With the close of the Synod of the Family, there is much discussion in the blogosphere about the outcomes. My own post on St. Augustine has attracted for more commentary than I expected, and Julia recently posted the Pope’s insightful speech that closed this year’s synod. To continue this discussion, I want to share an article I found thanks to conservative Vaticanista Sandro Magister. As I have noted previously, Magister has been positioning himself as a critic of Pope Francis, and has devoted his weekly column to supporting those bishops and theologians most critical of proposed changes to Church pastoral practice on divorce and remarriage. (See, for instance, the article linked to here.)
A couple days ago he posted on his blog a very long article by Fr. Paul Anthony McGavin, an Australian priest and theologian who is not an uncritical supporter of Pope Francis. As he writes about himself:
I am not attracted to the present Holy Father. I think he needs to step out of his Latin American emotivism. I think he needs to step out of his Jesuit authoritarianism. There are things in his first sole-authored major writing as Pope, “Evangelii gaudium,” that I think are unsustainable.
(The article where he discusses this Exhortation in depth can be found here, again courtesy of Sandro Magister.) In his current article, Fr. McGavin provides a thoughtful and supportive analysis of Pope Francis’ sustained critique of traditionalists, showing how Francis is not rejecting tradition but rather is willing to engage with it in a serious way. He opposes this to traditionalists, whom he describes as “fixed-traditionalists”: those who read the tradition as fixed, unchanging and as having given us the last word. He criticizes this position as follows:
This fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that all reasoning takes place “within a context”. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is simply “contextual” or “situational”. The fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that particular reasonings involve “modes of thought”, and that differing personalities and differing cultures have differing modes of thought. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is culturally relative and relativistic.
I am not going to try to summarize this very detailed argument: I commend you all to read it carefully. However, as a follow up question to it, and mindful of the interesting questions raised by the guest post by Mike McG: what is the approach to traditional Church teaching among those on the other side? Here I am thinking of the people criticized by Pope Francis as those who succumb to
[t]he temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the do-gooders, of the fearful, and also of the so-called progressives and liberals…. [and also] The temptation to neglect the depositum fidei [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it].
Fr. McGavin has carefully unpacked the Pope’s critique of the temptation of traditionalism; can we do the same with his critique of the temptation of liberalism (for want of a better word)? The final result will have to be very different: echoing the comments I made to Mike McG, the two sides are not symmetric and have their own particular shortcomings. My own take is that they do not (or at least the majority do not) simply reject or dismiss the tradition. But they are willing to ask hard questions about it—e.g. their critique of the Tradition and slavery or the death penalty—which can lead to a hermeneutic of suspicion towards it. What is needed to bring them and their perspective back into a living exchange with tradition, so that in the words of Fr. McGavin, both sides can
listen carefully to what he [Pope Francis] is saying and engage pro-actively in dialogue as a means – again in the words of the lead quote – of “grasping those possibilities which the past has made available to the present”.
Suor Cristina Scuccia is an Italian nun who stunned Italy (and at one remove, the world) with her powerful singing voice. (A Youtube playlist of her songs from the The Voice can be found here.) She has now released her first single since winning the competition: a cover of Madonna’s Like a Virgin:
The result is quite stunning, turning the song into an extended meditation on the singer’s own religious vocation. The video juxtaposes Suor Cristina singing in ways that express rapturous prayer with images of the churches of Venice, reinforcing her Italian, Catholic identity. (One of the things which made her such a success was that even while belting out rock and pop tunes, she never pretended to be other than she was: a nun in a sensible habit who took her faith and her vocation seriously.) It both captures the raw sexuality of the original while at the same time transforming and spiritualising it. Read more…
Vox Nova is pleased to present another post by Kelly Wilson.
Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; I Thessalonians 1:1-5 & Matthew 22:15-21.
Tax revolts likely were not far from the imagination of those surrounding Jesus. One such uprising had taken place in very recent memory and had been suppressed with brutality. That history makes the question posed to Jesus – is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor? – a particularly difficult one and Matthew interprets persons as looking to trap Jesus.
