Wednesday, 22 October 2008

On the Question of Apologetics

My initial interest in the Catholic tradition was sparked by the enthusiasm and openness of Vatican II. One of the key phrases uttered by our pastor at one of the initial RCIA sessions was “the Catholic Church does not hold the corner on the faith market”. The simplicity and truth of this statement will remain with me forever. It eased the transition from one religious tradition to another. It did not diminish or exclude my Protestant background and more importantly my paternal/maternal families.

What a disappointment it has been to see this Church once again make exclusive claims such as “there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994 --paragraph 846) followed by the Compendium of the Catechism (2005 --article 171). As such the Church has signaled a desire to completely reverse the pastoral views introduced by Vatican II. Similarly the Congration for Doctrine Faith’s 2000 document Dominus Iesus claims that followers of religions other than Christianity are “in gravely deficient situation” with regard to salvation of their souls. While more recently the new Roman Missal awaiting approval by our Canadian Bishops pushes the question of salvation back even further. If accepted, Canadian Catholics will be instructed to respond that Jesus came to save "many" instead of the current "all." To quote Sr. Joan Chittister " The theological implications of these changes speaks volumes. Who is it that Jesus did not come to save?"

Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn has stated that God’s revelation came to a close with the death of the last Apostle . This might suggest to some that Jesus died on the cross and did not rise. (Might this be a reason why Catholics have identified with the crucified Christ for so long?) Halleluiah, Christ has risen and is alive! Creation is ongoing and we are his co-creators. God’s gift of faith is a dynamic. It is communion with God through which he reveals himself to us daily. We only have to listen with the ear of our heart! God is alive and well and resides in the heart of each human being (aka the divine indwelling). Whether or not we chose to listen – is His gift of freedom. What an incredible gift considering that so often we choose to do things our own selfish way – and yet he continues to love us.
On the matter of Papal Primacy and Succession I find myself asking these questions. Was Jesus (and his apostles) not born, and raised as a Jew? Did he not die as a Jew? Did he give up his own Jewish tradition in favour of an institutional substitute bearing his name? To suggest that he told Peter to build a church complete with a hierarchical structure and all its trappings profoundly contradicts Jesus’ temptation in the desert where he rejected such earthly kingdoms of the world. More importantly, Jesus came to save ALL and is unlikely to have demanded that membership to a particular religion was necessary to experience his promise of salvation or live out a life based on his kingdom values.
The word ‘church’ is not found in the original Greek version of the Bible. The original Greek term Ekklesia meant assembly or community and is much more compatible with Jesus’ intent to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth. A kingdom based on compassion, understanding, equality, etc., as illustrated through his many parables which many of his disciples did not understand. For me Jesus came to teach us a way to live communally in peace and harmony, to bring healing and forgiveness.
Leadership in any community is essential. Leadership guided by the Holy Spirit would be ideal. God chooses his people not because of their strengths but because of their weaknesses and their desire to trust in the Spirit. Apostolic Succession as interpreted by our Catholic Church suggests that the power is the exclusive right of the hierarchy. Apostolic succession or the carrying forth of the Good News is the happy duty of every individual created by God.
Papal Infallibility is a difficult topic and misunderstood by many Catholics. However, Jesus never made claims or suggestions in this direction from any readings I have been able to find in the Bible. In fact, he always deferred directly to God the Father. The Church too must always be the finger pointing to God and never act as the ‘destination’. Jesus said, “What I teach is not my own teaching, but it comes from God who sent me”. Dogma and Doctrine can be helpful tools to help us grasp and understand life’s difficult questions. But ultimately they must lead us to our hearts to bring about transformation and our experience of God’s salvation. Rigid observance or following of Church teachings without consulting our inner experience of God may result in an unhealthy co-dependency for both parties. Who do you trust God or the Church?
Finally, some Catholic apologist havesuggested that God will hasten the end of any Judas type that might occupy the Chair. Does this statement not completely dismiss those Popes in history who enjoyed a generous term on the Chair at the expense of many lives and much cruelty? If God did not stop these individuals it is easier to understand why would he not have intervened in the case of Hitler, Stalin and many other notorious individuals before they unleashed so much pain and suffering onto the world? Incidentally, this same idea was regretfully expressed by a Roman Catholic Apologetic in our parish several years ago.
In conclusion, I recognize that my views on these theological points may differ significantly from those expressed by an expert. And perhaps more alarmingly (to some) may be in direct opposition to official Church teaching. However, I have come to love the God who moves beyond static doctrine and dogma. It is a God who loves all humankind unconditionally, and invites us with all our questions rather than blindly accept prepared answers. Here again I see the Church’s role to guide, not force, and help each other to discover the God within. We are all unique and Holy individuals capable of many unholy actions. The bigger question is should we look at others through their sinful nature (false self) or look for the God within (true self) however deep it may be hidden?

There was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was very cold, bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. The people were very interested. He showed them the uses to which they could put fire—they could cook, could keep them­selves warm, etc. They were so grateful that they had learned the art of making fire. But before they could express their gratitude to the man, he disappeared. He wasn't con that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they were very wise, even wily. Do you know what they did? They had a portrait of the man made and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. The instru­ments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, but there was no fire.

Where's the fire? Where's the love? Where's the drug uprooted from your system? Where's the freedom? This is what spirituality is all about. Tragically, we tend to lose sight of this, don't we? This is what Jesus Christ is all about. But we overemphasized the "Lord, Lord," didn't we? Where's the fire? And if worship isn't leading to the fire, if adoration isn't leading to love, if the liturgy isn't leading to a clearer perception of reality, if God isn't leading to life, of what use is religion except to create more division, more fanaticism, more antagonism?

Anthony de Mello, Awareness, ‘The Land of Love, p. 174-175, Image Books, Toronto, 1992

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