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Saturday, March 25, 2017
Text of Fr John McDade SJ's address to Westminster clergy
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¬†Renewal and Witness: Reflections at the end of the Bognor Conference 7 November This conference has been a fine experience: we've had important conversations about serious things, conversations which flowed into and out of our liturgy with a sense of a natural connection between talking, listening and praying. What I've detected throughout the conference is a strong love for the Church, the Catholica: not only through the powerful symbol of a presbyterate around their bishop, but a bishop saying to his priests, 'I can't do this without you'. Cardinal Cormac has said many things in these past days, but this is the phrase that should strike us most. When he said this, he was expressing a spiritual authority which I find to be genuinely Christian simply because it was humble and respectful of our role in enabling his episcope to take place. We should recall some phrases from Cardinal Daneels' opening address. In our contemporary presentation of the Gospel, the Church should be like light and salt: light does not damage and salt is unseen, and there should be nothing which affects the clarity and savour of the Gospel. He emphasised that our way of conducting ourselves in presenting the Gospel is itself a vital testimony to the Gospel; he distinguished between people who, when they express their convictions force themselves upon me, making a claim on my freedom and those who, in the expression of their views, come across to me as 'serving me'. I think that the Cardinal has come across to us as serving us and inviting us to serve God's people. In the Christian mystery, obeying has the same dignity as commanding: the one who is in authority is not higher than the one who obeys because only Christ is above the Church in a serious sense. The Church is always caught between acknowledging, on the one hand, that in the Apostolic Office there is an authority that comes across to the Church as expressing the authority of Christ and, on the other hand, we are a community of equal disciples calling no man 'Father' because the Fatherhood of God is a radical elimination of stratified social hierarchy and calling no man 'Teacher' because there is only one teacher, the Christ (Mt 23. 8-10). I think over these past few days something genuinely Christian has been practised, a conspiratio of bishop and presbyterium, aimed at a deeper service of Christ and his mission. I first became aware of the paradox of authority as service shortly after I was ordained: in the Jesuit parish in Glasgow on Saturday, elderly women would come into confession, their shopping bags rustling - women who had raised large families and were still raising grandchildren, strong Catholic women who simply radiated goodness and practicality. At the end of confession, I would say, 'Go in the peace of Christ', and they would say, 'Thanks very much, son.' Which of us was above the other? Neither. I suppose when faced with the programme of Renew, there will be a side to us that says along with the old Glasgow parish priest, 'I'm against all change, especially change for the better'. But maybe also what is going through our minds is that we're not sure we can do it. In one of the women's pages in one of the newspapers recently, I read that women want to be unique, and men want to be able to do everything. (I sit outside the World War III Battle of the Genders and make no comment on this.) When I was editor of The Month, we published an article on priestly ministry by Brendan Callaghan on 'The Psychology of Power' (November 1988, 945-50), which deals with the tension built into priestly life of, on the one hand, dependence and powerlessness and, on the other, the fantasy that we can do everything. Anyone in the 'helping professions', he said, runs the risk of living out the fantasy of omnipotence, of living as though I am able to meet all the needs of those who come to me, of achieving all that is asked of me by others and by myself. For the priest, to whom the community accords enormous powers, this fantasy is a correspondingly powerful one. The trouble, he says, arises when this fantasy clashes with the all too human experience of not being in control, the experience of being dependent on others, or, as he says, 'when we find ourselves exercising power and responsibility about which we are insecure.' And perhaps here, with this phrase, we're touching on how our own appropriation of the Gospel is insecure. The priest is the person with 'sacred power' and so It is very difficult for the priest to express doubt because we rely on the priest's strength; it is very difficult for the priest to express or admit to weakness, because we rely on the priest's strength; it is very difficult for the priest to be in touch with the profane in himself because we rely on the sacredness of the priest. Our ministry can be hampered by an unspoken application of that old Thomist adage, 'No one gives what he has not already received.' We translate this to mean that 'the priest cannot give what he has not already appropriated in a personal way', so the condition of our building the faith of others is that we have a strong faith ourselves. And of course, as soon as we begin to recognise weakness in ourselves, we fear that we have little to give others. I wonder if the hesitation about Renew comes not so much from reservations about the programme, but from an anxiety that we might not be able to do it successfully because the spiritual renewal of others seems to depend on our own spiritual strength and we're not too confident about that. