SECOND SESSION The Vision: Cathy Molloy
Thanks to the Association for holding this day and for the opportunity to raise some aspects of a vision for the church.
1. Two comments by way of introduction:
a) Firstly, like so many people, I come with hurt and real sadness about so much that is terribly astray in our church today, yet, with a sincere affection for it, and still hoping against hope that it may be renewed so our grandchildren might share in it with integrity in the future.
b). Secondly, Faith is not just a matter of the heart, but of the mind also. That faith is reasonable, that we engage our God-given minds and intelligence, along with our heart and spirit, is fundamental.
2. I will talk very briefly to three issues:
The church as communio or communion Education as essential component of the vision; Catholic Social Teaching as important means to make the vision a reality.
Yves Congar, one of the great theologians in the developing understanding of church in the last century (Intro to Diversity and Communion SCM press 1984 p5/6) wrote:
We must take account, with humility, objectivity and realism, of the present state of thinking and of the approaches which have been attempted. On the whole younger people feel that the problems that I still take seriously are already outmoded. This is an attitude which calls for both sympathetic and critical appreciation. However, at a time when the disaffection of young people with the church of Christ is a matter of concern, we must be sure to be very attentive to their ways of feeling and seeing. (Today I think he would not limit it to young people.) We must not let a fear of the new put a bandage on our eyes. Let us open our eyes, strong in the faith, love and hope that the spirit of God gives us. (End of citation.)
The forthcoming Eucharistic Congress has virtually ensured that we are all aware of the emphasis on the church as communion – a strong theme for Pope John Paul 11 and now Benedict XVI. Posters and banners – communion with Christ and with one another etc. point to a way of being church that suggests the widest possible basis for inclusion and participation in the mission of the church in which all share – not by hierarchical concession but by baptism.(LG, G et sp. etc.)
As church, despite the theme of the Congress, I think we are still barely scratching at the surface of the meaning of communion. In yesterday’s reading from the Gospel of John, we had Abide in me and I in you..the vine and the branches. .The communion of Christians with Christ has the communion of God as Trinity as its model and source. Baptism is the door and foundation of communion in the church. John Paul 11 ( C L, ch.11, n.18/19. 1988) explains : Communion speaks of a double life-giving participation, the incorporation of Christians into the life of Christ, and the communication of that life of charity to the entire body of the Faithful…
More than ten years later, proposing a spirituality of communion, (Novo millennio ineunte, 2001) he says it means thinking of our brothers and sisters in faith as ‘those who are part of me’. It is easy to consider as ‘part of me’ those who think like I do, but I also must include those who are different, who do not necessarily think like I do, who have a different perspective, maybe a radically different perspective, and afford them and their views the same respect and esteem as I would expect.
There are implications for both relationships and structures. If we are in right relationship, ie. relationship of radical equality of dignity, based on faith and baptism, then this will be reflected in right structures. Right structures will facilitate and reflect right relationships. It is patently obvious that many of the structures operative in our church today not only fail on many counts to reflect the relationships we profess, but more gravely, actively contradict and even destroy them. The Baptism we have received, implies relationships, not of complementarity, but rather of mutuality and interdependence, between lay, cleric and religious, between men and women, older and younger.
In a communion so described, there can be no degrees of belonging, no hierarchy except as genuine service, no ‘golden circle, no elite group set apart from the rest. Collegiality is an authentic means of organising within such a communion. The consigning of each woman born, and every woman born, and all women born, to a merely consultative role in the church is surely untenable in the communion described by Pope John Paul?
The challenge to all members of the church, including those who hold high office, is to become the communion we say we are, to consciously model what we proclaim. This gathering, it seems to me, is an important step on that path to authentic communion.
Of course there are obvious difficulties in the struggle to become an authentic communion. The handling by the hierarchy, in the Vatican as much as in individual countries, of the scandal of sexual abuse; the hurts in the area of ecumenism; the scandal caused by the perceived, and often very real, harsh treatment of people in second unions after marriage breakdown; gay and lesbian Catholics treated as objects of pastoral concern, rather than subjects, active in and for the church; the refusal of public discussion on the question of women’s ordination; these are some of the factors that question the credibility of the church as authentic communion.
