Wednesday, November 15, 2017
MAINTAINING ONE'S FAITH IN A DIVISIVE WORLD AND CHURCH FUELED BY THE NEW MEDIA
Most Catholics want peace of mind as it concerns their Faith. Authentic Catholicism insists on the common good and the individual acquiescing it over their own needs.
With all the internet chatter that divides the world, our country and alas our Church, wouldn't it be better to be less informed of all the controversies and more informed about turning to God in prayer which leads to an increase of faith, hope and love? Right now in the Church there seems to be so much faithlessness, hopelessness and hatred.
In the past, as it concerned secular news that had a smidgen of religious news, most people got their news from their local newspaper, five minute reports on the radio at the top of the hour and the evening national news which until the late 1960's was 15 minutes for the three major networks. Yes, you read that correctly, 15 minutes of Huntley/Brinkley and the CBS Evening News. I think ABC didn't even have a news department.
And that was plenty of news for the average American to be well informed.
Today we have all kinds of news sources which aren't unbiased accounts of the news, be it secular or religious, but rather mostly commentary and opinion. And it is scripted on the 24 hour a day news channels. Thus agendas and division are increased by the one writing the script.
My suggestion for Catholic news is simply read the National Catholic Register and to balance it, the National Catholic Reporter.
Most of all, I would focus on Catholic prayer and devotions, Sunday Mass and placing all in the hands of our God as the Lord's prayer directs us, "...they Kingdom come, thy will be done..." With that you can't go wrong and you will be at peace.
Oh, and participate in your parish life and not its politics.
Posted by Fr. Allan J. McDonald at Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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"Authentic Catholicism insists on the common good and the individual acquiescing it over their own needs."
To me, the most important sentence of the entire piece. Authenticity and all that flows forth from it brings that sense of security and peace. Without universal authenticity, tribalism with its accompanying disagreements, carping, frustrations, distractions, hurtfullness, apathy, vindictiveness etc. results.
I'm sure Anonymous, who always seems to be lying-in-wait, will pounce on this providing that much needed and eagerly anticipated correction telling me that nothing is wrong, its all in the heads of those that comment on this right-wing ghetto that we hide within and he/she doesn't know any Catholics who feel this way. I will continue to argue, however, that stats for the reception of sacraments, participation in the life of the Church, bypassing a Catholic funeral liturgy for the deceased, church/seminary/convent closures, mergers and shortages would beg to differ.
I don’t disagree at all with the sentiments and perspective expressed in Father McDonald’s posting. But to the extent that we cannot avoid participating in “politics,” if only by voting, isn’t much of the problem also due to the fact that people will disagree about what they read in the sources identified in that posting, not to mention about what the Church teaches in the Catechism, the documents of Vatican II, papal encyclicals, and the USCCB document on “Faithful Citizenship,” all of which seem to be ordered to furthering the true dignity of the person in the context of promoting the common good? And this disagreement can originate across the spectrum of “political” views, depending on the issue in question. So, how does one best address this type of disagreement about Church teaching/guidance?
To the extent there exists this type of disagreement about such Church teaching/guidance (and hence disagreement with one another), wouldn’t we do much better to address such disagreement in face-to-face conversations rather than electronic ones, and also to have other in-person interactions with each another? Isn’t it much more difficult to demonize or dehumanize people we have actually met and come to know? In such personal encounters wouldn’t we learn (or perhaps better put, re-learn) how to disagree without being disagreeable?
If this seems more or less right, what are the different ways in which a parish can best put such an idea/approach into actual practice? Proper spiritual preparation for such personal encounters, along the lines of what Father McDonald proposes in his penultimate paragraph, would seem critical, but beyond this how can or should a parish best encourage and structure such personal encounters?
"... turning to God in prayer which leads to an increase of faith...". But what faith are we talking about? The one that views adultery as in Germany and Malta, or the one as in Poland? It seems the current Church wants different faiths for different times and places.
The Catholic Faith is in the public square contained in the Deposit of Faith and the CCC. There is nothing hidden that any rank and file Catholic can't find. The pope and bishops have no inside track on the truth and they can't change reveal truth--all Catholics should know this. They can explain it better and popes and councils can elevate doctrine to dogma but they can't demote dogmas. For example the Immaculate Conception was always a doctrine of the Church as was the Assumption but two popes elevated these to the level of dogma, revealed truth. They didn't make it up, there was a basis of belief for this from the early Church fathers.
