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Stones still Standing

Standing stones
All round Europe there are circles of standing stones, some more complete than others. They date back thousands of years, their construction, their purpose, a matter of much conjecture. One thing is sure, our ancestors were responsible for them and have left us a remarkable heritage of their times.
But in our age, they have lost meaning, a mere shadow in an open field season by season, of what once was.
Across those same European lands are the Christian cathedrals, magnificent architectural statements of faith from a time much nearer our own. How they were physically achieved has always fascinated me, but they were, and still are, a testimony of faith.
That was then, now is now; what’s changed? A great deal. We don’t deny the faith of earlier generations by asking that question. Previous generations are the tap root of our Christian experience. Indeed if we don’t ask questions about change with honesty and integrity, our future is bleak.
In Francis, Bishop of Rome, we have a man whose life experience is beyond this European cultural model. He has brought with him a South American concept of Church that is not steeped in this European mode of being Church. It is worth remembering that only a quarter of the world’s catholic Christians are resident in the European western culture.
By the time that these few lines are posted the Synod of Bishops will have concluded.
In the Interim Document, the ‘relatio’, issued at the mid-point of discussion, there was already evidence of tension. The Tablet website mentions that

“A key document from the bishops’ Synod on the Family calling for the Church to make radical changes to its pastoral approach to gays, divorce and remarried and those in civil marriages has been criticised by Cardinal George Pell as “tendentious and incomplete”.

In attempting to examine the experience of Christians in our time and to draw faith from it, there was always bound to be a contradiction with the clear cut, defined views of earlier times, not essentially on matters of doctrine but of how doctrine is experienced in our age.
Of course, we must remember that this document is only a staging post in an on-going discussion and that the Synod of October 2014 is a precursor to the General Synod next year. The Church is an act of faith and its members, living examples of faith in action.
That is where the focus must be clear and sharp. Our faith in the person of Jesus and our willingness to make the Gospel the sign post of our journey comes before everything. If that means being realistic in our time for the sake of the people, then that we must be.
No longer does the gas lighter switch on the city lights in early evening as in Eliot’s poem Preludes:

“…and at the corner of the street, a lonely cab horse steams and stamps. Then the lighting of the lamps”.

We live in a rapidly changing world, the cab horses have gone from London streets, along with the gas lamps. It is no wonder that such a changing world is reflected in the discussion at the Synod gathering. Some things last, others are useful while they last. We have to learn to distinguish which is which.
The doctrine we hold must be a life force for our times, otherwise it (and we) will become ossified like ancient stones and that will help no-one.
The picture that heads this piece shows a single bird hovering in the sunlight revealed by cloud breaking over stones. It might not be too fanciful to regard that image as symbolic of the Spirit renewing the Church, continuing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in our midst.
The few lines below were written before this posting was prepared, but they nicely reflect the tone of what I have been trying to say.

Mute Memorials

In the field, a circle of stones,
carefully placed, their feet
hidden in the overgrowth of uncut grass,
their rough grey surface etched with
green and yellow lichen.

 Gathered for a purpose now long lost
they have stood erect beneath
countless Winter storms, later to be
warmed under a Summer sun,
mute memorials to a distant dream.

We must not let the Church that is our home, become a mute memorial to a distant dream. Like Francis of Assisi all those years ago, we too are called to rebuild our Church, here in the 21st Century.
Chris McDonnell Wednesday October 22nd 2014. 

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  1. Prof. Aaron Milavec says:

    I’m inspired by what you say regarding the changing times. . . . I like your image of the incomprehensible stone circles and share your fear that the Gothic cathedrals may become just as incomprehensible. . . . But, more than anything else, I join with you in finding hope in the Spirit=dove hovering over the stones.
    Some ten years ago, I asked Jessica, my eighteen-year old daughter, whether she wanted to invite any of her school chums to join our family for our Mass and breakfast on Sunday morning. She responded, “I can’t do that, Dad.”
    “Oh, and why not?” I responded
    “Many of my friends are struggling, as you know, with their sexual orientation. I can’t risk having them being slammed by something nasty that our priest might say about homosexuals.”
    Her words stopped me short. They brought sadness to my heart, for I knew that it was true.
    Then came Pope Francis who, during his airplane interview, addressed this situation saying, “Who am I to judge?” This same Francis later insisted with the planners that the Extraordinary Synod on the Family would have “lots of discussion.” Thus, at the Synod, bishops who had been intimidated by the “intrinsically disordered” doctrine of Cardinal Ratzinger began to speak up. The midterm Synod report noted that homosexuals “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community” and that “homosexual unions” sometime demonstrate “mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice,” a quality that distinguishes Jesus’ love for his disciples/church. My heart was uplifted.
    By the end of the second week, however, bishops who wanted the doctrine of the Church expressed unambiguously had won the day. Here’s what was reported in the Jesuit magazine, America:

