Kerry Gonzales presents today a review of Eric Hodgens' extended essay, "New Evangelisation in the 21st Century". She praises Fr Hodgens for his writing style and clarity of thought but this dame is no slouch either when it comes to writing style and clarity of thought. This is an inspiring commentary.
Deaf and blind to the wisdom of the spirit…
This week I have finished reading Eric Hodgens "New Evangelisation in the 21st Century" and I was very impressed with the clarity and sensibility of what he has written. On reflection the words "there are none so blind as those who will not see" came to mind. Or, if you prefer something more biblical to describe the state of the Catholic Church hierarchy then try "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not" (Jeremiah 5:21). Eric Hodgens' writing confirms for me, what many others have believed and said for a long time — that church leaders, especially those who wield the greatest power, are generally deaf and blind to the wisdom of the spirit as it speaks through the greater "body of Christ" and the world at large. Current church leaders and church practices are attempting to hold up an institution that is on very shaky ground. Unlike Atlas holding up the world, church leaders labour to hold together something that is no longer bearing the rich fruit of that labour. Energies better spent elsewhere are being poured into defending the indefensible, in ways that are both oppressive and unchristian.
I can't even begin to estimate how many words have been written by the Vatican over the years in their efforts to "teach" the people and reinforce the Roman rule that is now entrenched. No doubt it is a very large number. Yet in 54 pages Eric Hodgens identifies the historical and contemporary problems that beset the Church and provides insight into how to address them. Yet he does not speak in inflammatory language, rather in a measured and reasonable manner Hodgens looks at ways to "remove the roadblocks" and move forward. Like many other critics of the current Church leadership, Eric Hodgens does not seek to destroy the richness of the Church or do away with the Jesus example underpinning the word, rather he looks to preserve the best and build on it.
Of interest also, is that Hodgens looks squarely at "blame theories and culture wars" highlighting the error of both sides of the argument. In fact, he is much clearer than that and paints it for what it really is — an ideological platform that is based on black and white dogmas with clear and defined rules that determine who is in and who is out. Both those in support of and in opposition to the current hierarchical church fall into this unhelpful position at both ends of the divide and although they are often in the minority, their voices seem most likely to be heard. Fortunately there are many more open-minded and forward-thinking people of good will in both camps, so that given the right leadership, common ground can be found in which both groups can grow together towards a more contemporary, yet historically grounded church.
There is much lament in Catholic circles about the dearth of young people seriously involved in church. Catholic discussion often revolves around the need to find ways to bring back the young people. World Youth Day is a good example of how the church attempts to reach out to our youth. Yet for all the time, effort and dollars poured into WYD, there really is very little evidence that it has ever resulted in increased participation of young people after the excited of the event has faded into memory. The issue of youth participation in the church as it currently exists is a lost cause as Eric Hodgens clearly points out that while the idea of getting people, both young and old, re-connected to the church is ineffective simply because "many of the issues that caused them to leave have not been changed" For youth the barrier is more specifically that the issues in constant argument within the church are not even on their radar, let alone worth getting worked up about. So, in the current climate of the church it seems there is little point in lamenting the lack of youth, because without a major cultural shift nothing will change. Why should it?
Climate of fear…
The climate of fear that affects the church at many levels, is not only a disgrace, but is a huge barrier to effective participation by the bulk of clergy and laity, especially at a local level where Catholic communities themselves are being steadily diminished. It is such a waste that many committed and intelligent church men like Geoffrey Robinson and Eric Hodgens have difficulty being heard. Even when their style, content and Christ-like qualities are patently obvious, they face enormous difficulty in being true to their beliefs. If martyrs are still possible, then I believe such people are right up there with the best. It is to the church's eternal shame that we are denied the prophetic message of many other voices who are either unwilling or unable to stand up to the pervasive thuggery that exist at the highest levels within the Catholic Church. It can only be in the best interests of the church to canvas opinion from the widest possible sources, giving precedence to the voices of the spirit within our own ranks. Nothing good can ever come from an institution that lives in fear and uses fear as a means of control, for ultimately even the status quo cannot be maintained.
So why are our Catholic Church leaders so blind to what, for most of us, seems like "the bleeding obvious"? I am really at a loss to understand why being a listening and responsive church, as opposed to a dogmatic and reactive church is so dangerous. I do understand that authority and power are seductive elements that can become a way of operating that seems like the norm. Yet, surely it is incumbent on the men in power within the church to look closely at themselves, in the light of all of the new understandings highlighted by Eric Hodgens, and to be open to the possibilities inherent within the nature of the church itself. Rather than engage with the modern reality, Rome seems intent on hiding behind worn and tattered structures, that do nothing for the credibility of the men at the top or the rest of us caught up under the Catholic umbrella.
Confirming some of my thoughts above, I came across the obituary of Placid Spearritt (SMH 24/10). Placid was born into a seemingly ordinary Anglican family in Queensland. As a young man he converted to Catholicism and became a scholar-priest in England. Eventually he returned to Australia when the monks at New Norcia in WA requested him to lead them. "The community was in crisis and unable to reform itself from within when Spearritt arrived in 1983". Yet this "unpretentious leader who exuded an air of surprise that anyone should regard him as an authority" maintained the spiritual integrity of the monastery while at the same time addressing the very practical issues of reaching out to the world beyond, establishing a farm on a professional and environmental basis. I have no doubt that there are many Placid Spearritts within the Catholic Church. It is a great loss that these men (for the time being) are not sought out and fostered by church leadership — right now, before their God-given skills and potential to benefit the church as a whole are only discovered in an obituary.
I recommend Eric Hodgens' book — an 'easy', 'powerful' read…
I recommend Eric Hodgens book to anyone who hasn't yet seen it. It is an easy, yet very powerful read. Unfortunately though for the church, the power of the words will probably only be seen in terms of the heresy and incorrect theology that they present to "those who will not see". For the rest of us, hopefully the words will be a source of hope and wonder as we choose to "see", not the negatives but the positives. In that way we can act in support of Eric Hodgens, to put ourselves to work to assist in breaking down the barriers and moving towards a new evangelisation that has the potential to encompass all of God's children wherever and whoever they are. For perhaps then can the true spirit of Catholicism be seen and heard in our midst, free of fear, ideology, hatred and denial. When we look through the eyes of Eric Hodgens and others, we can then see clearly that a new evangelisation is not only possible but necessary for the Catholic Church to be a positive and interactive player in the world of the 21st century.
PUBLISHING DETAILS: "New Evangelisation in the 21st Century —Removing the Roadblocks" by Eric Hodgens is the third in a series of quarterly essays on Religion in Australia published by John Garratt Publishing. The book can be ordered online from www.johngarratt.com.au
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008 Kerry Gonzales