Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beginning a New Church Year


Governance Skills?
          Would you believe that the First Sunday of Advent has brought me (among other things) to reaffirm in my own life one of those common sense pieces of wisdom that just about everyone seems to know? Not that I didn’t know this before, but I guess I am appropriating it to myself in a new and different way, as never before.
The basic issue could be treated as theological; it certainly has something to do with canon law. It is the question of the importance of “governance skills” especially as a prerequisite for those to be entrusted with the office of bishop in the Church. My new insight, on this 28 November 2010, has to do with the superiority of law to governance skills. The governance of a small group, as an association of like-minded people in the private sphere, as if the Church were a club of hobbyists, does not fit the Catholic Church; it is not and cannot be the Catholic Church. We as Church are by nature expansive; we are and must be public; we are governed not only by by-laws but (and not only in the moral sphere) reflect eternal verities, which should have been clear to Adam and Eve in the Garden, but will certainly be clear when all, from least to greatest, stand before the Judgment Seat of God. Law, social order and commonly held values cannot be dispensed with for “multi-“ anything; it is not so much that I choose my destiny this side of the grave, but our world has an ultimate destiny as willed by the God Who made us for happiness forever with Him in heaven.
          Multiculturalism, as a strategic refusal to bend to this truth, if it is not already totally discredited and branded (obs.) in all dictionaries then it should be yet in my lifetime. This silly notion will certainly merit no more attention in history books than does the politically correct, non-judgmental German term Völkerwanderung, as opposed to the Latin and English notion of barbarian invasion, which renders better the devastating effect these movements of peoples had on the Roman world and civilization as it was known up until that time.
The fact that there is such a thing as the truth which is objective absolutizes truth and makes it what only truth can be. Truth as true takes things out of the dominion of my persuasive skills. Objectivity as idea places truth under the protection of the law and takes law out of the realm of social compromise; law is exalted in its possibilities to more than the least common denominator or other such folly, which can do little more than keep cattle, sheep and little children from sauntering onto busy super highways.
          This “appropriation” of something familiar but in a new and different way started this morning as I read for maybe the 36th time in my life the passage assigned as the 2nd Reading for the Office of Readings for the First Sunday in Advent, from St Cyril of Jerusalem, entitled “The twofold coming of Christ”:
“We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom…
  At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels…
  The Saviour will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgement he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: You did these things, and I was silent.
  His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. This time, whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity.”

What struck me as new, at least for me this year, was Cyril’s point in expressing the distinction between the two comings: the first as he says being aimed at teaching by gentle persuasion and the second at establishing Christ’s kingdom by necessity. I remember our canon law professor’s lecture in the basic seminary course on the law talking about the authority of Church law being rooted not in its power to punish but in its basic merit, reasonableness or (to borrow from St. Cyril) its persuasiveness. Later, doing the license courses and seeing the 1983 Code just as it came out with even less possibility of punishing the disobedient than the 1917 Code had had, the point was again made about the authority of the law stemming not from its coercive force but from its reasonableness and sublime purpose. Once again the professor’s argument in favor of a law without a penal code failed to convince me in my youth and zeal of its adequacy for the task of defending the truth and keeping order within the body Catholic. Although I certainly would not have welcomed a return to a situation where the recalcitrant were turned over to the secular arm of the law for the added “persuasion” that corporal punishment could provide, I guess I was skeptical about the truthfulness or rightness of an argument winning the day. The sublimity and rightness of a law did not seem to be enough to command respect or obedience. No doubt my thought, not much different from the reasoning of a righteous teenager, might have been summed up in the maxim: “Fear, once burnt twice shy, is also common wisdom”.
Perhaps I, like so many, have simply turned my back on the law as the primary servant of the truth. From then until today, consciously or unconsciously, I’ve always sort of despaired of the efficacy of the law and hoped for the best from people’s good will and believed that without the “courageous standard bearer” to rally the troops, all is lost. Needless to say, the bishop or parish priest who refuses to take a stance, who gives no directives at all, cannot be: those without principle and the courage to assert and stand up for their beliefs need not apply for positions in the hierarchy. Shepherds must shepherd. But shepherding is not a free creation; it has a physionomy; it is governed by principles.
My point is that, for leadership and Church order in the service of truth as something real, charisma (a persuasive or convincing aura) is not enough. Here and everywhere society, now and always, civilization and Church flourish on the basis of law. Old Testament or New, it is the Law which provides the sheltering Temple near to the altar of the Lord of Hosts, where even the sparrow and the swallow find a home.
In this sense, not only St. Cyril but also the 1st Reading from the First Sunday of Advent – Year A (Isaiah 2:1-5) started me off on what was a new and different meditation for me starting my Church Year:
“The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:
  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the Temple of the God of Jacob
  that he may teach us his ways
  so that we may walk in his paths;
  since the Law will go out from Zion,
  and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’
He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.
O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

