Catholic Charismatic Renewal Ignores Social Evils
I wish to make a comparison between James J. Thompson Jr.’s article on religion in the South and Giles Dimock’s article on the Catholic charismatic renewal, both in the June issue. Thompson says, “The Social Gospel, with its emphasis on societal improvement, has never caught on in the South.” True. The same point in regard to the Catholic charismatic renewal is conspicuous in its absence in Dimock’s article.
From my own experience in the renewal from 1969 through 1983, I learned firsthand of its lack of involvement in the works of peace and social justice. The renewal, like the old-time religion of the South, often claims to harken back to the “Full Gospel,” but it needs to reflect on whether that Gospel is really so “full.”
John C. Cort’s critique of “cafeteria Catholicism” in his May column on the Pope’s latest social encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, is strange, for it is seemingly based on the implied premise that all pronouncements of the papal magisterium carry the same weight of authority. Thus, economic analyses and prescriptions, in the nature of the case of a contingent character, demand assent similar to that required of matters of faith and morals such as the Trinity, the sacraments, divorce and remarriage, fornication, etc. — matters all, unlike economic ones, linked directly to the normative first principles of sacred Scripture.
Paul J. Jobin
St. Mary's Rectory
Claremont, New Hampshire
Ed. Note: Papal social teaching doesn’t consist only of contingent matters; it includes normative first principles derived from Scripture and Catholic tradition. In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis we have, for example, (A) the principle of the “option or love of preference for the poor”; correspondingly, the Pope (B) identifies “the all-consuming desire for profit” as sinful, and (C) leaves no doubt that he sees that sin as “structural” or institutionalized in the West. We agree with the Pope on all three points. While C might well be a contingent judgment open to question, the same cannot be said of A or B.
I keep in touch with the world of theology by subscribing to special periodicals, and yours is one of them. The NOR lets me know what is going on in the orthodox tradition — Roman, Anglican, and Eastern.
I have parted company (in theology only, not otherwise) with my lifelong friend Carl Henry, the noted evangelical theologian, on the score that his version of Christianity is too American. In so many instances, theology in America begins as if the day of Pentecost occurred with the discovery of America.
My happiest days of teaching (I am now retired) were in Berkeley, where I converted church history into the history of dogma. I pointed out that we Protestants came on the scene 15 centuries after the founding of the church, and that the number of communicants in the orthodox tradition made most of the Protestant denominations appear as but a ripple in the history of the church.
The Charism of a Sense of Humor
I have read, with much sympathy, Sheldon Vanauken’s letter in the June issue regarding dissent in the Catholic Church. As a former priest of the Episcopal Church who became a Catholic in 1949 and a married Catholic priest in 1983, I think I can appreciate his problem upon discovering that what we do not have in the Church is universal assent to the Magisterium. Indeed, there are those who venture to speak of a sort of “magisterium” of experts in theology.
I cannot, however, share Vanauken’s view that there is some special advantage in first having seen the Church “from afar” and in having perceived its essential mark of unity from the perspective of an outsider. Such people are due for a great culture shock when they enter the real life of the Church. The proposition that unity is an essential mark of the Church is true, but itis also true that this unity subsists in the plurality of a worldwide community of believers in which human beings — including theologians — have doubts, struggles, and everything else that goes with free will. One has to experience this reality; outsiders cannot know it at all, for living in the tensions of the Household of Faith is strictly a family affair.
Hans Urs Cardinal Von Balthasar in The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (Ignatius Press, 1986) points out that we ought to be grateful to live at this time when “the greatest imaginable plurality within christological unity is not merely tolerated but actually striven for.”
Certainly Newman felt the tension between authority and theology, which in his 1877 Preface to The Via Media he attributed to the fact that everyone in the Church, including popes and bishops, is subject to original sin.
I have no idea what today’s “dissenters” really want, and I suspect that they themselves are not sure. But before integralists invite them to leave home, let us not lose our awareness of what Von Balthasar calls the charism of a sense of humor. The “fever” on the Right and the “Currants” on the Left are simple evidence that we Roman Catholics are still not what we ought to be, which is holy.
Rev. Paul van K. Thomson
Newport, Rhode Island
Why Stay in the Church?
Sheldon Vanauken’s letter (June) addresses dissenters in the Catholic Church. Almost every item on their agenda, he claims, is sexual. He seems to equate their “demand” (as he puts it) for girl altar servers with abortion.
In focusing entirely on discussion of sexual issues, Vanauken ignores the theologians who have been disciplined, silenced, or threatened for their writings about papal infallibility, Christology, the Eucharist, or liberation theology.
We should not ignore the consequences of abuse of sexuality. Perhaps in seeking to elaborate a Christian sexuality, we will achieve a more credible ethic if it reflects the faith and experience of men and women, married as well as celibate, laity as well as clergy.
In the meantime, perhaps we can also give “equal time” to some of the priorities expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:3-12 and 25:34-40. In discussing sexual “dissenters,” Vanauken speaks of those who “seek an obvious personal comfort.” Many of us also, seeking personal comfort, are not inclined to be peacemakers, to feed the hungry, to welcome strangers, to go to those in prison.
If all of us would follow Vanauken’s preference, we would “excommunicate ourselves” from the Church. We would then invert the message of John 8:10: there would be no one left who was not to be condemned (except perhaps Vanauken and a few other saints).
He asks why dissenters stay in the Church. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me, “Why do you stay in such a sexually oppressive church?” (The oppressive characterization was my friend’s, not mine.)
My answer included the following:
It is the Church, primarily through Scripture and the Eucharist, that teaches me the goodness of creation and the blessings of history (my own and that of the Church). It is in the Christian community that I am challenged to moral discomfort. The Christian community is a visible sign of reconciliation and acceptance when I have failed to respond to all the challenges of the Gospel message.
I told my friend of the joy of experiencing Eucharist on the spot in one of the catacombs where 16 to 17 centuries before, other Christians shared the body and blood of Christ. Their experience of Jesus, salvation, or community differed so much from mine. Yet, I rejoiced in that link of symbols (words, bread, wine) that they and I share. Despite the differences of meaning, our sharing goes beyond symbols. We do share an essentially common faith.
I have no desire for a special-interest Christian sect that affirms only my view of authority or sexuality or some other specific issue. I expect that most of the 30,000 or so Protestant sects Vanauken notes are narrowly defined (doctrinally or ethnically) groups.
The Church is Catholic because it is confident enough of its faith to include many cultures (and the manifestations of those cultures). Just as I am linked in history with early Christians, I am linked through the Church with hundreds of millions whose experience of God’s graces differs in some respects from my own.
Such a messy communion must frustrate those who yearn for total uniformity of doctrine and practice. Yet, it seems rather consistent with the rich and varied revelation that we find in the various books of the Scriptures.
I accept God’s presence in bread and wine as well as in English, French, Latin, or other translations of the Hebrew and New Testament Scriptures. I can therefore value a Church with a pope and bishops, even when their teaching shows some limitations of language and culture.
My friend listened to these thoughts I expressed. He is not ready to become a Catholic. On the other hand, he respects the reasons why I remain Catholic. I would hope that Vanauken can do the same.
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