This is not to suggest that rules and regulations have no place, they are needed as in any organisation. There will always be tension between the personal and the institutional. But true communion surely requires firstly respect for persons, and dialogue and participation in coming to decide the norms affecting them. This applies as much to questions of sexual morality, in marriage or otherwise, as it does to the question of what is acceptable in terms of writing or teaching. The absence of dialogue is, in some instances, itself a form of violence, and brings our church into disrepute.
‘Not the privilege of a few but a right and duty of all.’ (J P II, CL n.63.) For this vision of authentic communion to become real we need a confident and competent laity. Clearly theological and pastoral education for laity has a foundational role to play. The ongoing development of catechesis and faith development, (prayer groups and pastoral programmes, for schools and parishes, youth events and so on) is necessary, but will not of itself be sufficient, if laity are to take on their role with competence and confidence.
No experience of being part of a vast crowd at an open-air Mass, or charismatic rally, no being part of an intimate prayer group or healing service, will be sufficient for the up-building of the church in the long run, if we do not experience the connectedness of a confident and reasonable faith that is rooted in the life and the issues of every day. On-going critical engagement with, and theological reflection on, the big questions of our time must be part of Christian life lived in true communion.
Greater facilitation of the formal study of theology for lay people is needed. Lay people, have been bringing new perspectives to theological issues for quite some time. The people of God, in faith, seeking understanding, arrive at some very different understandings than is the case when only clerical people of God are the recognized seekers. (Obvious examples are in the areas of theology of marriage, or liberation theology, and the impact that the insights of Feminist Theology continue to have on the whole of theology.)
Recent media coverage shows clearly that all must be helped to an understanding of the distinction between Dogma and discipline – in the present difficult climate one might have expected a clarification on this matter from our church leaders. It may be understandable – if to my mind inexcusable – that some journalists in some of our papers are unaware of this distinction. Some unchallenged presentations have contributed to a kind of ritual public humiliation of some of our good priests – who, to my knowledge, have not at any time rejected any Dogma of the church but have sought to respond to the concerns of many Catholics, and dialogue on disciplinary matters such as celibacy and priesthood. Uninformed reporting added to the confusion and serious letting down of some of our most dedicated priests.
Catholic Social Teaching
The body of teaching called Catholic Social Teaching could help greatly – –this teaching is based on the equal dignity of all human beings, on solidarity with those oppressed – bearing one another’s burdens, it is … not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all. (CL 42); subsidiarity – decisions taken at the lowest possible level – participation and exercise of the dignity of autonomy in one’s life to the extent possible, always looking towards the common good so that the God-given gifts and talents of each one would be exercised and appreciated.
The social teaching,(begun formally, in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum ) – which courageously addressed issues of social, economic and political oppression – and many believe to be foundational in the development of human rights as we would understand it today – needs now to be applied within the church.
The irony is not lost on our young people –nor indeed on our older people – it cannot be just about telling the world how it should behave, and rightly championing the basic human rights of people in all manner of oppressive situations. Surely the rudiments of authenticity require that the church itself must model and practise within that which we propose to others as right and true?
I finish with a quote from John Henry Cardinal Newman, ( Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England, 1908. pg 392).Cited in Congar.
‘The laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit; they saved the Irish church three centuries ago, and they betrayed the church in England.’
I believe and hope that the laity, with our bishops, priests and religious, can save the Irish church again.
Not by walking away, understandable though this may be.
Not by passively accepting edicts from on high, from people without accountability, and systems without transparency.
But, by faithfully responding to their call as adult Christians, as thinking and feeling and praying human beings
By standing up and continuing to seek structures for dialogue, and shared decision-making,
And by being prepared to work towards a truer, more authentic communion,
Always motivated by the love and compassion of the Jesus whose ways we desire to follow.
Cathy Molloy. May 7th 2012