Fear Not: The Synods are Proceeding Exactly as Intended

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

_78201530_024252974-1To gain a better appreciation for what has transpired and what is currently unfolding with regard to the 2014 Synod on the Family, it is worth considering the very interesting and detailed take of Vatican insider Sandro Magister in the piece hosted on the Italian newspaper website La Repubblica : “The True Story of This Synod: Director, Performers, Assistants.”

“…Because no matter what may be the outcome of this synod, intentionally devoid of any conclusion, the effect desired by its directors has to a large extent been reached.

On homosexuality as on divorce and remarriage, in fact, the new talk of reform inserted into the global media circuit is worth much more than the favor actually gained among the synod fathers by the proposals of Kasper or Spadaro.

The match could go on for a long time. But Pope Francis is patient. In “Evangelii Gaudium” he has written that “time is greater than space.”

This report alludes to something that I’ve been thinking about since last week’s melee about the Relatio and the seeming “retraction” that accompanied the revised English translation (again, it is important to note that the overwhelmingly ‘welcoming’ — closer to ‘embracing’ or ‘hugging’ — language of the official Italian text was never revised). Namely, that this Synod is one of the most insightful and clever exercises of magisterial teaching authority that we’ve seen since the close of the Second Vatican Council. In other words, this is exactly what the Council and Paul VI had in mind when mandating the periodic Synods, hearkening to a time of more authentic ecclesial teaching authority and synodality.

What do I mean by this? Well, “the Church” (here I use quotations to indicate the colloquial reference to the ecclesiastical leadership of the church, rather than the truest meaning of church, which is the Body of Christ) does not change overnight. It does in fact change (usury, slavery, religious liberty, two ends of marital sexuality…need I continue?), but does so in the best way when those tasked with leading the universal flock remain in communion with one another and the bishop of Rome.

Communion, however, does not mean the utopia vision of the Acts of the Apostles’s “they were of one heart and one mind” performed in recent decades by a “synodality of bella figura.” This is certainly not what the Second Vatican Council had in mind, nor is it reflective of authentic doctrinal and disciplinary development of the church. It is in the Acts of the Apostles, lest we forget, that the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” wherein St. Peter and St. Paul — the predecessors to Cardinal Müeller and Cardinal Kasper, perhaps — were engaged in a very public debate about the intention of Christ and precisely who should be admitted into communion with the early Christian community. One can work toward consensus, but its authenticity depends on a commitment to maintaining koinonia.

Back to the Synods.

Like the many sessions of the Second Vatican Council, the matters preliminarily considered and debated in the 2014 Synod have not been definitely addressed in the first round. Pope Francis and his advisors (especially his worldwide Cardinal Committee of 8) knew exactly what they were doing. As Sandro Magister points out in his piece, at each stage of the Synod’s development, including back to the early days of 2013 long before the world knew anything of this, things were being set in motion to allow for the most honest and open engagement with the urgent pastoral questions of the day. The major success here is that what has begun cannot be stopped, just like what followed after the rejection of the preliminary conciliar texts prepared by the curial bureaucrats at the opening of Vatican II, just like what followed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in the First Century.

Put another way: Those who are pleased with how things are or may be going would say that the John XXIII “window of the church” has been thrown open to let fresh air in and will not be closed or, conversely, those who are displeased may say that Pandora’s Box has been opened and cannot be shut.  Either way, the train is moving forward.

This doesn’t mean everything will unfold as everybody would like, but it does mean that things are changing — driven by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:12) — and that is, I believe, a good thing.

The members of the Synod have listened to the lived experiences of women and men, they’ve debated matters of urgent importance, they’ve shown that there is a major group of bishops who are sensitive to the needs of the church today, and those who dissent have also been given free voice. Now these bishops must return home and will, undoubtedly, hear more from their “sheep” and “ponder all these things in their heart” before returning back to Rome next year to continue their work. it is only after this second round, Synod Part II, that an official exhortation (or maybe even encyclical?) will be promulgated.

