  Now we see less and less of the King seated on the throne of Judgment and more and more of the tender babe in his mother’s arms or the naked and dying savior hanging on the cross.       
Now why I have been writing about this is so that we can see that the faithful—the People of Israel in their Covenant and the Christians in ours have not been passive recipients of doctrine but have played the active role of shaping the faith.  It is not the role of a Magisterium to define the Truth and for God’s people to passively accept their word as dogma.  The faith as it bubbled up through the sacred writers of the Scriptures and in the decrees of the Councils and later in the teachings of the Church bubbled up from the hearts of God’s people as they reflected on their experience of God.  Again—I am not writing theologically here and have no interest in this blog of doing a “theology of revelation.”  I am writing from a historical viewpoint.  It was not Abraham nor even Moses who came to “define” God in a monotheistic understanding.  They were long in their graves before the People of Israel were weaned away from polytheism.  It was not Paul, much less Peter, who defined the hypostatic union of the Divine and Human Natures in the One Person Jesus Christ or taught that God is one in Divine Nature but Three in distinct Persons.  If this had been taught definitively by the apostles there would have been no arguments over it in the third and fourth centuries.  These understandings arose over time within the hearts of the Christian people.  It was not the bishops who insisted that Jesus was one in Divine Nature with the Father.  Newman reminds us that the majority of the bishops had bought into the Arian heresy hook, line, and sinker.  The issue wasn’t even settled with the Council of Nicea—Arianism flourished for a further two centuries after Nicea.  It was the faith of the faithful that clarified the doctrine.
And so too today—the problem is not that the faithful are not listening to the bishops; the problem is that the bishops are not listening to the faithful.  Our faith in not static.  There are serious issues facing the Church today, issues that require some key teachings of faith and especially of morals to be critically reexamined.  Pontifications will not resolve these issues but rather the Church—the entire Church—magisterium, theologians, and faithful need to build consensus.  All three voices must realize this is not a time we can afford disunity but rather where we must bravely enter into deep and prayerful reflection and dialogue to come to understand the faith the Church—the whole Church—holds.   

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Well, Back to Bill O'Connell and His Sad and Sordid Tale

Cardinal O'Connell enthroned
in state in his cathedral--
somewhat reminiscent of
Cardinal Burke's visits to the
"Canons" of Gricigliano

