May/June 2019

Game changers

Anthony Towey

One of the more popular phrases that is used of people, events or ideas that make a difference is that someone or thing is a ‘game changer’. Originating in sporting environs, it has tended to refer to such things as a decisive play, an astute substitution, a disastrous refereeing decision, a lamentable mistake, but can equally be adduced to an individual, someone who changes not just the course of a given contest but the way the game itself is understood.

As someone who is very interested in sport, there is obviously a temptation here to regale the reader with examples from my lifetime such as Johann Cruyff (football), Jonah Lomu (rugby), Garfield Sobers (cricket), Tiger Woods (golf), Muhammed Ali (boxing), Michael Jordan (basketball…but I will resist. After all, sport is in one sense a trivial thing, a theatre of striving for wreaths that will wither when the crown of life is on offer. Furthermore, while St John Paul II is reputed to have said ‘of all the unimportant things, football is the most important’ and while Camus claimed he gained all his key insights from playing as a goalkeeper, even sporting fanatics have to concede that games are at best a delightful distraction from the need to make ends meet, never mind the need to meet one’s end.

Moreover, if we consider the tremendous festivals of Ascension and Pentecost at the apex of this Pastoral Review cycle we soon begin to realise that what is at play in this phase of the liturgical year are life-changing mysteries. That the Ascension is essential is more than an alliterative truth. The parting depicted by the Lucan account in Acts is after the transformative period of 40 days has elapsed. Just as the Flood for the Earth, the Desert for Israel and the Wilderness for Jesus led to a new world, a promised land, a kingdom proclaimed, so the Ascension is a parting with promise – less a question of whether things will be different from now on, things are different from now on. The parallel in Matthew includes the Great Commission to share the Good News to the ends of the earth but the paradoxical parting from the apostles includes an Ascension assurance that the Lord will be with them until the end of the age (Mt. 28.20).

Luke, of course, soon follows up the story of Ascension with Pentecost, the day when Babel is undone and the world can finally understand that the One language of Creation is the One Word of its Maker. The unseen Spirit becomes manifest in changed hearts, changed minds, changed lives. The extent to which the apostles have to embrace difference is manifest from the b of the bang – or perhaps the b of the baptisms as thousands of converts joined them in that first experience of the Spirit (Acts 2.41). It is clear from Acts that things didn’t always happen in what might be regarded as the right order (Acts 19.2), but the connecting principle endorsed by the Fourth Gospel is that it is better for the Saviour to go – being apart to be part of his saving work – to receive the Spirit, to forgive, to witness, to do greater things (Jn. 14.12).

Of course Lent is more traditionally seen as a time of change as we contest our selfishness but Ascension and Pentecost should provoke, if anything, an even greater hunger for transformation and radical change. For a start, Ascension prevents us ever being comfortable again with the tendency we all have to ‘outsource’ our Christianity. It is wonderful, important, powerful and edifying to share prayer intentions as a member of the Communion of Saints should always do. Moreover, the ascension of Christ to the right hand of God precisely symbolises the supreme power of Jesus as intercessor (Acts 2.31 and 7.55). But Ascension reminds us that until we are in heaven it is our task to be heaven on earth as individuals and as Church – no outsourcing!

The Spirit too – as Consoler, Advocate and Guide – is our strength. St Paul implies that special charisms, particular modes of service and specific energies all come from the Spirit at work among the faithful (1 Cor. 12.4-11). Our religion is not mere vacuous vapourings, the Spirit is the life-changer and that means, as John Wimber famously pointed out, ‘everyone gets to play.’

Which is where we came in. A decisive intervention – the Word made Flesh, an astute substitution – not us but him, a disastrous decision – not him but Barabbas, a lamentable mistake – a cross for a King. But risen, restored, and to the ends of the earth adored. The game has changed – have we?

Lament, memory, and the priesthood

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

This article is a reflection on the interconnections between lament, memory, and the priesthood. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

Not long ago, a priest friend startled me with a comment. In the midst of reflecting on the disheartening and seemingly endless revelations of the sex abuse scandals and coverup that have tarnished the Church, he observed, ‘We are stuck in a rut. We have really lost the capacity to lament,’ he said, ‘and we are satisfied merely to whine and complain about how unfair life is.’ These words got me thinking.

