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We’ll see how much of a prophet you are

Wednesday, December 29, 2021 (23:53)

Reaction of a friend to my fictive report (version 1):

Thanks for sharing your draft, Luke. You have an exciting vision. We’ll see how much of a prophet you are-or future generations will. I want to say first of all that I noticed that you’ve given us permission to live with our fears. This is wise and in itself is a symptom of synodical thinking. If you are giving us a wish-list of the Church that the Holy Spirit is calling into being, it does matter that we should be honest to God and to ourselves about our weaknesses. Because whatever goes unacknowledged ends up controlling us without our being aware that we are being controlled.

The Church has so much to learn from how we respond to Jesus’ command in the light of depth psychology and what it has to say about transference. When we love our enemies the Holy Spirit has enabled us to face our fears and love the suppressed shadow within ourselves that we project onto our enemies. An unsynodical Church lives in denial of this.

This giving of permission extends into areas of moral responsibility. You deal with abortion for instance, and stress that responsibility for terminations belongs to society as a whole. I would want to add that women who have asked for a termination need to be given permission to feel a guilt, not imposed from outside, but generated from within their very personal experience of being a pregnant woman. The kind of pro-choice lobby that denies the reality of such an experience, or suggests that its imposed by a male-dominated society fails women in this respect.

With regard to sexuality, the Catholic Church, which has institutionalised celibacy for much of its history, has to attend to the logic of its position. It cannot logically refuse to accomodate homosexual persons on the grounds that same-sex preference is ‘unnatural’, while exalting the single state as somehow ‘natural’. It must learn how to say ‘natural for some’.

My contribution tonight is to stress that the call in Philippians 2 is to have ‘the same mind that was in Christ Jesus’ is a call addressed, not just to individual Catholics, but also to the whole Church. We are to be a Church that humbles itself. The Desert Fathers and Mothers understood this, and in response to the Church being taken into public ownership and the birth of Christendom, they chose the eremite life to remain true to the powerlessness of the Crucified. The Church has slowly tried to institutionalise the Spirit, as if she only operates within the Church. In fact of course, the Spirit may speak to the Church from within the World, and we should be celebrating this truth. The great reformers of the religious life have always operated on the ‘edge’, as Jesus of Nazareth in spending most of his ministry in peripheral Galilee and dying ‘outside’ the city wall. I find the term ‘humility’ to have a scriptural authenticity about it, that I don’t find in the term ‘synodality’.

The post-Constantine Christendom model of the Church has fixed the ‘ecclesia’ firmly within the ‘basilica’, and we have become accustomed to the hierarchical system. (… Some people consider hierarchy, along with ‘family values’ an “unobjectionable” principle…) Is this one reason why synodality is scary? Is the established order of society instituted and ordered by God, to provide a secure structure to human society in which all may flourish? Certainly and for understandable historical reasons, many Catholics think so. All systems are open to abuse, of course, and certainly hierarchy is, and was one of the factors that enable the Church to support slavery and fascism.

I like the point you make about liberalism - that it may be individualistic in spirit. And I support what you say about collective sins, with your own personal knowledge of ‘intellectual property’ etc. One of the drawbacks of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (and I practice it myself) is that it concentrates on personal sins, to the cost of both ‘collective sins’ and ‘Sin’ as a state that we are all in together. For an institutional Church this is an attractive emphasis because, it absolves the Church of its sinful collaboration secular institutions and also turns the spotlight from its own institutional corruption. The prevalence of paedophilia and the institutional cover-up (not only in the Catholic Church) has dealt a severe blow to the authority of the Church, which can only be redeemed by a call to humility.

We are apt to beat ourselves about the prevalence of individualism in Christianity, but I think this is partly due to the shouty nature of American protestant religion. In the developing world, where the Church is strongest the Church is more communitarian. In this respect, thank you for including my contribution about ‘ubuntu’, which was delightfully defined by Archbishop Desmond on Monday night’s documentary on TV about him and the Dalai Lama (https://etv.err.ee/1608431381/eesmark-leida-roomu-raskel-ajal highly recommended). Pope Francis is a welcome challenge to this individualism. In Estonia, again partly for historical reason, there is a cultural preference for individual liberty, but there’s also the talgud tradition.

I think I’ve already mentioned my view that orthodox faith must by orientated to being orthodox about the future as well as about the past. We pray daily for the coming kingdom. This eschatological emphasis is strong in the Eastern Church and one of the gifts of ecumenism, is that we are beginning to pay attention to what the Orthodox churches have been saying for faithful centuries. This also applies to the healthier teaching about the Holy Spirit and indeed the Trinity in the Christian East. The filioque clause must go in an act of repentance by the western Church.

Different theological emphases are of course emphasised in the way we say mass. Are we drawn to the High Altar and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or are we more ourselves as the People of God gathered round the westward facing altar with the presiding priest facing us. Or alternatively could we be better peering through the iconastasis as the priest offers the eucharistic prayer and lifts us all up to heaven, rather than calling Christ down to earth. All are valid and rich liturgies expressing part of the Church’s faith, to say nothing of the evangelical and charismatic traditions. One thing I’m sure of is that the Catholic Church is deluded if it truly believes that all Catholics believe the same thing, whereas other Christians are not welcome at Catholic altars because they do not.

Thank you for the point you make about synodality being other than a democratic system where the winner takes all. You are right. The Church is right to look for a consensus, but the limits to this are hard to define. Anglicans have agreed to there being two integrities in regard to the ordination of women: up to a point, this has enabled us to live together in one Church with bishops who will and who won’t ordain women, but it doesn’t model God’s justice for which we are to search first.

In personality theory one of the distinctions that are made is between people who are natural ‘judgers’ and those defined as ‘perceivers’. Judgers are temperamentally drawn to draw swift and definite conclusions to open questions and are uncomfortable with unresolved issues. Perceivers in contrast are easy about living with the provisional. I have a feeling that the Church is similarly divided, and to get on with each other in a synodical Church, we need to recognise this temperamental difference.

To conclude, my vision for a humble Church would be one where we would be confident enough in the Holy Spirit’s presence in the world, that when people approach the Church for baptism, marriage or a funeral, our priests could hand them a bible and say ‘Get together with your lived-ones, choose someone as your spokesperson, agree on the readings and the values you share and ask that person to speak on your behalf about what they come to Church to prayer for at thus holy moment of transition. We have so much to learn from the base-communities in this respect.

My reactions

Haha, yes, the destiny of prophets is that they never get to know whether they were right. And isn’t this one of the important things to keep in mind in every dialogue: stop thinking in terms of who is right and who is wrong, who is winner and who is looser. The path is the goal.

Of course there is more to say. First I need to look up these:

Regarding It must learn how to say ‘natural for some’. I don’t understand what you want to say. It makes no sense to me. Natural laws are the same for everybody. My suggestion: It must learn to say ‘Homosexuality, like celibacy btw, is an exception to the rule, and there is no natural rule without exceptions.’