Friday, 27 March 2009

On Vatican Challenges

The following letter was mailed today to our Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear Bishops:

I have read your letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, March 19, 2009 as well as his initial letter to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, of March 10, 2009.

I am deeply concerned about the recent events that have so troubled our Church and its leaders and thereby all faithful. At the same time I want to express my disappointment with the two exchanges mentioned above. Archbishop Weisgerber’s response to our Pope is typical of the hierarchical restraints used to adequately deal with the problems that face a fearful church today. From my own personal experience, I find that the Church has failed miserably to "bring reconciliation to those who are estranged from the community of faith".

Church leadership continues to pour new wine into old wine skins. A new way of seeing and communicating with the community of believers is needed. The role of the Church must be seen, in teaching its followers to discover and claim the God within – not outside, isolated and subject to a dominant hierarchy! Reading our Pope’s letter one will immediately detect a strong pre Vatican II Roman Catholic flavor. Far removed from the spirit I embraced as a convert more than twenty-five years ago. Accordingly, I am compelled to respond to our Pope’s words – see bold text in italics below:

Pope’s concern for reconciliation

Many will ask “is Pope Benedict XVI sincere about his desire for reconciliation with groups like Society of St. Pius X *? And, should it not have included the one hundred of more theologians, and other members of the clergy who were silenced or dismissed in the last twenty five years? Compared to the Lefebvrist the latter individuals were ‘punished’ for what now seems a whole lot less. God created us as unique individuals to be bound together through diversity.

*We were told by Vatican officials that the Pope made the decision independently and without consultation or collegialy through his fellow bishops.

“Some groups openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock to before the [Vatican II] Council: as a result, an avalanche of protest was unleashed”

There is very little doubt about Benedict’s position regarding Vatican II. His actions and words, as head of the CDF* and subsequently as Pope, are very clear on this point. There are volumes of books, such as ‘The Rule of Benedict’, by David Gibson that support the Pope’s opposition to much of the Council. More importantly, when the Vatican received an ‘avalanche of protest’, regarding the changes implemented by the Council, why did the Vatican choose to ignore the cry of the people? Or was this simply a matter of imposing convenient hierarchical truths?

“I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility.”

Sadly, millions of Catholics are not listened to or consulted about issues that directly affect their spiritual lives. Many find themselves condemned instead of offered compassion when they expressed their right and duty to challenge Church teachings.

the Church must react by employing her most severe punishment – excommunication – with the aim of calling those thus punished to repent and to return to unity.”

This is probably the most damaging statement made by a Pope since the Spanish Inquisition. A statement made all the more confusing considering it was his predecessor John Paul II who initially excommunicated the Lefebvrists. It begs the question which Pope was right? Additionally the overemphasis on the term 'punishment' revives the old pre Vatican II image of a angry and punishing deity. Jesus never refused those who came to him for healing and understanding. Did Jesus not invited sinners to sit with him and dine? Would Jesus really excommunicate or deny his presence (Eucharist) to us for any reason?

“Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.”

The Church must teach & guide us to be obedient to the Divine Indwelling the very roots from which the tree draws its life. So many Catholics profess faith in the Church but express little trust for the God within. A perfect recipe for co-dependency on both sides.

“the faith is in danger of dying out . . . God is disappearing from the human horizon”

Institutional religion is certainly dying out, witness the dramatic decline in Church attendance/participation worldwide. Recent statistics show that close to ninety percent of people believe in God. The same statistics show that people no longer accept the ‘traditional understanding of God’ and want to experience a strong healthy & responsible faith instead of being spoon fed. Dogma, doctrine and church rules can be helpful when dealing with life’s painfull problems but is no substitute for the ‘real thing’.

“At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate.”

When we label some people as ‘intrinsically evil, or fail to demonstrate God’s understanding & compassion with regard to abortion, responsible use of condoms, prayers for the conversion of the Jews, etc. are we then not attacking them?

"Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh”

I choose this final statement as a typical example of the kind of archaic ‘churchy’ language that people can no longer relate too. The term ‘flesh’ is understood probably by most people, especially clergy, to have sinful sexual connotations. When it is used to define the ego or false self, as I believe St. Paul did, it takes on a much deeper meaning for all humankind and their struggle to die to self.

As a once active and involved Catholic, I stand on the many wonderful Catholic friends and volumes of uplifting authors that continue to inspire me to remain faithful to the Christ within.

Yours in Christ

The following story (not included in the above mailing ) by master story teller Fr. Anthony de Mello, SJ, perhaps best illustrates what I hoped to convey in the above letter to our Canadian Bishops.

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 concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their well-being. He went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention. People were interested there, too, a bit too in­terested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice 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? It is not from lack of religion in the ordinary sense of the word that the world is suffering, it is from lack of love, lack of awareness. I have run into individuals, here and there, who suddenly stum­ble upon this truth: The root of evil [ego or 'false self'*] is within you. As you begin to understand this, you stop making demands on yourself.

* Congregattion for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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