24 January 2009
In our third formal commentary for 2009, editor and publisher of Catholica Brian Coyne offers an overview of the challenge facing Catholicism in the world through the perspective of the particular challenges, and the opportunities, that characterise the Church in the land "down-under"...
Catholicism is not some kindergarten game of people running around trying to pretend that we Catholics have greater insight into the mind of Almighty God than anyone else, or any other religion, on earth. The same could be said for the whole of Christianity. Christianity is one of the great religious paradigms, or systems of thought, seeking insight into the Mystery of the Divine and the great unknowns both as to who created Creation and where we are heading — collectively as a human family and individually as each man, woman and child. Our world has grown up. The people of the Western world have become educated. They seek religious and spiritual leaders and guides who are serious about tackling the great issues of how we are called to live our lives and what is the ultimate meaning and destination of our lives.
A legacy all of us should be proud of…
Catholicism, and Christianity, has a legacy which all of us should be proud of for its contribution to the growth and advancement of human civilisation and the creative plan that we believe our Creator-God invited sentient Creation to share in. There are also dark shadows in our legacy — often caused by "little men" who came to believe they were God and who sought to influence the beliefs of people by physical and moral force rather than by gentle argument and the power of non-violent persuasion in the manner of our founder, Jesus — the Son of the Most High.
Our religion is not some security blanket. If life has any "security blankets" it is Almighty God alone. Our religious institutions are not here as some endeavour to take the mystery out of Creation and replace it with kindergarten-level certitudes and fairy tales. They are not here primarily as some kind of crèche patting the foreheads of the insecure and fearful like some Nanny, or Kindergarten Ma'am patting the forehead of a child who is afraid of the dark — or the big bad wolf lurking outside the door.
Our religious institutions are not some substitute for God. That is idolatry. Neither are our religious leaders some substitute for God. Unlike Jesus they are not Messiahs. Like Jesus they are meant to be humble fellow-travellers who help their communities in the often vexed, confusing and paradoxical task of penetrating the Mystery of the Divine and the mysteries of Creation and Life. They are not men sprinkled with some "magic fairy dust" at ordination who are magically given superior grace or insight into the Divine than the rest of us, including the 50% of God's Creation who are not male. If the abuse scandals have taught us anything perhaps that might be the greatest lesson. They are fallible human beings just like the rest of us struggling to control their desires, their emotions, their intellects and their power and find meaning and fulfilment in their lives just like all the rest of us.
This incredible and beautiful relationship…
Our Creator-God doesn't require our praise and worship as though we are some lap-dogs or sycophants searching for a reward. Our Creator-God, we believe as Christians, invites each of us into this incredible and beautiful relationship, driven by unconditional love, where we are literally invited as co-partners into the business of Creation — creating a better world, creating new life itself, creating a better, more loving civilisation, and perhaps into the future, extending our reach beyond this small planet into exploring, and having wider impact on the greater "Universe of Creation". It is a truly incredible story, greater than the Cecile B de Mille "Greatest Story Ever Told". It is Sacred Scripture "come to life" — "come to a fuller meaning than any of our ancestors and forebears had insight into".
All of us as Christians, Catholics or simply human beings have a responsibility to learn our story, to remember it, to develop greater insight into its meaning, and to pass it on to the generations who follow us to encourage them to learn, remember and develop it further. Is this not the meaning of that instruction from Jesus himself given at the first Eucharist: remember this story — do this in remembrance of me … the second person of your Triune-Creator-God?
Our religions and churches are not to be likened to endeavours like political parties, sporting clubs or social clubs. Neither are they predominantly charitable institutes, centres of social justice activism, or debating societies (where one side is constantly trying to "score" against the other) albeit that each of those activities are important secondary means through which we "create community and communion". Our religions and churches are primarily a means of helping us human beings penetrate the Mystery of the Divine and the Mysteries of Life and Creation. In the words of that ancient Eastern Father of the Church, St Gregory of Nyassa, they are a means of helping each of us literally "become like God" — become noble, holy and whole. They are meant to be the means that teach and guide each of us in learning to think and act like God — to think like God and love, unconditionally, like God. They are meant to be the means that teach and guide each of us in learning to be at peace — with ourselves and with our neighbours — whatever the tempests, the droughts, the wars, the sickness, the torment, or the financial and emotional incertitudes that might be raging all around us.
