Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 3, 2006
Let the Church's star guide us
The Catholic bishops of Canada now stand criticized of being loyal to the pope. This criticism is the outlook underlying the recent letter of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) to the bishops as they prepare to make their ad limina visits to Rome (WCR, March 13).
The religious leaders provide a litany of 42 "regrets" about the state of the Church in Canada. The regrets begin with the Church's "defence of principles that do not reflect human experience (divorce, contraception, protection against AIDS, alleviation of suffering at the end of life)." They end with the assertion "that our Church has so little influence in the great social debates, because of its conservatism and that of Rome which it supports, and also because it does not accept any dissent, even responsible dissent. It stifles its prophets."
They describe the Church's efforts to proclaim the Good News of its moral teachings as rigidity and intransigence. But maybe, just maybe, this is the prophecy the world needs to hear.
The bishops are also urged to discuss (presumably with the pope) the "ordination of married men, women and 'elders' in First Nations communities."
The leaders of the religious orders say they are exercising their "prophetic charism" in raising issues such as these. But their concerns often reflect those of The Globe and Mail more than the teaching of the Catholic Church.
No group in the Church has changed so much since the Second Vatican Council as religious orders. More than just shirking the habits and convents of olden times, they have replaced strict chains of command with efforts to embrace consultative forms of decision-making. Some have moved outside the monastery walls into the streets and into solidarity with those on society's margins.
Yet, the past 40 years have not been kind to the religious congregations. Vocations have virtually dried up for them and some orders have been snowed under by lawsuits relating to their involvement in Indian residential schools.
The orders persevere in selflessly building the Church, assuming all sorts of roles with little thanks or worldly rewards.
But we still face the question of where is prophecy to be found in today's Church. Does it lie in going with the flow of society? Or, can it be found in creative fidelity to established teachings? Does prophecy consist in listening or in proclaiming?
The Church must be ever attentive to the signs of the times. Since Vatican II, those times have been changing with great speed and intensity. The Church must adapt its methods and programs to new milieu.
But Vatican II itself urged the laity to express their prophetic hope "through the structure of their secular lives in continual conversion and in wrestling 'against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of iniquity'" (The Church, n. 35; Ephesians 6:12).
Prophecy is both "for" and "against." It is for conversion to the Gospel and thus for conversion to the high ideals of Church teaching. Prophecy is against those forces that would lead us away from the Gospel or would undermine the dignity of the person. A prophetic voice in a society that ignores the Gospel will learn the importance of the word "no."
Such nay-saying will, at times, be perceived as rigid and intransigent. But perhaps the Church has little influence in society's great debates, not because it stifles prophets, but precisely because it is prophetic.
The Church is not simply the educated minority of the 21st century Western world. It is a mystical body -the baptized of today united heart and soul with those of ages past and ages to come. Prophecy is not guided by public opinion. It finds its star in the living tradition of Church teaching.
The Church has survived 2,000 years in all kinds of weather because of its fidelity to that star. If Canada's bishops are the latest bearers of such fidelity then so much the better for them.
- Glen Argan
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