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Papa Francesco: Two Years On

popefrancis4Today marks the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome. They have been, without question, the two most hope-filled years in a lifetime of study and service of the Church. Most people, including most Catholics, have rejoiced in Pope Francis’ style, simplicity, and dedication to reforming the Roman Curia.

It made for a great 35th birthday present, very slightly anticipated!

Sadly, this is not a consensus feeling among the faithful, perhaps particularly among Anglophones in Rome and those in positions of authority in the Roman Curia. A couple weeks ago, on the anniversary of the first papal resignation in six centuries, this pithy post showed up in my newsfeed:

..Two year’s ago today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.

Thus beginning the craziest two years of our lives.

Papa Bennie, we miss you. …

I respect Pope Benedict, perhaps even more so because of his strength of character, as witnessed by the resignation itself. His ecclesiology and personality were both strong enough not to buy into the false mythology of a papacy that is more monarchy than episcopacy, or that requires clinging to power rather than absenting oneself from service when no longer able to serve well.

We all find resonance with different leaders, whether bosses or politicians, bishops or popes. It is natural that some people will like one more than the other, but I have a hard time understanding those who claim to be “confused” by Pope Francis, or who think that the last two years have been difficult for the Church.

A recent conversation with friends revealed, of course, those not satisfied with Pope Francis: On one side, the traditionalists who were given the keys to the kingdom under Benedict are now back to being treated as a minority in the Church – which is only fair, as they are, but I can commiserate with the feeling. On the other, genuinely liberal Catholics tend to be unhappy with the Holy Father’s language on women, not sure whether referring to (lay and religious) women theologians as “strawberries on the cake” is meant to indicate that they are mere decoration, or something more appreciative.

Neither side is confused: they know clearly what they do not like. Whether I agree with either side, they know where they stand and I respect that. It is the commentators claiming “confusion” who are not to be trusted. There is nothing confusing at all about a gospel message of mercy and humble service.

Nevertheless, for the broad swath in between liberals and traditionalists, the last two years have been like fresh air after decades of sitting on a Roman bus, stifling because the old-school Italians refuse to let the windows open lest we get hit by moving air and therefore damage our livers. Somehow. (What is the ecclesiological equivalent of a colpo d’aria?)

If the Good Pope opened the windows of the Church at Vatican II to let it air out a bit, it seems much of the trajectory of the last decades has been, if not to outright close them again, to pile up so many screens and curtains that the effect is nearly the same. Francis has opened it again to let the light and fresh air in. Sure, the dust gets blown about that way, but blame it on those who let the dust gather, rather than the one who starts the spring cleaning!

To be fair, if not concise, the analogy would extend to Benedict having attempted the same, only to discover that he did not have the strength. (Though, after years of investing in multiple layers of curtain lace, you ought not be surprised at the surfeit of suffocating material you then have to remove to get at the ‘filth’ hiding in the darkness provided thereby. But I digress.)

I have little doubt that Pope Benedict will be a Doctor of the Church someday, and in addition to his massive corpus of theological writings, his act of spiritual humility and demonstration of truly sound ecclesiology by resigning as bishop of Rome will be the reason it happens.

I have lived through two of the greatest papacies in recent centuries, but if there has been a truly good pope in my lifetime, it is Francis. Two years is nowhere near enough, may he live for twenty more, sound of mind and body, and bring to closure the reforms started fifty years ago. It is perhaps our best hope for unity in the Church, which in turn is the best hope for an effective witness to the Good News.

Mapping the College of Cardinals

With a class this week explaining the college of cardinals and other aspects of the Catholic hierarchy to some undergrads, in honor of the weekend’s consistory creating 20 new princes of the Church, I found a few helpful resources worth sharing.

The Vatican’s website has upped its game, in offering some new statistics on the College of Cardinals. You can find lists by name, age, or nationality. Graphs indicating the distribution of cardinals according to the pope that appointed them, the percentage of electors vs. emeriti, or how many serve in the curia. The graph below breaks down membership according to geographical region.

cardinalgraph

The independent Catholic-hierarchy.com has already updated its lists, which can be sorted by various values.

The incomparable CGP Grey offers some illumination in his clip “How to become pope”, meant for popular consumption.

There are of course more academic articles, historical sources, and ecclesiological treatises, plus reform suggestions that range from adding women cardinals to eliminating the sacred college altogether. There are interviews with the new cardinals (one reporter shared that Italian colleagues were getting bent out of shape upon realizing that some of the new wearers of scarlet did not speak a word of Italian beyond “ciao”.)

