Hearing the Lord, Discerning The Call

Posted in Homilies, Scripture with tags , , , , on January 18, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Vocation SignsIt may not surprise you to hear that I am asked a lot about how and when I received “The Call.”

Typically, this question arises within the context of curiosity about my decision to enter religious life, to serve the church as a ministerial priest, to do something that — let’s face it — not a whole lot of people are doing today. The question is one about vocation and discernment, but it’s also about hearing.

The idea of hearing “The Call” is not new. As many people already know, the term vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, a verb that means “to call.” But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly “The Call” is, which is where this questions comes up as often as it does.

I can say that “The Call” is neither a loud voice coming from the heavens (like the scenes of Jesus’s Baptism) nor is it a telephone call or bizarre radio signal (like some sort of X-Files case). “The Call” is not often very clear and it’s always in need of discernment. “The Call” is more like a quiet unsettling feeling, an idea that gently appears on the horizon of our prayer, reflection, and imagination; the arrival of a possibility that perhaps at first seems far-fetched or odd, but nevertheless stays with you. (What would it be like to be a religious sister? Could I be a diocesan priest? Might I possibly, perhaps see myself as a member of this religious community?)

Rather than a message from above or a lightening bolt from blue, “The Call” is more of a quiet whisper that comes when one is open to the presence of God in the way Elijah was at the cave on Horeb when God was not found in the thunder or fire or earthquake (1 Kings 19:11-14). “The Call” is more like that feeling of falling in love with somebody. It is something that might have taken you by surprise, but something that you cannot conjure or create.

But the thing about “The Call” is that it’s never as clear as we’d like it to be, and it’s never a direct message.

“The Call,” in whatever form one authentically receives it — whether to religious life, to individual relationship, to ministry, to start a family, and so on — must be discerned and that requires more than just an individual. See, “The Call” is not a one-on-one affair. It is always about the whole church which, as St. Paul reminds us, is always the Body of Christ.

Our readings this weekend center on several instances of literal calling, callings illustrated as far more dramatic than the ones most people experience. The calling of Samuel in our First Reading (1 Sam 3:3-10, 19), the call of the prophet in the Psalm (Ps 40), the call to recognize our respective participation and place in the Body of Christ in the Second Reading (1 Cor 6:13-20), and the call of the first disciples to follow Jesus in the Gospel (John 1:35-42).

In the First Reading, Samuel is hearing something. Depicted as something audible, he is awoken throughout the night unsure of what is happening, presuming something (that Eli is trying to get his attention), but as of yet unwilling to accept the possibility that he doesn’t immediately know what’s up.

It takes some time and it takes the insight of another to clue him into what this “Call” means for him. Samuel not only has to be open to this sense, this audible invitation that haunts his regular life (and sleep), but he also has to be open to the way that God is working with those around him to help him identify “The Call.” Discernment is something that requires more than our guesswork or projection. It requires the effort of relationship found in sharing and listening, of openness and consideration. God calls each of us in and through the other members of the Body of Christ, not just to us directly as in a divine text message (and, let’s be honest, even text messages can be misinterpreted alone).

The Gospel question that Jesus poses to the would-be disciples is the same thing that every dimension of “The Call” contains in God’s invitation to each of us in our respective lives: “What are you looking for?”

The trick here is that we must be honest, though it’s a lot easier said than done. How quick are we to delude ourselves, to be convinced by the expectations set before us by others, to be misled by the seemingly enticing lures of our consumer-driven culture?

What are we looking for?

Is it fleeting happiness? Or, financial success? Or, more power? Or, companionship? Or, freedom understood as ‘being my own boss’? Or, something else?

How we answer that question might help us to understand how the Spirit of God continues to call us, perhaps even right now. Despite the diversity of God’s call in each of our lives, the answer to Jesus’s question, “What are you looking for?” is always the same — the answer is: “To do your will.”

This is Samuel’s answer.

It is the Psalmist’s reply.

It is the openness demonstrated by the first disciples.

It is the entirety of Jesus’s mission among us; to do God’s will.

May we all make the time and space necessary to hear the voice of God calling us, may we be open with and to others in discerning each of our calls as a community, may we respond to Jesus’s question with an honest willingness to do God’s will. Only then, will we truly hear the Lord. Only then, will we become followers of Christ.

