Sunday, May 31, 2015

Once Again, Sheldon Says It All

The (former) Basilica of the
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul--when
the Holy Spirit was Lady Wisdom

One of my favorite krazy-blogs is Restore D.C. Catholicism, an internet rant written by a dyspeptic suburban Maryland housewife in serious and immediate need of hormone restoration therapy.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I think that the blogosphere offers us a promising opportunity for the laity to enter into a fruitful conversation about our faith that can let the bishops tap the pulse of the consensus fidelium, but that doesn’t mean that the wild-eyed rants of every krazy with a keyboard merit to be given serious consideration.  Some people should just close their computers and volunteer for Candy-Stripe duty at the local hospital. Our Faith is not something that is a matter of one person’s opinion but is rooted both in the scripture and in centuries of faith.  One of my favorite quotes, attributed to the great 20th century Patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan is
 Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” 
And while the rest of us look to the living faith that has been passed down from the Apostles through the Fathers of the Church and ultimately to us, the Grand Inquisitor of Gaithersburg clings to the dead faith learned from Sister Mary Christmas in the fourth grade at Saint Torquemada Academy for Aspiring Book Burners. 
The current tempest our kitchen theologian has conjured up in her teapot regards a priest from Durham in England.  She casts her net far and wide to hunt her heretics.  Father Dan Fitzpatrick, a popular preacher and a caring pastor posted on his twitter account
“The term “Holy Spirit” in Hebrew, ie the form Jesus would have learned in the first century, is feminine: “ruach”  So let us listen to her.” 
This sent the self-appointed Defensor Fidei  totally ass-over-teacups in a theological tizzy.  The problem is that Father Fitzpatrick is correct.  But then, who expects a middle-aged hausfrau from Germantown to know Hebrew?  What is more, when the Greek-speaking Fathers of the Church (including the Latin Fathers of the Second and Third centuries who wrote in Greek, not Latin) spoke of the Holy Spirit, they chose the word Sophia (Wisdom).  Thus we have the ancient basilica of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now, Istanbul).  And guess what: the Greek Sophia, like the Hebrew ruach, is feminine.  And so the Eastern Church still speaks of the Holy Spirit as feminine.  Imagine that!!!  When the western Church moved from Greek to Latin, the western Fathers used the more literal translation of ruach, Spiritus.  Spiritus, in Latin, is masculine.  And so in the western Church we speak of the Holy Spirit in the masculine.  Being One Church in One Faith, however, there really is no problem in cross-referencing over to the other side of Tradition. 
Of course the pointlessness of the entire conversation is that the First and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity are neither masculine or feminine.  While Tradition does speak—for the greater part—of the First Person in the masculine, the Tradition is divided on the Third Person.  So there is lot’s of wiggle room here for Father Fitzpatrick—and for those 300,000,000 Christians who follow the Eastern Church Tradition.  As for the lady behind Restore DC Catholicism, to quote my much cherished Sheldon Cooper, “them bitches be krazy.”

