Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 17, 2005
Ecclesial tensions deserve study, resprect
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
We disagree a lot and are forever frustrated with each other. That's true in all families, communities and churches. In this world, there's no life together without a shadow.
Inside of our churches, we have more than enough things about which to disagree: God, Jesus, Church, morality, worship, spirituality, justice, discipleship.
It has never been different: We see major divisions already within Scripture itself. The Bible does not give us one, clear understanding of God, Jesus, Church, Eucharist, morality and discipleship. It gives us a series of understandings, some of which almost seem to contradict each other and some of which had the Apostles at odds with each other.
Peter and Paul disagreed on a number of things, quite heatedly it seems, and John's theology of the Church and the Eucharist is very different than that of Matthew, Mark, Luke or Paul. In Scripture, we already see many of the tensions and divisions that divide us today.
But this doesn't necessarily mean that sin and infidelity are the problem. Even the great saints didn't always see eye to eye on everything. There can be legitimate reasons to see things differently. There's no principle that says truth, as it is held in the hearts of sincere people, should fit together without friction. And there's a reason for this.
God, by definition is ineffable, beyond grasp, beyond imagination. It is a given, a truth beyond dispute, that our understanding of God (and of all the deep mysteries in life) will have a variety of expressions, none of them adequate to the reality. All the religious expression in the world will never give adequate expression to God and to Christ.
That principle, that all our language and concepts are inadequate, is enshrined in Church dogma, but has never been properly respected. If we really accepted our concepts and language are inadequate, we'd more easily accept the tensions and disagreements that are inherent in family, Church and community.
But none of us like to live in tension and neither do our Church communities. Tension is painful and so the temptation is always to try to resolve it. This often leads to a resolution that is premature, simplistic and too much dictated by liberal or conservative ideology.
Thus, if I'm a conservative, my sense will be that things are clear, but get confused because false freedom sets itself against truth and community. My itch will be to resolve tension and differences by appealing to authority, dogma, tradition, law and rubrics, but without an equal appeal to the complexity of life and individual freedom.
Conversely, if I'm a liberal, my approach to understanding things will be to start from life's ambiguity rather than from its clarity. My worry will be that complexity and private conscience are not being sufficiently respected and my itch will be to resolve issues without an equal appeal to tradition, dogma, authority and law.
Who's right here? Neither and both.
The conservatives are right to appeal to tradition, authority, dogma and law. Freedom and sincerity alone are not enough. We need to be reminded of lessons learned from history, of mistakes already made, of moral imperatives that we're not free to accept or reject on our own terms, and of the dangers of naive freedom and the unchecked ego.
But the liberals are right too in keeping us aware that human authority, even of the ecclesial kind, is not God and is always inadequate to the task of representing God's parental hand. There's a place where everyone stands in conscience, alone, before God, and nobody, not even the Church, gets to judge what goes on there. Liberals are right as well in making us uncomfortable every time we believe that we've arrived in truth and that our present understanding of things does justice to the complexity of reality and to God's understanding of things.
Thus, we need to carry both, the conservative and the liberal understanding of things. The secret is to respect both, refuse to betray either and then accept the tension that ensues.
This isn't easy. We hate tension. But we must try to carry it because life and truth need both sides of the equation.
To quote Karl Rahner: "You must try to bring about the miracle of this double identity over and over. The sum will never work out. But try for it, over and over. One of the two on its own is not enough. Only the two together are sufficiently crucifying."
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