I have a tendency that some of my readers have let me know is most disconcerting—I break off in the middle of a topic to switch to an entirely new topic without any promise of returning to the original conversation.  I currently have doubled that in as that I left the “Revisioning God” series to take up “his Pomposity,” Cardinal O’Connell (with implications for Cardinal Burke) only to break off from the sordid story of that nasty prelate to talk of the political overtones in the historical development of the devotion for Christ the King.   And now a number of potential new topics have broken—Benedict’s admonition to the new Cardinals to forgo the temptations of power, the discovery of the presumed remains of Richard III and the question about which rites should be employed for his reinternment,  and a quote of Andrew Carnegie that I think has some interesting potential for understanding the anti-social justice prejudices of the Catholic Right.   But all that in time.  For now, back to our errant Cardinal of Boston—O’Connell that is, not Law.
One of my favorite stories about William O’Connell is that when he was a student studying for the priesthood he was expelled from Saint John’s Seminary by the Sulpician Fathers who ran the seminary and who found the young man “unfit” for the priesthood.  Perhaps they had uncovered his homosexuality that was to play a role in his later undoing—we don’t know the specifics of their reason for his expulsion.  Whatever the crisis, it didn’t derail his determination to become a priest.  In any event after having been expelled from Saint John’s he went on to study in Baltimore and then to the Pontifical North American College in Rome.  Years later when O’Connell returned to Boston as Archbishop, he had his ghoulish revenge on the Sulpicians.  He ordered them to leave the Archdiocese and to “take your dead with you,” requiring the Sulpicians to exhume their deceased confreres from their cemetery and move the bodies to rest elsewhere. 
Now I know Karma is not a Christian belief but sometimes you have to wonder.  O’Connell built a magnificent Italianate villa on the seminary grounds where he and his successors were to live in princely splendor.  His current successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap—a man of far more humble tastes as befits a son of Saint Francis—sold the palace to Boston College in order to pay some of the archdiocesan debts incurred in the sex-abuse scandal under his predecessor—and O’Connell’s successor but three, the disreputable Cardinal Bernard Law.  The problem arose of what to do with O’Connell’s remains which were interred in a mausoleum in the palace grounds.  (O’Connell had disdained the idea of being interred in a vault in the Cathedral as is the normal custom with a diocesan ordinary and wished to remain near his much-loved villa.)   Boston College, however, had no desire to have the remains of this prelate on campus.  The O’Connell family, challenged the removal but eventually had to accede and the dust and ashes that were once the mighty prelate have been moved to the adjoining grounds of Saint John’s Seminary. 
In popular lore, the Cardinal was depicted in the 1963 Otto Preminger film The Cardinal as Lawrence Cardinal Glennon by actor/director John Huston who played him as a gruff but benevolent pastoral prelate: such the license to depart from truth that is given to art.    
My favorite description of the Cardinal is that of the waspish Miss Ella B. Edes—an American old maid convert to Catholicism who had amazingly wormed her way into Vatican employment in the days when only men held access to such positions.  Edes was an agent of Archbishop Corrigan of New York, a figure who has always reminded me of Archbishop Lori even as O'Connell reminds me of Cardinal Burke.  I would love to know more about Ms. Edes as she seems to be a fascinating cross between a cobra and a comedienne whose drily venomous humor savaged some of the most prominent American Churchmen of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Edes is the one who named O’Connell as “Monsignor Pomposity” and said of him:    
“Monsignor Pomposity…is so invariably rude, ill-bred, and disobliging…I suppose he does not know better, being low-born and common, pitch-forked, suddenly to a position which has turned his head.  Like all ill-bred Paddies, I am not, in his eyes, sufficiently rich, or fashionable to be treated with even ordinary courtesy.”  Well, as they say “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christ The King