Anon2, Ah, yes, the theology of personal encounter. This pseudo-existentialist/theological nonsense was everywhere when I was in seminary and grad school. Saint Rodney King..."why can't we just all get along," as he resisted arrest and sped through busy streets and neighborhoods endangering the lives of citizens and law enforcement. I envision doe-eyed coeds sighing and pleading, "If we just got to know each other we could all get along." Subjective/humanistic theology at its best...and this is all it has to offer. So, what if you are having a face to face conversation with a clever sociopath who manipulates you into his/her good graces. all the while planning to, use you? Psychopaths and serial killers are often charming, well-groomed, and articulate...but, moving away from extremes (or are we) why converse or try to become friends with a hardened atheist or Leftist? We may treat them civilly and respect their legal rights, but why become actively involved with them, unless you are attempting to convert them, and this is a dubious endeavor after a certain point. Review the Second Letter of John, verses 10-11: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine (of Jesus Christ), do not even greet him for you share his wicked work." Christology, not subjectivity, should be primary in theology. The Word, Revelation, Faith move from God to man and not vice versa. You cannot begin with getting along, being nice, and friendly conversations and get to God.
Anonymous 2, I think you have some good points, and I think that the politicization of all aspects of like, including morality and doctrine are problematic. Ultimately, this has a tendency to turn everything into a zero sum game where "my side" is right and "your side" is wrong, regardless of the situation. The current situation with Roy Moore is a good example of this in action, I think. What he is accused of is indefensible, just as it was when Bill Clinton did it. This is a moral issue that transcends political positions so that "our guy" doesn't get a pass when he engages in the conduct simply because he may hold positions with which I agree. [I am not a fan of Roy Moore, personally.]
As for the impact on doctrine, I think that you have, perhaps inadvertently, raised the principle issue that I find problematic in our times. Namely, your statements seem to rest on the idea that the Church's teachings are somehow difficult to locate and understand. Given all the resources and doctrinal statements, it should not be the case that it is difficult to find out what the Catholic Church teaches. Perhaps it is difficult to follow it, and some people will refuse to do so. But the dissolution of doctrinal solidity is a greater threat than the inability of people to follow the teaching once it is known because the latter is a problem and struggle for the individual believer while the former implicates and undermines the teaching authority of the Church.
In other words, whatever the Catholic Church teaches on some issue should be clear. It is then to the individual to either believe it or not. At the present, though, we rarely get to the individual belief because we must first wade through the question what the actual teaching is. I propose that such a situation is actually antithetical to the very mission of the Church, for if her teachings cannot be known, the Church is essentially useless.
I agree that the extreme situation of the psychopath/sociopath is a problem, likely an intractable one, and I have identified it as such in my own writing on the subject of dialogue or conversation. However, I would suggest that everything else you say is really an excuse for not engaging.
Moreover, I believe that God does indeed act in mysterious ways, and this includes within the structure of personal encounter. Such encounter may directly address issues of Faith, or provide a predicate for doing so in a subsequent encounter at a more opportune time by helping to correct misconceptions we may have about each other. But if you cut yourself off from others you have already dismissed as “hardened” whatever, you have eliminated one possible avenue/vehicle for this mysterious divine action.
One clue to all this is provided by the way people respond in natural disasters. In such circumstances no-one cares, nor should they, whether the person who helps them, or whom they help, belongs to another political party, is of another religion, or even whether they are in the United States illegally, etc. Instead they just appreciate the humanity of the other person (or perhaps better put, the God-given humanity of the other person).
I am not an expert theologian like you, so I cannot quote a rebuttal to or contextualize your quote from John but I am sure there are those who can, including, one suspects, all those popes who have emphasized the importance of dialogue. My intuition tells me, though, that Satan must be very pleased by a refusal of such personal encounter. I am sure he is gratified even more than Putin by our tribalism and divisiveness, most especially within the Church.
I am not persuaded that the problem is the difficulty of discovering Church teaching/guidance. The problem seems to me to be more due to many people not accepting it, anywhere along a spectrum ranging from the sedevacantist at one extreme to the ultra-progressive at the other exteme.
