Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Putting the world to rights ...

The phrase in the title is N.T. Wright's, one that he uses repeatedly in his fantastic apologetic book, "Simply Christian" (I've no idea if he wanted to imitate "Mere Christianity or not. That it is not, but it's good!). I was reminded of Wright's words as I read what Amy wrote (and she does so well, especially when she gets going!) in response to a pastoral letter issued by the Bishop of Orange County, NJ.
Think of how Paul describes this Church and why people should be in it: because of the community and good feelings and the opportunity to help others? No - because this is the way the world is - God has redeemed the world through Christ, and to be joined to this Body is to be joined to Christ, to be renewed, eternally. There is all kinds of fruit from that - sacrificial love for one another, for the poor. Radical life changes that set us apart from the world and the flesh. Unity, love...joy.

But the point is completely the reverse of the assumptions in this letter and 95% of what we hear about the importance of Church - what we hear is that - this a nice place, and you'll find meaning in a troubled world here.

Is that the Apostolic vision of Church? No - it is, rather - here is the world. This is what happened - it broke. You are part of that brokenness. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, died and risen to life. He has entered the world and mysteriously redeemed it, the fulness of which is not yet visible to our eyes. Jesus lives in this Church, and to be a part of God's plan for this world, to enter into it - this is where you must be, too. You will be baptized, and you will die and rise with Christ, be a new person, a new creation. You will be part of the Body of Christ, you will let Christ live in you, and you will be filled with joy and you will probably suffer

This functional-utilitarian-self-fulfillment way of doing Church has failed because it is not true. It is a mixed-up confused consequence of the perceived need to make faith more understandable to the modern person, and the slow acceptance of the total privatization of personal faith - that it is all about my personal spritiuality and no longer about the story of the world. It has resulted in a mode of doing and speaking that is profoundly misleading, leaving many Catholics adrift in the culture, not quite sure why they should go to church on Sunday apart from habit, guilt and the vague hope that they might be "inspired" a bit and their kids might absorb some moral constraints here and there. It is not their fault. When this is what they are taught, this is the fruit.
[Italics in original. Bold added] This also reminds me of her little book, well written and quite helpful, that expands on some of these ideas: Here, Now: A Catholic guide to the good life.]

4 comments:

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Heresy alert (& I'll probably get my conservative credentials revoked over this one.)

I read the pastoral letter yesterday, then read Amy's comments and all of the combox folks who were upset about various and sundry things (not all directly related to The Letter, but that's how the blogosphere is.)

Amy's major complaint began with not hearing much about Jesus. Perhaps she and others were responding to the video, when the comment was made that:
95% of what we hear [is] about the importance of Church - what we hear is that - this a nice place, and you'll find meaning in a troubled world here.

I think that this analysis misses some very important questions, exhortations and admonitions in The Letter:

* The Gospel of Mark was written
under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as a call to them (and us) to become more dedicated to our Savior and to be willing to follow His sacrificial example more closely.

* Where do you people disappear to after we prepare you for the Sacraments?

* Make [your faith] a personal commitment. Study it, talk about it, live it.

* Live your faith explicitly:
"As our brother and sister evangelical Christians rightly assert, each person who seeks to follow Jesus must choose him as
his or her personal Lord and Savior. What is characteristic of our Catholic tradition is that we live this commitment explicitly within the Christian community. Our faith is personal but it is not private. Together we meditate, pray and discern the inspirations [of] the Holy Spirit among us; as one body of Christ we gather around the Lord’s table and receive the sacraments; confidently and with commitment, we work together to carry out the commands of our Savior, particularly the care of the poor and vulnerable. Though I try to integrate what I receive and make it my own, my faith is never just my faith; it is my share in our faith."


* Let's be honest about how we've been influenced by our culture.

* Share your faith; live it with and in front of others.

There's more, but you get the idea. This sounds an awful lot like an evangelical message. Bishop Brown concludes by asking how faith formation can help awaken Catholics to the riches of living out their faith. He wants to do as the writer of Mark worked to do--keep the fervent faith alive and engender a deeper experience of conversion in all of us.

I really cannot agree that "radical life changes that set us apart from the world" are "completely the reverse of the assumptions of this letter."

I think Bp Brown is saying that we've all forgotten what sacrifice and commitment are. He's calling us to do some self-examination--not just harping on scandals or whatever other issues have pre-occupied the people of his diocese. And then to act on it: Book of Ephesians AND the Book of James.

Maybe I'm missing what Amy's filters are, but I think it's important that a Bishop is talking about this sort of thing honestly to his flock.

Just because the first attempt to frame the question doesn't contain the answer/slant one prefers, doesn't mean it's not of value.

Gashwin said...

I have no idea why you think your credentials are threatened. I linked to what Amy wrote because I really thought she was on the mark. I hadn't actually read anything that the Pastoral Letter she was referring to had said ... She does acknowledge that the questions asked are great. I think she might have gone off on that one line in the DVD ... and that might be unfair ... but what she said on that tangent is right on.

From what you write, there's nothing at all I find objectionable in what the Bishop has said ... in fact it's quite commendable!

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

The "heresy" would be disagreeing with Ms. Welborn, who really had nothing positive to say about the letter.

I read some more comments this afternoon--I'm not the only person who thought there was nothing to criticize.

Gashwin said...

Oh oh oh ok ... well, Amy hardly constitutes a dogma ... :-)

I really didn't pay much attention to the original context of her essay -- nor have I read the letter or the comments at her blog. I just liked what she said on her tangent ... So, she may indeed be off in attributing the sentiments she criticizes to the Bishop's letter, which is, at best, quite unfair to the good Bishop. And as I just said ... what you highlight from the letter is also indeed spot on.

However, what she says does apply to so much of what I've heard in various circles in the Catholic Church ... and it reminded me of some thoughts I'd come across in Wright's book ... which is why I put this post up with the title it has ...