The Battle of the Vendée:
“Henri de La Rochejacquelein
at the Battle of Cholet in 1793”
by Paul-Emile  Boutigny
During the French Revolution there was a reaction to the violence and the extremes of republicanism by royalists in the Vendée region of France where the people rallied to the defense of the Church.  Relative to the rest of France this area is still more strongly Catholic than the more secularized regions around the capital.  The Catholic Royalists bore a motto on their banners—Dieu Le Roi—God is the King. 
Also during the French Revolution the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne, ardent royalists as were most of the French Carmelites, offered themselves as Victims of the Divine Justice to end the Reign of Terror.  In fact, their martyrdom at Paris on July 17, 1794 came just ten days before the end of the ten month Terror and has been credited by Catholic sources as the reason for the end of this bloodiest period of the Revolution.  The nuns, as royalists, had been particularly devoted to the Infant King (Infant of Prague), a traditional Carmelite devotion.
The Catholic Church suffered terrible losses—of personnel, of property, and of power—not only in the Revolution but in the subsequent development of history.  The historic alliance of “Throne and Altar” which had prevailed since Constantine’s recognition of the Church in 312-313 was effectively broken by the secularization of the Revolution and has never been successfully restored.  For brief periods of time in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Catholicism has been established as the State religion or given Constitutional preference in various countries, but such privilege has not only not lasted but has led to reactions in which the Church has again suffered greatly.  Nevertheless, the image of “Christ the King” has remained a rallying point for those who wish to establish a Catholic dominance over civil culture. 
Among the occasions where “Christ the King” became the symbol of Catholic Restoration, a revolution broke out in Mexico in 1911 that had dire consequences for the Church.  The Catholic Church had over time acquired extensive land and wealth in Mexico and the clergy, either Spanish or from the upper classes of Mexican society, represented reactionary political and social views.  With the revolution Church lands were expropriated, foreign clergy expelled, and the Mexican clergy forbidden to wear religious garb in public, to vote, or to comment on political matters.  The situation only got worse over time.  In the 1920’s under President Plutarco Elias Calles, an avowed atheist, the anti-clericalism escalated into a persecution of the Church and triggered a rebellion known as the Cristero Rebellion.  The cry of the rebels was Viva Cristo Rey!—Long live Christ the King.  The Cristero Rebellion, as this was known, was the occasion of a great number of martyrs for the faith—especially to be noted Miguel Pro SJ, whose feast was celebrated yesterday. 
In support of the Mexican defenders of the Catholic Church, Pius XI brought the title “Christ the King” to a universal Catholic Consciousness when he instituted the liturgical feast of Christ the King in 1925.  At the time it was to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October.  The Pope had written on the subject that same year in his encyclical letter Quas Primas.  This was meant to be a support to the Catholics of Mexico during their time of persecution but also as a challenge to secularization wherever it might be taking place in the Catholic world.  The institution of the feast was the high water mark of Catholic resistance to the French Revolution and all that it stood for in its challenge to royalism and Catholicism. 
Americans, of course, never fully understood the political symbolism of the feast as American Catholics have always been rather naïve to the Church’s historical preference for monarchy.  Ever since the French Revolution the Catholic Church had seen republicanism as a threat to its theology of power which devolves not from the people but from God directly to the rulers.  In the years before Vatican II regimes such as Franco’s Spain which was in name a monarchy (with Franco functioning as regent for an as yet-to-be-named King) and where the Church enjoyed a political hegemony to the exclusion of other denominations and religions, were held to be the ideal.  It was only at Vatican II that the Church made peace with the idea of democratic government and in subsequent years it is proving to be an uneasy peace. 
Now all this is not to say that Christ is not King.  But what do we mean by King?  Demagogues such as Michael Vorris or Solange Hertz have advocated replacing the American Republic with Catholic Monarchy but such extremist views relegate them and their more faithful disciples to the realm of religious psychosis.   How then are we to understand Christ as King?
I noticed that in the revised Missal that was promulgated last year that the feast previously known as the Solemnity of Christ the King is now the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.  This is a significant shift, but not a healthy one.  It moves the understanding of Christ’s Kingship from an authority over the hearts of believers to a claim of jurisdiction; that is from a claim of authority to a claim of power. 
The difference of power and authority is a significant difference.  Power is the ability to coerce obedience.  Those who exercise earthly power can force their subjects to conform to their will.  They can “make things happen.”  A general has power over his army.  A bishop (sadly) has power over his priests.  A dictator has power over his people.  Is this the type of Kingship that Christ models?
Authority, on the other hand, is the moral weight to inspire others to freely follow, to willingly subject their will to the will of the one who exercises authority. This is the sort of conversion of heart to which Christ calls those who hear his gospel.  Is Christ to be the Ruler-King or the Servant-King?
Once again we see the struggle today for the Church to emerge from its centuries of an addiction to power and become a Servant Church.  As I have pointed out before, Cardinal Avery Dulles says that this is the ecclesiological shift of our times—from the previous millennium of power to yield the future millennium of service (see entry for June 18, 2012).  But for those prelates who are crowding Gamarelli’s for their buckled shoes and silk capes and those priests who are given to pom-pommed hats and the Tridentine Mass this shift represents a threat and Christ the King of the Universe means a validation of institutional power.  For our part, let’s just remember that our King wears a crown of thorns and reigns from a Cross not a throne.      

Friday, November 23, 2012

OK, don't give up hope just yet

Cardinal O'Malley and
You Know Who
Belated Happy Thanksgiving
Sorry for the hiatus.  And this is just a short posting to catch up.  We left off with Cardinal William O'Connell and I am anxious to get back to him.  O'Connell was called "Monsignor Pomposity" by one of his detractors--Vatican commentator Ella B. Edes, and to be honest she was being kind.  Today we are subject to O'Connell redivivus in such prelates as Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori and especially Cardinal Burke.  Gosh, Burke is scary because he is so much like O'Connell that it is as if O'Connell came out of his tomb and walks the earth again--avoiding direct sunlight of course  But currently occupyng the cathedra once held by O'Connell is one of the few prelates who still is worth listening to, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.  I just found this Your Tube of O'Malley in which he "defends" Church teaching but in a way that is open and dialogic.  It gives us some hope that the American hierarchy isn't being taken over by aliens or zombies.  Anyhow, check it out--not great, but hopeful.   The man may walk the party line but he is reasonable.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Too Severe a Judgment?