Anonymous 2, perhaps you're right. It is interesting to me that you place sedevacantists on the spectrum. I am fascinated by the sedevacantist phenomenon; whereas, the ultra-progressives hold no interest for me since they are basically unbelievers. That the sedevacantists can hold so firmly to what they perceive to be the papal doctrines boggles my mind since the much simpler explanation is that those doctrines simply weren't true in the first place. I was about to say that I admire their faith, but I'm not certain that what they have is properly characterized as faith.
At any rate, I certainly agree with you that it is not difficult to discover what the Church teaches. Yet, somehow over the years on this blog, we have had many, many discussions about that very topic where those on your side claim the Church teaches one thing and those on my side claim the Church teaches another thing. And both of us are able to support our views with purportedly authoritative documentation.
One of the things I have often said is that, to be a good homilist, one must know very well what the Church teaches AND what the Church does not teach.
Not a few times I have heard what I know to be exaggerations and erroneous claims made by those who believed they were explaining doctrine.
One of those areas is the historicity of Adam and Eve. I'm not going to argue it again - most everyone knows that I understand the Creation Accounts to be mythology.
The teaching of our Church on the relationship of our Church to other Christian denominations (ecumenism) and to non-Christian religions (interreligious relations) is another area where we have here disagreed. It's not always as clear a one individual may want/need want it to be.
We proof-text with doctrinal statements as some do with Biblical verses.
Anon 2, It is a matter of with whom you choose to be engaged. I am very engaged in the Faith in various ways. However, I do not waste my time with confirmed enemies of the Church and the Faith itself. The Letters of John speak for themselves very plainly. The context is pretty clear...in fact, it could not be any more clear. The Church and the Faith are similarly under attack today and we are dealing with the same kinds of issues...indeed, the issue has always been the same...unbelief and all the behaviors and consequences that follow from it. You have a far rosier view of human nature than I do...you are basically a humanist. This is fine as a philosophy, but it is bad theology. As an attorney, I would think you had ample evidence of a more Calvinistic/Jansenist understanding of original sin. Humanism bothers me so much because it it often the final refuge...the only refuge...for those who have succumbed to doubt and submerged revealed theology beneath an existentialist/immanence theology...not to mention that humanism, although the only way for secularists to live authentically, offers nothing in the way of ultimate meaning or purpose for the Creation. We simply exist on Arnold's "darkling plain," listening to Sophocles' pebbles being tossed and washed upon the beach. That just doesn't do it for me.
Perhaps it all comes down to how one views authority. I am not prepared to second guess more recent official statements in the way that some are by invoking earlier official statements to challenge their validity or legitimacy. I have more trust that those members of the hierarchy who are far more learned than I am in Church teaching and hermeneutics know what they are doing and that the later pronouncements can indeed be reconciled with the earlier ones. Perhaps in this sense at least my faith is just simpler.
Therefore, I accept Vatican II and I accept papal encyclicals, whether it be Humanae Vitae or Laudato Si, and I accept what the U.S. Bishops teach about the treatment of immigrants, for example. Perhaps technically, some of these pronouncements are not absolutely binding on Catholics, but who am I to substitute my judgment for that of the Pope of that of the Bishops?
And I do not question this attitude by spinning unrealistic hypotheticals along the lines of “What if the Pope [fill in the blank with your preferred horrible or even a whole parade of them]?”
Of course, this does not mean that I succeed in ordering my life as these various authoritative sources call for me to do, for I am sinner just like everyone else.
I will not reject the label of humanist except that I would add the word Christian before it. This is a very important distinction, supported by a venerable tradition in the Catholic Church. And I am personally well acquainted with original sin. I do not understand the two notions to be necessarily incompatible.