Photo: Stock

Pope’s Christmas Message

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , on December 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Pope Francis Urbi et OrbiHere is the full text of the English translation of Pope Francis’s Urbi et Orbi 2014 Christmas Message. Among the key themes was an appeal for those who are suffering or persecuted around the world, that Jesus Christ brings salvation for all people, prayers for the victims of Ebola, and for children who suffer violence and are victims of human trafficking.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies. The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.

Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him. And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child. Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognized in Jesus the Messiah. “My eyes have seen your salvation”, Simeon exclaimed, “the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:30).

Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!

Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world. May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity. May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.

May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where [even in these hours] more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed. I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.

May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children. May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week. May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea. As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.

The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods. Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth. May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness. Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.

With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Photo: Wire

A Papal ‘Festivus’ for the Rest of Us

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

CuriaI am not the first person today to make the connection between Pope Francis’s “Airing of Grievances” to the Roman Curial leadership and staff this week and today’s marking of the Sienfeld pseudo-holiday “Festivus” which, among its many hilarious ‘traditional’ components, includes the “airing of grievances. My friend Fran Rossi Szpylczyn on her blog “There Will Be Bread” credits theologian Natalia Imperatori-Lee with perhaps the earliest Facebook reference this morning. To whomever might have also thought of this connection, you’re not alone!

I have always been a fan of Sienfeld, with the Costanza family “Festivus” tradition each December 23rd delighting me every time I think of it. It also seems that Pope Francis has a good sense of humor, observational perhaps, even if it is not the same as the Larry David existential cynicism that undergirded nine years of the Sienfeld 90s reign.

However, there is really nothing very funny about Pope Francis’s admonition to the curial staff in Vatican City this week. His now-well-known list of “fifteen diseases” in need of treatment arises from his understanding of the church as the Body of Christ, which is direly in need of a check up. This physical exam begins “at the top” we might say, with those who set the pace and establish the tone for the day-to-day running of the universal church.

But given that you and I are as much part of the Corpus Christi as any curial prefect in a red hat, Pope Francis’s physical-fitness check list is well worth examining for each of us too! Here it is, happy festivus!

The disease of feeling ‘immortal’ or ‘essential’
‘A curia that does not practice self-criticism, does not keep up to date, does not try to better itself, is an infirm Body’. The Pope mentions that a visit to cemeteries could help us see the names of many who ‘maybe thought they were immortal, exempt and essential!’. It is the disease of those who ‘turn into masters and feel superior to everyone rather than in the service of all people. It often comes from the pathology of power, the “Messiah complex” and narcissism’.

The disease of excessive activity
It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospel, ‘lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting “what is better”; sitting at Jesus’ feet’. The Pope recalls that Jesus ‘called his disciples to “rest a little”, because neglecting necessary rest brings anxiety and stress’.

The diseases of mental and spiritual ‘petrification’
It is the disease of those who ‘lose their internal peace, their vivacity and audacity, to hide under papers and become “procedural machines” instead of men of God’, unable to ‘weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice!’.

The disease of overplanning
‘When the apostle plans everything in detail’ and believes that, through this, ‘things progress effectively, thus becoming an accountant. Good planning is necessary but without falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose or steer the freedom of the Holy Spirit… it is always easier and more convenient to fall back on static and unchanged positions’.

The disease of bad coordination
It is the disease of members who ‘lose the community among them, and the Body loses its harmonious functionality’ becoming ‘an orchestra producing undisciplined noise because its members do not cooperate and do not live communally and have team spirit’.

The disease of spiritual Alzheimer’s
That is a ‘progressive decline of spiritual faculties’ which ’causes severe disadvantages to people’, making them live in a ‘state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views’. We can see this in those who have ‘lost their memory’ of their encounter with the Lord, in those who depend on their ‘passions, whims and obsessions’.

The disease of rivalry and vainglory
‘When the appearance, the colour of  the vestments and the honours become the first objectives of life… It is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false “mysticism” and false “quietism”‘.

The disease of existential schizophrenia
It is the disease of those who live ‘a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill’. It often strikes us that some ‘abandon the pastoral service and limit their activities to bureaucracy, losing touch with reality and real people. They thus create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that the others harshly teach’ and live a ‘hidden’ and often ‘dissolute’ life.

