Thursday, October 09, 2014
Obsessed by clarity?
One Eastern, Orthodox friend wrote to me recently and said, "You Latins are so obsessed with clarity you lose sight of God". It is what I feel about the Synod, we are trying to clarify what might be best left unclear. Providing we have clarity about what we believe, how we put that into practice is best left to local pastors, adapting practice to local needs. It is our scholastic Aristotelian heritage that draws us to carefully categorise everything we do.
Yes, it is important we address the great gulf between the Magisterium and what is actually taught in diocese and believed and practiced by the people. Reflecting on the words of the Australian couple who spoke of welcoming their homosexual son and his companion for Christmas dinner, I am sure Pope Francis would be proud of me, I've never turned anyone away, nor actually do I know any priest who would, I think this is one of those straw-priests 'Fr Nasty' who the Pope so often presents who doesn't baptise some one who doesn't fit certain rigid categories. In fact the only place I know where this happens is Germany, where if you don't pay Church tax, your children are not baptised and your body is left unburied. What I find difficult is warning a son that certain sexual practices might endanger not only his and his friend's spiritual health but their physical health too. Like many parents today we want to avoid conflict, even if in a real loving family, truth and frankness is necessary and welcome.
The more I hear from the Synod, the more anxious I become, I was interested in what Father Hunwicke had to say about secrecy and the Synod. Are we in the midst of a great act of Romanisation? I do fear we are stoking up two opposing factions that will never be reconciled. Are we heading to a civil war?
Every act of the Church is though not necessarily 'a sacrament' it is 'sacramental'. The old priest who taught Church history at my seminary, occassionally would say things like, "for all his brilliance St Thomas was the great curse of the Western Church", what he meant, I think, was that by defining and clarifying St Thomas moved the focus of the Church. In that sense he marks the separation of East and West. By tightly defining the sacraments, limiting them to seven we lost sense of other sacramental acts, for example we focus on the sacrament of Marriage and ignore the once sacramental acts leading to it and following from it, for example the rites that once surrounded betrothal, or the exchange of dowry and marriage contract, the blessing of the newly married or yet to be married's bed or hearth, or the grace said at the wedding breakfast or the blessing of the cake. St Thomas focused us on the moon and made us forget the stars.
The Church today stresses Mass and Communion, rather than Liturgy as a whole. The 1972 Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in a way was an attempt to redress the balance, and to move the Church to regaining a sense of mission rather than simply serving it existing members. I am not overly fond of 1970's arguements, they are tedious and 'churchy' but one that possibly we should return to is the question of Mission and/or Maintainence. If you are going to evangelise, processions, devotions, discussions, eating and drinking, or education might well preceed any thought of Mass, in the same way in most countries building a school often preceeded building a Church.
RCIA, which I never tire of arguing is a series of Rites, not a course, reflects the situation of the first half of the first millennium where the Church consisted of people who belonged to it by degree, from those who are friendly towards it or receive help, to those who actively sought membership and were enquirers, hearers and catechumens, who were the majority, to those were actually communicating members, through to those who had a ministerial role or hieratic role through to the bishop who is the locus of Communion. Significantly it also contained penitents, who had lost and hoped to regain their place within the community. It was a Church of 'gradualism', a Church of those who gradually approached Communion with Christ, expressed in Holy Communion but ultimately expressed in the Communion of Saints and the Communion of the Church throughout the world, the Communion of Bishops.
I have just had a lady ring my door bell and ask, if her memorial service could take place here, She wants to write her will. She has not been baptised, she doesn't want anything contrary to the faith, quite what her relatives might want I don't know. She has goodwill but her real reason is her mother had her Requiem here thirteen years ago.
I wasn't quite sure what to say to her, especially as she reads this blog!
Posted by Fr Ray Blake