Cardinals Gibbons and
O'Connell--not a mutual
admiration society
I had mentioned in the previous blog that among the horses’ asses honored with a miter (and later with a Cardinal’s hat) in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States was William O’Connell who from 1907 until 1944 was Archbishop of Boston.  Some have thought I was too severe on O’Connell and other named prelates in this judgment but I think the history bears out O’Connell’s reputation for one of the most undeserving of men to rise to power in the American Church.  Sean Winter, writing two years ago for the National Catholic Reporter, and comparing the tragedy of O’Connell’s rise to that of the equally fatuous Cardinal Raymond Burke in an essay “Gibbons Cried,” wrote:

It is said that when, in 1911, James Cardinal Gibbons learned that Archbishop William Henry O'Connell was named a cardinal, Gibbons cried. O'Connell was referred to at the time, by a woman who worked at the Vatican, Ella Edes, as "Monsignor Pomposity." He was most known for his efforts to have the U.S. Bishops Conference disbanded and his opposition to laws against child labor.

Cardinal Gibbons was no enthusiast for O’Connell whom he recognized not only as lacking in ability but strident in his antediluvian views on social reform.  Not only did he oppose laws outlawing child labor but he ridiculed the theories of Albert Einstein, suggested that priests refuse communion to women wearing makeup, and decried such singers as Al Jolson for their “crooning” which he considered effeminate.   
O’Connell’s promotion in the American Church was due to his sycophancy towards Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, the Machiavellian Secretary of State of Pius X.   O’Connell was to prove a major embarrassment to the Church over the years of his Cardinaliate.  His nephew, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, was aware of the Cardinals’ homosexual affair with a married judge and used the knowledge to cover his own embezzlement of funds from the Archdiocese to support a secret wife.  O’Connell had made the nephew, a Monsignor James O’Connell, chancellor of the Archdiocese, a position which gave him access to diocesan monies.  The nephew secretly married a woman in Ohio in 1913.  His secret was safe as long as Merry del Val was running the Vatican.  Merry del Val fell from power with the death of Pius X in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I.  In 1922 when confronted about his nephew, O’Connell lied to the newly elected Pius XI—and was caught in the lie—which sealed his fall from influence in Rome but not from power in the American Church where he continued to exercise a bullying influence over the other bishops especially after the death of Cardinal Gibbons in 1921.  O’Connell found an unholy ally in Cardinal Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia in attempts to suppress the emergence of a national bishop’s conference.  O’Connell and Dougherty believing their position as Cardinals should have given them authority over the other bishops and rendering any sort of consultative body superfluous.  O’Connell died in 1944—but there are humorous stories there as well.  Perhaps next time.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine

Bishop Michael Botean
Romanian Catholic Eparch
of Canton OH
We will take a short break from our “Rethinking God” series in which we are looking at how our basic understanding of God has not been unchanging but has evolved over the course of time and look at an indirectly related issue.  I saw the following statement from Jason Miller of Catholics United on the internet.   
“Members of Catholics United delivered petitions with more than 20,000 signatures which said the church's public stands against contraception and same sex marriage distract from what should be the Church's main mission of helping the poor.”
We wouldn't be able to have this type of success without the support of each and every one of our members. This is our victory, and we will continue to be speakers for the poor and marginalized who do not have a voice, just as Jesus commanded us to do in the Gospels.