Friday, May 29, 2015

Konspiracy Theories and The Things We Waste Time About

Well, the Krazies are all atwitter with their undies in a bunch (aren’t they always) over a “secret” colloquium held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome this past week to discuss various topics that will be addressed in the upcoming October Synod II on the Family.   The blog Rorate Caeli, the Krazies version of L’Osservatore Romano, was just spitting nails (or s*itting bricks) about this “Vatican II style Rhineland coup.” I must admit that I am a bit baffled that Cardinals Burke, Bradmüller, Müller, Caffarra, and others can collaborate on a book to push their agenda, but other members of the hierarchy can’t sit down with a group of theologians and prepare their arguments for sound debate.   A university colloquium is far less influential on public opinion—and on the Synod Delegates—than a published book, especially one that has received such publicity as Remaining in the Truth of Christ.  Frankly I think it is a great idea for the Synod delegates on either side of the issues to do some serious theological research and reflection so as to be prepared for good discussion and wise discernment at the October meeting. 
The Conference at the Gregorian University was not an attempt to rally bishops to the banner of an Eucharistic olly-olly-in-free for everyone from the LGBT community to multiply married Hollywood film-stars and members of the Kennedy Family.  The Presidents of the German, Swiss, and French Conferences of Bishops were there but with only six other bishops.  There were seventeen theologians representing a variety of disciplines from Scripture to moral theology to canon law.  There was an auditor of the Sacred Roman Rota (the Roman “Court of Appeals” that deals with, among other things, marriage cases).  The President of the Sant’Egidio Community, a prestigious lay association tightly connected to the Vatican was also there.  All in all, no more than five of six participants are likely to be members of the upcoming Synod, but it did provide a good forum in which the theologians could advise the bishops what options for the future lay open to them for a more inclusive approach to Eucharistic participation by people who now feel “shut out” of the Church’s life.  A handful of journalists from Catholic media outlets were also invited to be present which is typical for such academic colloquia at the Gregorian or other Pontifical Universities. 
Why are the krazies so frightened of a change in Church discipline? Do they really think that Christ has deserted his Church and that it is fallen on them to guard the Deposit of Faith in his absence?  Actually, I think the agenda is far different and has little direct reference to the upcoming Synod or to the issues of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried or people in same-sex marriages.  I think this has a lot to do with a fundamental shift in ecclesiology.
I have written about this before.  Avery Dulles in his book The Catholicity of the Church, makes the—I believe prophetic—claim that the in the first millennium the papacy was concerned with spreading the faith; in the second with power, and in the third will be with service.  This means that we are at a cusp where the institutional model of the Church will be giving way to another emphasis—the Church as Servant. In an earlier book, Dulles speaks of five models of the Church: Institution, Communio, Sacrament, Servant, and Kerygma.  We do see the power waning and a serious shift away from the Institutional model.  While there are those prelates like Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Cordileone who still like to parade around in glad rags that would make Marie Antoinette embarrassed, there has been an attempt to de-princify (or princessify) the Church.  I am not sure that I like the current CEO model any more than I liked the Renaissance Prince model of the olden years, but it does send a message.  Similarly, the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council have restructured  the Mass to emphasize its communal nature rather than the priestly emphasis of the old Liturgy.  Religious women have dropped the pseudo-medieval garb of the last two centuries as well as found new ways to live together without the faux-monasticism of convent life.  All this drives the Krazies even krazier because it undermines the institutional model to which they are clinging. 
While I think that that the model of the next millennium will emphasize the servant nature of the Church, I think it will also, by necessity, revive the kerygmatic emphasis.  It is increasingly clear that European and North American societies are a challenge for a “New Evangelization.”  And I think this is the neuralgic point for the krazies.  A “New Evangelization” needs a different face on the Church as Evangelizer than the Institution.  Today’s world is distrustful of Institutions.  The International Football Association (FIFA) is plagued by scandal.  Dennis Hastert, the “born-again evangelical” Republican  former speaker of the House whose smarmy holier-than-just-about-everyone-else attitude led him to be so self-righteous in regards to President Bill Clinton, is now accused of paying hush money to a man whom Hastert sexually abused when Hastert taught high school in Illinois.  Speaking of sex-abuse: it is no longer just a Catholic problem, or even Dennis Hastert’s issue: Boy Scouts of America, Little League, public and private high schools across the country.  And of course there is the sexual harassment issues that plague the military, correction institutions, private industry, professional sports.  And we have domestic violence just about everywhere you look.  And just to bring matters back home: once Pope Francis cleaned up the Vatican Bank, profits multiplied 20 times over.  20 times over!!!  Where was that money going before???  How will Gamarelli’s stay in business now that the graft has been exposed?  Who can afford to buy a cappa magna out of his own pocket?  Hopefully the Knights of Malta will pick up the tab for you know who. 
No, we have to let the Institution of the Church morph into something less powerful and certainly not the public face of the Church.  We’ve got to get those nuns on the bus back out there while they can still walk.  We need that 85 year old Sister Megan Rice who poured blood on the wall of a nuclear weapons plant to get out there in front.  C’mon Dan Berrigan—you’ve still got work to do.  Father Warren Hall—ok, so the Bishop doesn’t want you at Seton Hall for you asking why we can’t all get along (LGBT themed agenda, but a good question none the less) but hey, the students believe in you.  We need you up front, man, you got "street cred."  And you Missionaries of Charity, yeah you’re pretty traditional but that isn’t the issue: you get down and dirty with the poor.  You’re solid gold with this evangelization thing, ladies, and we need you.  You see, our task isn’t to preserve the Church—let God take care of the Church—our task is to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom/Gospel is our end; Church is only the means.  Let’s not worry about the Synod and who can and who can’t go to communion.  That is simply Rome fiddles while the world burns.  We are just wasting our time trimming the Christmas Tree when we get caught in these endless arguments.  People who are in the state of grace know that they are in the state of grace; those who know that they have some remedial work to do before coming to communion know that they have some remedial work to do.  We need to call one another to be honest—brutally honest—about the state of our souls but not to waste time making judgments about others. God has more important work for us to do.   

