Tag Archives: Fr Austin McCormack

17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

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There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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July 15: What is Theology saying today? XV: The Eucharist 2; mystery not magic.

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?

To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.

If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.

AMcC

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July 14, What is Theology Saying? XIV: Eucharist 1, We are invited to be present.

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Eucharist is how Jesus summed-up his life and death; something not nearly catered for by going to Mass! Let‘s be clear about Jesus’ life. The interpretations of the Gospel say nothing about his own experience of living in Palestine, nor indeed about the impact he made on the ordinary folk of his time. Freedom is of the essence of his presence. Unlike political liberators he didn’t have a goal to achieve. Part of the old devotions of the Way of the Cross – the Second Station – referred to him receiving the cross as the means whereby he would save the world. He didn’t come with a goal in mind – he came to live his life freely, and therefore differently – a new way of being human.

This new way – non-resistance to violence, no finger-pointing, not needing to blame – proved wonder to the few, but irksome to the many, especially the powerful, whose disenchantment turned to hate, and the compulsion to be rid of him. He didn’t come to die – nor did the Father send him to die – he came to live life and death in a new way. We tend to interpret his going to Jerusalem as seeing death as his destiny. Why are you going there, it’s full of enmity for you…? His answer makes no reference to a predestined fate – Jerusalem is where the prophets died – Luke 13.34. Prophecy is not foretelling the future but living life as it was meant to be lived.

We are invited to be present in the Eucharist as Christ is present to us – a person to be met and experienced. A Mozart Concerto can be analysed and dissected to illustrate its melodic and harmonious structure, but to be present to it as it is allows it to become an experience, a unique experience, and see how it satisfies a hunger within us; to be soothed with its harmony, surprised by its ongoing creativity.

It is not grasping the experience, but being grasped. This is what mystery means – a work of art, a unique person. Eucharist is mystery.

AMcC

Picture from Missionaries of Africa

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June 25: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility III.

fountain.st.peters.rome

Theologians agree that there have been only two papal statements that fall into the infallible category – the Immaculate Conception in the Nineteenth Century and the Assumption in the Twentieth. In both case the popes claimed to be giving expression to the faith of the Church as it could be traced back to apostolic times. In neither case did they give a philosophical or theological explanation of how these dogmas should be interpreted. They simply gave voice to the faith and practice of believers. What was being said about Mary expressed the ideals for which the Christian community was striving. Believers were not asking whether Marian doctrine was to be interpreted in a particular biological sense; they knew it had nothing to do with the purpose for which the teachings were being proposed. Neither did the papal definitions answer those questions, but simply encouraged devotion through which believers expressed their desire to live the Gospel.

Because most Catholics had assumed a static and unified Church organisation, it was easy to assume that this pattern was more or less set by Christ and should never be changed. The study of history shows that it was all changing all the time, and that it looked very different at some times, so much so that we have to ask what is of the divine and necessary plan and what is simply a human attempt to organise life in community as best serves its purpose. Whatever belongs to this category can obviously be changed again when the times call for it.

There is ongoing research into collegiality and the relation between pope and bishops. When Vatican I passed the Constitution Pater Aeternus there were two issues at stake concerning the pope. His power to command and rule in dioceses other than his own, and the question of infallibility. It is not possible to assume that the pope cannot make mistakes, or even fall into heresy. Classic Canon Law says: if the pope falls into heresy he must be deposed. The law considers it most unlikely, but provision must be made for the possibility. If they had held the hot line theory they would never have considered even the possibility of this happening.

Infallibility is severely restricted; an interesting point, because some believed – including some bishops – that the Pope was always infallible and could never make a mistake in teaching Christian doctrine. The Council clearly disagreed, attributing absolute authority only to God. It declared that the Pope possesses only that infallibility which God willed to give to the Church, whenever he solemnly and officially defines a doctrine to be held by the whole Church concerning faith or morals.

AMcC

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June 21: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility I.

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A question you put to one side rather than asking it out loud? Friar Austin has written four posts about it, two before and two after Saint John’s day. Thank you Austin, off we go!