The last word has not yet been said. And that is a very good thing.

Photo: AP

Teresa of Ávila and the Synod

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SynodImageCROPToday is the Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, the 16th Century Carmelite Saint and Doctor of the Church. Though she was known for her personal holiness and spiritual insight, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that Pope Paul VI included her and the Dominican Catherine of Siena among the ranks of the “Doctors of the Church.” Teresa and Catherine were the first women so recognized. And it took four hundred years.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:42-46) we continue to hear Jesus’s rebuking of the religious leaders in his time for their inexcusable treatment of the people entrusted to their spiritual and social care. Yesterday we heard the Lord lambaste the Pharisees for being concerned with external matters while their internal worldview, thought processes, and attitude was what was truly rotting — like a dish or drinking glass shining on the outside, but dirty within.

Today we hear the “Woes!” leveled against these and other religious leaders who place burdens on the backs of ordinary people without any effort, even the slightest, to assist them with this imposed struggle. Jesus also points out that the very same people enjoy the status, attention, recognition, titles, and places of honor afforded them by their position as religious leaders.

How appropriate are both the story of the saint we memorialize and the Gospel passage we proclaim today during this time of the Synod on the Family!

The woes of Christ transcend the limits of time and space to reach the 21st Century and indict many of the religious leaders of our time who place heavy burdens on the lives of so many women and men who look to them for guidance and direction, but receive in return only judgment, exclusion, and shame.

Pope Francis, whose whole pontificate to date has captured the attention of the world because of its transparent leadership in the style of the Gospel, has continually called us to remember that in considering how God first relates to us the word on our lips and in our minds and in our hearts should be mercy.

Yet, woe to those bishops, priests, and other ministers who shirk divine mercy for the human burdens of judgment and exclusion!

The Gospel is on the side of Pope Francis, just as it was on the side of Teresa of Ávila, whose contributions to theology and spirituality were not fully recognized for centuries. The reason this was the case centers on whom church leaders chose to recognize and whose voices they did or did not allow to be heard. For centuries it was inconceivable for those who had the authority to recognize such people that women could offer theological and spiritual insight worthy of such recognition! It’s not that Teresa’s teaching changed in the 1970s — no, it was the hearts and minds of those in ecclesiastical leadership that changed to recognize that which was always already true!

How much more so is that the case today with the voices that are not heard, the experiences that are not recognized, the love that is shamed, and the people that are excluded? The Holy Spirit is at work in Rome these days, though some religious leaders like the pharisees and scholars of the law in today’s Gospel are slow to hear Her inspiration and quick to place heavy burdens on the shoulders of others. Seriously, what would Jesus do?

My prayer today is for the continued openness to the inspiration of the Spirit of God in the hearts and minds of both the bishops meeting in Rome, but also in those of women and men around the globe that are seeking to make sense of these meetings. May we greet each other with charity online and in person, and may we harken to the “Woes!” that Jesus levels against us today!

St. Teresa of ÁvilaDoctor of the Church, Ora Pro Nobis!

Photo Illustration: DatingGod.org

Pope Francis’s Opening Remarks at Synod (Full Text)

Posted in Pope Francis, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on October 6, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Pope Attends Holy Mass For The Opening Of The Extraordinary Synod On The FamilyEminences, Beatitudes, Excellences, Brothers and Sisters,

I give you my cordial welcome to this meeting and my heartfelt thanks for you solicitous and qualified presence and attendance.

In your name, I would like to express my earnest and profound gratitude to all the persons who worked for long months, with dedication, patience and competence, reading, evaluating and elaborating the topics, texts and works of this Extraordinary General Assembly.

Allow me to address my particular and cordial gratitude to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod; to Monsignor Fabio Fabene, Under-Secretary, and, together with them, all the reporters, writers, advisers, translators and all the staff of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. They worked tirelessly, and continue to work, for the good outcome of the present Synod: thank you, truly, so much and may the Lord recompense you!