Well, I am glad that Mr. Miller and Catholic United were able to deliver their petition to the Bishops during their annual meeting in Baltimore.  But who from the Episcopal Conference was sent to meet Catholics United and receive the petition: Bishop Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Canton OH.  All due respect to Eparch Botean and to the Romanian Catholic Church but his Excellency is of sufficiently low stature in the hierarchy as for it to be a sign of contempt for Catholics United and the 20,000 members of the faithful that he would be delegated to meet with their representatives and receive the petition.  A bishop is a bishop, and those of the Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See are of the same dignity as those of the Roman Rite but I sincerely doubt that there was a single Romanian Catholic signature among the 20,000.  I realize that 20,000 signatures can hardly claim to represent 70 million American Catholics but if our bishops were to take our laity with respect and accord the faithful their proper role in holding the faith which they, the bishops, are supposed to teach, they would have sent an Archbishop or a bishop of a major see to meet the delegation.  But their Lordships obviously see that the role of the laity is no more than to pay, pray, and obey.
In the nineteenth century when Blessed John Henry Newman wrote his famous essay “On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine,” Newman’s “perennial nemesis” responded with his own description of the role of the laity: “To hunt, to shoot, and to entertain.”  Monsignor Talbot obviously hung out with a rather select class of English gentry, but then too our bishops are for the most part out of touch with the average Catholic in the pew.  They say that when a priest becomes a bishop he “has had his last bad meal and will never hear the truth again.”  Alas too true.  Our bishops are, I am afraid, out of touch with the average Catholic.  And as such they see the faithful as those who are to be instructed with their Episcopal wisdom.  But the faithful are the core of the Church (The Church, of course, is the whole body of the baptized, including the bishops.) The faith of the Church which the bishops are required to teach is the faith held by the faithful.  The bishops cannot teach authentically if they are out of touch with the lived faith of the People of God. 
I have heard it said of Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, that he “lives in his head.”  His priests and people—or many of them—say that he is a man of very low affect.  This means that his Eminence, admittedly a distinguished theologian, lives in a world of ideas and ideals, unaffected by the emotional, or better, the “wholistic” self that integrates the intellectual with the emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of personality.  The Cardinal suffered from polio as a child and has some severe physical limitations and the opinion has been offered that he “lives in his head” because experience has shown him not to trust his body—his body lets him down.  To whatever degree this analysis is true, I feel sorry for his Eminence because such a sorrow about one’s physical limitations is a heavy burden to carry.  But I think our collective hierarchy is of much the same malady—they see themselves as the (visible) head of the Church and they don’t trust the Body.  They and they alone hold the truth.  But the Truth resides in the entire Body and if the Church is reflect that truth our bishops need to become more intuitive and less dogmatic.
Several years back I had a chance to sit down over coffee with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary of Detroit.  Bishop Gumbleton is one of the old Vatican II war horses who has always been light-years ahead of his brother bishops in apprehending the Mysterium of the Church.  I asked Bishop Gumbleton what had happened that the great bishops of the American Church were no more—the Gibbons and the Irelands, the Mooneys and the Topels, the Sheils and the McNicholases, the Cushings and the Deardens, the Bernardins and the Haases.  (Of course you also had your share of mitered horses’ asses –the Corrigans, the William O’Connells, the Glennons and the Francis McIntyres.)  Bishop Gumbleton explained the insensitivity of so many of his current brother bishops as that they no longer come from families that were immigrant, working class and labor union, but now come from families that are in the professions and who have been to the “best schools” and belong to the “best clubs.”  Like Newman’s antagonist, Monsignor Talbot, they are simply out of touch with ordinary people.  But those who are charged with teaching the faith of the Church cannot afford to be out of touch with the ordinary people who hold that faith.  The great bishops who are the “Fathers of the Church” –Augustine, Chrysostom, Isidore, Gregory—these were pastors who knew their flocks and cherished the faith as held in the hearts of their people.   Let us pray that God’s flock will be given good shepherds.     

