January-February 2017

1517-2017: Parting, othering, reconciling

Anthony Towey

In the January of every New Year, the Church in these islands celebrates Christian Unity Week. This will have especial poignancy over the coming months since 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ‘protest’ in Wittenberg, Germany. For Catholics, it may seem odd to contemplate a ‘celebration’ of this event. The repercussions led to the deaths of countless thousands in civil and Europe-wide warfare while the lesions of division and bigotry still mark a number of our communities even today.

Despite the historically safe distance of half a millennium, one can still feel the passion in Luther’s Ninety five theses. Among the most famous is: They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory, (Theses 27). Yet despite the polemic, many of them are constructively irenic and supportive of petrine primacy. It would be difficult to find a Catholic today who would disagree that ‘Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better’ (Theses 41-44).

With works of love to the fore then, it may be possible to enter this year encouraged that Christianity has changed, the world has changed and we have changed. Christians in Europe no longer regard each other with the same mutual suspicions of a previous generation. And it is an interesting thought experiment to wonder what, if anything, Luther would sympathize with in the broad Catholic discourse represented by this edition of the Pastoral Review?

Vatican II is sometimes seen as a lived example of a rapprochement between Catholicism and the Reformed tradition. Since distortions of papal privilege were among Luther’s most pressing concerns, it is difficult not to wonder what he might think of the current pontiff, and how he would read the articles by O’Collins and Gallagher on the way Pope Francis is developing the ecclesial and pastoral vision of Vatican II. While surprised, he might be even more fascinated by the feminine accents discernible in the articles of Bridie Stringer, Anne Inman and Roderick Strange which consider the ministry of deaconesses and the enduring witness of four Theresas, the first of whom was born in his lifetime.

Luther would surely be impressed with the biblical focus of this journal with weekday and Sunday reflections by Nicholas King and Robert Draper respectively, as well as Bernard Robinson’s Old Testament Chronicle. Likewise, proclaiming the Good News in a parochial context (Daniel Ang) and Stephanie McGillveray’s reflections on the ars moriendi would have been close to his concerns as a pastor. But it is perhaps the testimony of two seminal figures of recent times that might attract his keenest gaze. Ashley Beck profiles a guiding influence for many clergy and laity during the twentieth century, Ronald Knox. Mgr. Knox was a convert and grew up in an era of notable apologists such as G.K. Chesterton. It is perhaps inevitable that he would contrast the differing world view held by Catholics and Protestants:

To the Catholic mind the supernatural world ... impregnates the world of sense. Faith to the Protestant, is primarily a disposition of the affections, a conscious confidence in a Personality. To the Catholic ... grace is the air which the supernatural world breathes, faith is the light in which it is seen.’

I am not entirely sure that Luther would have seen it this way, but in any case this accentuation of difference is something foreign to Jean Vanier, who precisely founded the L’Arche communities as non-homogenous places of encounter. In a special interview arranged by Martina Vuk, he points out:

The whole of humanity is built up through experience ... until recently, Catholics were not supposed to speak to Protestants – theoretically. But then we met and discovered that many Protestants are holy people. Pope Francis said: ‘Go to the periphery and meet the people and when you meet them you discover something, you receive something of their wisdom.’

Nearing ninety, both personally and through some 150 L’Arche communities in 37 countries, Vanier is a living witness of changed attitudes in a changed church in a world which by God’s grace he has helped to change.

Withal, it cannot be denied that in sociological terms, the Reformation triggered a phase of almost unprecedented ‘othering’ – communities, regions and nations were rent asunder by new markers of identity, new distinctions that became instantly decisive. The pain of this othering has been bloody and the vehemence of this disunity a scandal to non-believers and a disfigurement of the Body of Christ. Yet ‘othering’ is not restricted to religion, it is evident in political and racial polarisation and indeed many cultural observers surmise is on the increase.

Perhaps it is in demonstrating a hunger for unity that the Christian Churches can offer a resounding counter to othering. And with true Gospel paradox, it could be that in recalling the events of 1517, Christians may find a way to celebrate their parting as a temporary estrangement, in a family reborn in the shared waters of baptism, and the sweet caritas of divine belonging.

Pope Francis and the Second Vatican Council (2)

Gerald O’Collins SJ

The second of two articles which look at how Pope Francis’ leadership of the Church draws on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Gerald O’Collins SJ is adjunct professor of Australia Catholic University.