Likewise, I thank the Post-Synodal Council, the reporter and the Secretary General; the Episcopal Conferences that truly worked so much and, with them, I thank the three Presidents Delegate.

I also thank you, dear Cardinals, Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, men and women religious, laymen and laywomen for your presence and for your participation, which enriches the works and the spirit of collegiality and synodality for the good of the Church and of families! I also wanted this spirit of synodality in the choice of the reporter, the Secretary General and the Presidents Delegate. The first two were elected directly by the Post-Synodal Council, which was also elected by the participants in the last Synod. Instead, as the Presidents Delegate  must be chosen by the Pope, I asked the Post-Synodal Council itself to suggest names  and I appointed those that the Council proposed to me.

You carry the voice of the particular Churches, gathered at the level of local Churches through the Episcopal Conferences. The universal Church and the particular Churches are of divine institution; the local Churches thus understood are of human institution. You will carry this voice in synodality. It is a great responsibility: to carry the realities and the problems of the Churches, to help them walk on that path that is the Gospel of the family.

A basic general condition is this: to speak clearly. No one must say: “This can’t be said; he will think of me this way or that …” It is necessary to say everything that is felt with parrhesia. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which there was talk of the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying: too bad that some Cardinals didn’t have the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, thinking, perhaps, that the Pope thought something different. This is not good; this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord one feels should be said, with human respect, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and receive with an open heart what the brothers say. Synodality will be exercised with these two attitudes.

Therefore, I ask you, please, for these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: to speak with parrhesia and to listen with humility.

And do so with much tranquillity and peace, because the Synod always unfolds cum Petro et sub Petro, and the Pope’s presence is the guarantee for all and protection of the faith.

Dear Brothers, let us all collaborate so that the dynamic of synodality is clearly affirmed. Thank you.

(Translation via Zenit.com)

Photo: Getty Images

The Ignorance of Some Scientists

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

evolution religionOk, it’s been a while since I’ve been as worked up as I am about a scientist who publicly ridicules religion and dismisses out of hand the possibility that women and men of faith — particularly Christian faith — can hold both their beliefs and solid scientific truths at the same time. The most recent instance of what I am calling “the ignorance of some scientists” appeared in the New York Times this weekend in an article titled, “God, Darwin, and my College Biology Class,” by the University of Washington evolutionary biologist David Barash.

Professor Barash tells the story of his routine introductory lecture given to students early in each new semester. He makes it clear that if one is uncomfortable with the concept of biological evolution on account of religious beliefs, they would do well to suspend those convictions or at least not allow them to get in the way of adequately and accurately learning biology. Up to this point, I am essentially in agreement with Barash. Those who are often loosely grouped into some general category called “fundamentalist” or “biblicist” who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old or that the universe was created in a literal week are certainly entitled to hold such theologically empty, historically unsound, and biblical unsubstantiated views. However, they will undoubtedly cause problems when those who hold such views attempt to study the natural sciences.

Where I depart from Barash’s view is when he takes a further step to claim that evolution has essentially demolished fundamental religious beliefs. He writes about his talk to his students:

I conclude The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

That reference to Professor Stephen Jay Gould has to do with Gould’s proposal that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria,” which means that one can hold both world views because they deal with totally different material and fields. This is popularly referred to at times as the different foundational questions of “how” and “why,” proponents of Gould’s way of thinking argue that science seeks to address the former and religion the latter.

Barash disagrees — vehemently, by his own admittance — with Gould. Barash does not believe that science and religion are ultimately compatible, but rather present an irreconcilable tension.

I actually agree with Barash in his distaste for the “Non-overlapping magisteria” argument. While I do believe natural sciences and religion are concerned with essentially different questions, they in fact overlap quite a bit.  So we may agree on that point.

The problem, though, in Barash’s easily perceptible theological ignorance. His laboratory pontification exceeds his areas of competence and his ostensible unfamiliarity with the work of those who are both scientists and theologians haunts his own fundamentalist presuppositions.