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes ministerial priesthood as directed to the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians and as a means by which Christ builds up and leads his Church. What strikes me about the Renew programme is the way in which it sets up different centres of energy within both ministerial and common priesthood. It doesn't place the weight on the faith of the priest: it is a work of the whole body because both priest and people provide the stimulus for the building up of one another. Will it work? I don't know, not because I'm sceptical about it but because we really don't know how a commitment to Christ and a deepening union with God take root in a person. We do know that growing and maturing is never a one-directional process in which one person teaches and another learns. Louis Armstrong as a young man played coronet in Kid Ory's jazz band. Now it wasn't what Kid Ory taught Louis Armstrong that made the difference, but what Louis Armstrong heard in the playing of Kid Ory that made him into the great genius of early jazz. Analogously, in the business of forming and being formed in the life of faith, it's not what we teach others, but what they hear and what we hear in what is offered that will make the difference. The sensus fidelium is, at root, an active feeling for the things of God that the Holy Spirit plants in the soul and it is always the action of God that gives growth in the life of faith. I read the programme of Renew as a process of recentring the Church at the heart of its experience and the sources of its life. From one point of view, it is old-fashioned in the way that most Christian practice is: prayer, Scripture and sacraments. In his Encyclical letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, The Holy Father is asking us to foster 'a truly vital Christianity which has no reason to fear the future because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life' (32). Now that's consoling because it suggests that what we're asked to do in relation to the future is to recover contact with the sources that lie at the heart of what we know already. It will be strangely familiar: as the Holy Father puts it, first of all a training in holiness, belonging to Christ; secondly, education in prayer; the gathering of people to celebrate the Eucharist; reading the Scriptures. And all this done in what the Holy Father calls a 'spirituality of communion'. His description of this is profound and moving: A spirituality of communion means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as 'those who are a part of me'. ... A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a 'gift for me'. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to 'make room' for our brothers and sisters, bearing each other's burdens...Unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose.... The spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every member of the People of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul. (43) If I read the Holy Father correctly, renewal is all about soul-making, giving the Church a soul and enabling the members of the Church to find their souls. In spite of all the different ways in which people have tried recently to image priesthood, at the end of the day it's about the care of souls, that core at the heart of a person where faith and love flourish. Augustine's little description of what 'believing in God' is about is worth pondering: 'What is it to believe in him? By believing to love, by believing to focus our love, by believing to walk towards him and be incorporated into the members of his body' (Quid est credere in eum? Credendo amare, credendo diligere, credendo in eum ire, et eius membra incorporari (Augustine, Commentary on John in Patrologia Latina 35, col 1631). How interesting it is that the final stage of believing in God is incorporation into membership of the Body of Christ: so obvious, but it expresses the profound truth that the flowering of inner faith is social and corporeal, forming ties of solidarity and compassion within the Body of Christ. The programme of Renew seems to me to be a way in which each of us comes to membership of the Body in ways that the Pope describes, so that we come to see our brothers and sisters in the Church as 'those who are a part of me', as those who are a 'gift for me', as those for whom we 'make room' and who 'make room' for us within the sacred Body of Christ. Let me end with some comments on Cardinal Daneels' talk. His superb address gave us the cultural context in which to think of renewal. It is interesting that the analysis to which we need to refer is European and that the programme we intend to adapt is American. In many ways, we straddle these two contexts. We are seeing in various parts of the world the collapse of traditional Catholic culture within one generation: in Holland, Belgium, French Canada and possibly in the changes currently taking place in Ireland. In places where the Catholic Church was the dominant social and cultural force for centuries, it all crumbles within 20 years. The Church in Eastern Europe may have resisted communism with great pain and heroism, but it now has to ford the cultural stream of developed capitalism and that may be a tougher experience. The Church still has a memory of the time when we were able to tell the people what the world was about and the people accepted and shared the 'grand narrative' of Christian faith. We are no longer masters of the culture, nor are we the primary interpreters of the culture. Christianity may have generated modernity, but modernity and postmodernity no longer accord a privileged place to Christian faith within their narratives. How do you create the space in the culture in which the question of God can become central to the construction of human meaning? I'm drawn to the view that modern unbelief is a product of the way in which Christianity tried to shape itself in the Early Modern period of 17th-18th Century. Then, in the context of the emergence of modern science and scepticism, we tried to develop a rational apologetic for God by considering God as what needs to be posited in order to explain the world. Michael Buckley has shown that contemporary atheism is tied to currents in early modern Christian apologetic which mounted proofs of the existence of God, independently of his action in Jesus and religious experience, as a hypothesis necessary to explain the existence of this kind of world. Atheism, it seems, flows from a neutral, religion-free theism, a flawed attempt to stand outside our actual (human and religious) situation and be panoptic in determining the character and relation of God and the world ( M.J.Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). I use Fergus Kerr's summary: Theology, itself, since the Enlightenment, has striven to construct an interpretation of Christianity acceptable to the exigencies of reason alone - as if human reason were somehow outside of the history of fallen and redeemed humanity - independently, then of moral and religious presuppositions...The 'death of God', as one might have expected, was an inside job, the result of two or three centuries of 'natural theology'. By shifting to supposedly neutral religion-free ground to mount proofs of the existence of God, these theologians inaugurated a whole tradition of philosophical theology which dialectically generated its own negation. Historically, atheism would thus be the product of a certain kind of theism. (Fergus Kerr, OP, "Aquinas After Marion," New Blackfriars Vol 76, no. 895 (1995), 354-64) Pascal diagnosed the problem of this kind of theism at its inception: I cannot forgive Descartes: in his whole philosophy he would like to do without God; but he could not help allowing him a flick of the fingers to set the world in motion; after that he had no more use for God. (Blaise Pascal, Pensťes, trans. A.J.Krailsheimer (London: Penguin, 1995), 330) Contemporary unbelief arises from the self-alienation of religion in that Christianity marginalized from its core account of itself the dimension of spiritual experience and the person of Christ. We led people to think that the mystery of God could be addressed without primary reference to the action of Word and Spirit; we led people to act as though there could be a deductive knowledge of God separable from loving God. We dissolved the divine mystery by treating God as an object of thought. But God can only be known by participating in the movement of love and gift which God is: this is Athanasius' great teaching to the Church, but at a crucial stage in the formation of modern culture, we forgot it and tried to deliver neutral proofs for the reality of God, on the basis of which there could be 'knowledge' of God. Christianity, which professes to be concerned with the mystery of God, gave the impression that God can be conceptually determined and pinned down: it is hardly surprising that there has been resistance to worshipping this metaphysical idol. When Cardinal Daneels talked about 'living the faith in small groups', when he talked about a 'Babylonian Exile of the Church in Europe, when he emphasised not explaining too much to people (evangelium sine glossa), when he spoke about transparency of living ('we only believe witnesses'), when he referred to Islam's witness to divine transcendence, to God who is approached seriously in prayer, when he spoke about recovering the centrality of spiritual experience, he was pointing us back to those parts of our religion that generate witness and holiness. I think he was pointing to the things which, perhaps alone, enable witness to God to take place in this culture. I red the Renew programme as a way of recentring the Church, the whole Church, as a condition of effectively witnessing in a world that has decided that we are no more than a relic of Europe's cultural advance towards post-Christianity. We have to counter the pattern of 'residual believing without belonging' that we see so much around us by developing a Church that is strong at the centre of its identity. And that means spirituality. As you walk through the perfume counters of Boots, you will come across a display called 'Philosophy'. There is even a website: on your computer, type in and you will be taken to an astonishing range of perfumes, gels, shampoos and lotions. The motto of the display is 'Outer Beauty, inner grace'. There is a shampoo called 'It's all in your head' which of course promotes a better understanding of epistemology; there is a detox all-over body wash called 'Well balanced' which evokes Aristotle's picture of the man of balanced virtue. The perfume for men is called 'Amen' and it is for 'heroes not superstars'; you can buy a therapeutic moisturiser called 'Hope in a Jar'. Women can buy for their cheeks, 'the supernatural cheek tint gel' or for eyes they can buy 'the supernatural lash darkener', and you'll find a perfume for women called 'Amazing Grace'. On this particular bottle you will read: How you climb up the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain, and so it is with life which for many of us becomes one gigantic test followed by one gigantic lesson. In the end, it all comes down to one word: grace. It's how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light'. Now this Philosophy brand is of no practical interest to me - I choose L'Oreal because I'm worth it - but what is of interest is the way in which explicitly religious and spiritual terms (Amen, supernatural, grace, hope, balance), are being used to sell perfume and the whole thing is marketed to the public under the label 'philosophy'. The publicity people clearly know what they're doing: they're evoking religious and spiritual aspirations that resonate with people and linking those aspirations to their products, so the message is that those aspirations for human wholeness will be met, not through prayer, attending to your soul and loving God but through the purchase of perfume. Our culture deliberately weakens the bond between individuals and communities of meaning and value in order to promote the ideal of the autonomous, isolated self standing outside any serious traditions of interpretation, thought and action, outside communities of purpose and reflection. It