    Synod fathers voted on each of the document’s 62 paragraphs. All received a simple majority, but three failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority ordinarily required for approval of synodal documents.
    Two of those paragraphs dealt with a controversial proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion. . . .
    The document’s section on homosexuality, which also fell short of supermajority approval, was significantly changed from its counterpart in the midterm report. The original section heading—”welcoming homosexuals”—was changed to “pastoral attention to persons with homosexual orientation.” A statement that same-sex unions can be a “precious support in the life of the partners” was removed.
    The final report quoted a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

    Cardinal Pell had slammed down his fist and vowed to stop those “attempting to hijack the Synod.” He and his faithful lamp-lighters had even succeeded in bringing the CDF into the core document. “We cannot change doctrine,” is their rallying cry.
    At Mass last Sunday, I noticed Margaret, a pious fifty-year-old housewife with four children. She confided in me that she prays that at least one of her children will turn out to be gay or lesbian. When I inquire as to why, she says, “Because I feel especially called to nurture a child who has received such a rare gift from God.”
    Then I imagine Pope Francis had given her four minutes to address the Synod. . . . She ends, saying: “This inspiration of mine: where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Matt 21:25)
    Also, at communion, I noticed that some take the body of Christ but refuse the cup. Nancy is among them. She warned me against ‘the homo-germs left on the rim of the chalice by closet homosexuals who have no shame and presume to receive communion.’
    Then I imagined that Pope Francis had also given Nancy her four minutes to address the Synod . . . not to inspire them but to reveal the homophobic underground working within the Church.
    But, by the end of Mass, my thoughts include both “rocks” to “rocking.” I sense that I am in the midst of a social revolution that is ‘rocking’ the bark of Peter as it perilously attempts to cross over ‘to the other side.’ Jesus is sleeping ‘like a rock’ at the back of the boat (Mark 4:35 and par.). In my fear, I awaken him. In my fear, I awaken him. He challenges me saying, “Why are you afraid?”

  2. Adrian Grenham says:

    A shame that the press and this association seems to have a singular focus on aspects of the document relating to ‘gays, divorce and remarried’. What about the pastoral concerns and requirements of those Catholics living out the challenges of a traditional marriage on a daily basis in an increasingly secular, anti-Catholic and ‘throwaway’ culture.

  3. Soline Humbert says:

    Rebuild….or birth a-new?

  4. “Synod fathers voted on each of the document’s 62 paragraphs. All received a simple majority, but three failed to gain the two-thirds supermajority ordinarily required for approval of synodal documents.”
    A mundane point in comparison with the fuller message within Professor Milavec’s comment (1), but isn’t it wonderful to see democracy at work within the church? It’s just a crying shame it is limited to use by the few at the top of the pyramid.

  5. Mary Wood says:

    I have read that the voting on this watered down clause about gays was 118 – 62
    Only 2 of the minority needed to vote “for” and the two-thirds would have been achieved.

  6. We live in a complex and changing world. The posting by Aaron Milavec makes that abundantly clear. Since the Synod of October 2014 closed there has been much discussion of winners and losers, progressives and traditionalists etc. What seems to have been forgotten is that we have recently witnessed a living Church addressing the issues that confront us and seeking a way forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    Don’t let’s be afraid of the challenge. We have a year to reflect on the Synod documents, until the General Synod of October 2015, to talk with each other and pray together. That Chinese proverb that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step is worth considering. There is a work to be done and opinions to be sought across as wide a perspective as possible.
    The courage of Francis in calling the Synod and seeking honest, open discussion is to be applauded. Let’s move on.

  7. Pope Francis seems to be looking for conservatives/traditionalists who know what needs to change and liberals/progressives who know what we need to hold on to. I am also reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s famous “Out! Out! Out!” speech before her surprise signing of the ground breaking Anglo Irish Agreement. Miracles can happen.