I would love for him to sit down with Ilia Delio or Alister McGrath or John Polkinghorne or any other scholar who holds doctorates in both scientific fields and theology. Even those who haven’t earned advance degrees in both areas, those like John Haught or Elizabeth Johnson, have gone far out of their ways to not only take the natural sciences seriously, but to engage in complex and rigorous research that correlates the depth of the Christian theological tradition with the scientific discoveries Barash thinks “demolish” religious belief.

Barash argues that there are three critical “strikes” to religious belief that evolution blows. The first is the defeat of “what modern creationists call the argument from complexity.” I actually don’t have any problem with that. Arguments from complexity are not seriously considered by real theologians who study creation or theological anthropology, not at least in terms of the caricature he presents (which is probably more closely connected to the beliefs of the pedestrian biblicist).

The second is what he calls the “illusion of centrality.” Here’s what he says:

Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

And this is where I get really worked up!

I agree completely with the contention that human beings are not above and against, nor entirely distinct from the rest of nonhuman creation. As do many other theologians, as does the scriptural tradition. In fact, I’m proposing to write a dissertation that seeks to advance precisely this line of thought, critiquing among other things models of creation and theological anthropology that are typically presented in terms of both dominion and stewardship. Much of my own theological research in recent years has been working in this area and following the leads of theologians — I’m even presenting a research paper directly related to this question in November at the American Academy of Religion annual conference in San Diego. This idea is not entirely new.

While I agree with Barash that evolution has helped us to see many of the problems and pitfalls of anthropocentric theologies, he is very wrong to talk about there being “no literally supernatural trait” to be found in Homo sapiens. Yes, we are perfectly good animals, maybe even the cleverest, but returning to the distinctive foundational questions of both fields — how vs. why — there is, by definition, now way for biology to uncover anything “supernatural!”

It would be like an astronomer claiming that whales do not exist because there has been “literally no whales  ever found in space.” Though natural science and religion are not “non-overlapping magisteria,” they are also not the same thing. This is where the groundbreaking work of people like Karl Rahner (“supernatural existential”) and Teilhard de Chardin (on evolution and theology) is especially instructive.

Likewise, just because one is learned in one field of research and scholarship (biology) does not mean that she or he is qualified to so definitively proclaim apodictic truths in another field (theology). If the theologians I named above, including myself, take seriously the work of biologists like Barash in his field, he should do likewise and take seriously our work. He might actually learn something.

Barash’s last “blow to religion” is with regard to theodicy. He writes that, “The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.” This is hardly worth comment other than to say that this line of reasoning is easily contestable given that it is an interpretation that borders very closely to the land of opinion. One can affirm the veracity of evolution (as I certainly do), but disagree about the moral quality of that process.

To conclude, I want to say that the way Barash comes across is not unlike the scientifically ignorant religious fundamentalists he critiques. Their childish and literal interpretations of complex scriptural narratives are to science what Barash’s absolutist and incontrovertible interpretations of evolution are to theology.

This irony hasn’t been lost on me. And I hope that Barash may also realize this discovery. Maybe then his way of thinking could evolve just as the species have, though I hope it doesn’t take as long.

Photo: Stock

What We See, What God Sees: On Fairness and Judgment

Posted in Homilies, Prayer, Scripture with tags , , , , , , , on September 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

ripe cabernet grapes ready for harvestThe readings this weekend pick up almost exactly where we left off last sunday. In the book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we are told:

You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?

This brings us back to the grumbling day laborers from the vineyard in last Sunday’s Gospel. Those who were hired early in the morning and agreed to a full days wage were given exactly that when quitting time came around. Yet, those hired later in the day received exactly the same renumeration, sending the ones who worked longer to be outraged.

“That’s not fair!” Shouted the laborers, clearly feeling entitled to more money though they were indeed paid fairly. It was not injustice that they encountered and had upset them, but rather the generosity of the landowner (i.e., “God”) that they came to resent.