pleases the manipulators and the economically powerful to persuade people not to belong in a strong sense anywhere, not to commit themselves as members of spiritual communities that promote strong values. It works to the economic benefit of 'the hidden persuaders' because isolated individuals have no roots, and can be easily persuaded to do what they want them to do, namely consume, spend money and have a perfumed lifestyle instead of having values. If I may quote one of our members of staff, Laurence Hemming the Dean of Research Students, 'If you don't think postmodernism, postmodernism will think you.' If you don't get a perspective on the way in which the culture is pressing you to think and feel, you'll be caught in the lie. No one in the manipulative culture we're in wants you to know how much your thinking and feeling is governed by artificially constructed needs. If you don't stand somewhere, you'll fall for anything. This is why the strongest countercultural values that unmask deception are spiritual values, moral and intellectual virtues and that liberating perspective on life that sees it as an astonishing gift flowing from the goodness of God. I find myself drawn to the views of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In his view, the assumptions on which human cultures depend are transmitted through what we can call "moral communities": free associations of men and women which bear messages about human life and how it is to be lived. Meaning and purpose are not generated by the isolated individual, but they exist through shared communities of meaning, through communities which convey purpose, value, meaning tosuccessive generations. He argues that while our contemporary secular culture extends a tolerance to every religion, it also so modifies each religion in a way that removes from it every distinctive feature and weakens its internal source of energy. Under pressure from the culture in which they live, disparate religious communities become assimilated and absorbed. Consequently, the religious faith of each community is modified by the liberal assumptions of secular culture: scepticism about distinguishing between 'right' and 'wrong' beliefs; the privatisation of belief; a tolerance of all perspectives, all of which are treated as valid; the weakening of the bonds that bind communities together; emphasising maximum freedom for individual choice; a preoccupation with rights and not responsibilities; marginalisation of faith from public life, etc. Secular society, in short, shapes religious communities like the Church more they shape society. Sacks says that when society becomes aware of the breakdown of moral and spiritual values in its life, it then looks to the religious traditions to provide a basis of the moral and spiritual cohesion which society needs. But the religious communities have been rendered so weak that they cannot provide strong enough sources of religious and moral energy to provide the cohesion and inspiration which might serve society effectively. If the good of the wider society depends upon meanings borne by moral communities that bear messages about how to live and be, society cannot draw upon the energies of these communities because it constantly weakens them in order to tame them. Hence the vacuum at the moment in which moral and cognitive relativism flourishes and in which religions become marginal and socially ineffective. For Sacks, only internally strong and distinct communities, who maintain their sense of difference, can act as the generative heart of cultural values. You may agree or disagree with Jonathan Sacks' argument, and its possible application to the identity of the Christian community -- you may think, with good reason, that it is more Jewish than Christian, or that it is more suitable to a model of the Church as sect, rather than to the Church as a school of sinners -- but his analysis of the pressures in modern societies to dissolve the religiously and distinctively different seems to me right. He offers an alternative vision of a community of religious communities which, precisely by being different from one another and from the dominant consensus, provide the condition of generative witness and presence within the wider culture. The condition of effective witness is that religious communities become internally strong in their faith and life. Now I think this analysis is very close to the one offered by the Holy Father in all his major writings and in Novo Millennio Ineunte. There he says about the celebration of the Eucharist: We are entering a millennium which already shows signs of being marked by a profound interweaving of cultures and religions, even in countries which have been Christian for many centuries. In many regions Christians are, or are becoming a 'little flock'. This presents them with the challenge to bear stronger witness to the distinguishing elements of their own identity. The duty to take part in the Eucharist every Sunday is one of these. The Sunday Eucharist is the most natural antidote to dispersion. That little word 'dispersion' is code for the assimilation of the Church into the world of rootlessness and manipulation, precisely the concern shared by Jonathan Sacks. How is the Eucharist an antidote to this The Eucharist centres us in a space where we can know who we are: we are to sit, as Rowan Williams puts it, where God can see us and where, under his gaze, we can see God. Postmodernism tells us that since God is dead there is no one to tell us who we are. The Church says that since Christ is dead and raised into the light of God, we now know who we are and where we are: we are the body of Christ and we are in the Body of Christ. The invitation to spiritual renewal which the Cardinal has extended asks us to deepen and centre the Church at the heart of its identity as the condition of a more effective witness. Let's give it our best shot. source: Archbishop's House, Westminster
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