  8. If the stones were living everywhere, including within the magisterium, we might have continued to have a chance at a vibrant spiritual house. It seems to me that the Vatican ignored, for years and years, how peoples lifestyles around the globe simply were not compatible with the teachings and theology of the RC Church.
    Now, the RC Church is attempting to wade into contemporary issues, and it really doesn’t have the ability. It won’t have the ability, unless, the RC Church is willing to revamp, and readapt so much teaching and sacramental theology.
    Naturally, the Magisterium and members of the synod feel challenged to say “yes” to so much, that they have rejected. I surmise that Jesus would say “yes” to many of the desires and requests of gays, lesbians, remarried catholics, catholics in co-habitation…but, Jesus and Jesus Christ are not necessarily guarding the tenants of the faith…like the magisterium. TIS A MESS…but, that’s what you get…when you bury your head in the sand…or somewhere else…which I’ll not spell out.

  9. Peter Shore says:

    Chris McDonnell says: “In attempting to examine the experience of Christians in our time and to draw faith from it, there was always bound to be a contradiction with the clear cut, defined views of earlier times, not essentially on matters of doctrine but of how doctrine is experienced in our age.”
    Since when do we draw faith from the experience of other Christians? Hopefully we share our common faith, but that’s a different thing. And it wasn’t exactly another age when another Pope wrote: “The various forms of the erosion of marriage, such as free unions and ‘trial marriage’, and even pseudo-marriages between people of the same sex, are instead an expression of anarchic freedom that are wrongly made to pass as true human liberation.” That was 2005 to be exact. Not a thousand years ago.

  10. Cornelius Martin says:

    From the Pope, October 22
    In the time of Paul, the Pope said, the community of Corinth experienced “divisions, jealousies, misunderstandings and marginalization.” Instead of “building and helping the Church to grow as the Body of Christ,” he said, these difficulties “shatter it into many pieces; they dismember it. And this also happens in our day.”
    These same divisions, which exist in in our own neighbourhoods, he said, work to dismember us. “It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: Wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other.”
    Citing Paul’s “practical advice” to the Corinthians, Pope Francis warned against jealousy, calling instead for an appreciation for “the gifts and the quality of our brothers and sisters in our communities.”
    He concluded his address by imploring the Holy Spirit to “help us to really live as the Body of Christ, united as a family, but a family that is the body of Christ, and as a beautiful and visible sign of the love of Christ.”

  11. Where there are stones still standing….and I think of one place, somewhere around Drumquin….is evidence of faith….and I remain confident there are living stones of faith in Ireland….and what is a powerful symbol to me, is salt….Perhaps, the salt of the RC Church that still has its’ flavour is evidenced in Ireland, where there is the desire and implementation of renewal! Again, I hope for the best in the on-going work of Killaloe.

  12. Prof. Aaron Milavec says:

    MM (4) notes correctly that open discussion and voting at the Synod was done by bishops who, for the most part, were chosen by JPII and Benedict. These bishops took secret oaths never to promote certain key issues such as women’s ordination or optional celibacy. Hence, freedom of discussion is anathema for many due to these shameful practices in the past.
    Chris (6) rightly notes that “we have recently witnessed a living Church addressing the issues that confront us.” AMAZING! Pope Francis set the mood by insisting that this Synod would be conducted within “free and open deliberations.” THIS IS CRITICAL. Ever since 1971, the Roman Synods have been manipulated by the curia and the bishops who participated came to understand that their role was to rubber stamp what was presented to them.
    Archbishop John Dew of Wellington of New Zealand, a veteran who has attended five synods, attests to the difference Pope Francis is making at this synod. He said Pope Francis, “is just there wondering around and talking to people. He’s very serious about collegiality. People feel freer and you can sense that in the atmosphere.”
    On Thursday, the head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher spoke of a major shift, a new starting place for theological reflection by bishops at the synod– the same starting place espoused for decades by mujerista, womanist, feminist and liberation theologians around the world.
    “What’s happening within the Synod is we are seeing a more inductive way of reflecting; starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out, ‘what is going on here?’”, said Durocher. “We are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source . . . a place for theological reflection.” [source=http://www.churchonfire.net/?p=794]
    This is more like what Jesus in the Synoptics is all about. Jesus does not flash his divinity card and then strategize how to force eternal truths down the throats of his listeners. Rather, Jesus is shown listening deeply to the joy and hope, the suffering and grief of each person and then creatively inventing on the spot how his Father’s heart might reach out to nurture and/or to challenge each one. Even Jesus does not get it perfectly right at every encounter . . . but he meditates on his failures and continues to get better at it as he goes.
    Our Brother Francis is doing precisely this in his encounters at the Synod. Our faithful pastors (lay and ordained) have been practicing this Jesus-art of walking in the shoes of others for a long time.
    When I come to think of it, the Spirit worthy of being called “holy” is not found flying above the church. Rather, this Spirit is cooing and nesting within those living and breathing pastors (rightly seen as “living stones” by DS:8) whom I love and respect. These are the ones who are binding up wounds and setting bones straight….
    And just now “I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle” (Pope Francis 19 Sept 2013).

