"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

July 24, 2010

Authority and conversion

Filed under: Essays — Tags: , , — komonchak @ 9:01 am

AUTHORITY AND CONVERSION

OR: THE LIMITS OF AUTHORITY

Cristianesimo nella Storia 21 (2000) 207-229.

         Joseph A. Komonchak

             Roman Catholic thought about Church-authority massively emphasizes its objectivity. It stands “out there,” over-and-against the individual believer. It does not derive from the individual nor from the community of believers; it has been instituted by God; it is a participation in the authority of Christ; it is guided by the Holy Spirit; it is communicated by sacramental empowerment. It has behind it a long history, first set out only 150 years after Christ in lists of episcopal successions. It is articulated in a complex system of institutions, in interlocked sets of roles, and in numerous legal canons. Acceptance of it and obedience to it are constitutive dimensions of being a Roman Catholic.

This “there-ness” is an element of the positive character of Christianity which at its basis and at its heart is not the precipitate of the inner religious experience of individuals, but an encounter with Jesus Christ and with the God who was in him, reconciling the world to himself (see 2 Cor 6:19). The Church is the visible historical and social difference Jesus Christ has made and makes today. In the overwhelming majority of cases, people encounter Jesus Christ and his God and Father by encountering the Church, just as once it was possible that a first-century Jew might encounter that God and his demands and call by happening upon Jesus of Nazareth on a dusty road in Palestine. To put in somewhat Barthian terms, Christianity–the Church–is the brick hurled through the living-room window, startlingly, stunningly, inescapably demanding attention and a response.

How far that brick-metaphor can take one is a good question. On the one hand, it does not leave much room for the Catholic insight and instinct that the revelation embodied in Christ comes as the fulfilment of the deepest desires of the human mind and heart and as the healing of their severest wounds. On the other hand, it fulfills by utter transformation (“Eye has not seen…”) and it heals by the way of the cross, foolishness to Greeks and weakness to Jews (see 1 Cor 1:1825). The revelation itself unveils the range of the desire and the depth of the need. Christian anthropology is an effort to understand who we must be if God can place before us such a fulfilment purchased at such a price and requiring such a conversion.

Conversion and fulfilment, then. Conversion recalls the objectivity, fulfilment the subjectivity of the Christian experience. (more…)

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July 19, 2010

Martha and Mary

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 9:19 am

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 18, 2010 – St. John’s, Goshen

This little story about Martha and Mary has often puzzled readers and hearers of St. Luke’s Gospel, the only one of the four that includes it. Natural sympathies seem almost always to go toward Martha, who was very busy taking proper care of her great guest, while Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to him. (It’s perhaps worth noting that she wasn’t sitting and vacantly staring at a TV screen!) But when she appeals to Jesus to decide between her and her sister, Martha receives a gentle but affectionate rebuke: “Martha, Martha, you are fretting over many things, but only one is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” Remember the rule of thumb: If you find you don’t like some word of Jesus, consider that it was written down for your sake. So if we sympathize with Martha, let’s try to understand why her complaint is not accepted by Christ. (more…)

The Good Samaritan

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 9:16 am

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 11, 2010 – St. John’s, Goshen

The question the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s Gospel could be taken to be the great religious question: “What must I do to possess eternal life?” That is true, at least, if we don’t take “eternal life” to refer only to life beyond the grave, but take it to mean true life, authentic life, the only life worth living, even here and now. What must I do in order to live life as it ought to be lived? is the question, then. Jesus turns the question back upon the lawyer who then shows that he knows what is the most important element in such a life: total love of God and love of one’s neighbor as oneself. Praised by Jesus for his answer, he then tries to justify himself, and presses Jesus: “But who is my neighbor?” A question for which we may be grateful because it earned us the parable of the Good Samaritan. (more…)

July 14, 2010

Christians without backbones

Filed under: Uncategorized — komonchak @ 3:55 pm

Here is a post I just sent to the Commonweal-blog:

