Catholic teaching is constantly changing and developing, writes Jo O’Sullivan
In response to my article of 20 May on this site (JO O’SULLIVAN WRITES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF HER FAITH), Saoirse wrote:
“As Catholics now, we have to defend the faith in the setting of people like you who want to exploit the hierarchy’s compromised credibility in order to change Church doctrine.”
I actually don’t believe I’m a cold, calculating exploiter of opportunity, Saoirse, one who has been waiting for the chance to go for the jugular of Church doctrine. On the contrary, I believe myself to be a very flawed (substitute the word ‘sinful’ there if you wish) human being who spent a lot of my adult life refusing to follow the niggling questions my conscience kept pricking me with. Like a lot of humanity, I don’t grow in meaningful ways until I’m faced with crisis – until I can no longer rely on the answers that have sustained me up until now, but I have to find new answers. The way my spirit ached in response to the publication of the Murphy Report was just such a crisis. And this is where it has led me.
I believe, to the best of my limited human ability, in the inalienable dogma of the Catholic faith. I believe in God, the Parent (Father), Son and Holy Spirit. I believe in the Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
I hope I have never intimated in any way that I believe that “Christ and all the saints of the Church, have always been in error”. How can you have read in anything that I’ve said that I believe St. Patrick, St. Augustine et all were blind and ignorant? If I have done so, it has been a total mis-communication on my part. I would never have such arrogance!
I agree with you that the dogma of the faith has not changed but I can’t agree that the teachings haven’t changed down through the years. You know, Saoirse that Catholic teaching is constantly changing and developing. And don’t you agree that it has to continue to develop as it has always done? Otherwise it will stagnate. I’m sure there’s some fundamental principle which states that if an organism isn’t in a state of growth, if it isn’t developing, it decays and dies.
So all I’m suggesting is that we need to be in a constant ‘dialogue’ with the teachings of Christ and the saints. And I think it’s a form of laziness to leave it to the experts to have that dialogue. Do you truly wish to hand over your own powers of discernment, by leaving it to “the Church fathers” to interpret scripture for us “to help us understand its true meaning,” Do we not all have a responsibility to acknowledge the Holy Spirit within ourselves?
Having said that, I have no intention of entering into an academic exploration of all the teachings of every saint who ever lived – life’s too short! I’m happy enough to do my own exploration as and whenever my conscience throws up a new question. I see my ‘job’ as living my life in a way that my loving God can work through me. If I constantly seek to do that, I trust that the Holy Spirit within me will prompt me to ‘refine’ my understanding of Christ’s teachings anytime I wander off course (that niggling conscience of mine again!).
As of right now, this is my understanding. Living as Christ has taught us to live is all to do with relationship. My early understanding was very narrow in that relationship with God was ‘just’ me and God – just the two of us – me protecting that relationship by concentrating on all the rules I had to follow. Yes it involved ‘doing good deeds’ and ‘loving my neighbour’, but everything was done to assist MY relationship with God, not THEIRS! I could feel sorry for people who were ‘sinners’ – people who disobeyed God and I could pray for their conversion to the true path, but I worried that they were ‘lost souls’. The story of the Pharisee and the Publican eventually got through to me on that one! And it was that story that flashed into my mind again as I read your last couple of sentences, Saoirse.
“the types of reform you seem to be interested in are heresy to a true Catholic, and as a fellow Catholic, in all conscience I have to point that out to you. I do not want the Church in Ireland to split; I do not want a single soul to be lost.”
I now know that God never wanted the two of us to have an exclusive relationship – in fact, it was glaringly obvious (once I saw it!) that relationship with God actually involves relationship with everybody and everything around me. Is that not what poor Jesus had to plug again and again? God is in and around EVERYTHING and finding our path to that Love that is our Creator, involves our growing in love with the world around us. And that love HAS to be non-judgemental or it cannot be meaningful. If getting bogged down in rules which pertain to show us how to develop that love actually has the effect of curtailing that love, then the rules need to be re-examined. If our ‘rules’ claim that we are the only ones on the right path to our God, we are actually guilty of the sin of arrogance.
That certainly does not indicate in any way that interpretations of Christ’s teachings in the past were ‘wrong’, it just shows that we, as humans, recognize that we are not perfect (we are not God), our capacity to understand is in a state of constant development. As our understanding of the human condition develops in the areas of psychology, sociology and all those other ‘ologies’, so too does our understanding of what Christ taught. It never ceases to amaze me that, as we come to a ‘new’ discovery of the human condition, we find that Christ had actually been trying to point that out to us 2000 years ago!
When I first read your response, Saoirse, I had a bit of a wobbly moment. How could I possibly answer this? Saoirse is obviously so much more learned than I am! She has studied the lives of the saints and has a very deep knowledge of church teaching. I was back to “Who am I to speak out? I don’t know enough.”
But I truly believe in the loving Creator whose dearest wish is for all His/Her (oh, the limitations of language!) children to have a voice and to trust in the Holy Spirit to use it.
I do not know the intricacies of all the ‘rules’ of Catholicism, but I DO know love – and especially the adult love for my adult children. If that is a pale reflection of the infinite love our God has for each one of us (and I believe it to be so), then God is quite happy we are having this exchange of views!
God bless you, Saoirse.