Friday 10 February 2017

Some of a Book Review of Churchy by Sarah Condon

Churchy [Mockingbird 2016 180 p.]  is a  non-fictional version of chick lit which shares Sarah Condon’s unvarnished personal vignettes that seeks to lead readers towards retrospective religious reflections. It is published by Mockingbird Ministries, which strives to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh down-to-earth ways. No one will mistake Sarah Condon’s Churchy musings as mundane faith history.

"St." Flannery O'Connor
Churchy’s subtitle is “The Real Life Adventures of a wife, mom and priest”.   Truth be told, she thinks that the real title ought to have been: “Churchy Prodigal Daughter Who Is the Worst” which packs in a lot of theology, but those leitmotifs were already taken. Clearly, Condon is influenced by Southern Goth, as demonstrated by her reverence to “St.” Flannery O’Connor. This honorific should be no surprise as she attributed sainthood to Whitney Houston in prior Mockingbird articles 

Condon is an Episcopal priest who is married to another Episcopal priest pastoring a  parish in Houston Texas.  Sarah Condon’s ministry has included hospital ministry, in the dreaded “Liver Floor” filled with alcoholic patients in need of organ donations.

Rev. Sarah Condon 
After hearing Sarah speak at a retreat, I was prepared for her irreverent, earthy rhetoric (but the harshest epithets published were “holy shit” and “bullhockey”) to accompany her vivid story telling.  I noted that a couple of the vignettes were reworked into part of her speaking repertoire.  

Since my Roman Catholic tradition neither has many married clergymen (much less priestesses), I was interested in understanding her vocation as well as appreciating the strains of family life with clerical duties.   Honestly, this angle was not clear.  Most of Churchy seemed drawn from the lens of a Churchy mother who was wont to extrapolate theological truths from the quotidian.

Condon’s view on her vocation was not crystal clear. In the introduction, she noted that: 

“Josh [her husband] and I are both Episcopal priests. But most Sundays, you will see me in the pews with my children. On occasion, I stand behind the altar and celebrate communion.”  

As someone who understands sacramentality as a key distinction between the laity and the ordained, it seemed like  anonchalant approach to take a priestly vocation yet to only feel obliged to “stand behind the altar” from time to time. 

Regarding her role as an off hours hospital chaplain, Condon conceded that she often hears the awkward inquiry: “What do you do for a living?”  She modestly asserts that she utters  a ratio 70%-30% stupid to wise things while “bumbling around” hospital wards. This underplays  the vital mission of just being present to  those who may be on the precipice of death. Such companioning in Christ echoes tenants of Ignatian spirituality which Pope Francis has been championing during his papacy.

In the chapter which contains the Cereal Aisle Stranger section, Sarah Condon wrote: 

“And there is the issue of me telling strangers what my husband and I do for a living while standing in front of a row of Fruit Loops.” 

Kind of surreal small talk in the Cereal Section. Yet the way that Sarah described the query as being about what they did for a living rather than refer to their priestly vocations or ministries. That particular turn of phrase niggled at me.

Condon’s later  reflections on her household concluded: 

“Meanwhile, I bring in some income with writing and part-time ministry work, put food in the crock pot, spend an incredible amount of time with my children and talk on the phone to my mom, a lot.”  

Sarah’s description of her role is a dose of honesty mixed in with a good measure of self-deprecating humor. However, it begs a poignant question –Should ordination be deemed just a part time job or a vocation of sacerdotal service to the people of God?  It is certainly unusual for a priest to be married to a priest while raising a family. I again wonder about how there can be sufficient self sacrifice to the needs of the faithful. Can active priests really be part-timers?

SEE MORE at DC-LausDeo.US 

Friday 3 February 2017

Cardinal Muller's New Interview with Il Timone

A precis of the Interview with commentary:

“Amoris Laetitia? It should be read as a whole, in every case adultery is always a mortal sin and the bishops who confuse things should study the doctrine of the Church. We have to help the sinner to overcome the sin and to be converted”.

Commentary: So starts the article with the Cardinal firmly placing AL to be interpreted in the light of previous teaching.

The journalist asks, “What is doctrine?”

The Cardinal responds that everyone is looking for truth which is why God gave us our intelligence and our will. God is the beginning and end of everything and that is why it is necessary to know what God has revealed through Jesus Christ. As the catechism says, we unite ourselves with God through prayer and the seven sacraments. Knowing God is the first fundamental dimension of the Faith. We need permanent catechesis. Doctrine is therefore the basis of all the life of the Church otherwise the Church will just be a charitable NGO. Doctrine is absolutely necessary for salvation.

The journalists asked whether doctrine in the last ten years has not had a good press. That it is just a series of laws beyond the capability of man, moralising, etc.

The cardinal replies that this arises from the errors of 18th century rationalism. Confining reason to this world but unable to reason about the transcendent as with Kant. Faith is believing in God in the light of the Incarnate Word with the Holy Spirit through the testimony of the Church (Bible, Tradition and Magisterium).

The journalist points out that many in the Church do not accept this and points to the Church scandals … so how do we distinguish between those who are with the Gospel and those who are earthen vessels?

The Cardinals says there will always be scandals in the Church as Jesus foretold (Luke 17,1). There have always been unworthy priests and we must not worry about them – their sacraments are always valid.

“We can not expect to choose a pope, a bishop or a priest out of a kind of catalog as if to satisfy a personal desire.”

Commentary: Is there somebody he does not like? And yet, say the journalists, the Church often wants to appear credible?

Cardinal Muller continues...

"The Church does not lose credibility when any priest falls into sin as we can all fall into sin. It is when he abuses his authority in order to sin that the Church's credibility is damaged."  