We have seen how Church teaching changes through the ages, and what revelation is and how it happens. But for some of the faithful the process of revelation and the development of doctrine are happenings, but they have come to an end. The end is when the Pope speaks about a matter of doctrine, and the matter is closed. When that point is reached many believe the matter in question should not be raised again; not even by a General Council or by another Pope.

Others believe that because situations change, what one Pope may have said in a given situation, may not apply currently. Culturally and socially the papacy lives in an earlier stage of history than the people say of Northern Europe and North America, and is teaching from the world it knows, and so may not appear relevant for some. Add to this the disquiet the Reformers feel on issues of the papacy – the belief that there should be no such office as pope. Things have changed – many Protestants believe all churches need a leader who is not just a functionary – like President of the World Council of Churches – but chosen, holy person set aside as a spiritual figure, voicing the conscience of the Christian community in the world – issues of peace, justice, hunger and poverty.

Many people – not Catholic – are interested in what Pope Francis is doing. They approve of what he is saying and doing, and welcome him in their own countries; especially with his desire to meet with civil and religious leaders of all faiths and none.

But there remains concern about papal infallibility; and questions are asked about the Catholic Church and its commitment to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the guiding presence of the Spirit alive in the Church in the way we regard papal teaching. Studies have taken place about what exactly the First Vatican Council meant in giving formal definition to Papal Infallibility in the Nineteenth Century. Why was it made and how does it sit with the infallibility of the Church’s General Councils, and the infallibility of faithful practice? How the claim to Roman primacy first arose, and how it was understood, have been the subject of meticulous research.

Rahner says [The Christian of the Future] that although infallible pronouncements once served the purpose of the Church, they really do not do so any longer. He sees future Popes not making such pronouncements, and infallibility will cease to be an issue. But what about Humanae Vitae? The German bishops, advised by Rahner, issued a statement telling the people the importance of the encyclical and its primary aim to protect the person and the sanctity of marriage. They also pointed out that the encyclical did not take from them their ultimate, personal decision of conscience in the matter of birth control. Some asked how this could be when the Pope had given his judgement on the matter and the Pope is infallible.

AMcC

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As you were saying, Austin.

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Yesterday our walk in the woods with Abel involved hide and seek, as it always does. And then came a moment when he spoke volumes in a single word: ‘Where’s my grannie?’  I cannot begin to dissect that ‘my’.

As Austin was saying in today’s main post:

The written word can only tell us about love. Experience lets us know it ever more deeply.

 

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8 May: What is Theology saying? III: A new way of being human

The Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit. An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

However, Rahner insists there has been much development of doctrine that cannot be explained only by showing what was contained in words of previous formulations. What is handed down in the Christian tradition is much more than words; it is a new way of being human. The more we live it, the more we understand and try to express in words what is involved. Doctrine helps not only when we study words already written, but in trying to reflect on further implications through reflecting on the daily experiences of living this new way.

An example: the love between man and woman, parent and child. Certainly poetry and art forms have helped us see this wonderful gift in deeper ways, as indeed has scientific research. But common sense tells us the most realistic way to know is to experience it. The written word can only tell us about it. Experience lets us know it ever more deeply. The Church has developed a theology of prayer – but this is valuable, not because of study, argument or research, but through the real presence of praying people. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray – the way they had seen him at prayer – he simply sat down within who he was, the beloved of Abba, and let this wash over and through him, and produce its own response.

Newman and Rahner, among others, tell us that from the apostolic times through till now there have been three necessary elements for the development of doctrine: all the faithful, trying to live the Gospel – theologians trying to make this understandable – Church authority intervening occasionally to select an official explanation. Notice the right ordering of these three. Doctrine develops first at the level of ordinary human experience. Each generation has its own catechesis of the faith they cherish. This stage is obviously influenced by the contemporary understanding of the universe, of humankind, social relationships within time and space as then understood.

