I got back from Chicago late Sunday night only to discover that Intentional Disciples and my name had been bandied about on several blogs in response to the criticisms of one garrolous individual who seems to have only one topic: the corrupting influence of evangelical converts upon Catholic tradition.
I wouldn't normally pay that much attention to the ramblings of one individual except for this: She is being given a platform in respectable circles. She is currently scheduled to give a presentation to the annual conference of a national liturgical society whose founder currently heads up the Liturgical Institute at the Archdiocese of Chicago. The topic? “Finding Jesus Christ in Prayer, in the Liturgy, in the Church: Catholic Liturgy and the Problem of Protestant Evangelical Converts”.
Hmmm . . . What will we do with a problem like Maria?
Strangly enough, when I met Cardinal George last summer in Chicago (where we were both speaking at the same theological symposium on the parish), he didn't seem to be bothered by my fundie past. As Mark Shea and I walked with him over to the symposium's venue, I described myself as "the survivor of three RCIA's and graduate of none" and the Cardinal roared with laughter. Apparently, he didn’t regard Mark and I as "problems". Nor did he make any attempt to stop us from speaking or from having our presentations published this summer in a national theological journal published in his archdiocese for pastoral leaders.
This woman’s choice of topic is made more troublesome by the fact that she has recently explicitly stated in considerable detail online that she does not hold Protestants in general and evangelicals and Pentecostals in particular, to be real Christians because they lack the Eucharist and the hierarchy.
I have already banned her from commenting on ID at least four times because she would not stop implying or asserting that people who disagreed with her weren’t real Christians and should leave the Church. Now I realize that these comments were not just said in the heat of the moment. That this directly contradicts reams of Church teaching at the higest level of authority apparently doesn’t give her any pause at all.
From her perspective, we do have a problem. Because an average of 160,000 adults have entered the American Catholic Church every year for the past 12 years. That's nigh on 2 million converts and a significant number hail from an evangelical background. We are the only part of the global church that faces this particular situation. Half of these adults were "Christians" coming into full communion, who were, like myself, not conditionally re-baptized upon being received Of course, if we were not true Christians, that would mean our previous baptisms were not valid, and that none of the sacraments we have received since are valid either.
I suppose that if you believed this, the good news would be that so many new "Catholics" are gone within a year. I had always thought this a failure of evangelization, catechesis, and community but what if I'm wrong? What if what looks like apparent failure is actually a rear-guard action by the Holy Spirit, shielding the Church from the consequences of not wiping the mental and spiritual hard drives of converts and installing the latest version of Traditional Catholic 196.2 before letting them loose within the Church? Enough to make one pause, no?
But this situation is only one instance of a reality that is growing. The polarization of the American church had progressed to the point that in the name of a hermeneutic of “continuity”, some Catholics, who are still in official communion, are advocating discontinuity of the most explicit kind. “Catholic identity” = only that which is unique to Catholics and not what that we hold in common with other Christians and a particular reading of “Catholic culture” is held to trump formally defined Catholic doctrine without apology.
As I have noted before on this blog, I attended a meeting last year with a group of orthodox theologians, scholars, and pastors with doctorates, and listened to one very conservative scholar (who was not a theologian himself but very influential man who forms priests) vehemently assert that there was no such thing as "the charismatic dimension of the church". I pointed out that Pope John Paul II had talked about the charismatic dimension of the church and its "co-essential nature" with the institutional several times in major addresses. He just shook his head, unimpressed by mere papal teaching. (This exact same point has been repeated by Pope Benedict)
If fact, he went on to insist that charisms didn't really exist at all outside hierarchical functions. The 481 references to the word "charism" and its cognates in magisterial teaching since V2 and the debates in the Council on the charisms in the context of the apostolate of the laity didn't phase him. He implied that the term "charism" in the English documents was the result of a mistranslation of the Latin word "munus" meaning task or office.
(Since this isn't exactly Da Vinci Code territory - all the Latin originals being readily available on the Vatican website - I went home and looked up 38 important passages in eight major conciliar and magisterial documents where the English translation uses the word "charism". The passages about the responsibility of the clergy to honor, call forth, and help the laity discern their charisms and the passages about the importance of the laity discerning their own charisms. In all cases but one, the Latin original was charismata or some cognate thereof. In one case, the Latin word was the "dones", meaning gift. In no instance, was the word "munus" translated into English as "charism".
It was the theological equivalent of an urban legend. To wit, that a ill willed hoax had been perpetrated on the Body Catholic by the simple expedient of a translation slight-of-hand. A hoax that had been repeated throughout the decades by two generations of translators every time a magisterial document referred to charisms. And no theologian of standing, including Josef Ratzinger, in the only institution on earth which still uses Latin in its daily round, had noticed for 40 years.
(Unless . . . Of course! . . . Tthe Latin editions on the Vatican website have been corrupted by the same band of conspirators. . . . and the originals are buried in an archbishop's casket in St. Sulpice! Wow, this is bigger than I thought. )
Then he insisted that the concept of the "People of God" (a phrase that occurs 41 times in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 106 times in the documents of the Council and 650 times in magisterial teaching since the early 60's.) was no longer valid, having been completely replaced and subsumed by the theology of "communio".
The other men in the group tried gently and then humorously to take issue with him but he was adamant. Privately, several told me later that the whole thing was absurd and inexplicable.
I must admit that I was completely floored. I had just met my first highly placed "conservative" dissenter who wasn't even attempting to make an argument for his assertions. He wasn't thinking critically at all. He was emoting using theological categories. It was as though he was trying, by sheer force of will, to erase large portions of the past 45 years of Church teaching and history.
A truly Catholic faithfulness and a true "hermeneutic of continuity" demands more of us: that we maintain a fundamental trust that the Holy Spirit have never ceased to guide the Church in matters of doctrine - in 1950 and in 1980.
It is about remaining open and grateful for the whole Tradition of the Church and its legitimate development - pre and post Vatican II. True continuity demands that we not try to use one part of the Church's teaching to suppress or bludgeon another part into oblivion in defense of our pet theories or personal preferences. To be faithful, we must embrace Church teaching on ecumenism and the liturgy, evangelization and social teaching.
Faithfulness demands a basic attitude of humility and docility. What is docility?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Docility is “ readiness to learn from others.” . . When one so perfects nature as to learn willingly from the more experienced, docility becomes part of prudence. In the relations of human beings with God, all are as children, docile by grace to His revelation received through Holy Church.
Alas, some of the children have run away from home. Now some Catholics, in the name of reasserting Catholic identity and culture, have abandoned any pretense of docility and adopted what can only be described as a thoroughly Protestant view of the Church’s teaching. The cafeteria is not only not closed, the line to get in is snaking around the block. Only the menu items have changed.
And those who persist in cultivating a basic stance of docility, of making a good faith effort to be open to the whole of Church teaching and to think with the Church across American ideological divides are being dismissed as openly deluded, duped, culturally corrupt, and the ultimate insult these days: “Protestantized.” Even when most of us are cradle Catholics and have never been anything else.
If that is the new definition of delusion, count me in. Here at Intentional Disciples and the Catherine of Siena Institute, we will continue to make every effort to think and teach with the Church and to foster faith and hope in revelation and that it is living and speaks to the hearts of 21st century men and women.
Our area of focus will continue to be limited – the theology, evangelization, mission, gifts, vocations, and formation of the laity (so don’t expect posts on liturgy anytime soon) but in this area, we will do our best to think deeply, expectantly, and creatively, to pray faithfully, and to teach and share the riches of the Tradition with joy and confidence.