  13. @12.
    ”the true situation of people’…’we are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source….a place of theological reflection’. When the truth is written or spoken it is ‘like the hidden flame of the divine spirit flaring forth from which we can kindle our own flame and learn there what we must say and do’ (Borgman).

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    The most disheartening and anti-gospel gesture of the Synod was to strike out the word “welcome” (accogliere) in the section on gays, only to fall back on parrotting one of the worst CDF documents of recent years (see http://josephsoleary.typepad.com/my_weblog/2014/05/a-vexed-question-catholic-theology-facing-same-sex-marriage.html). I hope Francis makes Bruno Forte, who redacted the interim more welcoming version of that section, the successor to Cardinal Muller as CDF Prefect. Bruno Forte is an impeccably orthodox theologian and a warm, intelligent, modern human being. The cruelty and bullying that recent Prefects of the CDF have practised would disappear overnight and theologians would actually look forward to dialoging with him and receiving his critiques (whereas in recent decades the word “dialogue” became a very menacing one as used by the CDF).

  15. Bob Hayes says:

    Joe (no. 14): ‘The cruelty and bullying that recent Prefects of the CDF have practised…’.
    Oh dear! Whatever happened to Pope Francis’ ‘Who am I to judge?’ sentiment?

  16. @14.
    Joe, your essay is very impressive. However the ‘true situation of people’ calls for quick instant responses, for example the loving response of parents when a child reveals that they are gay and in a relationship or when a married couple decide to reject Church teaching on contraception because it is detrimental to their marriage. These are mature conscience based decisions motivated by love. They are not underpinned by heavy theological tomes. When Jesus was put to the test by the scribes and pharisees his response and his decision was instant, it was based on love not on Jewish theology. Jesus underpinned his teaching by writing in the sand. His actions spoke louder than words.

  17. Joe O'Leary says:

    Bob, “Who am I to judge?” is a quote from Luke 12:14, “Who set me over you to judge?” — yet Luke 13:32 has Jesus calll Herod “that fox”. When we observe abusive behavior, we have to judge. When we observe human beings struggling to live loving and creative lives, we have to abstain from judging.
    Nuala, people can make swift judgments based on their hearts or conscience, but when it comes to developing church doctrine or enlarging church pastoral policy what often stymies development is the lack of the heavy theological tomes that are needed in order to substantiate the arguments for change. An example is the decision of Vatican II to stick to the status quo on biblical inerrancy because the theological groundwork for change was not in place. Church teaching on sexuality is impoverished today because those who could have written to deepen or correct it were either afraid to do so or were silenced.