As new things are learned and uncovered about all of these, there is the ongoing need for renewal and review, realising from time to time that there is something in the current formulation of faith that doesn’t seem to fit, in terms of their experience of life. All through the ages this has been voiced, and it is this that has provided the agenda for theological research. Take for example the way Genesis says in the beginning – speaking as if God physically shaped clay with his hands, and spoke the words. The Church was already aware that God doesn’t have hands or voice, and that this Genesis account is poetic not intended to be taken literally.

AMcC

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7 May: What is theology saying today? II: Earthquakes and thunderbolts.

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Before we understood what caused thunder, and earthquakes we were inclined to see God’s presence – as if God in anger sent thunderbolts; and could switch-on rain or sunshine. To understand the laws governing atmospheric conditions does not mean losing faith in God’s providence, but needs to express it differently. Just so, a more traditional believer might think we are becoming godless because we no longer make the sign of the cross when there is lightning, or say god-willing when speaking of future plans. In fact there might well be truer understanding and greater faith than before.

Newman’s criteria, discussed yesterday, are difficult to apply, but others have worked on them since he wrote. He, himself, showed insight gleaned from his own knowledge of the history of ideas within Christianity – pointing out that in the past, at the time of the great heresies, faith always emerged again from deep within the heart of the Christian community, who were not acquainted with theological subtleties.

Karl Rahner, an Austrian Jesuit, began with the fact that we know now what it was in the past that led to present orthodox teaching of the Church. Whatever development was needed to bring us to where we are now, is a lawful development and very likely to be necessary again. He takes the development of doctrine we can see within the New Testament as the model of what development of doctrine should be; because the New Testament is given to us to show what Christian life is and should be. The development is more than a question of logic; the Church teaches the same doctrine, but continues to make explicit what is implicit.

An example: Peter preached God raised Jesus from the dead. What is implicit is that Jesus died, which the Creed makes explicit: was crucified, died and was buried…

AMcC

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6 May: What is theology saying today? I: How to change without losing the essentials.

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Secular society changes its laws, its structures and even what it believes. Most of us have been brought up to believe that the Church did not do this. The answers given in the catechism would always be valid; God guides the Church to teach truth.

Indeed, people worry when it seems the teaching is changing. Examples: more inter-faith dialogue; greater involvement of the laity in Church matters; relaxing the laws of fasting; changes in the Mass… People are entitled to worry about these things, and are entitled to ask questions before accepting such changes. Changes are not necessarily good. We need to know what to change without losing the essentials.

Theology tells us there is only one good way to discover the criteria for change – it is the common sense way of looking at the history of Church teaching. Teaching developed very slowly and even stormily over the ages.

Jesus did not give the Apostles a catechism or creed. They didn’t explain things as they are explained now. The Apostles and generations after them would not have understood the catechism. They probably would have said it went against the teachings of Jesus, and made everything complicated. The Catechism was accepted as Church teaching on faith and morals.

Church teaching has constantly changed and will continue to do so. But if we would understand what is happening now we need to ask about the process used for changing explanations of faith and the rules of morality in the past. Newman in the 19th Century was very concerned about this. As an Anglican he pondered the claims of the Catholic Church to make pronouncements about doctrine – how would one know what was a true development of doctrine and what was erroneous? The Protestant Churches at that time accused Catholics of changing the teachings of Jesus constantly.

Newman’s basic premise for change: doctrines are ideas, ideas always change because they exist, not in books, but in people. Ideas change as people change through varied experiences and new insights resulting from them. When our experience of living in our world changes because of new inventions and the discoveries of science, our ideas about everything will be shaped accordingly.

AMcC

Roman Gate, Lincoln.

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6 May: What is theology saying today? Introduction

austinBack in Autumn 2016, we at Agnellus Mirror were promoting Friar Austin’s series of talks, ‘What is Theology Saying?’ Being local to Canterbury I enjoyed listening to them at the time. Many readers appreciated Austin’s other posts and homilies that we have put before you, and I am now pleased to revisit and edit the What is Theology Saying series for you, our readers.

Austin covers various topics which we will look at in turn over the coming months. I hope the way I have divided the texts makes for easy reading and understanding. Please feel free to comment or engage in discussion through the blog.

Maurice.

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