Well our joke in seminary used to be that Christian Humanist was an oxymoron. LOL! Humanism sees mankind as inherently good. Christians see the Creation as good, but man as inherently flawed and the reason the Creation is screwed up. There is no theo-logical way to get these two things together. Christians are oriented toward their fellow man by Christ's command and example, not because of their goodness, rather because of their need for salvation. So, Christianity sees secularism's humanism and raises the ante. But, if I were not a Christian, I would be a humanist of the Kantian stripe...to live as if in a "Kingdom of Ends," such that we treat every person is a meaningful "end" in themselves. The duty to abide by and implement this (part of the Categorical Imperative) should be the guiding factor from the halls of government all the way down to the family and individual. For me, this is the only kind of "humanism" that makes sense and is systematically sound. I had a Mercer philosophy professor who once said that Kant's "duty ethic," warts and all, is the closest thing to a "Christian ethic" you will find in philosophical thought." This gets argued a lot, but I believe he was correct. Maybe we should have lunch one day, after all. It is getting harder to find good conversations like this.
Anonymous 2, I agree that it comes down to how one views authority. If one does not understand or care about the different levels of authority that underlie the various sorts of documents the Church issues, then one will simply put them on the same plane and/or take the most recent statement as the authoritative conclusion. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that: since there are different levels of teaching authority, the recency of a document has no necessary bearing on the authority of the document. There is a pretty clear methodology set out for the evaluation of the teachings, and this methodology is not some secret method that is only available to the hierarchy, as you suggest. Furthermore, it is not the case that the hierarchy are necessarily more learned than laity in comprehending the Church's teachings.
It is fine to say that you accept Vatican II and papal encyclicals. Of course, you should recognize that saying that doesn't actually mean anything since there were papal encyclicals prior to Vatican II that seem to say things different than papal encyclicals after Vatican II. It is not a matter of substituting individual judgment over the pope and the bishops, it is a matter of recognizing that there were popes and bishops before the present pope and bishops and understanding the necessity of being in communion with the Church both of the present and of the past.
That you think hypotheticals about the limits of papal authority are "unrealistic" further demonstrates the underlying error of your methodology. Such thought experiments don't undermine the legitimate teaching authority as expounded by the papal doctrines, but they probe at the limits of that authority so as to ascertain its boundaries. That is worthwhile since the boundaries are so often tested by errors that lead to papal positivism, which can be antithetical to the mission of the papacy and the teaching authority of the Church.
Please do not misunderstand me here: I think that simplicity in the faith is a good thing. But I also think that continuity over time is important. I think that many people would benefit from an explanation of how the present merges with the past. I recognize that Kavanaugh's argument from development is a legitimate argument according to Catholic principles, but that doesn't obviate the need to explain how that development occurred.
For example, I am sure that many would appreciate an explanation of how we got from Mortalium animos to Unitatis redintegratio. Providing that sort of hermeneutical exegesis of the development is worthwhile, in my opinion, and many in these comments have requested such an explanation over the years. It is all the more important now because we simple laity need an explanation how we got from Familiaris consortio to Amoris laetitia. Questioning the continuity of things that appear to lack continuity is not substituting one's judgment for that of the pope or bishops: it is a recognition that the popes and bishops have historically phrased their teachings specifically to emphasize their continuity with the past. It is a reasonable Catholic response to seek continuity with the past because the Church operates through time and not as an organization with an oracle dictating new ideas from the top down.
I agree with you about Kant, although I am not sure I could be a “pure Kantian” but would have to add an Aristotelian dose of practical wisdom to the mix.
As for Christian humanism, I have just come across the following three-part article, which is as clear and powerful a statement of Christian humanism, properly understood, as one could wish to find and with which I completely agree:
If there is anything in the article that conflicts with Catholic teaching, I hope that one of the good Fathers will let us know that. I do not see any conflict myself.
One idea articulated in the article that struck me is that we are not so much depraved as we are deprived. Perhaps the core of the author’s carefully and well-reasoned argument is captured in the following passage:
“There are two senses, then, in which human beings are glorious. First, in spite of our wretchedness due to sin, we are still and nevertheless God’s image and likeness. That image and likeness in us is damaged, broken, even shattered, but not destroyed by sin. James 3:9 warns against cursing fellow human beings because they are made in God’s own likeness. That isn’t specific to Christians; all people are made in God’s likeness and still possess special dignity and worth because of that status.
“The second sense in which human beings are glorious is God’s desire and intention and effort to transform them into even more than just creatures possessing his image and likeness. God wants to elevate them, us, to participation in his own being as love. The apostle Paul talked in 2 Corinthians 3:18 about we, God’s people, presumably Christians, being transformed from one degree of glory to another—a progressive process of taking in, by God’s grace and power, with our cooperation of faith, God’s own being—love.