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We All Need To Wake Up III

The Presbyterian Meeting House
at Cane Ridge--sight of a key
Revival Meeting in the Second
Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening is often said to have begun with a revival meeting at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1801, but in fact, Cane Ridge was only one of a series of revivals that had been going on for over a decade and would continue into the 1840’s. 
The more traditional denominations—Catholics, Episcopalians (formerly known as Anglicans), and Congregationalists stayed aloof from the revivals and, for the most part, the revivals were on the American frontier—in what is today Kentucky, Southern Ohio, and Tennessee though there were also revivals in the rural areas of the South, in particular the Carolinas and Georgia and western Virginia.  Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians predominated in the revival movement and each of those denominations grew considerably as a result of the converts the revivals drew. 
The revival movement fragmented the Presbyterians as the more staunchly Calvinist—and in general the more theologically sophisticated Presbyterians—found many deserting their ranks for breakaway groups headed by Barton Stone and the father and son team of Thomas and Alexander Campbell.  These groups would eventually evolve into what is today known as the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ.  The Stone-Campbell movement is known as “restorationism” and was an attempt to transcend Christianity’s having fractured into denominations by going back to what was perceived as the New Testament model of Church.  I hope to do some entries on the Campbellite movement in the future, suffice it to say for now that what began as frontier revival has developed into some fairly sophisticated Christian denominations. 
Far more impact was felt in what happened to Baptists and Methodists as a result of these revivals.  As the movement spread like wildfire on the frontier, both denominations came to rely more and more heavily on lay preachers who were generally poorly educated and without any theological formation.  In the case of the Methodists this established a radical discontinuity with the original Methodist spirit of the Wesleys which was both theologically sophisticated (the Wesley brothers were Oxford men) and highly sacramental (they were also high-church—by 18th century standards and favored frequent communion as well as traditional Christian spirituality).  Frontier Methodism, propagated by lay preachers, had little time for formal worship or sacraments, and was characterized by wildly emotional preaching and doctrinal imprecision.  Even worse were the Baptists who, though in their Rhode Island origins were theologically sophisticated, in the frontier became both biblical fundamentalist and doctrinally loosey-goosey with individual congregations ranging from strictly Calvinist predestinatarian with the gloomiest theologies of fallen human nature to wildly Arminian semi-pelagians.  Religious truth was reduced to whatever the individual thought that it was and religious experience was nothing more than raw subjectivity.  It ended up, of course, with Jesus telling President Bush to invade Iraq, but that is a story for another day.    
The end result of the Second Great awakening was the snapping of the cord that ties religious faith to human reason.  Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all rolled over at once in their individual graves.  This sort of fundamentalism combined with religious subjectivity has come since World War II to infect American Catholicism as well.  The Katholik Krazies just feel that it isn’t Mass if you can understand it and it isn’t Jesus if you aren’t receiving on your knees with your eyes closed and your tongue stuck out.  The happy-clappy crowd, on the other extreme, just wants to hold hands and sing Kumbaya as some just-beyond-middle-aged two-bellied and three-chinned creature in capri pants hands them a piece of French bread or a glass goblet of wine.  (Lest I be accused of chauvinism, I have two bellies and three chins, though I never—ever—wear capri pants, not even at the beach.)  I think the first thing we need to do—even before we send Cardinal Burke packing to permanent retirement with the boys in blue at Gricigliano, or even have another synod—is restore the proper balance between religious faith and human intellect.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to emotions, but they are no basis for the commitments of Christian discipleship.  We Catholics were once known for our keen intellects, our spirit of inquiry, our willingness to refine our theology in the light of expanding human knowledge.  We cannot afford to be intellectually sloppy in this post-Christian world or else the credibility of Christ and his Gospel will be lost. The Second Great Awakening is over.  Move on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Maybe If They Took Off Those Silly Hats, Bishops Could Listen Better

John Henry Newman,
now here is a Cardinal
for you!