One thing I could not find was a map indicating where the cardinals were from. Something to give visual aid to the question of a more globalized Church reflected in a more globalized college. So I created one.

Click on the (scarlet) pins to see basic information about each cardinal.

Residential cardinals – that is, those cardinal-presbyters who are bishops or archbishops of dioceses around the world – are located according to their See.

Curial cardinals – mostly cardinal-deacons serving in the Roman Curia – are located according to their place of birth (and they represent 28% of the total electorate).

There are options to see retired/over-80 cardinals, too, also organized by curia or diocese. Their pins are a lighter shade of scarlet (cough… pink… cough).

A couple of immediate observations, beyond the overcrowding of Italy, were some of the wide open areas without any: No Scandinavian cardinals, none from easternmost Europe or central Asia. For China, only Hong Kong.

In the US, all but one of the diocesan cardinals are from the eastern half of the country, and that even counts the retirees. There is a small corridor from the great lakes to the north Atlantic coast that accounts for the overwhelming majority of North American cardinals, leaving one thinking it might be time to move some of those pins to the likes of Vancouver, Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis or Atlanta. Or, if we want to go peripheral, maybe Tucson, Honolulu, and Juneau.

Would love to hear thoughts,take corrections, or hear it has been used by other teachers.

Theology of the Laity – According to a Seminarian

Recently, I met with a visiting friend (who happens to be a canon lawyer) and we decided to sit in on Rome’s Theology on Tap, offered by some of the seminarians of the North American College to some of the study abroad programs that they work with for their “apostolates” (volunteer service giving them practice in some forms of ministry).

It is an interesting experience, to a professor of both U.S. undergrads and seminarians in Rome, because although neither the seminarians nor most of the undergrads present are in my classes, it still felt a little like I was listening to an oral presentation by one student that needed grading. I could not help myself.

The topic was “The Laity”. In fairness, my seat was in the back, so there were times it was hard to catch everything. But these are the points I heard:

  • The Church teaches that priesthood and religious life (no mention of diaconate) are objectively a higher state than the laity. Subjectively, however, the universal call to holiness is equal for everyone in the Church.
  • There is a difference between ministry and service. [Could not hear the definition]. Ministry is exercised only by the ordained. Lay people can only offer service. When you hear people talk about liturgical “ministry”, like a lector, this is really a service.
  • The Lay Vocations are Marriage and Consecrated Life. Just as priests are committed to the Church, consecrated are committed to their communities, and married people are committed to each other.
  • The Mission of the laity is exactly the mission of the whole church: Evangelization.
  • [Missed something] You have the duty to correct your priests, professors, other leaders if you hear something wrong.

My canonist friend and I come from different cultures of Catholicism, but both have an ecclesial vocation, as lay people, in ministry and service to the Church. And while we had different objections to some of the points, we were in accord that, unfortunately, not everything represented well the Church’s teaching. The Church itself, of course, is not always consistently clear on this topic, which occasionally adds to the confusion.

First, he’s right on his penultimate point about the mission of the laity, which is the mission fo the Church. The laity are the vanguard of the Church’s mission, the clergy and other ecclesial ministers are there for support and leadership, but it is the laity whose first role is to go out into the world and get the real work of the Church done.

The final point might have been a reference to canon 212, by which all the faithful have the right, and are even obligated, to make their needs and concerns known to the Church according to their expertise. Consider this an exercise thereof to avoid similar mistakes by others.

Now the problematic points.Taken with a grain of salt, as i said, there was occasional cross-noise, so if i missed any clarifying comments or explanations to the points, the fault is mine.

The Church itself does not make use of this “objective”/”subjective” distinction in terms of a person’s state. All are equal in baptism. All are equally called to holiness, as he pointed out. Where there might be some confusion is in distinguishing the ways we participate in the One Priesthood of Christ. All who are Initiated (Baptized, Confirmed, Eucharist-ed) have a share in Christ’s priesthood. This is the universal priesthood, the priesthood of all believers. As priests, we are still equal. Lumen Gentium 10 says that these two kinds of participation in Christ’s priesthood “differ from one another in essence and not only in degree.” This seems to lend credence to the idea that one is higher. Avery Dulles, however, repeatedly pointed out it was better understood as “differing from one another in essence and not in degree,” that is, that they are different kinds of participation, but one is not higher than the other. Plus, we have only to look at scripture to see Jesus’ idea of leaders clamoring for a “higher status” – and it is not well received. Those called to leadership are called as servants.