          When Isaiah prophesied that the Law would go out from Zion and that the Lord would wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples he was promising something right, true and good. Peace is the fruit of the rule of God’s Law, of the Law as Truth. In the Coming of Christ Isaiah’s hope was fulfilled as promise. In freedom, we can choose to place ourselves under His Kingship; there are no other options or choices out there in some imagined supermarket of ideas. Ultimately, it is Christ Who will be all in all; it is Christ Who will come on the clouds of heaven. St. Francis Xavier, the great patron saint of the missions, understood the urgency of the task and would have done his best to coerce all those university students he had known in Europe to put themselves to the task of proclaiming this Law of Love. While not condemning others who do not see it as we do, we certainly cannot be complacent about their ignorance of Christ or fail to do our best to preserve those we know and love from having to live the utter chaos of a society from which the Gospel has been excluded or reduced to something it is not, something less than truly good news.
Thinking of past precedents and of how bad things got after the fall of the Roman Empire where reasoned discourse no longer seemed to have its place and St. Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism and one of the Patrons of Europe, withdrew from regular social intercourse and founded bastions of work and prayer (Ora et Labora), I guess I’m hoping we’re not yet that far gone. I’m hoping that the prayer on the street in front of abortion mills, that the Vespers and Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament in favor of life by the Holy Father in St. Peters will have a transformative power on life. I would hope that a genuine monastic renewal would be one of the factors, but that perhaps despite tragedies like Louvain which no longer wishes to be Catholic, there might be yet Catholic Universities where the truth is served and people still think the great thoughts.
Not wanting to give up hope in the viability of the diocesan structure and presbyterates as colleges surrounding their bishop with counsel and support, I think that it would be good if, as happened early in the 20th Century and even earlier in modern times, bishops and clergy would organize law-based synods both on the diocesan and provincial levels, which would publish and seek to implement a precis of the law already on the books aimed at countering for our day and time those errors and challenges which are most acute.
In 2008, I expressed the hope that other bishops would follow the example of the Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma and give ad Orientem worship a try, as well as inviting priests to adhere to the rubrics for the celebration of Holy Mass as they presently exist on the books. A precis of rubrics, guidelines for sacred music and the like, elaborated for a specific diocese in the context of a diocesan synod, while at the same time touching on the full spectrum of topics which embrace Catholic life as lived today (laws of fast and abstinence, sanctification of Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, education of children in the faith, marriage law, etc.) would be closer to my wish or hope now two years later.
Be it far from me to want to dot the Holy Father’s i’s or cross his t’s, but good example and ordered discourse are the provenance of theologians. As a canonist, I wish to do my part not only for the reform of the liturgical reform but for the sake of the truth. Pope Benedict XVI eloquently appeals to men and women of good will and not only in Europe for a return really to civilization. My point is that he’s doing the part which Pope St. Leo the Great did to save Rome and the Western Empire or at least to slow their demise. I think the barbarians are once again at the door. They may not be on horseback, but it’s getting dangerous just the same for a good christian man or woman to be out and about. Reasoned discourse certainly flourishes under the aegis of law. Let the multi- be banished and the truth reign supreme this Advent!
 All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:
  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the Temple of the God of Jacob
  that he may teach us his ways
  so that we may walk in his paths;
  since the Law will go out from Zion,
  and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’
He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.”

Isaiah is the inspired word of God for then and now.

3 comments:

Lux Veritatis said...

It is in the perspective of faith that we perceive how much the Word of God - brought to fulfilment in the Gospel - contributes to the building and preservation of cultures. And we see how necessary it is to fulfil the Gospel message in order to succeed in harmonizing cultures in a pluralistic unity. In the civil order too, the Gospel is at the service of harmony. To detach culture from its link to the Gospel commandment of love would be to make impossible the multicultural interplay which is characteristic of Canada. The Church speaks to us repeatedly of the need to evangelize in depth man's culture and cultures, "always taking the person as one's starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 20). At the same time we are alerted that "the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time" (ibid.).

The historical experience of the two founding peoples of Canada who bound themselves to live in mutual respect for the unique cultural identity of each other has providentially created that atmosphere of respect for cultural diversity which characterizes Canada today. In her own multicultural interaction, Canada not only offers to the world a creative vision of society but she also has a splendid opportunity to show consistency between what she believes and what she does. And this is accomplished by applying Christ's commandment of love.

John Paul II, Winnipeg, Sept 16, 1984

Thomas said...

Canada? Multicultural interaction? As I say, reasoned discourse or the appeal to reason and good will is part of the equation. St. Leo the Great did his best on one front.

Thomas said...

From Catholic Commentary: "Bishop Arrieta, a Spaniard and a priest of Opus Dei, said that the 1983 Code differs from the previous 1917 Code in promoting a greater subsidiarity within the Church’s disciplinary system and in affording greater rights to those accused of canonical crimes. “Subsequent experience has shown that some of the techniques used by Code to guarantee the rights were not essential and could have been replaced by other guarantees more consistent with the reality of the Church,” Bishop Arrieta wrote. “Indeed, these techniques are in many cases an objective obstacle, sometimes insurmountable because of the scarcity of resources, to the effective application of the penal system.”

A “widespread anti-juridicism,” he added, has led to difficulties in implementing the demands of “justice and good governance.”