“These two biblical truths form part of the foundation of Christian humanism. But they are too often neglected by those who love to insult and demean humanity thinking thereby they are giving God more glory—as if glory were a zero-sum game, a finite pie, there’s only so much to go around.”
What do you think of the article?
I too am enjoying the conversation on this thread and would be very happy to continue over lunch.
Thank you for your detailed response. I agree with you about the difference between levels of authority and I agree with you about the importance of continuity. You may also recall that I have in the past suggested tackling some of these hermeneutical challenges in a group study. But, I hasten to add, that for me any such study carries with it a presumption of correctness of the more recent pronouncements (rooted in trust of and deference to legitimate authority). Look on it as an application of “credo ut intelligam” if you will.
Anonymous 2, I think you would be interested in considering something called the Restored Icon model of redemption. Essentially, this model posits that people are made in the image of God (icons). As a result of the fall, this icon was damaged and dirtied. Christ became incarnate, suffered, died, and rose again to restore us, the icon. Just as an art restorer does not scrap the original work and start over since he still recognizes some goodness in the work, Christ comes to restore us without scrapping us completely. Christ is uniquely able to do so since he is himself the icon of God the Father. Not only that, Christ raises us above the state of our original creation through his incarnation so that we can participate in the divine life for eternity.
Anon 2, I read Olson's article and it is a very good summation of Christian Humanism, which I still believe is an oxymoron. Tangentially, and in response to his criticism of the more Augustininan/Calvinist theologians and their iconoclastic views, the most renowned modern Reformed theologian and enemy of Christian humanism, Karl Barth, was a Renaissance art lover, a musician, and a Mozart freak. Olson paints with too broad a brush. One can love and appreciate the marvelous creations of the Renaissance and the wonderful music of Mozart, Bach, Scarlatti, and others without building a theology around them.
Rather than continue an unproductive argument about just how depraved we are, let's look at it from another angle. My professor in the History of Christian Doctrine, Wilhelm Pauck (the last of the great European theologians and a Reformation scholar) summed up the conflict between liberal theology (wherein I would locate Christian humanism) and Reformed and Augustinian Catholic theology by explaining it this way. "There is a discontinuity (his favorite term) between God and man, between God's revelation and our understanding, between faith and reason, and between Christology and anthropology. The fundamental theological issue since Augustine has been just how wide is this chasm, this discontinuity (this is directly from my yellowed noted)."
On my end, the chasm is vast...unbridgeable from man's side...no study of nature, no burnishing of human good deeds, no Cosmological,Teleological, or Ethical philosophical argument can give us an inkling of the Incarnation or God's Grace. All theology is Christology; at some point for the Christian, philosophy must become Christology for any sense to be made of the world, evil, and any ultimate meaning. Revelation, "the stone thrown from above" as clever critics like to snort, gives us not only our knowledge of God, but our self-understanding, our faith, and our ethical imperative. Calvin and Barth (and Luther, to a lesser extent) have been called "Christological Totalitarians." Put me in their camp, theologically.
On the other extreme, we have liberal theology, which posits in man, to a lesser or greater degree, some faculty that predisposes us to Revelation...an inner light, some capacity for understanding God's will and purpose apart from God's initiative. There are many versions of this...Christian existentialism (living authentically, whatever that is, points us to Christ), Christian Rationalism (a la Daniel Day Williams...not the actor), which is self-explanatory, etc. There is a definite break in the "discontinuity" here. There is a bridge over the chasm, built from man's end. Christian humanism is located firmly within this camp. There is in humanity a "goodness" that goes beyond the goodness posited by God's creation. Very subtly, and based more upon Enlightenment philosophy than upon Biblical theology, humanity becomes increasingly beatified through anecdotal evidence of good works, great accomplishments, and remarkable creations in art, music,literature, and philanthropy. This theology has an anthropological premise...it is possible to start with man and get to God.
The Catholic Church is comprised of both camps. This is both a plus and a minus. Fr. MacDonald speaks of the Church's "large umbrella" which is true. But, there are pitfalls here. That is another discussion. (See if Fr. has my email and email me with your contact info. Next time I'm in Macon maybe we can have coffee or lunch.)