The importance of memory
I begin with memory, since it provides the basis for what follows. Memory is not merely a human faculty, but it is a profound biblical concept. It begins already with the story of creation. God gives Adam and Eve an instruction to remember right from the beginning of their existence. They are not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they quickly forget. They are easily seduced by a wily talking serpent who lies to them that they will be like gods if they disobey the one prohibition God gave them. As the story of God’s chosen people continues, they are instructed over and over to remember the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom God had made a covenant. More importantly, Israel is always asked to remember what God had done for them, how God had saved them from slavery, and how they had promised to adhere to the terms of a covenant.

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From Zechariah to Agabus: The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (2)

Adrian Graffy

The second of two articles on Luke-Acts explores how the Holy Spirit inspires the mission of the Church beyond Judaism and to the ends of the earth. What challenges does Acts present for the Church today? Adrian Graffy is parish priest of Gidea Park, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

In the first verses of the Acts of the Apostles we learn that the mission is to be pursued ‘in Jerusalem, in Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (1.8). In the first part of this article we examined the presence of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s Gospel and in the early chapters of Acts, as the Spirit filled individuals like Stephen and transformed communities. As Acts proceeds, the Holy Spirit guides missionary outreach beyond Jerusalem and beyond Judaism. In Samaria the successful preaching of Philip is followed by a visit of Peter and John (8.14), whose prayer facilitates the descent of the Holy Spirit (8.15-17). Though these Samaritans had been ‘baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus’ they had not yet received the Spirit. More specifically it is the ‘laying on of hands’ which brings about the gift of the Spirit (8.17). There is a clear contrast here with what happened in chapter 6 when the apostles laid hands on those ready to serve who had already received the Spirit. The Spirit is involved in baptism and also in commissioning for service.

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Why study theology? Theology as a resource in Christian discipleship

Thomas O’Loughlin

The first of three articles on ‘why study theology?’ which are intended to give reasons why formal study is valuable. Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham. He hopes these articles will be a useful resource for those trying to recruit students to the study of theology.

Words have a sparkle as well as a meaning. For many Christians today the word ‘discipleship’ – a notion that has a very wide range of meanings – has a very positive sparkle. It captures a sense of personal commitment, of life as a movement of growth and learning, and seems to fit very well with a sense of belonging within a Church that imagines itself as the pilgrim people of God. ‘Theology,’ by contrast, has little sparkle; indeed, it seems a dull word relating to a rather boring and obscure academic pursuit. But let us look at a series of situations – scenes that confront us as Catholic Christians every day – and see if looking at them with the resources of theological speculation can help us to do three things.

First, theology can help to reposition these problems so that they might be seen as opportunities rather than roadblocks.

Second, theology can help us to relate to them differently as individual disciples and as a community of disciples, the Church, and thus find ways ‘through’ the problems.

And third, theology can provide us with alternative ways of talking about what we hold precious as disciples and so help us in the task of evangelisation.

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Exemplary bishops of Catholic Reform: Their ordination as priests

Patrick H. Daly

We continue the series of articles about the ordination day of priests whose lives shaped the history of the Church in the context of the Year of Priests, launched in June 2018 by Archbishop Bernard Longley. Patrick H. Daly, parish priest of Our Lady & St. Anne, Birmingham Diocese, considers the priestly ordination of the two great bishops who set the pastoral tone of the Catholic (Counter) Reformation.

In the half-century which followed the Council of Trent (1545–1563), as the Catholic Church pushed forward its own programme of reform in a concerted attempt to tame the forces of unrest unleashed by the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Pontiffs rushed to populate the niches of the Catholic pantheon with a series of new saints. Some (e.g. Ignatius of Loyola; Philip Neri; Cajetan) were founders of new religious orders, others (e.g. Theresa of Avila) were reformers of older established ones. Some were those in the vanguard of the struggle against Protestantism. In the case where they were bishops, in their person and in their understanding of the ministry the Church had invited them to fulfil, some were so exemplary in their day that they became the template for episcopal virtue not only in the immediate aftermath to Trent but were still seen as ideal bishops right up until Vatican II. The most prominent among these bishops were Charles Borromeo and Francis de Sales.

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