The cries of unfairness continue this weekend. At the heart of these passages from Scripture stand the proclamation made in last Sunday’s first reading: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” God’s sense of justice and generosity is far more capacious and inclusive than ours usually is, and while there is oftentimes a lot of grumbling and talk of “fear” of God’s justice, the truth is that we much more often resent God’s generosity.

Our Gospel this Sunday comes from the next chapter in Matthew’s account, and it is short enough to recount here.

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not, ‘
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Again, we have a crowd of the righteous, the “church goers,” the religious leaders, the ones who are always seen in the right places and saying, thinking, doing the “right things.” Jesus confronts them with this question about what it means to truly do “the right thing.” And the response is pretty straightforward, regardless of what one of the sons says, it’s the one who does the will of the father.

There are many dimensions to this Gospel that speak to us today. I want to address only one today: I believe that today’s Gospel challenges us to reconsider how we understand judgement.

On the subject of judgment, we return back to the insights of the Prophet Ezekiel, who calls us to task for thinking that God sees, hears, and judges in the same ways that we do. God does not. And that is, like last Sunday’s Gospel, a good thing. God’s mercy and justice are not opposed, but two sides of the very same coin.

Likewise, God is able to be merciful and judges differently than we do because God sees and knows everything. God knows our hearts and our actions, our thoughts and our desires, our fears and our loves far better than even we do. God takes the whole story into consideration and reserves judgement for the end, when a whole life has reached completion.

We should recall the Gospel parable from earlier this summer when Jesus talks about the zealous land workers who want to pull the weeds from the wheat. The master tells them not to, that he would take care of separating these things at the end of the harvest, when the plant is fully grown. The reason the workers aren’t permitted to pull the weeds has everything to do with the fact that they can’t distinguish between the good plants and the weeds at that point in their growth — they look the same from the outside.

With that parable from the same Gospel account in mind, if we look at today’s reading we see an echo of how God sees us and judges us. If one stops the story immediately after the point when the two sons respond to their dad, one seemingly obedient and the other ostensibly disobedient, then we’d likely be compelled to say that the son who said “yes,” only to not follow through later, was the obedient son and the reverse true for the other. But when we play the whole story forward, it’s a very different account.

Perhaps this is why the very last parable in Matthew’s Gospel is the one concerning the “sheep” and the “goats,” in Chapter 25.

Not only does this parable and account of the coming judgment take place at the end of the Gospel, but it is set at the end of time “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” Then he separates those who are destined for eternal life from those who will go into “the eternal fire prepare for the devil and his angels.”

What is curious about this parable is how few people pay attention to precisely why the “goats” go into the fire, why there are any goats in the first place!

See, when it comes to doing the will of God, which is loving and caring for one another in mutual harmony, you don’t need to know precisely that you’re doing it. These “sheep” in the parable are shocked to discover the reason for their favorable positioning.

The “goats,” on the other hand, are perhaps given one last time to repent, to apologize, to have a conversion and admit that, perhaps unwittingly even, they screwed up big time in life: they didn’t do what was expected of each and every human person. But what happens instead? The “goats,” start coming up with excuses: “when did we see you, lord? hungry, thirsty, etc. etc.?” We might image in them saying to Christ, “If only we knew that’s what we were to do, if only we knew it was you, etc. etc.” they would have experienced then and there the mercy of God that Ezekiel reveals to us and that Jesus demonstrates in his own words and deeds.

Instead of admitting their faults and failures, they blame others and stand stubbornly before their savior having learned absolutely nothing in life.

As we go forth today to begin another week, may we find ourselves more aware of our own tendency to judge without knowing the whole story, without giving other people a chance. May we be encouraged by the mercy of God and, as St. Paul exhorts us, encourage others to be more and more human by being more and more people for others.

Rather than believing we know better than God, judging and casting judgment on others, let us be supporters, lovers, peacemakers, and reconcilers — let all of us go out into the vineyard of the world to do the father’s will, even if at first we said no.

