Cathblog - Benedict XVI has left the Church at a fork in the road

"There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great." - The Didache 1.1 (c. mid C2nd , CE).

This so-called Teaching of the Twelve Apostles echoes the key important biblical theme of God’s People at a crossroads. Moses (Dt 30:19) and Jeremiah (21:8) provide striking examples. The Essenes’ Community Rule employs the same language as do later non-canonical Christian works, writes David Timbs.

But the fork in the road image is ultimately a metaphor for choice.

Throughout their sacred history, God’s People have been confronted with the immediacy of critical choices, for or against God, for a future or regression, for authenticity or pretence, for clear identity or absorption into something else.

In the intensified drama of the biblical narrative, choice is at a crisis point. It is the occasion of critical options. It’s not about mere survival but literally a choice between life or death, a future or oblivion.

The Catholic Church has now arrived at such a moment in its history. 

It is not hyperbole to suggest that it is time for choice between a future of hopefulness or stasis and despondency. The difference between the two is great.

Vatican II recovered the precious memory of the Church being the living People of God.

It reminded them that they belonged to a Community of those baptised into a new mode of being where, in Christ, there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female’. The barriers of stratification, with its grades of human dignity and worth, were torn down.

The earliest members of the Jesus Community defined their social identity by addressing one another as sisters and brothers, regardless of established conventions.

This mutual acknowledgement signalled a close familiarity and a rupture from the protocols of the Roman society. It marked a conscious choice Christians made and it was an emphatic statement of their identity.

In August 2012, Pope Benedict sent a message to the 6th Assembly of the International Catholic Action Forum.

Among other things, he strongly urged, in reference to Lumen Gentium, that the ‘familiar’ relationship between laity and clergy be maintained. He also repeated a theme central to the grammar of his pontificate namely communio, that it is ‘important to deepen and live out this spirit in profound communion with the Church.’ [1].

’Feel the commitment to work for the Church’s mission to be your own, through prayer, through study, through active participation in ecclesial life, through an attentive and positive gaze at the world, in the continual search for the signs of the times.’

That’s the language of the rhetoricians. The narrative of reality shares little in common with this script.

The gated clerical subculture and its attendant centralised authoritarianism which has flourished since the C11th has spiked again to new heights during the last two popes.

While the laity’s piety, prudence and fear of the Lord are commended, the other gifts of wisdom, understanding and counsel are largely undervalued, ignored or treated as an inconvenient reminder that the Church is more extensive than the domain of its shepherds.

If ecclesiastical leadership had taken the laity seriously long ago, it might well have avoided the dysfunction and social schizophrenia afflicting the Catholic Church at the moment.

A Vatican Canon lawyer recently articulated something of its rather alarming but not surprising confusion, insecurity and disconnectedness,

‘There are Laws of the Church that cannot change because they are set up by Christ. But society is constantly changing, and so we (the Church) can introduce certain changes when appropriate.   .....  If you want to be a good Catholic, I have to disobey civil law. And if I want to be a good citizen, I can’t be a good Catholic.’ [2]

If Church leadership on all levels had been listening to the wisdom, understanding and counsel of the Laity for the past 1700 years it might well have avoided the extreme disequilibrium it experiences today.

Instead, poor governance and lack of inspiration and encouragement have prevailed. The Sensus Fidelium has been dulled and the Faith itself has been stunted.

The Vatican and many in the College of Bishops refuse to take the laity seriously, and they are paying dearly for their distance, neglect and, sadly, even patronising contempt. 

John Henry Cardinal Newman insisted that it was precisely the laity who, in critical times, preserved the integrity of the faith and guaranteed its survival especially when Church leaders had lost their way and failed Christ.

Newman strongly cautioned the hierarchy of his day not to presume on the laity and not to think that, despite their own doctrinal orthodoxy, all will be well with the Church.

He warned them against thinking that, ‘the laity should be neglected and relegated to an audience, or at its best, playing a support role.’ Clerical leadership at the highest levels needs to pay close attention to Newman.

Until the laity assumes positions of governance at all levels, there will never in fact be a completeness and integrity in the Ecclesia Dei. It will continue to resemble a quaint business enterprise controlled by a self-selecting and self-perpetuating clique of ornately draped clerical elites.

It’s time for them to make a choice. Clearly, the laity has long done so.

‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two ways is great.’

[1] For the Zenit report on Benedict’s message to the ICAF conference, click here.  [2] Fr Cuong Pham of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, click here.

David Timbs blogs from Albion, Victoria.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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