Here's a good example of a reflection on Catholica that was triggered by a previous commentary long ago. Tom McMahon mentioned Paul Lakeland many months ago. Kevin Murphy went off to read up on Paul and found some ideas that are well worth reflecting on. The subtitle of Paul's book "Catholicism at the Crossroads" is "How the Laity Can Save the Church". What we're invited to reflect on is the style of community we build as Church. This is a rich reflection worth spending time with.
The transforming Spirit of God has been active in creation since the beginning of time.
The Holy Spirit has been active in the emergence and development of life on earth since the beginning of the evolutionary process.
The Holy Spirit is active in the salvation/fullness-of-transformation of all human beings, enabling us to live in the dynamic life, love and joy of the Trinity.
Jesus Christ, by the power of the same Holy Spirit, manifested in his death/resurrection the reality of transformation amongst us, helping us to appreciate and to understand it to some degree, making it easier for us to participate consciously in the transformation process — thus giving a wonderful purpose and meaning to life.
All this is salvation.
The Church is communities of those people who consciously participate in the death/resurrection transformation process manifested by Jesus Christ in our world. Church communities, by their nature, endeavour to communicate to others the benefits of an awareness of the transformation process, and in doing so they themselves come to a deeper appreciation of the process and of the expression of it in their lives.
The deepest level of spiritual awareness is based on the community life of God, in the relationships between Father, Son and Spirit: Trinity.
While the Trinity is the greatest of mysteries, we can find metaphors which hint at the reality of Trinity life, which remind us of the commitment that every church community has to have to mission, and which offers a pattern for the style of relationships between all the members of the Church.
When the Second Vatican Council made the hierarchical structure of the church secondary to an understanding of the church as the "People of God", it took a giant step towards a better understanding of the nature of the church, connected as it is to the Trinity God. Mutuality in relationships reflect the divine life: hierarchical structures and clericalism find no model in the life of the Trinity God.
There is differentiation between the three persons of the Godhead, but there are no ranks. All three Trinity persons are equally and fully God. The scriptures don't give any ranking numbers to the "persons" of the Trinity: First, Second, Third. (Remember that with reference to the Trinity, even the word "person" is a metaphor. The nature of the Trinity is beyond anything we can adequately name in human language. Jesus Christ is a human person, but that, the incarnation, is another mystery!)
The radical equality of the three persons of the Trinity does not extinguish their differences.
What these differences mean within the divine life is not for us to know, though Christians throughout history, especially the great mystics, have tried to come up with images that express something of the mystery.
In any case, we surely know that the persons of the Trinity are differentiated in terms of what we might call divine mission or ministry. In plain language, they have different responsibilities in the plan of creation being brought into the realm of God-Trinity. It is in this process that is connected with creation that we have some indication of the Trinity.
Prompted by inspired scriptures, we associate creation with one person of the Trinity; we associate the transformation process of creation with another person of the Trinity; we associate the transforming love that empowers the whole creation/transformation process with another person of the Trinity. In our tradition, we have named these three persons as Father, Son, Spirit.
The inner life of the Trinity persons is such that they do not have to explain their actions to one another. They are absolutely united in purpose, in power and in love. There is an absolute equality supporting three distinct missions connected with creation. There is perfect mutual understanding and cooperation.
Good teachers in the church have compared this life-filled Trinity to a three-person dance where there is perfect rhythm, perfect coordination, perfect understanding, perfect beauty, perfect grace, perfect enjoyment.
Another image could be that of three trapeze artists in action: Three aerial artists with complete trust in each other, complete openness, and accountability to each other, complete dependence on each other, with absolute safety, all enabling each other to stay alive and produce an outcome of wonder and beauty.
Church as community modelled on the action of the Trinity...
The church is to be like that, modelled on the action of the Trinity.
In searching for human metaphors to help us think about God, the hierarchical structure of the church as we know it does not immediately spring to mind. Perhaps in church communities we need much more emphasis on Trinitarian virtues of basic equality, cooperation, open inter-dependence and accountability of everybody, with a variety of mission commitments, coordinated by the rhythm of the life-giving Spirit in the community.
As we have it now, the present-day organisation of the church is largely modelled on the structures and procedures of the Roman Empire.
There is an effort amongst some conservative Catholics to return to the religious attitudes and spirituality of the 1950s, prior to the Second Vatican Council.
Perhaps we should try to be more like the Trinity – at least, for a start, at the local level.
It is the responsibility of a church community to mirror the relationality of the divine life and not be overwhelmed by the wholly human predilection for rules, regulations, buildings, status, titles, power over others, secrecy, silence, clericalism, ambition, expediency and lack of accountability.
All of those human characteristics go better with a god-image of non-equality, non-mutuality: a god-image of a severe "God": isolated in the high sky with a stern father image, issuing laws, threatening punishments, demanding death from his son, almost closing out any action of the Spirit.
So much depends on the image we have of God, and on the appreciation we have of the Trinity of Love.
Some Points for Reflection:
- What image of God did you grow up with?
- What image of God do you have now?
- To what extent is your spirituality Trinitarian?
- Has the Trinity been put in the too hard basket, and if so, what are we depriving ourselves of — at a personal, individual level and in the church community?
- In what ways can/should the church community reflect the characteristics of the Trinity?
- Do reasons for church renewal and reform based on a healthy image of the Trinity promote a deeper spiritual conviction than mere appeals to organisational rectitude and efficiency?
One of the severe sayings of Jesus is: Let the dead bury the dead! Follow me.
The headline image has been sourced from: www.hollywoodlutheran.org. Clicking on the other image will take you to the original source.
Kevin Murphy, Ballarat
Kevin Murphy is a priest working in the Diocese of Ballarat. Readers of Catholica might be interested in a web-based service he provides which produces weekly liturgies for small lay-led communities which are without a priest. His website can be accessed at: www.giant.net.au/users/murphy/. You can also contact Kevin via email through the address he gives on that website.
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©2009Fr Kevin Murphy
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