Discerning our way forward...
I've spent the past month largely away from my keyboard and the internet. Looking back it's probably the single largest break I've had away from this work I've largely taken on voluntarily in six years. For days now I've been mulling over what could be written in a first commentary or editorial for the year that might be hope-filled and hope-filling.
The truth is that while I find small islands of hope where that greater hope being offered by Jesus Christ is being infused into society around me, the bigger picture is profoundly depressing. Those who should care simply do not care. Many in positions of authority and possible advancement up the hierarchical ladder are engaged in a game of trying to second-guess the Pope rather than Jesus Christ and God in order to advance their possibilities of promotion — or, at the very least, to not blot their copy books in ways that might threaten the comforts they enjoy in paid employment and ministry. The only places that seem spirituality alive in the Church today are those where the personnel are somewhat removed from the possibilities of advancement or threat to their material comfort.
A little while ago a friend read me Sister Joan Chittister's latest column in NCR criticising what the institution has been doing to Bishop Tom Gumbleton over the last month or so. Like the censorship that went on in Australia with the likes of Michael Morwood and Paul Collins, it only takes the holding up of one bishop — and an auxiliary bishop at that — or one or two priests, as scapegoats to cow an entire institution into silence, subservience and utter depression.
In Australia the clear evidence on the public record is that we do have many decent men as our bishops. What is also abundantly clear is that they seem to have as frustrating a time as the 85% who have given up trying to make their voices heard. Our Church today seems to have been turned into one ginormous apology for the constant pandering that goes on to this tiny 5% cohort of the population that has effectively hijacked the Christian mission of "bringing the Good News to all people" and turned it into a mission to bring certitude and false absolutism to the spiritually and emotionally insecure.
I really do take my hat off to those religious in this country who turned out in force in the last few weeks to welcome and listen to the prophetic voice of Diarmuid O'Murchu. Here I honestly do find a man struggling to find answers to the enormous spiritual questions of our age. But he is not trying to answer them with childish certitudes. He does not put Jesus forward as some goody-two shoes, mummy's boy, social conformist offering this kind of false absolutism so beloved of the tough men, 50s men, patriachal bullies, mysogynists and "mummy's boys trying to act as grown men" who largely control, by default, the institutional agenda of Catholicism today.
The picture of Jesus Diarmuid O'Murchu invites us to catch up with is a seer and prophet — the embodiment of none other than the Divine Mystery itself — who invites us to travel into the incertitude of life. It is the very process of "living with the questions that have no answers — the moral dilemmas and spiritual conundrums that are not able to be replaced with human absolutism and certitude" that deepens our faith. This is what grows us in wholeness, holiness and brings us closer into the real presence of this architect, animateur and Word that sits at the foundation of each of our lives and of All Life.
There ARE certitudes and absolutes in this alternative vision. I submit though that they are a long, long way removed from the fake certitudes, the false absolutes, and the idolatry of those who constantly, constantly attempt to turn mystical insight, spiritual poetry and beatific vision into dogmatic certitude, emotional absolutes, plastic statues and insipid saccharine-sweet pious sentimentality that they try and pass off as tradition and something of worth.
Quantum Physics provides us with a profound insight that all laws are relative unless we clearly explain the frame of reference within which some particular law is being discussed or observed. Quantum Theology ought teach us to have a similar humility when it comes to Divine Law and Revelation. None of us are going to be ultimately judged by how well we memorised any, or all, of the laws of creation. We are going to be judged by how faithfully and obediently we were able to navigate through the myriad dilemmas and challenges that make up our lives and make the decisions that do conform to the Divine Will and Insight which we, in part, are helped to discern through human-made laws and authentic tradition. That is a process that is literally light years removed from one of standing around trying to prove to others how well we can recite God's Ten Commandments, or how much better we understand the Ten Commandments than they do.
The only Absolute that really matters subsists in the Divine alone. It does not subsist in human-made laws, rubric and social conventions or traditions that are meant to point us towards where the Absolute subsists but themselves are not The Absolute. There IS certitude in following the way of Jesus Christ but it is a wholly and holistically different quality of certitude to the false certitudes proffered by the emotionally insecure who constantly confuse the roadmap with the road and destination itself. They idolise the roadside signs and guideposts that are mean to guide us towards the absolute of the Divine rather than the Divine itself which should be the only object of our worship, supplication and obedience.
There is a significant challenge that faces our spiritual guides and leaders in that a small but vocally significant sector of the population wilfully does not want to engage in the thinking involved to get their heads around the sort of stuff that someone like Diarmuid O'Murchu is writing and saying. The responsibility of our ecclesial leaders though is NOT to be pandering to the insecurities of these people by providing them with false certitudes and fake absolutes — or placing obstructions in the way of spiritual guides like Diarmuid O'Murchu, or Bishop Gumbleton. It is to be engaging with, not pandering to, "the children" in their flocks and providing the adult faith formation programs that enables all people to grow in their faith and love of God as revealed to us through the insights and "fullness of revelation" found in God's son and human emissary and model, Jesus Christ.
Blessings, Brian Coyne
We welcome comments in the forum from members, or as Letters to the Editor from Catholica subscribers, expressing your views on this commentary.