Photo: Stock

Paradise Lost?

Posted in America Magazine with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

THE GIVERThis is my latest column for America magazine, which appears in the October 6, 2014, issue.

Dystopian films based on dystopian books have been all the rage recently. Hits like “The Hunger Games” and the “Divergent” series have sparked interest in the darker side of futuristic imagination. Perhaps for this reason Lois Lowry’s 1993 book, The Giver, has finally been adapted for the big screen after 20 years.

But The Giver is not actually about a dystopian world. It is, ironically, about a utopian paradise.

The film adaptation may be one of the rare instances in which the visualization of a powerful story enhances the narrative rather than disappointing the audience. It opens with a world of sameness, reason, order, “precision of language” and black and white. All difference, creativity, passion and emotion have been removed from human existence. There is no violence, no dispute, no variation—and it seems to be the perfect society in action. And as far as any citizen knows, this is the way it always has been and ought to be.

This is true for everybody except a community elder known as “The Receiver,” whose responsibility it is to keep safe the memory of what the world was once like, the world of diversity, passion, creativity, emotion, confusion, grays and colors. The Receiver is occasionally consulted for advice by the other elders, who watch constantly over the community, make pronouncements from speakers above, establish laws and decide which persons (especially the newborn and elderly) are “released,” a euphemism for homicide. The Receiver, who is getting up in age, knows how things once were and therefore is aware of how things could be.

The story’s protagonist is a young man named Jonas, who is selected to be the next Receiver. His responsibility is to receive the collective memory from the old Receiver, who by virtue of his instructive role now becomes “The Giver.” Over time the Giver passes this memory to Jonas, and Jonas begins to see color and nuance, to know suffering and happiness, to appreciate that things have been and could be another way.

Lowry’s story is very creative, but the allegory isn’t very original.

It goes back at least to St. Augustine, from whose commentaries on Genesis we get a depiction of paradise, a prelapsarian world in which human beings do not act according to emotion, do not experience passion and do not disobey the Creator. So they live in perfect freedom (libertas), by which Augustine means obedience to God’s will as opposed to being governed by disordered desires, what Augustine calls concupiscence. In paradise human beings acted with complete rationality, which meant the absence of sexual desire and pleasure, as well as much of what we associate with everyday human emotions, including pain and happiness.

Augustine’s vision of human life before the Fall looks a lot like the world in which “The Giver” opens. The focus on rationality and absence of emotions suggests that harmony and concord once ruled, but that a single act of human disobedience—think apples and snakes—set everything on a dangerous trajectory.

This is the trajectory the elders in “The Giver” wished to reverse in creating their own version of rational paradise. However, as Jonas sees both the potential for good and ill that arises from a complex and colorful world in which humanity exercises free will (liberum arbitrium), he realizes that the risk of suffering and the messiness of life are necessary if one wishes to experience love and happiness, even if they are at times fleeting.

“The Giver” puts into stark relief an uncomfortable truth that human freedom comes at a cost, and the cost is the risk of abuse and misuse of that very same freedom. Some people, like Augustine and the elders, believe that the solution to suffering and pain is the elimination of choice and complexity. Perhaps some people, like Augustine and the elders, while well meaning, are wrong. If we all thought, spoke and acted alike, things might be better—maybe even perfect. Things might be simpler, more black and white. Yet they would not be authentically human. The truth is we are all givers and receivers of memory, inheritors of the history of salvation that beckons us to exercise our freedom for the common good. Paradise is not found in restricting freedom and suppressing emotion; it is found in following in the footprints of the most human (and divine) of all, Jesus Christ.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing (2014).’

Photo: “The Giver” film 2014

Burke, The Media, and the Development of Theology

Posted in Pope Francis, Vatican II with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

816242-raymond-burkeIt is difficult to discern which public-relations spin is correct when it comes to the public and well-publicized disagreements among the college of cardinals about the nature, scope, hopes, and fears of the upcoming Synod on the Family. Some commentators have suggested that this is an example of infighting and ecclesiastical politics playing out, while others have suggested that this is an important dialogue reminiscent of the early church debates among bishops on matters of doctrine and morality.