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rethinking God VI

Blessed John Henry Newman
champion of listening to the
A major player in in the debate over the divinity of Christ was a priest from Alexandria in Egypt by the name of Arius. Arius lived at the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth.  Trying to preserve the traditional view on the Unity of God—that God is One—Arius would not ascribe full divinity of Christ.  As I posted yesterday, the received Tradition from Judaism: “ Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One,” the prayer known as the Shema Yisrael  taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, created a huge problem for Christians in the first six centuries as they tried to reconcile the Unity of God with the Divinity of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  The idea of the Father being God, the Son being God and the Holy Spirit being God sounded too much like three gods to a lot of people.  Arianism acknowledged that Christ shares in Divinity but to a lesser degree than the Father.  While still an Anglican before his becoming a Catholic in 1845, Blessed John Henry Newman had written a study of Arius and history published under the title: The Arians of the Fourth Century.  Arius was opposed by Saint Athanasius, the secretary to Arius’ bishop, Alexander, but according to Newman the majority of bishops in the Church had accepted the Arian theology.  It was only at the Council of Nicea that the bishops—at the urging of Athanasius, defined that Christ is consubstantial (one in being) with the Father—that is, that Christ shares fully in the same Divine Nature as the Father.  Incidentally only 318 bishops out of the 1800 Constantine had invited came to the Council—a very small minority.)  While the majority of bishops had originally agreed with Arius, the laity and the lower clergy—the faithful—had held to faith in Christ’s divinity. Newman always remembered this and years later as a Catholic wrote his famous essay “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.” Newman argued—with quite a bit of opposition in his day—that the magisterium needs to pay close attention to the faith of the People of God. The laity are not merely to be instructed by the pastors of the Church but the pastors must remember that the Faith of the Church is that which is held in the hearts of the Faithful and therefore those who teach need to be in tune with the faithful.  This is something to pay attention to today.  Too many think that it is up to the Bishops to teach and the faithful to listen but if the bishops are teaching something other than that which is in the faith held by the people, the bishops are not teaching the faith of the Church.  The faith of the Church is no more and no less than the faith put into the hearts of the People of God by the Holy Spirit.  There are those in the Church today who are upset that the faithful are not listening to the bishops when they teach but maybe we should be more concerned that the bishops have not been listening to the faithful before they teach.    

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rethnking God V

The Emperor Constantine and
Bishops at Nicea
Well it would seem that everything we needed to know about God we learned from Jesus—that Jesus was God’s final Word of Revelation.  Theologically that may be true, but it is not true historically.  In fact, Jesus created a huge problem that made the Church seriously rethink everything it thought it knew about God.
We take it for granted that by the death of the last apostle and the close of the canon of scripture, our doctrines were complete.  We knew that there is one God in three Divine Persons.  We knew that Jesus was “consubstantial” (one in being as we used to say) with the Father according to his divinity and of one human nature with us as regarding his humanity.  We thought that the apostles had it all worked out.  But they didn’t.  It is clear from the New Testament texts that they were themselves trying to work out what made this man who is so much like us in so many respects so utterly different than us in others that he could be called “The Son of God”—and what did that mean anyway?
The Church would spend approximately three centuries trying to clarify what it believed about God and about Jesus before definitively defining the Trinity and it would take almost three more centuries before it clarified the relationship of Jesus to the Godhead—the theological fancy-schmancy word for God.   There were hints of the Trinity in the New Testament books—most notably the Trinitarian formula for baptism—a command put in the mouth of Jesus by the author of “Matthew’s Gospel” that the disciples should baptize “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  (Actually it seems from The Book of Acts and from Paul’s writings that for a short while the Apostles and their successors were baptizing “In the Name of Jesus” and that the Trinitarian Formula came a little later—certainly by the ‘80’s AD when Matthew (or someone) wrote his Gospel.  The idea that Jesus was God’s Son presented huge theological dilemmas for the early Christians.  Coming out of Judaism the first Christians were rigidly committed to the Oneness of God and didn’t know how to express the idea that Jesus—the “Son”—somehow shared in the Divinity of his “Father” without ending up with two gods.  And even then: what to do with the Holy Spirit?  Is the Spirit a Person like Jesus or merely an emanation of the Father like my spirit would be of me and your spirit would be of you?  All this gets argued back and forth through the second and third and into the fourth centuries.  The whole complexity only begins to be resolved with the Council of Nicea in 325 but even then the Council never uses the word “Trinity” and while the Father and the Son have a fair bit said about them, the Holy Spirit gets somewhat lumped in with other things like baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and assorted other doctrines. 
Theophilus of Antioch writing before 190 is the first to use the word “Trinity” though the idea can be found in Ignatius at the beginning of the second century and Justin Martyr in mid-second century.  Nicea was meant to answer questions about Jesus as well—who he is in relation to God (the Father) and who he is in relation to us?  This had been a hot item in the second and third centuries as well with such ideas as Adoptionism, Sabellianism, and other formulae that we now consider to be heretical but which, in the day, had strong and avid believers.  In the event, Nicea created more questions than it answered and it took about six more councils—Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople I, II, and III, and a second council at Nicea—to iron out the details and even then lots of Good Christians—the Armenians, the Copts, and the Chaldeans among others—bailed because they didn’t agree. Finally the Western Church (today’s Catholics along with the Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions) and Orthodox (Greek, Russian, and various other “Chalcedonian” Churches have agreed that Jesus Christ is one Person in two natures, a Divine Nature consubstantial (there’s that word again) with the Father and a human nature like our except in sin.  So basically this all took six centuries to work out: people—all sorts of people like popes and bishops and saints and mystics and cleaning ladies and horse jockeys and bookies and bartenders and school teachers and even a few imperial mistresses—arguing and fighting back and forth until the consensus fidelium came to a consensus fidelium.  But even then, that wasn’t the end of it.  We are always rethinking God.  We never get the answer to exactly say what we know in our collective heart is the precise truth.  Maybe it just can’t be done.     The theological process is more important than the theological product.  We never stop “rethinking God.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rethinking God IV

Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son: 
A Meditation on the Nature
of God  
We have been talking about “rethinking God” since I made the original post saying that Senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock’s comment that God wills pregnancies,  even those that are the result of a rape, made me stop and reflect on things that I have always just taken for granted about God.  And as I have reflected on what I actually do believe I find that it is quite different than things that I once believed even though I was never conscious of my understandings of God having evolved.  I did several postings on the shifts of God as seen in the perspective of the Hebrew Scriptures or what we Christians often call “The Old Testament.”  Now we need to move on to the “New Testament” or the Christian scriptures.  And again, I am writing not as a scripture expert—which I am not, nor as a theologian—again which I am not, but as a historian looking at the development of thought.
 Perhaps the greatest shift in our “rethinking God” comes with Jesus himself.  Jesus dramatically redefines God.  While the Hebrew Scriptures refer to God as “Father” in terms of God’s relationship to the entire people of Israel and specifically of the Davidic Kings, Jesus applies the familiar form of this word—Abba, equivalent to our “Dad” or even “Daddy” not only to himself but to each of us.  There is no parallel to this familiarity in any of the Jewish writings that go before Jesus.  In fact, while the scriptures use the term “Father” for God being the “Father” of Israel, or the “Father” of the King (see Psalms 2:7; 89:27; 110: 2-3;) there is no sense of the personal Father-child relationship between the individual Jew and God.  Jesus in his time in the desert following his baptism and in the frequent nights he spent in solitary prayer (Mark 1: 35; Luke 4:32) seems to have realized a very unique and personal relationship with God and one which he did not choose to keep to himself but into which he invited his disciples to enter when they prayed (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 2-4).  This familiarity with God was very off-putting to the religious people of his day who considered it blasphemy that Jesus proclaims this parent-child relationship (Matthew 27:43; John 19:7). 
While we Christians take this familiarity with God as, well, familiar, for Jews and for Muslims God remains totally other—Transcendent—and this Christian concept is something with which they are not only uncomfortable but even think to be highly presumptive, a violation of Lèse Majesté.  For many Christians too the idea of God as “Abba” or even Father is no more than formulaic—they shy away from the implications that God is this loving and forgiving parent to whom they return to find not only forgiveness but an unconditional accepting love.  God remains for them primarily the judge who will mete out according to the measure of our merits rather than the measure of his love.  Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32) they cannot move beyond the idea of “deserving” to understand the fundamental idea of Grace—the totally gratuitous love which God offers not according to our virtue but according to our need.  
Reading some of the blogs such as the infamous Les Femmes: Women of Truth out of Woodstock VA or The Thinking Catholic Blog or listening to Michael Voris’ Vortex one can see just how fiercely the compassionate Father revealed by Jesus is rejected in favor of the idea of God as put forward by the Scribes of Jesus’ day who were so threatened by Christ’s revelation concerning a God whose fatherly heart desires without condition His children’s return to him.  To a great extent the divisions in the Church today are rooted in these two diverse theologies—one emphasizing the need for propitiation, the other focusing on the idea that “it is mercy I desire, not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13). 
This problem is not confined to a few lunatic bloggers but is part of the wedge between the Catholic faithful and those “shepherds”—whether priests or bishops (or, I suppose, deacons) whose pathology manifests a compulsive need for control over the lives of the faithful and a fear of a Catholic laity whose intellectual and spiritual maturity empowers them to make moral choices for themselves.  A god who requires propitiation gives an unhealthy power to a clergy whose role it is to offer sacrifice and insert themselves between God and God’s people as the necessary conduit of grace from God to His people.  This is a role of great power and thus—like all great power—subject to great abuse.  We saw this in the episodes earlier this year in which Father Marcel Guarnizo took it upon himself and on  his own authority to deny a woman Holy Communion because he unilaterally judged her to be in the state of grave sin. (See posts for Feb 28, March 1, 2, 12, 16, 17, 27, 29, April 25, 27, 29, 30, all 2012. ) He had to “protect” God (Christ, present in the Eucharist) from contamination by one whom he judged to be a sinner.  Those who are anxious to have others denied Holy Communion or other access to means of grace reflect this idea of a god who conditions his acceptance on “merit.”  How far this is from the example of Jesus and his confrontation with the Woman at the Well (John 4: 1-42)!  On the other hand, those who accept the idea of God as “Abba” as revealed by Jesus see the need for conversion  but realize that conversion comes as a result of God’s love, not as its condition.  From these two different understandings of God proceed widely diverse understandings of the Mass and Sacraments, the role of the clergy, Christian morality, Christian political and economic theories, and other issues that are linking the Church to our society’s culture wars.  The division has become acrimonious and is creating a wide gulf that is not only disturbing parish communities but undermining authority in the Church and threatening the unity of the Church.  The subject needs to be studied carefully and a strategy for healing needs to be implemented before the gulf grows wider.  A strategy for healing does not mean submission to the neurosis that has precipitated the crisis but the selection of shepherds who have wisdom and compassion necessary for truly pastoral leadership.     

