Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE CHURCH IS BORN IN SUFFERING



John McNeill has just posted a very moving Advent reflection at his blog, Spiritual Transformation. 
In his reflection, John gives thanks for the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, both within his own life and ministry and within the Church as a whole. Among these 'gifts,' John posits the fallibility of Church leaders, because it is through the providential design of so many fallible decisions that Catholics are being weaned away from a childish dependence on external authority. What is noteworthy about John's attitude is it's deep wisdom and spirituality. Instead of lamenting the present state of disarray within the church and the corruption of its leadership, he gives abundant thanks, seeing in the human folly of absurd decisions and official positions, the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, detaching us from an inappropriate and immature addiction to external authority. Among the many fallible decisions one could cite, I would place the Pope's  recent comments on condoms in a soon to be published book, together with the flurry of commentary and clarification that has followed. While it appears to be a small chink in the wall, shifting perception away from the previous intransigent position, and giving the general impression that at long last the Catholic Church is tentatively approving some use of condoms in extreme situations (prostitution and HIV), the absurdity of this very minor concession only makes the fallibility of the overall position abundantly clear. In fact, this subtle shift makes the fallibility of Church authority even more evident than the previous absolute, intransigent prohibition, at least for persons of reasonable maturity, wisdom and understanding.  Church 'authority' now stands revealed as woefully inconsistent and out of touch with reality, particularly when we consider the tens of thousands of African women who have lost their lives to HIV because of the Church's intransigent position on condoms. To fully appreciate the horrible consequences of this position, read this open statement posted at Bridget Mary's blog, 


Yet despite the immense suffering, as well as the staggering criminal irresponsibility of the official Church in this regard,  we must still give thanks in a spirit of humble joy and trust, but  our heartfelt gratitude does not preclude prophetic protest at the injustices of fallible authority.  In light of the situation in Africa, the only appropriate response to the Pope's recent  'concession,' is one of outrage and shame. Far too little and far, far too late. Outrage, however, must not give way to bitterness. Our gratitude for the trials of the spirit reminds us that we are not alone, the Spirit guides the Church, and decisions that cause consternation and pain are 'permitted' by the Spirit for deeply mysterious and providential reasons. It reminds me of the comment made many years ago by a very holy scripture scholar, Father Edward Malatesta, S.J. He told his class in the Gospel of St. John during the  1968 summer session in Theology at the University of San Francisco that when he heard the news of Humanae Vitae (published days before on July 25th), he took a walk outside the Jesuit compound overlooking San Francisco bay and gave thanks to God and the Holy Spirit. He gave thanks in joy, he said, because: The Church is born in suffering.

In this same spirit of gratitude for the gifts of the Spirit and for the trials that purify us as a community I offer these selections from Father McNeill's reflection. You can read the entire reflection here.

I believe a new form of adult, mature spirituality is rapidly replacing the immature dependence in spiritual life on external authority. Jesus predicted that maturing process at the last supper when he told the apostles 'it is necessary that I go away for the Spirit to come to you"! So too our dependence on external authoity must give way to a dependence on the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts....

I believe that Jesus was expressing a basic law governing human growth into spiritual maturity. As humans, we must grow from dependence on external authority to dependence on an authority that dwells within us. To achieve that growth we need fallible authorities. If our parents had been infallible we could never develop into mature adults making our own decisions and taking responsibility for them....

Thank God that Church authorities have proved so fallible. The result has been a maturing of the people of God. This began when the Vatican fumbled the issue of birth control, forcing millions of Catholic to exercise their freedom of conscience, make their own decisions and take responsibility for them. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what the present Pope is against when he decries moral relativism. ....

One of the greatest beneficiaries of the fallibility of church authorities has been the LGBT Catholic community. We came to realize early on that we could not accept and obey Church teaching on homosexuality without destroying ourselves physically, psychologically and spirituality. Consequently, as a matter of survival we had to take distance from Church teaching, develop our freedom of conscience and learn to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to us through our experience. The result has been that the LGBT community is leading the way to transform the Catholic Church into a Church of the Holy Spirit....

“The stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone! This is the Lord’s doing and it is amazing in our eyes.” THANK YOU!! 

 

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