Monday, November 11, 2013

Cardinal Maradiaga's Vision of the Church: Both Attractive and Disappointing

On October 25, Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga gave a rather remarkable speech. Kevin O'Brien offers some interesting thoughts (and an interaction with Fr. Longenecker) here.  There's a lot to digest in this speech.  It's over 5,000 words, and it covers a lot of complex subjects.  I'd like to cover some of them here in what may be a bit lengthy, but worth it.  I'd like to start where I think a lot of criticisms of the speech are wrong:

This statement really sent a lot of people into panic mode:

The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God. “The People of God” is, for the Council, the all-encompassing reality of the Church that goes back to the basic and the common stuff of our ecclesial condition; namely, our condition as believers. And that is a condition shared by us all. The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church.
Everyone is freaking out thinking that this statement denies the Kingship of Christ.  Please everyone stop and take a breath.  The point is that the hierarchy should follow Christ's example.  All he is doing is stating Luke 22:25-30.  The second part simply means that the authority of the Church is demonstrated primarily as being above the powers of this world, because she overcame the powers of this world in Christ's death and Resurrection.  Jew and Gentile conspired to kill the Holy One of God, and yet He rose from the dead, proving that He exists not only apart from the worlds sinful authority, but in spite of it.  He does this because he loves humanity and wishes to redeem it.

Another statement made was the following:

The Church could not continue posing as a reality facing the world, as a parallel “perfect society,” which pursued her own autonomous course, strengthening her walls against the errors and the influence of the world. This antithesis of centuries needed to be overcome.
Everyone is freaking out over denying the Church as a "perfect society" but I would argue we need to pay attention to the part where he speaks of the Church adopting a mentality of ignoring the world and focusing on her own needs.  Now I don't think that's a fair description of Church history following the Council of Trent.  Yet I cannot deny that the Church has struggled with this mentality throughout her history.  Paul warns the Thessalonians not to be complacent and ignore everyday life in 1 Thess 4-5.  Sometimes we become so negative about the world, we write it off as hopeless, and only focus on our own sanctification and salvation.  For traditionalists, this was a particularly strong temptation due to the fact we were herded off in the Indult ghettos for so long.

This temptation has always been present, and it is contrary to the Church.  She exists as a mission, to bring the world to Christ.  She is a "perfect society" in that she needs nothing from the world to establish that missionary character.  All gifts, authority and power come from her spouse Jesus Christ.  Leo XIII recognized this and essentially built the modern papacy around this dynamic:  that while a perfect society, she must engage the world, because without that engagement, she cannot convert the world.  Other popes did this, but Leo gave it a sense of greater urgency.

There's really something to be said about this approach.  Far too often the members of the Church do present themselves in an arrogant and haughty manner, and they can resemble the Pharisee who worships how awesome he is and how great he has it, and how horrible things are outside the majestic gates.  There's a reason Christ spoke this parable. 

It should cut at each of our hearts because if we are honest, every one of us is that Pharisee from time to time.  We have it great.  I'm about to have a child, and that child will be raised in an intact family and given access to the fullness of the Catholic Faith and her sacraments.  She will have opportunities those in the world and those raised in single parent households likely won't have access to.  Yet I will need to remind myself everyday she shouldn't take this as a sense of entitlement, that she was given these gifts to help others.

Another reason this critique should resonate is that every crisis in the history of Church is normally caused not by the world, but by the lack of faith and example in Catholics.  The world always hates us, and will always persecute us every chance they get.  Christ wasn't lying when he warned us about this.  What causes the crisis is when we become like Judas and betray the faith either for gain, or just to go along to get along.  All the great reform movements placed an emphasis on returning to the basics of the faith. 

That I find this critique compelling only increases my disappointment at the vision of reform he lays out to this problem.  His Eminence presents a liberation theology that attempts to be faithful to the Magesterium.  While I think it more or less succeeds, it still doesn't work for the same reason that Liberation Theology as a whole is a failure.

For starters, the problems the Church faces are not caused by global finance or the rich.  While they can make existing situations worse, they didn't create problems.  State corruption is just as much a problem as global finance, but we never hear His Eminence lay out a plan for how to reform political processes to weaken corrupt politicians, whether they be Marxists or Capitalists. European Democracies and "Bolivarian" Republics alike suck the freedom, liberty and dignity of their subjects. In the end, Satan told Christ all the Kingdoms of this world were his, and he didn't give a political litmus test when making that statement. 

Second is that, like many liberation theologians over the years, His Eminence is very scant on details of what will replace the corrupt systems of today.  There's a reason for this.  More often than not, it's nothing but totalitarian socialism with a professed belief in God that ends up getting proposed.  It is one thing to talk about using the political process to build a culture in harmony with the gospel:  it is quite another to actually do it.  Catholic Social teaching has long recognized this by noting that such perfect political institutions are impossible to establish, and very good systems are nearly as impossible.   The Church addressed this situation throughout history (sometimes with results, sometimes without) by acting as a powerful check on individual governments, since the state by its nature always attempts to increase its power.  It was a very Roman concept, in that the Roman Republic was structured in a way to avoid too much centralization of power.  With an emphasis on local control through subsidiarity combined with the church serving as a check on the big picture issues, it was a system which allowed flexibility.

If one thing is clear, His Eminence doesn't want that system.  He viewed the Church as arrogant for its view as a "perfect society" (although he doesn't seem to demonstrate what was actually meant by it) and views most of the Catholicism of the past 500 years as holding things "contrary to Jesus."  He believes Vatican II finally brought the Church "back to Jesus" and we will have the golden age of the Church.  This view was dominant in the 60's and 70's, with disastrous results.  The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave rise precisely to clean up the mess this view gave birth to.

If the Church embarks on this kind of reform, the results shouldn't be too different from the last time it was tried.  What can we do instead?  I'm ultimately skeptical there can be any grand vision towards reform.  Instead, we can only do a few things here and there, take things one step at a time.  For Catholics today who wish an alternative to His Eminence's radically political NGO, we have a challenge:  we must formulate how the doctrines and traditions we love make it easier for Catholics to live out the Gospel.

Honest self-criticism will make it clear we haven't done a very good job of that.  We've talked about how these things make us superior to the "cafeteria catholics", and at least in America, our response to a politicized left wing Church has frequently been the politicized right-wing Church of Deal Hudson and George Weigel.  We should instead look to Leo XIII, who in Rerum Novarum pointed out that the basic principles of the Gospel, when applied to everyday life, build the foundation that the worlds economy and governments of all sorts rely upon.  This wasn't the Protestant prosperity Gospel of self-reliance, but instead of the importance of families, of thriftiness, of sacrifice, and of realizing that they should work more towards their eternal home. 

We need to talk about how Eucharistic adoration and a sound liturgy lead us to the service of others.  How sound doctrine by its very nature leads to evangelization, how Catholic social looks to attend to the temporal needs of the faithful by also servicing their eternal needs, and vice versa.  What servicing the spiritual needs of people actually looks like, beyond simply giving platitudes of advice.  This is far more in line with the great reform movements of the Church's history.  The Cluniac reforms placed just as much an emphasis on a stronger doctrinal fidelity as it did to charitable service.  (Think of the liturgical reforms they launched.)  This style of reform saved civilization once, and it can do so again.

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