July/August 2015

Michael A. Hayes

The word evangelical has its root in the Greek, evangelion, meaning good news and as such is closely related to the Christian Gospel. Counsels in the Christian sense are not understood as commands of Jesus imposed on his followers, rather they are invitations, indeed they are a response to the invitation of the Spirit and they are linked to the call to perfection and the voluntary renunciation of material goods. This can be seen in Matthew’s account of the response of Jesus to the question of the rich young man who wanted to know what he should do to gain eternal life in addition to keeping the commandments: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me’ (Mt. 19.21). The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience have been traditionally understood as a radical response in practice to the invitation of Jesus ‘to be perfect’.

The model for evangelical obedience in the Christian context is Jesus. Jesus’ obedience can be seen in his complete and unyielding dedication to what he referred to as the Kingdom of God; ‘Your kingdom come’ (Mt. 6.13). Obedience in this sense is radical listening; a desire to be as attentive as possible to the word of God and a readiness to put that word into practice. The example of obedience that Jesus offers is his willingness to put himself completely at the service of the kingdom. And again in John’s gospel Jesus is clear, ‘I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (6.38).

The word obedience itself comes from the Latin verb oboedire which means to listen, to submit, to obey. During the fourth and fifth centuries the Desert Fathers and Mothers saw obedience as a key component of the way to perfection. The Desert spirituality that arises from this period in Egypt emphasises rigorous self-examination in order to remove any hindrances, internal or external, that might distract the individual from focusing on God. Obedience to the Abba was seen as a key to the process of discerning the will of God. Anthony the Great is often referred to as the ‘Father of Monks’ in a collection of ‘Sayings’ from this period:

Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?”

The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.” 1

The practice of Christian spiritual direction has its provenance in this period; the director’s role is to enable the individual to ‘pay attention to’ and discern the will of God in their life.

St Benedict wrote his Rule in the sixth century, and it has become the basic guide for thousands of Christians who are committed to the monastic movement. The Prologue to the Rule begins:

‘Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and tend to them with the ear of your heart. The advice from a father who loves you, welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The labour of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience.’

Benedict is inviting the monk to listen not so much to his instructions but to Jesus Christ, the true Master. Obedience then is to listen to Christ anew. Benedict was under no illusion that to have a spiritual path that transforms the world is not a luxury; that is why he also refers to concrete features of life, to work, prayer, community, manual labour and art.

For when a living community, however small, reflects Jesus, it becomes a leaven for the world; this is what the evangelical counsel of obedience is, the radical listening anew to Christ; it is using ‘the ear of your heart’ to the word of God. This is good news!   

1    The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translator – Sister Benedicta Ward SLG Publisher – Cistercian Publication, Michigan, 1975, p.7.

July/August 2015

Thomas O’Loughlin

A short introduction may perform a crucial function when people are gathered for the Eucharist, writes Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

One direct consequence of the shift from Latin to the language of the celebrating community is the need to spend a moment at the beginning of every liturgy giving an unscripted word of welcome. The liturgy may have its formal introduction to mark the beginning of the celebration, but it needs to be complemented by an informal word which focuses the gathering in the living and spontaneous here and now. The same group may have gathered for any number of reasons, or perhaps this group has never been together before – this is a special moment of togetherness, for in the presence of the Risen Lord, this group is going to engage in the activity of offering thanks to the Father. So the informal introductory moment has many demands on it:

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July/August 2015

Thomas D. Stegman SJ

We start a series of articles on the rich theology contained in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Thomas D. Stegman SJ is professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, USA.

Near the end of his magisterial epistle to the Romans, Paul reveals a crucially important interpretive principle concerning Scripture: ‘the things written beforehand were written for our instruction’ (15.4). He insists that the sacred Jewish texts spoke with special relevance to his mission of proclaiming the gospel and of founding churches, as well as to the situation of the believers in Rome. A fortiori, given the canonical status of the letter to the Romans, we can expect Paul’s teaching to have significance for us today. His words for the house churches in Rome are also written for our instruction.

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July/August 2015

John Deehan

The author reflects on forty years since his ordination with reference to the biblical traditions of the journey of the Israelites. John Deehan is parish priest of St Thomas More Church, Pinner, Middlesex.

In George Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, the young priest speaks about a cleaner he employed to look after the church premises. Under her care the church began to look brighter and cleaner than ever, but she was frustrated by the fact that as soon the building began to look perfect, the dust and dirt of public use appeared again. ‘She wouldn’t listen to reason’, said the priest. ‘If I’d let her have her way I would have turned everyone out so that the Lord could keep his feet dry. I ask you!’ In one sense, he went on, she was a true martyr, but her mistake was not just to fight the dirt, but to try and do away with it altogether.

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July/August 2015

Paul Hypher

This article explores the history and theology of Collegiality and its relevance to the Catholic Church today. Paul Hypher is a retired priest of the diocese of East Anglia.

Vatican II states:
Together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, the episcopal order exists as the subject of supreme, plenary power over the universal Church.1 This is known as ‘Collegiality’.

‘Collegiality’ is not another term for collaboration, consultation, working together, or even for co-responsibility. For Vatican II the term is theologically deeply significant. Karl Rahner thought Collegiality de essentia ecclesiae.2

The Council based its teaching on Scripture – the Church is entrusted by Christ to Peter with the Apostles and to the Apostles with Peter – on the teaching of the early Church Fathers and on the practice of the Church during its first centuries.

The historian Alberto Melloni3 referring to Collegiality, writes ‘The Council acquired a new ‘word’ with which to express a fundamental dimension of the Church’s experience,

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July/August 2015

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