Saturday, 31 July 2010

A Word from a Reformer

St. Angela of Foligno

There is nothing in Canada's secular newspaper the National Post Religion Blog to suggest it cannot be ecumenical or is restricted to one religion. In fact, the invitation to 'get down on your knees and blog' clearly states that "this section is intended as a forum for everyone who has an interest in today's great religious issues. You will find a range of commentary on religion and society, intercine(?) battles within faith and the meaning and purpose of religious beliefs and observance. All views are welcome and being religious is not a requirement to join in the comment sections." However, its articles and views often appear to have a particular Roman Catholic interest sparking a variety of debates. It even has acquired a 'resident' Roman Catholic priest. Perhaps we could now invite a representative from each major religion.

If the Catholic Church seems to be a frequent target, in this blog, it is only because many people, Catholic or otherwise. are directly and indirectly affected by its global influence and exposure. You don't have to be Catholic to notice Pro-Life rally's, to be aware of its position on gays, abortion, etc. and its ongoing demand to impose legislation of its particular brand of ethics and morals throughout the country. The fall-out of these issues affect everyone. It should not come as a surprise that some of these views are going create battles within the faith when they conflict with inherited beliefs.

Some of the issues raised in Charles Lewis' recent article 'Dear Catholic reformers: thanks for the advice, really' suggests that the Catholic who does not share the Orthodox view of the Church is 'free to go'. We know that many have. But does the Church belong only to the conservatives? Where would you draw the line? How would you know? And, finally who would decide? A religion based on such criteria is better known as a cult. Religion that 'grows like wildfire' due to the strict observance of orthodoxy will not survive. History has shown it will be quickly taken over by more evangelical religions such as is happening in South America. The Church may continue to resist change or reformation, but change is the way of the Spirit.

Statistics reveal that today, in North America, there are more lay people (especially women) studying theology then members of the clergy in our seminaries. This represents a major shift in what was once, and until recently, considered to be the exclusive domain of the clergy. Educated lay people are learning today that matters of religion belong to them as much as it does to the institution. While this may be seen by some, especially the clergy, a serious assault on their authority, it does not really need to be so. When scripture tells us that the 'body of Christ' is made up of many parts we need to consider sharing our combined and unique God given gifts for the good of building his Kingdom.

What the Catholic Church is experiencing is a challenge to its authority. But that challenge is no different than it was for Peter and Paul on the question of circumcision. A wise spiritual advisor once said "A Church in crisis is a church alive"! The battle between 'conservative' and 'liberal' was every bit as intense between rivalling Bishops at Vatican II. At times it was even vicious! Just read O'Malley's book What Happened at Vatican II. Change is inevitable – Jesus said it was even necessary if we were to experience transformation- it's called metanoia or repentance.

We may not all be experts on matters of religion but our unique experience of God cannot be denied. Nor should this experience be dependent on fixed formulas or legal requirements. God meets us where we are – not where someone or an institution would have us be. There is the mystery! Vatican II teaches that while Dogma and doctrine can inspire and guide us it must never become the substitute for an informed conscience in Christ.

In recent years the Catholic Church has indicated a desire to return to a more predictable understanding of the 'faith'. This has been expressed in various documents such as 'Dominus Jesus' (2000), Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993), Canon Law 1983). Some of these documents contain wonderful scriptural interpretations, but they all reflect a legalistic rather than a 'holistic' approach to religion. This negative approach makes it extremely difficult to encourage any true and honest dialogue among God's people. Instead we become angry and issue forth judgments based on unquestionable teachings of the Church. This attitude leads only to division. Who is in and who is out. Jesus never turned down anyone, that I recall. So, what is really needed is dialogue, not monologue. We need dialogue between clergy and laity and more importantly with God - that requires reformation!

The role of the any religious institution is to bring people into a personal relationship with God. A God, to quote St. Angela of Foligno, who is present in everything that exists, in a devil and a good angel, in heaven and hell, in good deeds and in adultery and murder, in the beautiful and the ugly. So why can't we learn to see him in all those issues that are being presented in the Holy Post Blog. In the end these exchanges must lead us to grow in our faith and not force us to pour new wine into old wine skins.

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