Jesus — the guide, mentor, model and teacher who provides unique,
The religious or spiritual quest is not some relativist game of coming to believe "no one has any answers" so we are all entitled to believe in anything. As Catholics and Christians we do continue to believe that God granted special favour to humankind through sending his only Son into the world as the guide, mentor, model and teacher who provides unique, and full insight into the mind of God. That is not meant to lead us to some arrogant belief that we yet understand that "fullness". God continues to also speak to us through Creation — through the scientific, intellectual and emotional insights that women and men of all beliefs and religious traditions, and those of no beliefs and traditions, are continuing to discover that give us greater insight into the template of how Creation is ordered, and how it functions. Our challenge is to humbly search out and place on the altar the fruits of our Catholic and Christian insights as our contribution to the whole-of-humanity quest to better understand where we came from, where we are meant to be taking our lives to, what the meaning of our lives is, and how we are meant to live out our lives — what are the moral and ethical rules that define the boundaries of our human freedom?
Catholica is published from "the land down-under" — that "great South Land of the Holy Spirit — New Holland or Australia". Catholicism has a rich heritage in this land. Compared to many other nations of the world the Church in Australia is blessed with magnificent resources. It has a Catholic Education system that is second to none — the late Cardinal Pio Laghi called it "the jewel in the crown" of Catholic Education in the world — funded almost on a par with all other schools by taxpayer funds and the contributions of parents in a unique partnership of tolerance which the Australian people extend towards people of all religions, all beliefs and all races. Our Catholic Health Care, Aged Care and Welfare endeavours are on an equal par with the Catholic education system in the quality of service they provide both to the Catholic people of Australia and the wider community. Through Catholic Education, Catholic Health Care, Catholic Aged Care and Catholic Welfare endeavours the Church in Australia has one of the largest and most professionally and theologically qualified workforces of any national Church on this planet. It is far more theologically qualified than at any previous point in history — even when religious vocations were plentiful. Our physical assets are in superb condition today and most are on intelligent and responsible maintenance plans that ensure they do not deteriorate over time. This workforce, the largest private workforce outside of government, is also, by and large, committed to their endeavours beyond their work merely being "a job and source of income". They do treat their work as "a vocation".
As superb as the Catholic education structure is in Australia the reality is that 90% of our children who graduate from it abandon the further development of their faith. It means little to them. That is not some failing of the teachers in Catholic schools. It has been caused by a profound crisis of leadership at the episcopal level and particularly in Rome who fail abysmally in understanding the needs of the Catholic people of Australia.
Who will step up to mark and lead us?
In this "lucky country" we Catholics have much to be grateful for. But we are also facing a crisis. It is a crisis in ecclesial leadership. Our bishops are divided and so are the people. 86% of the baptised population have given up the regular practice of their faith over the space of less than 100 years. For young people the abandonment level is even greater. We urgently require an ecclesial leader, or leaders, not modelled on some arrogant dictator personality who believes they have all the answers, or they are the only ones with unique insight into the mind of God. We need leaders modelled in the character of Jesus Christ himself — charismatic and with quiet strength of character but also humble and "of the people". We need leaders with the ability to listen to their people and to articulate and represent their interests in the "citadels of power" from which Catholicism, their nation and the world is presently governed. We need a leader, or leaders, who are not exclusively oriented towards pacifying the insecurities of the 5% who believe they are "the remnant and the saved" but to the 95% who are searching and the many among them who have become lost or confused. Their responsibility is to lead the fearful out of their insecurities not to cement their insecurities in ever more deeply. We don't want "we have all the answers leaders" but leaders who can encourage their people in the pilgrimage, often frought with challenge and a lack of clear answers, as we seek to immerse ourselves in the Mystery of our God and the Mystery of Life. We want leaders who do not attempt to take the mystery out of the Mysteries of the Divine, or of Life, and replace it with kindergarten-level certitudes, but leaders who are courageous and encouraging to their people in searching for the certitude that is not found in rules and dogma but in a personal relationship with our Creator-God alone.
Amongst the bishops and priests of Australia who can we look to to provide true, Christ-like leadership? Who will lead us out of the spiritual desert that Rome, in its arrogance and certitudes, seems to have led us into?
One further strength the Church has in Australia is that the attempts of some, both overseas and within Australia, to impose an ideological and political leadership on the Catholic Church in Australia did not succeed. By and large we have pastoral leaders in this nation — bishops who are "of the people" and who do attempt to listen to the needs of their people. We do need someone though, or a group of them, who will lead us out of the abysmal division that has been created in this country by the few.
We welcome comments in the forum from members, or as Letters to the Editor from Catholica subscribers, expressing your views on this commentary.