Which goes to the distinction between ministry and service. As I missed something, its entirely possible he hit something right on, but the follow up was insufficient. The two words, in a Christian context, are both translations of diakonia. All ministry is service. Fair enough to say that not all service is ministry, but the distinction is not about ordained and lay, but about the nature of the service. Rather like the distinction between skills and charisms, wherein the later are always for the building up of the Body of Christ. Possible confusion comes from an infamous interdicasterial instruction that attempted to limit the term “ministry” to the ordained back in 1997, wherein this dichotomy was presented – yet every pope since (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis) have referred to lay ministry, as have most bishops conferences and other documents of the curia.

Finally on vocations. Put simply, everyone has a vocation. There are hardly only two options for lay people, and in fact, the two mentioned were only one kind of vocation – relationship – which is also called a state of life. Everyone also has a vocation to ministry/mission and to spirituality, at least. Some of the faithful are called to marriage, consecrated life, celibacy or single life. Some of the faithful are called to serve the church’s mission in the world, some as ecclesial ministers. Some of the former take vows, some enter into a sacramental relationship, though not all. Some of the later are ordained, though not all. Not all celibates are priests, not all priests are celibate. Not all lay people are married, and not all married people are lay. When talking vocations, it is confusing to try and force the square peg of relationship into the round hole of ministry.

But, that is one of the services offered by seminary, correction to mistaken ideas about the people you are called to serve.

 pretres-soutane-football_m460

Hope and Change in the Church

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Batman the fundamentalist giving Robin the chance to turn the other cheek

A recent conversation highlights the challenge of talking about “hope” and “change” in the Church.

A few weeks ago I had a quick lunch with an old friend and a new colleague. Eventually my friend (a Notre Dame alumna, “new evangelist” and educator) and I got into a lively discussion about “change” in the Church, given all the hope that has been expressed lately about what changes Pope Francis might bring.

My position is basically this: it is naïve to think that the Church does not change, and it is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst to suggest that the Church cannot change. The Batman meme above vividly demonstrates a misguided and wrong-headed understanding of the Church.

“The Church should change” does not mean “the truth must/can change”. It is Church discipline – and often really just Church culture – not dogma, which should change in the minds of most. Though there are always exceptions, I suspect most Catholics are not agitating for moral relativism, an end to Trinitarian theology, a return to Arianism, denial of the Resurrection or the Real Presence, promoting abortion or war, that we do away with ordained ministry or that we change the Sunday Eucharist into an hour long drum circle featuring Kumbaya in a dozen different languages.

What most Catholics mean when they say that they hope for change in the Church is ecclesiological, ecumenical, pastoral, and practical. They want a positive gospel message (“God is love” or “Love God and thy neighbor”, and all that radical wishy-washy stuff, you know); they want better preaching, better music, better liturgy; they want transparency and accountability in church decisions, participation in governance, and maybe even more married clergy and less clericalism. They want bishops (and pastors, deacons, DRE’s et al.) to be servant-leaders, not lords of their own fiefdoms. They want ecumenism and interreligious dialogue to work, and to have real effect. They want more effort spent on social justice than on ecclesiastical protocol, more money spent on education and pastoral care than on neo-Baroque bling.

But my experience of most Catholics, admittedly, is based on my experience in parish pastoral ministry and Catholic higher education. My friend has spent several years on the front lines of pre-evangelization, new evangelization, and even good old-fashioned evangelization and catechesis, often in the context of guiding groups of pilgrims and students around Rome’s most sacred sites.

changecat

Her position was that “the church should change” is basically code for “the church’s teaching about morals should change to match the social norms of the western world.” When people say change, they mean that the church should get out of its old-fashioned rut, and embrace a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, equal rights (and rites) for women in the ecclesiastical workforce, and so forth.

That it may be, in some cases, just as in others, “the church should change” means “the church should eliminate the novus ordo, go back to the Tridentine rite, and embrace traditional Catholic culture (circa 1940).”

The problem, though, in assuming that “the church can/must change” is code for a particular agenda is that it stymies the possibility of real conversation and dialogue. The Church is in fact always changing. All we have to do is look at the papacy of Benedict XVI to see a number of examples of change in the church. And no one can accuse Ratzinger of being radical, wishy-washy, or unorthodox.

He changed the liturgy, both in terms of the translations and in terms of the mark his own personal preferences have had. Even just during my four years in Rome, you could see lots of changes to the liturgy at St. Peter’s – longer, less participatory music; rosaries before mass begins; communion no longer offered in the hand; a crucifix and candles dominating the altar; cardinal-deacons vesting in mitre and dalmatic; etc., etc. He changed canon law to exclude deacons from acting “in persona Christi capitis,” making this phrase more about Eucharistic presidency and less about holy orders or leadership in the Church. He innovated in creating ordinariates for disenchanted Anglicans. He pushed forward reforms relating to the sex abuse crisis (at least for priests, if not bishops). He created a personnel office for the Vatican. He called in an outside audit of Vatican finances.

In short, the Church changed a lot under Pope Benedict; why would we not expect it to change with Pope Francis? The Church changes, and survives. Change simply means that things are different than they were before. It is a sign of life, and of fidelity to the principle ecclesia semper purificanda (the church must always be purified). Rather than dismissing the idea of the church changing, embrace it – critically, intelligently, and faithfully.

Remember Dante’s Divine Comedy – God is pure dynamism. The only creature which cannot change is Satan, eternally frozen in the deepest pit of hell.

After 35 Years: A Return to Reform?

My friends can tell you that I have a bad habit. Actually, more than one, but only this one is relevant at the moment. When going through my email inbox, I tend to scan everything, then work from the least important first ‘saving the best for last’, so to speak. Especially after a busy week, I might spend an hour just sorting through quasi-spam and quick reply messages, clearing the space so I can respond to the really important ones. The problem is that I too often run out of time, and messages from my closest friends or strongest ecumenical contacts languish a little too long awaiting attention. The same logic has log-jammed my blog lately.

Since about two weeks after Pope Francis was elected as bishop of Rome, I have sat down several times to start a reflection on his fledgling papacy. The problem is, every time I do this, I get distracted reading about whatever exciting new thing he has done. Often they are little changes, gestures and actions, but they paint a picture of humility and commitment to reform, openness to dialogue and noble simplicity of faith and its expression.

By now the litany of these little things is well known: He appears on the balcony dressed in the simple white simar, like John Paul I, rather than the mozetta and stole of JPII and BXVI. He asks for our blessing before offering his own. He makes personal phone calls. He demonstrates astute ecclesiological acumen by referring to himself as the bishop of Rome, and his predecessor as bishop emeritus of Rome, exclusively. He stops by to pay his hotel bill in person. He moves an entire liturgy out of St. Peter’s and into a juvenile prison. He washes the feet of women and Muslims. He calls the Patriarch of Constantinople ‘my brother Andrew’. He’s formed a representative committee of cardinals to reform the governance of the Catholic Church – or at least the Roman curia. He has unblocked the path to sainthood of one of the 20th century’s great martyrs, Oscar Romero. And so on…

A couple weeks after he was elected, one veteran vaticanist noted that “suddenly, everyone around here is laughing and smiling.” A senior colleague said “I had forgotten what it was like to be so encouraged and inspired.” A fellow student commented that it “felt as if a burden has been removed that I did not know I had been carrying my whole life [c.35 years]”

Although great joy truly has the reaction of the vast majority of people to Francis, not all have been positive. It took the traditionalist fringe all the way until Holy Thursday (15 days after election) to retreat into the old safeholds of disrespect and antagonism. First, they blame the press for creating a false Francis vs. Benedict comparison, and leap on every fan’s expression of praise for Francis as though it were an insult to Benedict.  Some immediately decried his humility as false, a kind of stage prop, and held up as a paragon of true humility the faithful master of ceremonies of Benedict XVI, novus Marini, for ‘suffering’ the loss of his lace. They have accused him of being a slob, of undermining the office of the papacy. Basically, they are afraid of change, hurt that the first pope since Pius XII to actually like all the neo-baroque nonsense resigned, and afraid of a return to the days when people were excited about the changes that Vatican II promised. [e.g.]

Everyone else had just long since forgotten what it was like to feel excited about the prospect of change in the church.

Earlier this month a Jesuit friend told me how his confreres have noted that the ‘young people’ do not seem to like Francis very much. The problem, though, here in Rome, is that ‘young people’ are judged as is everything else: clerically. The seminarians under 40, the same ones who were drawn to the priesthood as a power structure, certainly are nervous. But everyone else is giddy. The young, the old, the long-suffering and the fair-weather, everyone is happy but for those who invested in birettas and lace surplices (cf. John Allen, Jr.). But even for them, there remains a place in the Church. How could there not? No one is threatening their particular peculiarities and liturgical peccadilloes. But they simply are no longer being championed as the next big thing.

Yesterday, Pope Francis’ comments to the Conference of Latin American Religious were leaked, in which he seems to suggest not taking the CDF investigation of Religious too seriously, bemoans his own lack of administrative organization, acknowledges the problem of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, and identifies as two of the most significant concerns today the Pelagianism of restorationist/traditionalist movements, and the Gnosticism of certain spiritualist movements.

One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council… One feels in 1940…” The Pope is then said to have illustrated this with a joke: “when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: “Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries.” Why don’t they say, ‘we pray for you, we ask…’, but this thing of counting…

(Though, it strikes me now, what will this mean for all the plenary indulgences I have been able to accrue while living in Rome? I have been saving them up for a rainy day, and now the numbers do not matter? Sheesh…)

Yet, lest you fear (or cheer) His Holiness’ critique of the extreme fringe as a radical departure from his predecessor, Andrea Tornielli reminded us of this commentary on the same topic from then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

 …the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…

Joseph Ratzinger, “Guardare Cristo: esempi di fede, speranza e carità” [Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity]. 1986.

The sense now, for most, is that people are hopeful, but hesitate to be too hopeful. More and more, people are reminded of John Paul I, Papa Luciani, who had the same simple, honest way with the Petrine ministry and the hope that he had instilled that the reforms of the Council would continue, only to have those hopes dashed after only 33 days. Three months after Francis’ election, I think some people are still afraid that their hopes will not have the chance to come to fruition. But hope it is.

PopeFrancis2

Pope Francis – Jorge Bergoglio

Pope John Paul I - Albino Luciani

Pope John Paul I – Albino Luciani

Catholic or catholic?

If you do not know the blog Get Religion, you should, especially if you have any interest in reporting on religion in secular media, or any interest in how religions present themselves to the world through the secular media.

There was a recent post discussing the terms Catholic and catholic, and what they mean. While doing a good job of looking at catholic as universal versus Catholic as referring to the Catholic Church, it left a few vagaries intact, that I have always struggled with, especially in secular reporting on the Catholic Church.

Briefly, the most misunderstood aspect of secular reporting on these terms is to always conflate ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and Catholic Church.

I have mentioned it before, but, simply put, the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. It is not the only church that is catholic, nor is it the entire church catholic, but there is only one church called, officially, the Catholic Church., and it is the 1.1 billion member church in communion with Rome.

Roman Catholic, at most, indicates only a part of the Catholic Church – one of the 23 sui iuris churches that make up the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic and Latin Catholic are basically synonymous. However, Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Church are not synonymous. A Ukranian-Greek Catholic, a Chaldean Catholic, or a Maronite Catholic are all Catholic, but none are Roman Catholic.

More strictly, as I write from Rome, Roman Catholic means those Catholics who belong to the Church of Rome – that is, the Diocese of Rome. There are less than 3 million. Neither should the entire Catholic Church be referred to as the Roman Church – that would be like referring to the Anglican Communion as the Church of Canterbury, or to the Lutheran World Federation as the Augsburgian Church.

Yet, the AP style manual still insists on using ‘Roman Catholic’ instead of simply Catholic. In the end, admitting that the Catholic Church is properly called Catholic and not Roman Catholic does not mean it is, or thinks it is, the only catholic church, nor that it is the entire church catholic, but it is ecumenically appropriate to call a Church what it calls itself. The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, and no high-church Anglicans were harmed in the making of this statement.

What do Catholic traditionalists and extreme feminists have in common?

Quote of the Day:

In every age there are people for whom history does not exist…Curiously, the Catholic restorationist who identifies the Gospel with certain vestments from the 1880s, with one biblical translation, or with a vessel from the fifth century or the fifteenth century has somewhat the same mind-set as the extreme feminist who rejects the past three millennia of cultures because their attitudes toward women in public life were limited. Both fixate on one time -whether that is in the past or today – and reject variety and progress. … The deepest enemy of every fundamentalism is history.

Thomas P. O’Meara, OP, Theology of Ministry, (New York: Paulist Press, 1999), 86

[Between the number of friends i count among both feminists and traditionalist Catholics, i trust everyone is equally piqued.]

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