Commentary: Is there a subtle hint here about senior clerics promoting doubtful teaching?

Journalist: It is often said that the faithful should identify the Word with Holy Scripture. Is that not a reductive view?

Cardinal: “Certainly. We are not a religion of the Book but of the Word preached by Jesus Christ who did not write the Scriptures.” 

He goes on to say that the Scriptures are the most important testimony of the Word but there is also Tradition. Protestantism has devalued this tradition of the Church – the early fathers, the councils, the sacramental life.

Journalist: “ If that is the case then doctrine is an obstacle to Christian Unity. One only has to think of the seven sacraments.”

The Cardinal says the sacraments are not only a sign of grace but are the source of grace. Scripture is an archival document; faith is not based on this archive but as revealed in the Church.

Journalist: “Then the differences between the Catholic Church and other Christian confessions are not based on rigid apologetics?”

The Cardinal replies that the protestant reform was not just intended as a reform of some moral abuses but went to the fundamental Catholic conception of revelation. How could the Church abandon 1500 years of sacramental life? The Church can always be reformed as to its moral life and any worldliness. With Protestantism the problem is not only the number of the sacraments but something more significant. Ecumenism cannot progress with relativism and indifference to doctrine.

Commentary: This is a rather different vision of ecumenism as regards Lutheranism to what we have seen from Pope Francis,

Journalist: “Another argument to-day is the rapport between doctrine and personal conscience.”

The Cardinal says everyone must follow their conscience but it is a conscience that expresses a rapport, a relationship with God who has given us the commandments to enlighten us. Conscience needs grace to choose the good.

Journalist: “Then there can be no contradiction between doctrine and personal conscience?”

The Cardinal says that is impossible... 

 “For example, one cannot say that there can be circumstances where adultery is not a mortal sin.”

At variance with Amoris Laetitia, Muller says that Catholic doctrine says mortal sin and grace cannot coexist.  Confession deals with that problem.

The journalists say this question is the debate about AL.

The Cardinal says AL must be interpreted in the light of the Church's doctrine. Confession is the answer where there is confession of sins, contrition, firm purpose not to sin again and penance. Without any one of these four elements there is no sacrament. People must be helped but there must be no concessions on this doctrine. He criticises so many Bishops who interpret AL according to their own mode of understanding the teaching of the Pope. The Magisterium of the Pope can only be interpreted by him. It is for the Pope to interpret to the Bishops; not for the Bishops to interpret the Pope.

It just so happens that this is surely what the four Cardinals are calling for with their dubia.

Commentary: Surely this is interesting saying effectively that it is for the Pope alone to interpret AL. Supposing this to be correct the Pope can either interpret it himself or he can ask the CDF to do so and endorse what the CDF says. In fact he has not asked the CDF to interpret AL and Cardinal Muller is only speaking in his personal capacity. However the Pope has endorsed the interpretation of the Buenos Aires Bishops which allows communion for the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances. He has said that is the only possible interpretation. It is to be noted that the BA Bishops claim to rely upon a letter by St John Paul II to say that a firm purpose of amendment is not required in confession. In fact JPII said nothing of the kind in that letter. What he did say was that the knowledge that one will probably sin again does not invalidate a firm purpose of amendment. If however you do not have a firm purpose of amendment then, according to Cardinal Muller, confession is defective in lacking one of the four requirements and therefore there is no sacrament. The implication of this endorsement of the BA Bishops is that we are into heresy.

Cardinal Muller goes on to say we need to study the doctrine on this point in the documents of both Vatican Councils without diminishing the doctrine on the sacraments in those and other Councils including Trent. He quotes the letter to Titus about Bishops being faithful to doctrine (Titus 1,9).

The journalists then ask about the development of doctrine and how it should be understood.

The Cardinal says that development is a movement to better understand the profundity of mystery.

One can reflect on the development of doctrine following the example of Blessed JH Newman and Joseph Ratzinger. We need to understand development in order to defend against evolutionary modernism on the one hand and rigidity on the other. Continuity not breaking with the past. What is dogmatically defined cannot be changed least of all the doctrine of the seven sacraments. He mentions Arianism as not being a development of the dogma of the incarnation but a corruption of the faith. The Church teaches that marriage is an indissoluble union of a man and a wife. Polygamy is not a development! AL wants to help people in irregular unions but not to justify such.

The journalists ask whether the requirement in Familiaris Consortio that the divorced and remarried should refrain from sexual relations is still valid.

Certainly, says the Cardinal. It is not just JPII who has said this but it is part of Christian moral theology and the theology of the sacraments. The confusion on this point relates to the lack of acceptance of Veritatis Splendor and the clear doctrine of intrinsic evil. No authority can change this. Christ has made the doctrine of marriage clear. There is no need to accede to the worldly view that marriage is a purely private affair. No power on earth, no angel, no Pope, no council, no bishop can change this.

The journalists ask how the chaos resulting from the different interpretations of AL can be resolved.

The Cardinal recommends reflecting on the teaching of the Church starting with the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures which is very clear on matrimony. Further one must not enter into casuistry which can easily lead to bad intentions eith the idea that the death of love dissolves a marriage. That is sophistry. The role of the Bishops is not to create confusion but to make things clear. Do not refer to little passages in AL but read it as a whole. It is not AL that has provoked confusion but certain interpretations.

Commentary: Well what about the interpretation which Pope Francis has given it in endorsing the BA Bishops. Austen Ivereigh has said that critics of AL have missed the train. Well certainly Cardinal Muller has missed the train not noticing the interpretation that Pope Francis has given to AL. More important is that the passengers on the train have not noticed that the engine driver is the Earl King. Father, O father!
Disclaimer:  My Italian is rudimentary so I hope I have got it right!
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