I have been thinking lately about the forthcoming Peoples Synod in Dallas, set for October 12-14, 2018. Life is in the air! Reformers talk in terms of change, but it’s really no more and no less than becoming more faithful to the Gospel lived and pached by Jesus Christ.
What does this mean for our relationship to the larger institutional Church?
It is important not to be focused onpersuading the larger Church to change – too much like deer in the headlights. Yet there may be a view – off to the side from the headlights – that draws the various reform groups together. Reformers haveput in a lot of time and energy, and that will not be wasted.
A major contribution of Vatican II was recognition that the Church must be a learning Church as well as a teaching Church, and inparticular learning that it is not a Societasperfecta. The sex abuse crisis and governance issues make clear the humanity of this “Barque ofpeter”. In these respects the role of thepeople – at least those willing to accept the role – is like an Ombudsman. The work of the reform community – in its many and varied facets – can BE a virtual institutionalization of the Ombudsman role.
In other respects the various reform groups have been trying to get the Church to changepolicies that fail to measure up to the Gospel. To thesepolicy issues – including women called topriestly ministry, LGBT lived experience, lack of welcome for divorced and remarried, to name some of the most neuralgic – the Church has seemed intractable. Thus the frustration.
It may be opportune to reimagine the “teaching Church”. With respect to the neuralgic issues especially, “teaching” has been about norms and where lines should be drawn. “Teaching” has meant holding fast to traditionalpolicies and resisting pssures to relax thesepolicies. It is a line drawing approach. Ironically, isn’t this approach pcisely what Jesus criticized when he challenged the law of divorce (Deut. 24:1)? We are called to love one another, not draw lines. Loving one another brings the joy ofpossibility, whereas line drawing opts for clarity: “here, and you receive a gold star” or “there, but no further.” Yet the response of the early Church to Deuteronomy 24:1 was another clear line – marriage once, forever. A higher aspiration, surely, but a drawn line rather than opening up love’s joy ofpossibility.
What if the “teaching Church” were reimagined? Francis is already doing that with his emphasis on “what the church most needs is growth in discernment” (remarks to Chilean Jesuits, 1/16/2018) and his advocacy for discernment in Amoris Laetitia. What thepope is doingpicks up on the Vatican II shift from revelation as “propositional statements” to a Trinitarian view of revelation (“God’s self-revelation in Christ by thepower of the Spirit”, Dei Verbum #2) which relies on building a relationship with the Spirit, i.e. discernment.
Reformers have been focusing on unjust rules. But why are they unjust? Under the p-Vatican II model of the “teaching Church” asprotector of lines drawn by biblical and traditional “propositional statements”, changing unjust rules is fighting on the wrong battlefield. The importance of choosing the right battlefield to fight was famously understood by Julius Cesar.
We’ve known this all along. It’s about theprimacy of conscience. But on the wrong battlefield “primacy of conscience” looks like it’s in opposition to God’s “propositional statements”. Conscience appears to have no anchor in God, because “propositional statements” pempt God. We need to change the battlefield, which means reimagining the “teaching Church”. We need a Church whose teaching focus is on discernment of the Spirit rather than “propositional statements” from God.
Francis is moving us in that direction. But it’s not aboutparticular unjust rules. A rule can be helpful and just much of the time, and yet fail to be just some of the time. If it is applied in blanket fashion it becomes unjust on those occasions. Yet a rule lends itself to blanket enforcement. That’s theproblem with a rule-based, line-drawing approach to teaching. Francis is saying very little aboutparticular rules. This may be a strategic decision, because it minimizes the “deer in the headlights” effect. But it frustrates reformers who want Francis simply to change unjust rules.
We need a different image of the “teaching Church”. Injustice is still injustice, so reformers are right to keep up that drumbeat. But thepath to change is through a reimagining of the “teaching Church” so that it is more faithful to Christ and the Gospel, and less poccupied with “propositional statements”. Discernment is the key. Conscience anchored in discernment of the Spirit has itsproper voice.