From the EWTN website, here are some clear thoughts about the trajectory from Mortalium Animos to Unitatis Redentigratio
Michael Dunnigan on 11-28-2000:
Because I partly solicited this response from you, I am posting it. However, because this is a Q&A forum, rather than a discussion forum, I expect that this will be the final response that I post on this subject.
In the passage of "Mortalium animos" that you quote (no. 2), there is indeed some doctrinal content. This content includes the rejection of INDIFFERENTISM, the belief that all religions equally can lead to salvation. If Pope John Paul II had taught that all religions are equal or are equal paths to salvation, then there would indeed be a contradiction in doctrine. However, he, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has recently taught the exact opposite, namely the unicity of the Catholic Church ("Dominus Iesus" [6 Aug. 2000]).
There is a difference between DOCTRINE and the APPLICATION of doctrine to concrete circumstances. I believe that the quotation from Pope Leo XIII in my post of yesterday makes this point nicely.
For example, when the Church rejects a certain theological opinion as heretical, this is a matter of doctrine. However, when the Church pronounces as to how a heretic is to be treated, this is a matter of administration or governance or discipline. I would take issue with your reference to "mere discipline." Discipline is important and must be followed by all Catholics. However, it simply has a different character than doctrine.
In "Mortalium animos," Pius XI is referring to the Pan-Christian movement, whose assemblies, he says are founded on indifferentism. One way to read this passage is the way that you read it: all meetings of Catholics with non-Catholics are NECESSARILY founded on indifferentism. However, another way to read it is as follows: IF a movement is based on indifferentism, THEN it is illicit for Catholics to participate in it. I think that this latter reading is more plausible than your own. The reason is that your position implies that it is IMPOSSIBLE for Catholics and non-Catholics to gather together without that gathering being founded upon indifferentism. I do not believe that Pius XI goes so far. (N.B. The position that many papal pronouncements can be understood as "If . . ., then . . ." propositions was developed by Patrick O'Neil in "A Response to John T. Noonan" Faith & Reason [Spring 1996], available in EWTN's Document Library.)
Another important distinction that one should draw is between what Pius XI personally may have BELIEVED and what he actually PROPOSED as Catholic doctrine. (Fr. Brian Harrison draws this distinction in his book "Religious Liberty and Contraception" [Melbourne: Pope John XXIII Fellowship Co-op., 1988].)
You may be correct that Pope Pius XI BELIEVED that all assemblies among non-Catholics and Catholics were necessarily indifferentist. However, I do not believe that he actually PROPOSED this as Catholic doctrine. As a result, your position depends on what you assert was a "clear belief of this Pope." These beliefs bind the Church only if Pius actually proposed them as doctrine. YOU say that "all such assemblies" are founded on indifferentism, but PIUS did not actually say this. In fact, I believe that nos. 1 & 2 of the encyclical make clear that he is addressing the deficiencies of a particular movement that had become popular during his pontificate.
Finally, to return to the distinction between discipline and doctrine, a prohibition on Catholics attending certain meetings simply is not the type of statement that the Church recognizes as doctrinal. I made this point yesterday by noting that Pius uses the language of law and discipline rather than the language of teaching. You will recall that faulty theological opinions traditionally received "theological censures" to indicate how serious the error was: "heresy" was the most serious, "proximate to heresy" was the next most serious, "seductive of simple minds" was a lesser censure, and the mildest censure was "offensive to pious ears." Note that Pius does not use any of these theological censures in the encyclical. As a result, I believe that it is quite clear that the ban on Catholics attending inter-faith gatherings was disciplinary rather than doctrinal.
Moreover, I again commend to everyone the CDF's new Declaration "Dominus Iesus." This document shows that it is possible both to emphasize the points of unity among Christians, as Vatican II does in "Lumen gentium" and "Unitatis redintegratio," and also to reaffirm the Church's teaching that the Catholic Church is unique as the sole Church founded by Christ.
Yes, I do like the image of the icon. Thank you for sharing it.
Thank you for your very detailed and enlightening explanation. Of course, I do have some quibbles but we can continue the discussion when we meet. I will email Father McDonald to get your email address and then I will email you as you suggest.
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