Animals Without Backbones is the title of a book used for generations in college biology courses. A website on its new edition says that it was “considered a classic among biology textbooks since it was first published to great acclaim in 1938. It was the first biology textbook ever reviewed by Time and was also featured with illustrations in Life.” I don’t remember whether we used it in my college courses, but the name was familiar to me and returned to my consciousness when I read a paragraph in a book of conversations with Fr. Yves Congar that appeared in a work published late in his life under the title Entretiens d’automne. The context was a question about Vatican II and the Church’s encounter with modernity. Congar was of the view that the ecclesial crisis, which he dates, by the way as beginning around 1950) could be described as “the departure from Tridentinism [or ‘Trentism’],” a term that he borrowed from Giuseppe Alberigo, that he distinguished from the Council of Trent itself, and by which he meant a system constructed after the Trent. Congar describes it: “It is a system that included absolutely everything: theology, ethics, Christian behavior, religious practice, the liturgy, the organization, Roman centralization, the constant intervention of the Roman congregations in the life of the Church, etc.” Departure from it he describes as “the progressive dismantling of a framework that inserted people into a complete system under the authority of priests. This process began long before the Council….” Then comes this paragraph:

We have not yet sufficiently communicated, or developed, the positive biblical grounds on which a new chapter in the history of the Church has really begun, in continuity, however, with the living tradition of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the classic centuries. The fate of the Church, it seems to me, is more and more tied to a spiritual and even a supernatural life, that is, to a Christian life. I think that today the only ones who can stick it out [tenir le coup] are Christians who have an inner life. In Tridentinism, there was a kind of conditioning (in a non-pejorative sense); there was a sort of enveloping, of a framework that one entered or stayed within, whereas today…, it is impossible, I think, to maintain a Christian life without some kind of inner life. And here I like to cite a rather curious remark of Fr. Emile Mersch, that Belgian Jesuit who did so much for the theology of the Mystical Body: “It’s because they lack a skeleton that certain animals surround themselves with a carapace.: Today I think the great carapace of Tridentinism has in great part dissolved, flaked off in some way, so that the need for a kind of inner frame is very urgent.

The metaphors give rise to thought. With the carapace one thinks of the defensive mode in which the Catholic Church confronted the successive waves that would produce the distinctively modern world. The result was what Congar called “the system,” always carefully distinguishing it from the Church itself, in which everything was already, to use a term that Congar often used pejoratively, ready-made. It was that carapace, that shell, that was revealed to have dissolved, flaked off, thus precipitating the crisis within the Church.

Reading his comment that only Christians with an inner, spiritual, Christian life will survive the crisis, some will be reminded of Karl Rahner’s comment that “the Christian of the future will by a mystic or will not be at all.” Here the other metaphor, borrowed from Mersch, comes into play, that of a skeleton. Today there is a tendency to get all squishy when talking about the inner life or “spirituality” (in its new meaning). Congar uses Mersch’s metaphor to refer to the inner Christian life as providing the skeleton, the backbone, that enables one to survive in a secularized world and makes it unnecessary to develop a hard outer shell. Christians without backbones are not going to make it

July 5, 2010

Newman and the Church’s Intellectual Responsibility

Filed under: Essays, Newman — komonchak @ 4:37 pm

NEWMAN AND THE INTELLECTUAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH

 Joseph A. Komonchak

In this essay I wish to describe how John Henry Newman interpreted the intellectual challenges facing the Church of his time, how he assessed its ability to meet them, and what he himself attempted as a response to both. These are issues on which Newman showed a remarkable consistency over sixty years of sustained work, from the earliest of his Anglican writings, through the greatest of his Catholic publications, down to the Biglietto speech on the reception of the Cardinalate (1879) and the articles on biblical inspiration which he wrote in 1884, at the age of 83! (more…)

Our Big Story

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 10:18 am

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 4, 2010 – St. John’s, Goshen

We heard as our second reading today the last five verses of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. This is the toughest, most uncompromising, most passionate, of the Apostle’s letters. It was written to communities that he had founded by his preaching and that he felt were at risk of falling away from the gospel he had preached. (more…)

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