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rethinking God III

Model of the Jerusalem Temple where
sacrifices were long offered to God in
the period of the Hebrew Scriptures
After reading the previous post about how our ideas of God have evolved since the historical periods  in which the Hebrew Scriptures were written one of my readers sent me this letter which had been circulating on the internet some years back.  You may remember Dr. Laura Schlessinger, physiologist turned advice counselor/radio personality, whose nationally syndicated radio show ran from 1994 to 2010.  From 1998 until 2003 Dr. Schlessinger practiced orthodox Judaism and often brought her religious insights to bear on the advice she dispensed to her listeners.  For the most part this very rich tradition was well received but people who did not share her religious convictions sometimes found her opinions off-putting.  These adversaries were not necessarily non-believers but often Christians and Jews who had a “different read” on the meaning of Scripture for contemporary society.  I want to print a letter purportedly directed to Dr. Schlessinger  that was circulated about twelve years ago that spoofed her biblical literalism.  I do this not to support the views of those who disagreed with Dr. Schlessinger but rather to show how different our understanding of God is today—even Dr. Laura’s understanding—than it was two or three millennia ago.     

Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.
a.              When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b.              I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c.               I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d.              Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e.               I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f.                A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g.              Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h.              Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
i.                 I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j.                My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan,

J. Kent Ashcraft