"Angst or Optimism? "
"Behold, your house will be foresaken" Luke 13:35
At the International Astronomical Union's 29th General Assembly in Honolulu this month a team of global astronomers formally confirmed that the universe is cooling, slowly dying and heading towards darkness. Their predicted future life for our universe is only around 3.5 billion years. So whilst 'Nigh' is clearly longer than envisaged by early prophets perhaps the time has indeed come for us all to get our earthly and Church lives in order!
Historians highlight the extraordinary extent of social and religious 'mutation' over the mere two millennia of Christian life. Faster mutation still in future is more than possible, it is inevitable.
Some years ago Fr Frank O'Loughlin, as invited guest speaker at a Melbourne Parish presentation offered some prophetic, challenging but also encouraging observations and predictions about the evolving Church. His thoughts, as paraphrased here, are helpful in the context of today's Church debates. At the outset he commented that despite recent decline the Church has already survived 2000 years and will continue into a future whose characteristics cannot be confidently foreseen "The changes we are experiencing in the Church today are part of a clear pattern of change throughout the history of the Church" (One of the most powerful affirmations of this could yet be the recovery of the Church’s identity as the People of God.); "The early Church (Christendom) was more than just religious, it was a blend of local culture, spirituality and Christianity"; "People 'absorbed’ the early Church more than consciously choosing it". The Sensus Fidei Fidelium (the sense of the faith of the faithful) works as the People of God accept 'normality'. Theology catches up sometime later, as it did in Vatican II.
Fr O'Loughlin further suggested that whilst the early model of the Church has been transformed over the last four hundred years changes should not be feared - but embraced. The Church is today characterised very much more by pluralism. Many former religious boundaries have effectively disappeared. Many young people in particular have not 'absorbed' the traditions of Church, but in their own, different, ways can be just as religious and spiritual as those who follow more traditional religious practices. He then highlighted that the Church varies from place to place. We now need to clarify within ourselves and with the Church's Magisterium what it means to be Christian. Encouragingly Fr O'Loughlin also saw signs of a new and vibrant life within the Church through engagement of the People of God. These thoughts link well with the theme of this Newsletter and a number of its articles.
Understanding the past of our Church is critical to planning for its future. David Timbs in his final New Testament article in the Mutations series and linked below "The Jesus Movement Part V: Paul and his opponents" highlights significant changes in the earliest days of the Church and examines some of the most intense conflicts between Paul and his opponents in the Jesus Movement. All of them in some way bear uncanny resemblance to the dynamics of current passionate arguments, conversations and disputes involving dysfunction and disunity in the modern Catholic Church.
A growing area of critical concern for Catholics in many if not most countries in the world is the alarming contraction in access to the Celebration of the Eucharist. The situation has become so acutely serious in Western countries in particular, that some commentators are using a term first used by a missionary in Africa back in 1985, “the Eucharistic famine.” The problem is intrinsically related to the drastically shrinking number of priests active in the ministry. In this issue of the Newsletter, David Timbs has written also on the Eucharistic famine and suggests solutions that are congruent and consistent with that never failing wisdom and Sensus Fidei Fidelium (the sense of faith of the faithful) which are the baptismal and conformational gifts to the People of God. The changes they are seeking are part of a clearly identifiable pattern of positive change, not to dogma but to attitudes and disciplines.
Catholics for Renewal encourages open discussion on human sexuality issues in the light of increasing knowledge and the sensus fidelium. In the interest of such discussion this newsletter links to a related paper by Garry Everett. Other associated resources include another opinion piece by Dr Peter Seal on gay marriage as expressed in his personal letter to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and now made available for publication.
In the way of Church history, Vatican II and renewed openness under Pope Francis there is, despite much angst, some optimism that the People of God with the Sensus Fidelium guided by the Holy Spirit will renew and strengthen the Church, faithfully responding to Christ’s teachings and example, hopefully long before our predicted 3.5 billion years are up!
IMAGE: NASA Hubble Space Telescope shows the centre of the magnificent barred spiral galaxy NGC 1512. Located in the southern constellation of Horologium 30 million light-years away. It spans 70,000 light-years, nearly as much as our own Milky Way galaxy.