Monday, January 31, 2005

Blessed are the meek

Hi there. My recent reticence here on FCA is due to the fact that I had to plow through the last, exhausting days of winter classes before flying a combined 18 hours home to Jacksonville, FL. (I'm typing on my dad's PC.) I've hit the ground running: buying, banking, eating, visiting, talking, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to see a discussion (of sorts) on the papacy flare up while I've been away. Three comments.

First, to clarify, one of the main things I like about Fr. Taft, completely aside from his historical or ecclesiological claims, is his frankness. It's refreshing to find such "homespun" theologizing from a Jesuit, much less any professional academic.

Second, I agree with Diane[1] that the papacy can change its formal operation (and has done so over time) -- which is paradoxically why I'm willing to agree with Fr. Taft that the pope may very well be able to snip various strings of his bureaucratic authority without sacrificing his Petrine supremacy. This is, in fact, the message I get from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in his (in)famous 1995 encyclical, _Ut Unum Sint_:

With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant of unity. This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church's mission, discipline and the Christian life. ... He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith. When circumstances require it, he speaks in the name of all the Pastors in communion with him. He can also—under very specific conditions clearly laid down by the First Vatican Council— declare ex cathedra that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith.152 ...

95. All this however must always be done in communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also "vicars and ambassadors of Christ".153 ...

I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility ... in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. For a whole millennium Christians were united in "a brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life ... If disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator".154

...When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios I, I acknowledged my awareness that "for a great variety of reasons, and against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But ... it is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry ... I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned".155 ...

97. The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishop of Rome, is—in God's plan—an essential requisite of full and visible communion. ... The first part of the Acts of the Apostles presents Peter as the one who speaks in the name of the apostolic group and who serves the unity of the community—all the while respecting the authority of James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem. This function of Peter must continue in the Church so that under her sole Head, who is Jesus Christ, she may be visibly present in the world as the communion of all his disciples.

I may be naive, but I hear Fr. Taft (from the Vatican no less) saying very much the same thing.

Third, I agree with Diane that Fr. Taft, as much as I respect him, is not a bishop and is therefore not the binding voice of the Magisterium. So, like a good Catholic boy, I happily submit his opinions to the judgment of the Magisterium with the obedience of faith. I mean that. I am seeking reunion with the Church with as much humble obedience as I can muster, and I mean that for the long haul. If Fr. Taft is flat-wrong or if he's basically right -- either way the bishops in communion with the pope will make that clear and I will follow their lead. I forget where I read it, but I agree that theologians should not be "a sign of contradiction" to the Church but to the world. Perhaps Fr. Taft has majored on the former at the expense of the latter. Perhaps he has not.

As a final thought, let me frankly admit that when it really comes down to it, all these technical disputes are secondary for me these days.[2] They are the mere shadows cast by the furniture of the world as I bow by faith in the immense light God's glory in the Church. The first thing I did the (Friday) morning after I got home was go to Mass with my dad. And it was beautiful. The cathedral was truly awe-inspiring. We went again today (Sunday) and it was even more beautiful. I glanced now and then at the people lined up for confession, hoping for Christ the judge to clear their hearts, minds and souls from sin before encountering Him at the altar of mercy. They stood, sat and kneeled so unassumingly. And then, as the lines formed for the communion feast, to see such a diversity of believers -- in fashion and in phenotype -- approach the altar of mercy was a dumbfounding foretaste of heaven. There was neither Greek nor Latin nor white nor black nor Asian nor rich nor poor nor male nor female nor young nor old. All those groups were there, but, somehow, they were all swallowed up into a manifold oneness in Christ.

After the service I spoke (in my mother tongue!) with "real catholics"[3], including a dad who converted 2 years ago from hardcore Baptist heritage and his wife who, by God's grace, did an about face a few years ago into the eternal life that is repentant holiness. We ate donuts. We drank coffee. We chatted. We smiled. We went home. All I could do between flashes of goose bumps was take in the fellowship like deep breaths of oxygen after nearly drowning. Today I finally got to feel the soil of obedient, daily Catholic faith fill in the gaps beneath my feet, so long dangling in the empty mists of theological abstraction.

Fr. Keene, a warm, witty and humble a priest as I've ever met, preached from today's reading in Matthew:

1 When he saw the crowds, 2 he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 He began to teach them, saying:

3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, 4 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
6 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 7 for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, 9 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.

10 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

A very real part of my journey towards Rome has been relinquishing my intellectual and moral self-assurance and instead trusting the riches God my Father offers us all in His Church. I am, ever so slightly, more among the meek than I was before this Mass. In my emptiness, I continue to find greater riches than I could ever imagine, let alone ever exhaust. Hooray for the grace of faith to take the plunge. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

[1] You're right, Diane, we Catholics can disagree on some things. Thanks for youpr charity and clarity in expressing that fact as well as the substance of your disagreement with me on these things. Also, I'm glad you think my blog is beautiful!

[2] As I'm on vacation, I don't plan on blogging too much. I'd rather sleep, read, pray, talk with my people and eat. But we'll see. The blog bug has to be scratched sometimes, right?

[3] I want to thank all of you, Catholics or non-Catholics, that have recently expressed your encouragement for the latest phase of my journey and for my written remarks about it.

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