The disease of gossip and chatter
‘It takes hold of a person making them “sowers of discord” (like Satan), and, in many cases, “cold-blooded murderers” of the reputation of their colleagues and brothers. It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back… Watch out against the terrorism of gossip!’.

The disease of deifying the leaders
It is the disease of those who ‘court their superiors’, becoming victims of ‘careerism and opportunism’ and ‘live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they must give’. It might also affects the superiors ‘when they court some of their collaborators in order to gain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the final result is real complicity’.

The disease of indifference to others
‘When each one thinks only of themselves and loses the truthfulness and warmth of human relationships. When the more experienced ones do not offer their knowledge to the service of less experienced colleagues. When, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fall, rather than lift them up and encourage them’.

The disease of the funeral face
It is the disease of people who are ‘scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others – especially those, whom they think are inferior – with rigidity, harshness and arrogance’. In reality, adds the Pope, ‘theatrical strictness and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves. The apostle must strive to be a polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person…’. Francis invites people to be full of humour and self-irony; ‘How beneficial a healthy dose of humour can be!’

The disease of hoarding
‘When the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by hoarding material possessions, not because of necessity, but only to feel secure’.

The disease of closed circles
When belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, than belonging to Christ himself. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming “a cancer”‘.

The disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism
‘When the apostle turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity to gain worldly profits, or even more powers. It is the disease of those people who relentlessly seek to increase their powers. To achieve that, they may defame, slander and discredit others, even on newspapers and magazines. Naturally, that is in order to show off and exhibit their superiority to others’. A disease that ‘badly hurts the Body because it leads people to justify the use of any means in order to fulfill their aim, often in the name of transparency and justice!’

Photo: Wire

New Liturgical Year, New ‘Homilies’ Volume!

Posted in Advent, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SickandYouCaredforMeWell it’s that time of year, with the First Sunday of Advent come a new Liturgical Year (Cycle B) and with that comes the last volume of the Homilies for the Homeless Series titled, Sick, And You Cared For Me (2014).

Those familiar with the previous two volumes (Hungry, And You Fed Me [2012], and Naked, And You Clothed Me [2013]) have come to appreciate the richly diverse collection of homilies and scriptural reflections that follow the Sunday celebrations and Solemnities of each respective Gospel cycle of the Liturgical Year.

The list of contributors is both impressive and has grown since volume one (and I’m not just saying “impressive” because I’m one of the contributors) — a quick glance at the list of authors illustrates what a rich resource this really is.

In addition to being a particularly helpful resource for preachers and an insightful book of reflections for those in the pews, the production of this series (Homilies for the Homeless) earns its title, for all the profits from the books goes to support several charities in the North East U.S. that feed, shelter, and cloth those in need.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough!  I know that I’m biased as a contributor, but precisely as one I want to attest to the commitment of each author and, most especially, the editor Jim Knipper, all of whom give of their time and talents to offer this resource to the church and help raise money for many of those who most need it. Order your’s today! (and they make great Christmas gifts!)

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The Equivocal Sense of ‘Complementarity’

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality, Pope Francis, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 18, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

puzzleThe term “complementarity” has been referenced frequently this week on social media and in traditional media as the Vatican hosts an international, interreligious conference bearing the title: “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium.” The aim of the gathering, according to the conference’s website is “to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.” And the response has been predictably mixed.

Initial reactions have tended toward one extreme or the other, either extraordinarily enthusiastic or unapologetically critical. My reaction, so far, falls somewhere in between. I’m curious to see what arises from this gathering, interested to know what has been and will continue to be said by this group of invited speakers, all of whom represent diversity in culture and religious tradition, but nevertheless all appear to represent a hegemonic view of the meaning of marriage, the identity of the human person, and the role of biological sex and gender in both of those subjects.

The Social & Vocational Sense of ‘Complementarity’

Yesterday I Tweeted an open question about whether or not a true diversity of scholarly and spiritual views would be represented at this gathering, to which one of my colleagues here at America responded with a reference to a line from Pope Francis’s address to the assembly in which the Pontiff cautioned against thinking of complementarity in terms of a “fixed and static pattern.” To understand the full context of that remark, we must appreciate that in the preceding paragraph Pope Francis quotes St. Paul’s writing on the diversity of charisms in the Church (1 Corinthians 12) and then says: “To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.”