  18. Prof. Aaron Milavec says:

    Adrian (2) is disappointed that so much attention is being given to gays. Some bishops have been saying the same thing at the recent Synod.
    Joe (14), in my opinion, provides the best answer: “The most disheartening and anti-gospel gesture of the Synod was to strike out the word “welcome” (accogliere) in the section on gays, only to fall back on parrotting one of the worst CDF documents of recent years.”
    Case in Point: HOMELESS CHILDREN
    Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay …. Meanwhile, as societal advancements have made being gay less stigmatized and gay people more visible … the average coming-out age has dropped from post-college age in the 1990s to around 16 today, which means that more and more kids are coming out while they’re still economically reliant on their families. The resulting flood of kids who end up on the street, kicked out by parents whose religious beliefs often make them feel compelled to cast out their own offspring (one study estimates that up to 40 percent of LGBT homeless youth leave home due to family rejection), has been called a “hidden epidemic.” [Full story at http://www.churchonfire.net/?p=860%5D
    The disordered thoughts of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger continue to be upheld by the CDF and by a host of “loyal” bishops. Three bishops here in the USA are now requiring all Catholic school teachers to sign an oath not to teach or to publicly support gay rights. The result is an intentional purge of those educators sympathetic to gay suffering.
    Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati has dismissed the Dean of Students at Purcell Marian High School, Mike Moroski, on the grounds that he expressed online his belief that gay marriage should be legal. Parents who created Moroski Advocates for Human Equality responded by a public protest that includes the following:
    The Church is the foundation for justice, and this ultimatum against Mr. Moroski seems to be the exact opposite. It violates his right to speak freely, to advocate human rights, to inspire, teach, guide, and assist his students. It is also a threat to everyone who believes as he does to keep their mouth shut or be punished. This act of the Archdiocese is an act of tyranny, not justice, or love, or peace, or freedom. [Full story at http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cincinnati/east-walnut-hills/purcell-marian-students-supporting-fired-assistant-principal-who-voiced-gay-marriage-support%5D.
    Case in Point: PRIESTS DEFENDING THE FAITH BY DENYING COMMUNION TO GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES [http://www.churchonfire.net/?page_id=346].
    If Nuala (13) is right and “the lived experience of people is also a theological source,” then it is incumbent upon our bishops to invite and listen to gay and lesbian couples during the 2015 Synod. Without this, the senseless divisions and the untold suffering hinted at above will cruelly prevail.

  19. Bob Hayes says:

    Joe (no. 18): ‘When we observe abusive behavior, we have to judge. When we observe human beings struggling to live loving and creative lives, we have to abstain from judging’.
    Joe, the act of determining what is ‘loving and creative’ itself involves judgement. Life is not so simple that we mere humans can confidently deposit all human behaviours into ‘abusive’ or ‘loving and creative’ categories: the former to be judged that latter not.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    For “judgement” read “condemnation”. If one finds instances of cruel and bullying behavior, as in the CDF treatment of Dupuis, Jeanrond, Schmidt-Leukel, Curran, Schillebeeckx, and many others, then one should condemn. If one observes the instances of loving and creative behavior of many gay and lesbian couples, one should appreciate the goodness of their effort and not think of condemning (as Cardinal Martini insisted).

  21. Prodigal son says:

    Since Joe O’Leary invites reading of his essay on the relevance of gay marriage to the outcomes of the Synod, I would like to comment.
    I am not arguing the whys and wherefores of gay marriage. I am suggesting that Joe O’Leary’s essay does not make the case for the Church’s acceptance of gay marriage or of the gay lifestyle. There may be a case but his is not it.
    After cutting through its abstruse aspects it becomes clear that Joe O’Leary relies on two main arguments. One The Church operates from principles developed at considerable distance from the experience of the people who experience same sex attraction. Two, a reliance on his personal notion expressed in the words “The Bible, if well read.”
    In terms of one, it is empirically clear that the Church’s arguments are most satisfying for many people of same sex attraction. These people are some of the best proclaimers of the Church’s teaching. One thinks of all those who avail of the ministry of Courage, and of some who have converted to Catholicism on foot of its teaching on same sex attraction. Some have found that same-sex unions are not beneficial and have not “appreciated the values of love and fidelity” even in gay unions of the monogamous type. They agree with many of the statements of bishops that articulate Church teaching, quoted in the article. Consequently the principles are true for a significant number of people. The essay lacks empirical completeness.
    Two, the notion of when the Bible has been “properly read.” What individual claims a monopoly in this regard? Given Joe O’Leary’s philosophical tendency towards relativism, one person’s self-regarded proper reading is somebody else’s target for rejection.
    This approach enables one to quote from selective sources, relatively balanced in O’Leary’s case, and to referee them on bases where the notion of truth is dismissed. This of course puts one on a different wavelength to the Catholic Church. Such is his entitlement. But he is left with the problem of establishing that philosophical systems at variance with those of the Church provide firm grounds of belief, despite the fact that he and the authors of such ascribe to them nothing more than temporary value.
    The essay is well written but contains many other weaknesses which space does not allow for allusion to here

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