The common voice of those interested in reform finds its unity in both the Ombudsman role and the vantagepoint of a reimagined “teaching Church”. The Ombudsman role requires independence from the institutional Church, and a vantagepoint for reimagining requires stepping back fromparticular injustices.
These kinds of questions are likely to come up at Peoples Synod in Dallas. participants will be organized into “listening circles” of about a dozen. The underlying synod theme of “tension between law and love”parallels the shift between “propositional statements” toward a more Gospel oriented focus. The intention of theplanners is to sendparticipants home both energized about what ispossible and bonded for mutual support. That psumes, of course, that we get enoughparticipants to make a difference. The Spirit is willing but we the flesh are weak. To help, go to the Peoples Synod Facebookpage and “like it”!
by Clyde Christofferson (pictured with his grandchildren)
Francis was speaking to an Italian family association (at Forum delle famiglie, on June 16, 2018) and interrupted his remarks to give an off-the-cuff condemnation of “eugenic” abortion and “fake marriage”. The editor of The Catholic Thing, a conservative publication, took heart in this and wrote an article that expressed concern rather than hope that Francis would now more fully back traditional Catholic doctrine.
Pope Francis continues to speak from the heart, with a serenity that doesn't fit neatly into either traditional or progressive categories.
Maybe that's the point. The idea is to be more loving. It was the shift from law to "loving one another" that was Christ's "new covenant".
As the article notes, Francis has criticized "Catholics who are constantly 'insisting' and 'obsessing' on life issues and marriage." Maybe there is some balance here, the same kind of balance that Christ preached by shifting from law to love in the "new covenant". There was something different in what Christ did. It wasn't a doubling down on the law.
Perhaps Francis is criticizing both traditionalists and progressives, because both these groups of Catholics seem overly focused on Church doctrine, either to keep it or to change it, to the point of distracting from the sole purpose of doctrine, which is to direct our attention (Francis uses the term "gaze") to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit (see Dei Verbum #2).
There is something significant about discernment, about getting in touch with the Spirit of Christ "written on our hearts". Francis keeps emphasizing the importance of having more discernment in our Church, as he did last January with the Jesuits in Chile. We can cope with our sinful nature -- our more primitive inclinations -- the easier way or the harder way. The easier way is with the law, which is clear and requires interpretation and resolve. The harder way is discernment, which requires building a relationship with the living presence of God in our hearts.
These are both good and helpful ways. But Jesus saw an imbalance in Jewish preoccupation with the law and preached the "new covenant" -- the harder way -- in response. Francis is following in the footsteps of Jesus and is risking a sort of "virtual Crucifixion" from those -- both traditionalists who want to keep the law as it is and progressives who want to change it -- who are preoccupied with doctrine.
I think Francis gets it. The reign of God which Jesus preached is not about law. It's about shifting our attention toward loving one another, not some "lovey dovey" kind of love but the harder way of building a relationship with Christ, by the power of the Spirit. It's that kind of relationship through which we can experience the priority of love that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 22:40 and the freedom from the law that Paul spoke of in his Letter to the Galatians. The law remains useful in pointing toward Christ, but not if we use the law as a substitute for discernment.
So I disagree with the article to the extent that it expresses some measure of concern over the direction that Francis is leading us. There is no doubt about his direction. He has been perfectly clear. But his clarity in Christ remains an anxiety for those who are preoccupied with Church doctrine, whether to preserve doctrine or to change it. It is noteworthy that Francis has left doctrine alone. He clearly hopes that we will shift our gaze to Christ.
Vatican II began this shift, but these things take time. We are just human beings. The serenity of Francis in the face of all this is a comfort, at least to me.
It is worth reflecting on Bishop Michael Curry's address at the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on 19 May 2018. Bishop Michael is the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA.
"And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the Song of Solomon, in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, and I quote: 'We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.'
There's power in love. Don't underestimate it. Don't even over-sentimentalise it. There's power, power in love.