Frank Bruni had an interesting editorial in this morning’s New York Times where he points out in light of last week’s Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, that Catholic countries are in the vanguard of societies that are coming to extend the benefits of marriage to gay couples.  He also makes this comment on American Catholics and the battles over same-sex marriage.
Catholics in the United States appear to be more, not less, progressive about gay rights than Americans in general are. In an especially ambitious survey conducted over the course of 2014 by the Public Religion Research Institute, about 60 percent of Americans who called themselves Catholic said that they approved of same-sex marriage, versus about 30 percent who didn’t. The spread among all respondents was 54 to 38, and the group that clearly stood in the way of same-sex marriage wasn’t Catholics. It was evangelical Protestants.
He waters down the link between Catholic faith and the battle for marriage equality however as he points out that “Catholics” include not only regular church-goers but all those who for ethnic or cultural reasons identify themselves as Catholics regardless of their worship patterns.  He points out—and I believe truthfully—that regular worshippers would tend to be more conservative on this and other social issues than those whose Catholicism is a more abstract participation in heritage than a concrete commitment to faith.  On the other hand, as a regular church-goer myself and one whose social circle is drawn pretty heavily from regular church-going Catholics, I don’t think one can say that “good Catholics” (those who attend Mass regularly) are any less supportive of human rights—and access to marriage is at least perceived as a human right—than the larger self-identifying Catholic population.  What I mean to say here is that when one looks at the basic issues of sexual morality, I think Church-going Catholics tend to a more traditional view of what is right and what is wrong than the more secularized segments of American society, but when it is framed in a question of “rights,” I think Church-goers are just as avid, and perhaps even more avid, for social justice than the larger American society.  As long as there are legal and economic benefits to marriage, access to marriage must be open to couples regardless of their gender-composition. 
Now I want to pair Bruni’s editorial with a posting I saw on Father James Martin’s Facebook Page. 
Cardinal Walter Kasper believes that Pope Francis wants a "listening magisterium," a hierarchy that listens to the faithful, to the "sensus fidelium." Also, in an interesting approach, he says that the hermeneutic of continuity (meaning the view that the church does not change) must be a hermeneutic of reform.
This is something I have been harping on for a long time.  John Henry Newman—so beloved of the Katholik Krazies who obviously have never read him—spoke of the necessary balance between the magisterium of the hierarchy, the work of the theologians, and the faith of the faithful and warned that when they get out of balance the integrity of doctrine suffers.  The faith of the Church is the faith held in the hearts and intellects of the faithful.  The predominance over the last five centuries of what Dulles referred to as the Institutional Model of the Church reduced the laity to recipients of the teaching of the hierarchical magisterium and this has created an imbalance from which the Church and its credibility has suffered greatly.  The hierarchy needs to carefully listen to the faith as it is held by the People of God.  The Holy Spirit puts the truth in the heart of the Church—not in the pen of the hierarchy.  I am not saying that my opinion or your opinion is the truth but precisely where there is that consensus fidelium—where the hearts of all the faithful line up in harmony—the Spirit is speaking.  That is why, even in the pre-Vatican II Church, it was always acknowledged that doctrine must not only be taught for it to be established as the teaching of the Church, but doctrine must be received by the faithful.  Doctrine taught but not received is not yet mature enough to be considered an authentic expression of our Catholic faith.  There is a lot of stuff that bishops—and even popes—have taught that is yet to be received by the faithful.  Maybe it is time for our pastors to be more attentive and less on their own agenda.  
I don’t think that this means that the Church must recognize marriage beyond the traditional boundaries of one man and one women “until death do us part.”  Perhaps we would do best to clearly delineate the Sacramental form of Christian Matrimony and civil marriage as two separate realities, only one of which is  within our purview as Church.  But very frankly many of us good, regular Mass-going Catholics, don’t want our faith in Christ to be tarnished by the homophobic injustices committed in Christ’s name.