The Pharisees and Herodians feel they have cornered him; that, no matter how Jesus responds, he is finished: Come out against paying taxes to the emperor and trouble is coming when the Romans get wind of this but come out in favour and look like one collaborating with that occupying force and alienate those seeking liberation. Jesus, it seems, is not going to walk away from this question intact. Amazingly, with his clever response, he does.
Vox Nova is pleased to welcome the following guest post by reader Mike McG.
The terms ‘culture war’ and ‘culture warrior’ name very real tensions in both secular and religious domains. And yet I wonder if these phrases deepen the very polarization they seek to describe.
The terms came into common usage in the early 1990s with the publication of American sociologist James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. The Pew Forum published an in-depth analysis of the book and the controversy it sparked. This analysis cites Hunter’s argument that “there was a battle raging between ‘traditionalists,’ who were committed to moral ideals inherited from the past, and ‘progressivists’ who idealized change and flexibility. These different worldviews, Hunter argued, were responsible for increasingly heated disputes over such issues as abortion, sexuality, education and the role of religious institutions in society. ‘Cumulatively, these debates concerning the wide range of social institutions amounted to a struggle over the meaning of America.’”
Note Hunter’s even-handed application of terms. He argued that warriors were well represented on both sides of contested issues. My read on current usage is that ‘culture warrior’ is no longer neutrally applied. Instead it is reserved, often with a derisive edge, for conservative activists. Much like ‘right wing,’ the epithet ‘culture warrior’ has morphed into a weapon in the culture war it was coined to describe.
The Synod on the Family has been very much in the news lately, particularly with the release yesterday of the Relatio post disceptationem to the media. This document deserves careful discussion, as does its reception by various parts of the Church and by the secular media. (Indeed, it made the front page of my local paper today!) But very much related to the discussions about mercy, justice, gradualism and upholding Church teaching is the following passage from St. Augustine, which I found courtesy of the folks at the Daily Gospel Online:
Our Lord was an example of incomparable patience. He bore with a “devil” among his disciples even to his Passion (Jn 6,70). He said: “Let them grow together until the harvest lest you uproot the wheat when you pull out the weeds” (cf. Mt 13,29f.). As a symbol of the Church he preached that the net would bring back to shore, namely the end of the world, every kind of fish, both good and bad. And he made it known in various other ways, whether openly or in parables, that there would always be a mixture of good and bad. But nevertheless he stresses that we have to protect the Church’s discipline when he says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother” (Mt 18,15)…
Yet today we see people who think of nothing but stern commandments, who order that troublemakers be reproved, « not giving what is holy to the dogs », « treating like the publicans » anyone who despises the Church, cutting off the scandalous member from the body (Mt 7,6 ; 18,17 ; 5,30). Their stormy zeal so troubles the Church that they pull out the weeds before their time and their blindness makes of them enemies of the unity of Jesus Christ…
Take care not to let these presumptuous thoughts enter our hearts, trying to separate ourselves from sinners so as not to be soiled by contact with them, wanting to form a band of pure and holy disciples. We will achieve nothing but breaking up our unity under the pretext of not associating with the wicked. To the contrary, let us remember the parables of Scripture, their inspired words, their striking examples, where we are shown that, until the end of the world and the day of judgement, the bad will always be mingled amongst the good in the church without their participation in the sacraments being harmful to the good so long as these latter have not played a part in their sins. (On Faith and works, ch. 3-5)
Vox Nova would like to welcome back Kelly Wilson who will be providing reflections on the weekly readings.
Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 25-6-10; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20 & Matthew 22:1-14.
A parable, here, is told by Jesus which strikingly overlaps with one heard last week. Remember:
A landowner sends workers and, finally, his son, to tenants who abuse the workers and kill the son. Jesus asks: ‘What will the landowner do?’ Hearers respond: ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death’.
Jesus transitions from the setting of a vineyard to that of a wedding banquet. He begins – the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king – and the expectation is that God, in some way, will be reflected in the character of the king.