Thursday, October 16, 2014

Synecdotal Ruminations and Reviews


The Road Through the Wilderness

It's been a month since my last posting at this blog, and I've been busy immersing myself in Czech culture on a deeper level, especially its past religiosity and its present seemingly atheistic present. I've been plowing through some classic films of the Czech New Wave and some more recent ones that deal with our Nazi and Communist past in Bohemia and Moravia. In these later films, religious iconography feature in striking ways, especially icons of the Virgin and Child and the occasional technicolor print of the vibrant Sacred Heart of Jesus. These images are used to moving effect, evocative, suggestive and a little sad - suggesting as they do aspirations of hope that have never been fulfilled. 

The title of this posting, besides containing a sly wink at the Synod in Rome just over,  is meant to discourage any random internet searchers from 'wasting their time' on my own reflections, which are primarily designed to help clarify my own feelings and thoughts about things. My apologies for being so solipsistic. 

I did read some of the blog coverage of the 'Synod on the Family,' just held in Rome. Much ado was recently made about an interim report using positive and accepting language about LGBT people, including the fact they have much to offer the Church and respect should be paid to their partners and the benefits of a long term relationship. There was a broad range of reactions, from the cynical to the euphoric, with more modest, balanced, cautious views in the middle - such as, from William Lindsey at his blog Bilgrimage, reminding us that such tolerant language has been used before and was in fact the instigating factor for Cardinal Ratzinger's infamous letter on Homosexuality in the '80's, responding to what he deemed a 'too benign' attitude towards homosexuality. Skimming over these views, I found myself feeling interiorly that this 'event' at the Synod was a moment of grace, however partial and slight, and should be welcomed as such with some modest hope and always with the question, "Lord, what must we do?" What is being asked of us as Christians/Catholics in these difficult times as the Church faces a kind of disintegration.

I was struck by Jerry Slevin's remarks that the positive report's language on LGBT was "too little too late," and that a collapse of the leadership structure of the Church was imminent and no amount of window dressing or 'nicey nicey' talk could forestall it (my paraphrase). And I felt that Jerry is essentially right, yet my own intuition is that a 'collapse' is meant to happen in the providential order of things, though let us hope and pray it is not total, surely not. Yet failure in the light of the cross seems the only way to heal the sickness at the heart of the leadership of the church. Failure of a kind must come before the church can be reborn, so for me both the synod's positive comments on gays, however slight, and what seems to be an imminent collapse of some kind are both moments of grace to be welcomed with courageous faith and trust. However, I'm reminded of an amusing comment Dostoevsky puts into the mouth of his protagonist, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, "Well, if you're going to drag Providence into it, then there's no getting anywhere (in the discussion at hand)." Indeed, Providence and the Spirit can be used as words to justify almost anything. Yet should that prevent us from making these kind of discerning decisions and statements. 

I look with admiration upon all of those stalwart devoted Catholic activists, such as the great Sister Fonseca of Spain or Terry Weldon at Queering the Church, who manage to survive as active participating Catholics within the Church's structures and who feel called to fight the good fight, on behalf of women and gays. But then I think of all of those equally inspiring, prayerful, devoted Christians who have felt 'called in the Spirit' to walk out the door, as their own particular kind of witness. Surely "the Spirit" (there we go again with that word) is gathering all of these disparate movements and currents together and directing them towards some good end we cannot as yet foresee = those who remain to keep the fires burning, those who leave to forge new paths for Catholic/Christian witnesss. Somehow the 'impending collapse,' which I do feel is in some sense inevitable, will be met by all of these positive spiritual currents.

I'm reminded of my aunt Gini, mother of eleven children and grandmother of over 20, a leader in her parish of the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, and a Eucharistic minister for almost forty years. In 2002, she announced to her friends, family, fellow parishioners that she was entering a year of silence and prayer - and would have to drastically cut down on all of her social contacts. At the end of this year of prayer and contemplation, Gini announced (at a meeting of religious women in Santa Barbara in a speech that made it onto the pages of the National Catholic Reporter) that at the end of her year of prayer, she was 'led kicking and screaming out of the Catholic Church.' I'm sure many of her friends and fellow parishioners were deeply shocked and her family surprised. Gini had been such a stalwart support of the Church for so many years that this 'leaving' was a truly spectacular event. It remains the single, most powerful witness in my experience of  an outstanding, prayerful, discerning Catholic walking out the door because she felt 'called,' and not out of pique, anger or frustration or because "I just can't stand it anymore." She felt led in the Spirit to make this most painful sacrifice and to give up an aspect of her religious soul that felt like her own flesh and blood. She made the sacrifice in obedience to the same burning divine Love she had discovered through the Church, that burning Love that was now asking her to walk as a witness against the evils of the Church. She listed three reasons, 1) the Church does not protect Children, 2) the Church does not respect women, 3) the Church is attacking gay and lesbian people. Yet she wanted it made clear that these were not 'reasons' for her decisions, they were simply concrete supports for a decision that was essentially a response to an interior call. Many of us are being so called - to meet the face of the beloved Crucified Savior and the  future of the church on that wilderness road outside the formal structures of the Church itself. If there is a collapse of some sort coming, these are the people preparing the way for the future of the church, in new kinds of witnesses and new forms of community. So we must ask, not only "O Lord, what must we do?" but also, "What do these signs of the times mean?" that so many devout and prayerful Christians are leaving the formal fold of the RCC after prayerful discernment in response to a call. This is not at all the same thing as walking away in disgust or fatigue or despair, giving up and walking out. These people are walking away with both pain and joy in their hearts, doing peacefully what they know they are being asked to do. And that means something profoundly significant.

Part Two of these reflections:


I recently attended a concert at Old Town Square in Prague - at the beautiful baroque Church of the Czech Brethren,  St. Nicholas. The Czech Brethren were founded by a group of reformist Catholic priests in 1920, lead by the very learned and devout Father Karel Farsky. This group had been actively seeking reforms within the Czech Catholic Church for several decades and they petitioned Rome for permission for two simple things: to be able to celebrate the Eucharist in the vernacular language and to allow all 'laypersons' at the services to receive the Eucharistic elements under both species of bread and wine. Needless to say, the Vatican refused their request in the most vivirulenterms. In a way it was more the ruthless manner of the rejection than the simple fact of refusal which decided these priests, after prayer and discernment, that they were being called to break away. On January 19th, 1920, they celebrated the first public mass in Czech and the response from their fellow Catholics was overwhelming. I've always been so moved by this story, as an example of the many ways the Spirit moves and acts in so many surprising ways. A hundred years ago this story unfolded and here we are still dealing with an intransigent Vatican structure. It is time for it to go. I've always felt the holiness of the Czech Brethren Church every time I've visited it or attended services there, though personally I don't feel called to join them. However, they stand as a positive example (over an against the negative signs of disintegration - I guess that caveat is necessary), of the many ways the Spirit is messaging us that the old tribal boundaries are dissolving and are simply not so important anymore. One of the core elements of the Czech Brethren's Statement of Faith, is their belief in the integrity and holiness of ALL the Christian churches, who each give their own particular witness to the mystery of faith in Jesus the Christ.



In 1947, the Czech Brethren began ordaining women to the ministry. 1947! Think about it.



More thoughts to come: time for dinner. 



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