Pope Francis then ties this general sense of complementarity as a vocational or social reality to the aim of the conference; namely, the complementarity of ‘man and woman’ within the context of marriage:

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

Why am I quoting this at length? The reason is that “complementarity” is being used in very different ways at different points this week, yet treated as if it was a univocal term.

In the case of Pope Francis’s address to the assembly quoted above, his use of “complementarity” arises from the Pauline charismatic or “spiritual gifts” language that, in context, pertains to the harmony and unity of the ecclesia, which is the Body of Christ. Insofar as every woman and man has been gifted with a particular vocation to be used at the service of church and world, then all people do indeed have “complementary” gifts – each different, but nevertheless important – and should therefore view such bestowals as deserving of equal respect and dignity, regardless of who is a teacher and who speaks in tongues.

The way that Pope Francis appears to be using the term “complementarity” here is in a social or communal setting, one that highlights the call we have from God to use our gifts for the service of others and to seek to work together to build up the harmony that God has intended for all creation from the beginning. Concerning the dynamics of marriage, Pope Francis then applies this to the social implications of work, home life, and individual dignity and respect that relates to husband and wife. Drawing on the social or vocational use of “complementarity,” Pope Francis appears to be suggesting that just because one spouse is a “man” and one spouse is a “woman” doesn’t mean that either should be restricted to some preconceived social or vocational role, a static view illustrated by “women stay at home,” for instance, and “men go to the office.”

In this sense, the social or vocational use of “complementarity” by Pope Francis should signal a positive step forward. Culturally and, in some parts of the world, civilly, women are not recognized as having comparable standing in the eyes of the law, their spouses, or perhaps even God. Pope Francis is calling for a more-capacious sense of the social setting and valuation of individual gifts and responsibilities of all women and men, and this is something about which to rejoice for sure.

However, this is not the only way that “complementarity” is being used this week at the conference. Insofar as the title of the gathering, “complementarity of man and woman,” means this social parity that Pope Francis is alluding to – then I suppose this is perfectly fine. But this is simply not the case.

The Ontological Sense of ‘Complementarity’

The other way that “complementarity” is being used – or, perhaps better put, being presupposed – is ontologically as the foundation for the operative theological anthropology undergirding much, if not all, of the discussion.

As I sought to show in a scholarly article published in the journal Theological Studies last March (“Beyond Essentialism and Complementarity: Toward a Theological Anthropology Rooted in Haecceitas), the traditional theological categories of essentialism and complementarity, which are often presented as intended by God as illustrated in the Book of Genesis, are deeply problematic. Theologians, philosophers, and critical theorists have shown over the years that the ontological presupposition of complementarity – which basically amounts to a metaphysical “separate but equal” stance – is actually a paradigm that necessarily subordinates one biological sex or gender to the other according to a framework of hierarchical dualism. In this sense, there is no true egalitarian view of the human person, but instead a reinscribed ordering of persons.

The operative theological anthropology that grounds the theme of this week’s conference is one that is deeply committed to an ontological view of both gender essentialism and complementarity that goes deeper than Pope Francis’s admirable call for social equality in recognition of our complementary gifts and vocations.

As Joshua McElwee reports in the National Catholic Reporter, the other speakers that followed Pope Francis were defending this ontological sense of “complementarity.”

German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke after the pontiff and focused his remarks on the male and female imagery found in the creation stories of Genesis.

Tying the imagery of the Adam and Eve in the Genesis story to mankind’s relationship with God, Müller stated: “When we forget sexual difference, then it becomes difficult to understand the marriage bond between God and his people.”

Here the discussion is fundamentally one focused on “sexual” and “gender” differences, which concretize certain supposed immutable roles. Like Müller, Sr. M. Prudence Allen, another speaker, criticized the questioning of these ontological presuppositions of complementarity. McElwee reports:

In her remarks, Allen warned against gender and sex ideology, which she said were founded on “deceptive methods.”

Those ideologies, she said, “distort the true equal dignity and difference of women and men.”

“Like a cancerous cell these ideologies grow, often obliterating the true meaning of marriage,” Allen said.

In brief, one of the most pressing problems with this worldview is the equating of an individual’s dignity, value, and human identity with his or her biological sex or gender. Yes, there are differences, but in what is our human dignity grounded?

There are other theological resources in the Christian tradition that do not rely so heavily on the Aristotelian teleology of, for example, Thomas Aquinas’s thirteenth-century scientific and philosophical worldview. It is this sort of framework that continues to govern so much of our theological anthropology and subsequent ethics. In the article mentioned above, I propose at least one possible orthodoxy alternative to this grounded in the insights of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher. But there are also others to consider, including ones more compatible with our increasing knowledge of humanity and the world from natural and social sciences, psychology, and other fields. Many of today’s most pressing theological and pastoral questions are tied to a theological anthropology desperately in need of renewal in light of our Christian theological tradition and the advances in human knowledge of the last several centuries. Some of these questions include the role of women in the church, the meaning of human sexuality, our relationship to the rest of creation, and so on.

While Pope Francis’s call for more social parity in terms of recognizing the complementarity of every person’s vocation, there is still a need to address the deeper ontological subject of complementarity in our theological understanding of the human person. And I don’t think that’s going to happen in Rome this week.

This post has been concurrently posted at America Magazine

Resisting “Doctrinal Docetism” after the Synod

Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

3455beatificati_00000002738This column originally appeared in the November 24 issue of America magazine with the title, “Avoiding Absolutism.”

Among the subjects of debate and ostensible controversy that arose during the 2014 Synod on the Family and continue in its wake, one in particular captured my attention: whether doctrine can change or develop. The answer is: it certainly does develop. It always has.

One of the synod participants, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, said publicly toward the end of the synod that church doctrine, “doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time.” He added, “The core of the Catholic Church remains the Gospel, but have we discovered everything?”

Cardinal Marx’s question echoes his prelate predecessor Blessed John Henry Newman (d. 1890), who wrote the now-classic text, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman engaged this question about the possibility of change and development in the church’s teaching and affirmed that, both historically and theologically, doctrine indeed develops. Newman goes on to say that doctrinal developments were not only natural, but also intended by the Creator. Newman writes that many of the core Christian doctrines…

cannot be fully understood at once, but are more and more clearly expressed and taught the longer they last—having aspects many and bearings many, mutually connected and growing one out of another, and all parts of a whole, with a sympathy and correspondence keeping pace with the ever-changing necessities of the world, multiform, prolific, and ever resourceful….

The central theme here is that though we may speak abstractly about a “deposit of faith” that is eternal and remains unchanging, we finite human beings do not understand the full meaning of these teachings immediately. We come to a fuller understanding of our faith with time, experience and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was true going back to the pre-New Testament kerygma the (early preaching of the apostles), through the earliest ecumenical councils, through the Second Vatican Council and beyond.

The church teachings on usury, slavery and religious freedom are often invoked to illustrate this development. But there is also a clear development—in Newman’s sense of fuller understanding and clarification—of even the most fundamental dogmatic statements of our faith. If there could be heated debates about the consubstantiality of the Son and Father on the path toward doctrinal definition during the first Christian centuries, then many of the allegedly “nonnegotiable” themes discussed at the synod may be fair game too.

As Thomas Reese, S.J., reminded us in an article in The National Catholic Reporter on Oct. 7, this way of thinking about doctrine in static, objective and absolute terms is a return to what the theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J., called the classicist approach to theology, which misunderstands the authentic development of doctrine and disregards historical consciousness.

The reduction of church teaching to propositional claims alone is a sort of doctrinal Docetism—a misguided belief that faith claims simply “appeared” from above without any historical grounding. Just as the Christological heresy of the same name denied that Jesus Christ was truly human, asserting instead that he was only divine and appeared from heaven without any tie to creation, so too doctrinal Docetism is an outlook that denies the development of Christian doctrine as humans seek to understand their faith more fully. The truth is that God did not send us a pre-existing book, a “cosmic catechism” from heaven that states clearly and completely the unchanging “deposit of faith.” Just as Scripture must be interpreted in order to understand its fuller sense, so too sacred tradition must be interpreted and develop over time for us to understand its fuller meaning.

It is important to remember that many of the early council fathers and others over the centuries entered the councils with views that would anachronistically be called “heretical,” only to come out with those same views ultimately declared orthodox. We must trust in the Holy Spirit and be open to the possibility that we do not yet understand the fullness of our faith. We have so much more to learn and discover.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton (2014).

Photo: File

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
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