As regular readers of Dating God will certainly know, Holy Name Province recently concluded its 2011 Provincial Chapter. Part of the business of the Chapter was to discuss the future direction of the community of Franciscan friars, looking to the needs of the Church and World then reflecting on what it is we believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to do in response.

In line with this exercise, several speakers were invited to give presentations from their perspectives. One such speaker was the retired professor of ecclesiology and fellow friar Vincent Cushing, OFM. In addition to Vincent’s keynote address, to friars — Joseph Nangle, OFM and Hugh Macsherry, OFM — were invited to give a response.

All the presentations were very good, but I found Joe’s to be particularly striking and believe it to be something very worth sharing with the readers of this blog. It is a prophetic call, following a serious, if direct and honest reading of modern world history. Joe is not the first to offer such observations, but his direct address to his fellow Franciscan brothers, and thereby we might include all Franciscan friars, sisters and all who are inspired by the tradition of Francis of assisi, is well worth considering.

With Joe’s permission I share with you his remarks from the Chapter. He was elected to serve his brothers as a member of the provincial council just a few days later. Oh, and one more thing before you get to the text, this is the 200th post on Dating God! Here’s to 200 more!

Joe Nangle OFM
January 5, 2011

In his address just now Vincent urged us to practice social/cultural analysis as a means of discerning our role and challenges in this place and time of history.

Let me, then, offer such an analysis for your consideration.

During the early years of the 20th Century a regime came into power in a particular European country, a regime dedicated to restoring that country’s preeminence in the world. They looked for and found their “savior” in a demagogue who played on and played into all of the prejudices of that country’s dominant culture. His name was Adolf Hitler.

That Nazi regime concentrated power in the central government; it discriminated and persecuted those who were “different” from the majority: homosexuals, middle eastern people, the physically and mentally challenged; it incarcerated without due process those who objected or disagreed with their agenda.

The major Christian denomination in Germany at that time, the Lutheran Church, reacted to this process in three very different ways:

Its largest segment remained indifferent to this process; they continued to practice their faith, attend church, carry on programs of Christian education without reference to what was happening politically and sociologically in their country;

A second segment became complicit in the new order of things – they delighted in it, celebrated it and in some cases became part of the repressive state of affairs;

Finally, a third and much smaller group in the Lutheran Church became known as the “confessing church” – these were the Bonhoeffers, those who actively opposed Hitler and his policies.

I submit to you, brothers, that we Franciscans stand, together with all of our sisters and brothers in the Catholic and other Christian denominations of the U.S., in a very similar historic place.

In the face of what John Paul II has called a “culture of death”, in this consumeristic, hedonistic, individualistic, militaristic society, where vulnerable and dependent human life is cheapened and even sacrificed, we have the choice to be and to lead indifferent to what is happening around us, or worse, to be complicit with it – or to be a confessing church.

Our Chapter Theme says it all. We do indeed stand at a Crossroads, which I understand to mean danger (that we will take the wrong pathway, or even worse, no pathway at all) and opportunity.

The opportunity is “where our deep longing meets the world’s great need”. Our deep longing, I believe, is for relevance – that our lives have meant something in this time and place, that we have responded rightly to what is happening in our country and church. That longing meets the world’s great need – the need for a truly Gospel witness, for “poets and prophets” as Vincent has put it so well.

History, not to say God, has condemned the overall inertia of the Christian churches in Nazi Germany. How will history – God – judge us, my brothers?



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