If you don't believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to centre around you and your beloved. Oh there's power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There's a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it - it actually feels right. There is something right about it. And there's a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant - and are meant - to be lived in that love. That's why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself: the source of all of our lives. There's an old medieval poem that says: 'Where true love is found, God himself is there'. The New Testament says it this way: 'Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God.' Why? 'For God is love.'
- There's power in love.
- There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
- There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
- There's power in love to show us the way to live.
Set me as a seal on your heart... a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death.
But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we're all here. Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up. But it's not just for and about a young couple, who we rejoice with. It's more than that.
Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses, and he went back and he reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.'
And then in Matthew's version, he added, he said: 'On these two, love of God and love of neighbour, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world... love God, love your neighbours, and while you're at it, love yourself.' Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world - and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I'm talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.
If you don't believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America's Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It's one that says 'There is a balm in Gilead...' a healing balm, something that can make things right. 'There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.' And one of the stanzas actually explains why. They said: 'If you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.' Oh, that's the balm in Gilead! This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it. He died to save us all.
He didn't die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn't... he wasn't getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world... for us. That's what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centred. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world. If you don't believe me, just stop and imagine.
- Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
- Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
- Imagine neighbourhoods and communities where love is the way.
- Imagine governments and nations where love is the way.
- Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
- Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.
When love is the way - unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
- When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
- When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
- When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
- When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
- When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.
- When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.
And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament: that's fire. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - and with this I will sit down, we gotta get you all married - French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century. Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic. In some of his writings, he said, from his scientific background as well as his theological one, in some of his writings he said - as others have - that the discovery, or invention, or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history.
- Fire to a great extent made human civilisation possible.
- Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating which reduced the spread of disease in its time.
- Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates.
- Fire made it possible - there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire.
- The advances of fire and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good. Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did - I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire - the controlled, harnessed fire - made that possible. I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water. But I have to tell you, I did not walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here.
- Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other.
Fire makes all of that possible, and de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love - it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
Dr King was right: we must discover love - the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.
My brothers, my sisters, God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love."
Have been trying to condense what I've learned over the years and share what I feel we most need now, Equal Respect, People's Equal Rights, Opportunity, "Equality". This is the heart of the Golden Rule to treat others with Equal fairness. The desire found in all good hearts and in the Godly beliefs of most people.
The same Equal Justice Jesus taught as the sum of all laws and Prophets: to put God's Holy Love in your heart first, so you can Love others, even your enemies, as you love yourself.
Pray for hearts to change from selfishness, greed, or desire to rule over others unfairly, while we work to help turn the many in wage slavery, to good living wages, from violence, wars, and destruction.
Let us encourage those who make and uphold the laws to act justly and equally fair for all. And for none of us to make profits god!
Inequality has kept our world in one war after another for hundreds, even thousands of years and primarily under the more aggressive males ruling.
Yet God is our Mother as well as Father!
One is not more important than the other! We need "Equality" and the more feminine cooperative balance.
Evil tends to rule when "might makes right", and is not the best way!
I was shown God's Hand on my 5th Birthday and not given another such sign for over 25 years when I asked God for a spiritual "Rebirth", what Jesus said we needed to enter Heaven both here and after this life. Did not see God's Hand again but did feel again God's Strong Presence after two weeks of praying, whenever I could and in repentance, then heard clearly the one word of "Equality".
For more than 40 years I have been trying to find ways to understand and share. Often feeling failure when we would only have 10-15 at Peace Vigils for Viet Nam, years ago yet now realize how God's Holy Spirit has spoken to many about "Equality" in Civil Rights, Worker's Rights and this Jan 2017 when many thousand's came together to march here in Tennessee over our Cumberland River Bridge in Nashville, to support people's Equal Rights and their desire to live in Peace and Freedom.
I believe Peace within, as well as without are possible when we seek The Holy Spirit's guidance to "Peace and Goodwill for all".
Much love and concern,
Betty C. Dudney
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