While I would like to believe that the latter scenario is true, thereby evoking a time and experience of serious debate in theological reflection  along the lines of Nicaea or even the Council of Trent (in which theologians debated at the request of participating bishops to help shape the doctrinal and disciplinary pronouncements), I fear that a great deal of what is currently unfolding fits the bill of the former scenario — some cardinals just cannot accept the truth that fides quaerens intellectum means that we come to a fuller understanding of the so-called “content of the faith” over time and with serious and faithful research, reflection, and dialogue.

Case in point: Cardinal Raymond Burke’s latest rantings.

I don’t like to use such unfavorable descriptors as “ranting” to describe what my brother Christians and priests are doing, but there is really no other way around it in this particular case. Clearly unhappy with the change in pontificate, something about which he’s has not remained shy, and ostensibly threatened by the possibility that scripturally based mercy and social justice might inform the forthcoming proceedings of the October Synod, Burke has lately suggested that “the media” is responsible for “hijacking” the discussion in preparation for the Synod. Originally reported by the Catholic News Agency and picked up elsewhere, the Cardinal is reported to have said:

I don’t think you have to be brilliant to see that the media has, for months, been trying to hijack this Synod…he media has created a situation in which people expect that there are going to be these major changes which would, in fact, constitute a change in Church teaching, which is impossible. That’s why it’s very important for those who are in charge to be very clear.

So, what’s the problem? “Church teaching,” in the broad sense in which Burke evokes it here, does in fact change and change more regularly than one in his reactionary shoes might imagine.

Unfortunately, the good cardinal and canonist makes for a very inaccurate theologian and historian: changes in “church teaching” are in fact very possible and recognizable.

There are the classic examples of usury, slavery, interfaith marriage, and the like. But there are also more subtle ways in which “church teaching” has changed even within my admittedly short lifetime. Teaching pertaining to morality of all things. Take, for example, the way that magisterial teaching on capital punishment has shifted over the last thirty years, but in the exercise of papal teaching authority as well as on the more regional and local levels with bishops conferences and synodal statements. Also, the Code of Canon Law, that governing document so precious to Burke personally, continues to be a living document that is amended (Benedict XVI made changes, to the status of authority for the order of deacons, for example) and had in 1983 after the mandate of Vatican II significantly revised the Code.

On the more pertinent topic of the Sacrament of Marriage, both Vatican II (see Gaudium et Spes) and subsequent encyclicals (e.g., Humanae Vitae) significantly changed the “Church’s Teaching” on the natural “ends” of marriage, expanding that category from just procreative ends to include the role of mutuality and love between the spouses.

Unfortunately for Cardinal Burke, his personal opinion (which is what is expressed here) is not supported by the tradition, neither historically nor theologically. In truth, even his canonical field has to admit to change and with good reason. Regarding questions of the family, the meaning and practice of marriage in particular, these are things that certainly fall within (to put it simply) the extended category of church teaching and are not, as the Creed is for example, “impossible to change.” So much of what is billed by Burke and his likeminded fellows as essential to the faith is really a reliant, not simply on teaching constituting dogma (e.g., Scripture, the Creed, etc.) but the result of centuries of theological reflection and growing in the understanding of our shared faith. Additionally, so much of what is perceived as “unchangeable,” is reliant on medieval fundamental theology that does not always hold up to the natural and social scientific and philosophical discoveries we’ve made over the last millennium.

It is indeed time for conversation, and people like Burke are certainly welcome to oppose the work of other bishops and theologians, but don’t blame this on the “bogeymen” of “the media” and “culture.” Each should take responsibility for their own views and enter the dialogue with respect.

Photo: File
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 734 other followers

%d bloggers like this: