Tag Archives: Authority

9 May: What is Theology Saying? IV: Every believer has a part to play.

According to the ordinary knowledge of the universe current at the time, it could not have occurred to the theologians or Church authority that when Genesis speaks of the six days of creation, and itemises what happened on each day, that this was poetic rather than literal. Today, the increasing knowledge of the universe, along with the rapidly accumulating evidence for the unified and organic evolution of the universe and all things in it, caused many to say that the traditional way doctrine was taught no longer makes sense. The Church while not denying doctrine, reformulated it radically, so that believers could take it seriously. Today people are more comfortable with an account of creation that has incorporated all we currently know of evolution. Thirty or forty years ago many were still worried, and fifty years ago almost all Catholics believed evolution contradicted faith.

Theological development: every believer has a part to play, but not all are properly equipped to do so. When the faithful say that existing explanations do not make sense any more, it is a wake-up call to theologians that it is time to reconsider why these formulations were made in the first place, what was the important message and the historical circumstances leading to such a formulation. Having made this study, theologians then attempt to reformulate doctrine in a way faithful to the Christian message, but which is also up to date for contemporary believers. Not an easy task! They try to do it in different ways, according to what their people share with them. The way theologians think in Italy and Spain will differ from those in Central Europe, for example.

Dogmatic development: because the experience of various kinds of believers is so different, there are often clashes between different schools of theology – sooner or later, because of differences, they will ask the teaching authority of the Church to intervene with an official version. There are usually many ways of expressing the truth; there has never really been only one correct way of doing it. The teaching authority of the Church has no hot line as to which is the better way. Even when infallibility is invoked by the Holy See or a General Council it does not mean that this statement was made on the basis of a new revelation. It means that it claims to be the authentic interpretation of what the faith of the people as a whole has always explicitly been or implied.

Such statements tend to be conservative, because that is their purpose. This does not mean there has been no dogmatic development. It takes third place because there cannot be a judgement on something until it has been discussed [the role of theology], and cannot be discussed until human experience has given rise to the query [the role of all faithful]. Some feel guilty when thinking differently from official pronouncements. They should respectfully and responsibly express this mismatch, because this is how development of doctrine has always taken place, and must continue to do so.

AMcC

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April 3: Easter Tuesday.

dew.grass.png

 

 

the storm shrieked

rushed at everything

tossed and roared

when he rose

like some

possessed

maniac

Now

he stands with

grave authority

quietly speaks

between

sun-streaks

and blades

of grass

SJC

 

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November 5, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: v – ‘the danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness’.

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It is far from true to say that the majority of thoughtful young adults today have abandoned religion. My experience is that it is the denominational that is the issue. They want spiritual relevance and ethical responsibility, but cannot see it in any us-and-them ideology that has accompanied so much institutional religion. While formal religion seems to be on the wane, there is certainly a resurgence of interest in things spiritual.

For many, spiritual realities do not happen apart from some kind of formal belief; whereas human experience suggests otherwise. But how do we recognise these signs, and what are they telling us? Is it possible for a genuinely spiritual person to see institutional religion as irrelevant? We have inherited formal structures which seem to suggest they are a sine qua non – monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, formal work place and religious institutions with dogmatic boundaries. These boundaries translate as rules and regulations controlling personal behaviour. On the one hand, without these boundaries there would be anarchy; on the other hand, leaving such boundaries unquestioned is a prescription for disintegration.

Personal relationship with Jesus is regarded by spiritual guides as the ultimate criterion of genuine spirituality. I have experienced the closeness of God when walking in the countryside, or meandering along the coastline, or sitting quietly in chapel. I hesitate to use a human analogy to explain this experience, because it feels as if something greater, more profound is here. My hesitancy is the possible danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness, and in some way alien to the freedom of the children of God.

Does this sound a little pagan, worshipping the elements as in primitive times? Such statements seem to carry an element of certitude and clarity of faith – we know what is right and this isn’t it. We are so much part of the system that we easily adopt its labels. Take the word pagan. It is used frequently to denote not just opposition to formal religion, but devoting one’s time and energy to worshipping what are seen as replacements for the real God. Jesus said: do not be like pagans, those who make their authority felt – Mark.10.42.

It alleges that ancient worship of sun, moon and stars is primitive when seen from our civilised times. True worship of God is only possible in a civilised world, and is monotheistic. The ability and freedom to see our past in a more favourable light is one of the spiritual challenges facing us. It is not exonerating the past, but widening our horizons and seeing the unity in creation in ever new light.

AMcC

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August 16: Famous first words.

Picture Friday wk 3 (1) 

Let’s stay in Egypt for today: that’s the one link with yesterday’s post, though we are some way west of the Great River, in the desert, in 1942.

As a Church we should learn from whoever can teach us. We could certainly benefit from a few lessons in leadership, so how about this as a new boss’s address to his staff, who were feeling the emotions on the signpost above?

You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together; therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived, I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team, and together we will gain the confidence of this great army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

That was General Bernard Montgomery assuming command of the British and Empire 8th Army in Egypt. Things had been going badly for a while before that.

His driver Jim Fraser, who took him around the front-line units recalled: ‘One could feel the confidence of the troops getting stronger, they were told what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. I must admit that I felt dead, dead chuffed when driving round the forward unit positions with the lads cheering and shouting, ‘Good old Monty!’

Monty believed that his ‘civilians in uniform’ should have sight of the big picture and they responded to that. Peter Caddick-Adams1 points out that logistics and intelligence also played their part in the victorious campaign. The role of Military Intelligence could not be revealed until recently when secret papers were opened up to scholars and journalists, but Monty’s confidence in his troops built their confidence in him and in each other. That is leadership. That inspires.

1Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel, Parallel Lives. London, Preface, 2011. pp 284-285; 300-301.

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15 July: Feast of Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure was born in the small Italian town of Bagnoregio, near Viterbo, probably in 1217. He studied at the University of Paris, where he joined the Order of Friars Minor. He later taught and became a Master in the school of theology at the same university. He wrote many great academic works of theology.

In 1257, at the age of forty, he was called unexpectedly out of his academic world to become the Minister General of his Order, responsible for leading all the Friars Minor worldwide. He was the seventh successor of Saint Francis of Assisi in this role. In his new role as Minister General, he managed to continue teaching through his writing. His writings of this period were less esoteric and more concerned with spirituality in the lives of the friars and the Christian people they served.

Saint Bonaventure had a gift for uniting different schools of thought into a harmonious synthesis. He used this gift through his writing in efforts to bring peace among opposing factions in his Order and later in the service of the worldwide Church. He was consecrated Cardinal Archbishop of Albano in 1273. He then assisted in preparations for the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, where he played a key role in the efforts to unite the Eastern and Western Christian churches.

Having put his energies into a General Chapter of his Order and then three sessions of the great Church Council in the same year, 1274, he died at the friary in Lyons on 15th July, aged around fifty seven. The Pope and those who had attended the Council, both Eastern and Western Christians were present for his funeral. Saint Bonaventure was canonised in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588.

Saint Bonaventure; tireless Franciscan teacher, writer and peacemaker, pray for us.

FMSL

Saint Bonaventure at Saint Antony’s Church, Rye, Sussex.

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9 July: God favours the humble

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Sculpture at the Visitation Convent in the Holy Land, NAIB

We start the week with a welcome reflection from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. Sister Clare, the intrepid parachute jumper, is now their Superior General, but found time to get this post to the editors. Thank you Clare!       Will T.

Zechariah 9:9-10 Matthew 11:25-30.

‘Among the pagans, their rulers Lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt.’ (Luke 22:24-25)

By contrast, truly humble people like Jesus seek the good of others, not their own power, status and comfort. Only when such a person becomes a leader is there true joy among the people. They know (s)he understands their struggles and is on their side. A humble leader, who takes on the role only to promote the good of the people, brings real hope of a better life to all together with a sense of community pride and gratitude.

Humble people do not need to reinforce or elevate their own importance. They speak the truth respectfully and consistently, even if no-one pays attention. God favours such people whom Jesus calls ‘the poor in spirit’. If they are poor, voiceless, powerless and marginalised in society, God the Father will choose to reveal His truth to them rather than the powerful, celebrated and accomplished. He will make them His messengers and instruments in the world. Both the Magnificat of Mary and Jesus’ ‘manifesto’, the Beatitudes, assure us of this.

Although humble leaders seem scarce in today’s world, Christ is the King whom Christians really serve while obeying earthly authority in everything that is right.

No worldy ruler has power to compel us because our service is freely given out of love for our true leader. His yoke feels easy and His burden, light because His is an authority we can rejoice to live under.

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Left to right: Sisters Susan, Esther, Elizabeth, Marcellina, Patricia and Clare FMSL

FMSL

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12 December: ‘Lord, make me know your ways.’

monday-12th

Image from stmaryslakeport.com

Today is Monday 12th in the third week of Advent and we also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers 24: 2-7, 15-17, the prophet Balaam said that “a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a sceptre arises from Israel”. Jesus is the prophet and Leader of Israelites, whose sceptre is a sceptre of power and authority. This is seen in the Gospel reading from Matthew 21: 23-27. Here Jesus is teaching in the temple with authority but the priests and elders who have closed their minds and hearts come to ask him a question. “And who gave you the authority for acting like this?” Because Jesus is full of wisdom and authority, He also asks them a question which they are not able to answer. They only say, “we do not know”.

So for me today, how do I react to authority? Do I welcome true authority, power and wisdom or do I try to trap them like these elders and priests that want to trap Jesus by asking Him questions, simply because they have closed their minds and hearts to the change and freedom that Christ has come to give us?

My prayer today and always is what the Psalmist said in today’s Psalm 24: ‘Lord, make me know your ways. In your Love and Mercy, remember me. Teach me your wisdom, guide me in the right path and give me humility of heart.’ Our Lady of Guadalupe, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. Amen!

FMSL

 

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Autumn Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack has been speaking on Thursday evenings this term: only three sessions remaining! I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

3. 27/10: How about Papal infallibility?
4. 03/11:  How should we explain the Eucharist?
5. 10/11:   Who is Jesus Christ?
6. 17/11:  What difference does Grace make?
7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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October 15: CONSCIENCE VIII: Should we Beware of all Authority?

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CD.

Religious extremism, dictatorships, totalitarian systems, or simply capitulation to the moral values promulgated by the powerful voice of the mass media can desensitise our conscience.  Our conscience needs to be alive and well, and able to evaluate and resist such voices.

In saying that we need to be on our guard against dictatorships of all kinds, am I not saying that we need to be wary of all authority, even that of the Church?  How do I know whether or not the teaching authority of the Church isn’t just another form of dictatorship?  Joseph Ratzinger’s paper, ‘Conscience and Truth’ [reference, part VI], to which we have already referred in these posts, shows that our conscience holds the key to the answer.

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Let us return to what The Catechism says: in our conscience we ‘are alone with God whose voice echoes in [our] depths.’   Cardinal Ratzinger says that in our depths we have a mysterious “memory” of divine love.  This “memory” makes us alive to the fact that behind the commandments, behind the law of God, behind the moral truths enjoined on us by the Church, lies a truth that exists for us not as an imposition from without but as an expression, even a liberation, of what is deepest within the soul.

He says that this “memory” is not like the memory one might have of, say, one’s phone number, or the vocabulary of a foreign language.  It is ‘not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.’  It is something much more profound.  It is more like the knowledge of oneself that is awakened by a very deep human love.  Human love can awaken the lover to a new depth of self-knowledge that both comes from the loved one and yet is experienced as a true aspect of oneself.  In a similar but even more profound way, the ‘god-like constitution of our being’, as Joseph Ratzinger expresses it, gives us a capacity to “hear” on the level of our conscience the voice of God – a voice which is at once other and yet is experienced as one’s deepest, truest self.  We say, “That’s it!  That is what my nature points to and seeks.”      There is a very real sense in which the truths that the Church proposes for belief liberate our true self and give us our deepest identity.

But – and this is why the authority of the Church is not a dictatorship – we cannot discover this true self and deepest identity in isolation.   Cardinal Ratzinger says that ‘The “memory” instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself.’  This assistance is what the authority of the Church gives.  It is in no way set in opposition to our deepest identity.  Rather, it awakens it and affirms it.

To grasp this is to grasp what the conscience is and is for.

SJC

Joseph Ratzinger By Manfredo Ferrari

 

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