Justice and peace
In its final and longest document, Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II presented an image of a servant Church that wants to exercise a ministry of justice, peace, and dialogue with everyone. The Council was keenly aware of ‘the immense economic inequalities that now exist’ (art. 66). Gaudium et Spes highlighted the contrast between luxury and misery: ‘while an enormous mass of people still lack the absolute necessities of life, some, even in less advanced countries, live sumptuously or squander wealth’ (art. 63). Fifty years later these inequalities seem to have increased and not decreased.

Pope Francis has taken further this teaching of Vatican II by not only denouncing ‘a globalisation of indifference’ for which ‘human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded’ (EG, 53–54) but also by proposing an ‘option for the poor,’ which would learn from the poor, who ‘have much to teach us’.

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Desperately Seeking Phoebe

Bridie Stringer

This personal reflection on the subject of women deacons  attempts  to map the landscape of women’s ministry, drawing on evidence offered by both scripture and ecclesiology. Bridie Stringer lectures in Pastoral Theology at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

According to Vatican Radio on 2 August 2016, during a meeting with the participants in the Plenary Assembly of Superiors General which took place in May, Pope Francis expressed his intention to ‘establish an official commission that could study the question’ of the diaconate of women, ‘especially with regard to the first ages of the Church.’1 These ‘first ages’ might be a good starting point since, for many, the issue of ordination to either priesthood or diaconate hinges on an argument that Jesus did not ordain Mary his mother, or Mary Magdalene, and therefore intentionally excluded women from ordained ministry. The simple answer to that assertion is, of course, that Jesus did not ordain anyone. As an observant Jew to the end of his life, he did not regard himself as a priest, since priesthood was restricted to men from the tribe of Levi and Jesus was of the tribe of Judah.2 He was also liberal in his interpretation of the Law in his dealings with women, the marginalised and his adherence to ritual practices around fasting and ablutions.

In the post-Ascension period, and before the term ‘Christian’ was applied to the ‘Jesus movement’, the story of the commissioning of the seven Hellenists to minister to the Greek-speaking widows in Jerusalem in Acts 6, does not speak of deacons (diakonoi) but refers to their service as diakonia, meaning ‘service’.

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Theology and the art of being pastoral

Raphael Gallagher CSsR

Being pastoral is challenging. Instead of understanding this as an application (pastoral solutions), this article argues, from Pope Francis, that pastoral is the defining quality at every stage. Raphael Gallagher is an Irish Redemptorist and was an Invited Professor at the Alphonsian Academy, Rome, until 2015.

Pastoral theology is often regarded as the end of a process. The rigorous scientific thinking belongs to moral theology, and the outcome is applied to the pastoral situation. The objective norm remains untouched, though the pastor will make every effort to be sympathetic in its application. Is it possible to envisage theology as pastoral at the beginning of a process rather than a style for a soft-landing conclusion? Two Exhortations of Pope Francis suggest this as a possibility.1

The church as pastoral
The Church defines herself as the light of Christ to the nations.2 It is reasonable to presume that she should be recognised as such, and if someone rejects the Church, the rejection is of a religious institution. The experience of many, however, is of the Church as primarily a moral authority rather than a religious community of struggling believers. The Church is considered as a powerful institution, essentially juridical, with claims that are quasi-universal based on being a society that is independent of earthly powers. Readers of the Pastoral Review will hardly share this assessment. However, why has much public reaction to the sexual scandals within the Church been a response to the Church seen as a moral power claiming juridical independence with a universal range?

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Teresian Quartet

Roderick Strange

Four extraordinary women named Teresa, whose births span four hundred years. While they shared a vocation for religious life and had much in common, they also walked distinctive paths. This article looks at their remarkable lives. Roderick Strange is a Professor of Theology at St Mary's University, Twickenham.

‘What’s in a name?’ asks the popular saying. When Mother Teresa was canonized on 5 September 2016, she joined three other women who share that name and who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church: Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who is often remembered as Edith Stein. What’s in a name?

Then besides the name they shared, these four women, this Teresian Quartet, shared as well a vocation to religious life. The first three were all Carmelites, and when the fourth, the eighteen year old Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu, born in 1910, joined the Sisters of Loreto in 1928, she took the name Teresa out of devotion to the little saint of Lisieux who had been canonized just three years previously. Moreover between Teresa of Avila and Teresa Benedicta there is the bond of Jewish blood.

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