Today’s Catholic Reformation
Rocco Palmo reports on an astonishing speech that the Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga delivered recently in Dallas, outlining Pope Francis’s vision for the Catholic Church’s renewal. This is enormously significant because Maradiaga is one of the council of eight cardinals chosen by Francis to help him implement his vision. You have to read this address. It can leave no doubt as to how revolutionary — for better or for worse — the current pontificate intends to be. Here are some highlights:
1º) The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God. “The People of God” is, for the Council, the all-encompassing reality of the Church that goes back to the basic and the common stuff of our ecclesial condition; namely, our condition as believers. And that is a condition shared by us all. The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church. The hierarchy is a ministry (diakonia = service) that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants. To take that place (the place of weakness and poverty) is her own, her very own responsibility.
And there the Church, in humble company, helps making life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals, without castes or classes; without rich or poor; without impositions or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth –so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.
For this task of mission and testimony, the Church should always come equipped with faith and a spirit of service to humanity. Too many times she gives the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue. No more excommunicating the world, then, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.
5.1 Primacy of the last. The Church ought to proclaim and testify, as a criterion of sociopolitical organization and education, that all men are brothers; and that, if we are brothers, we must fight for establishing relations of equality and to eliminate their greatest obstacles: money and power. We have to establish as a priority that those majorities who suffer poverty and exclusion (the last) will be the first. If Jesus calls the poor ‘blessed’ is because he is assuring them that their situation is going to change, and consequently it is necessary to create a movement that can bring about such a thing, restoring dignity and hope to them. We have to give primacy to the last:
“The original Christianity faces the reign of money and power as means of domination and introduces a passion into history: that the last stop being the last, that behaviors are adopted and politics and economies are put into place to give them primacy, so a society can be built without first or last, or, at least, with less inequality between human beings called to be brothers.” (R. Díaz Salazar, La Izquierda y el cristianismo [Left and Christianity], Taurus, 1998, p354.).
Putting first the needs of the last means to create a collective will capable of doing so, as well as of stipulating policies and social behaviors based on solidarity, subsequently adopting common efforts and sacrifices. If a passion for the last becomes a mobilizing idea and moral force, we will then have the possibility of creating international politics of solidarity, of economic democracy, the assumption of evangelical poverty, attaining the creation of new social subjects, with a new set of anthropological values and a new purpose for both collective and personal life, all inspired in Christ and His Beatitudes.
And this bit about “political sainthood”:
The Christian identity should be built on a par with what is truly human, as a ferment as well as a service, and that requires being present where the great human causes are being ventilated, even without publicity, without renown, with the barest visibility, but bearing the strength of testimony, of the commitment to action, of unconditional love. A hidden presence, like that of a fermenting agent.
This presence would be shared with all those who in one way or another carry inside their chests the fire of love, justice, and charity, and of the construction of human rights. We could call this presence political sainthood, as an anticipatory taste of eschatological plenitude.
Truly, read the whole thing. I’ve gone through it twice, and found much to agree with, but also a rather shocking lack of the sense of the transcendent, or of personal conversion and repentance. This is straight-up Catholic social-gospel leftism. The Catholic priest Father Dwight Longenecker interprets the Cardinal’s speech here. Excerpt:
The first read through sounds like the old “Spirit of Vatican II” stuff warmed up. It’s all about reaching out in mercy and no condemnation to show people what the love of Christ really looks like. Okay, but as many commentators have observed, in the American Church the liberal mainstream have been doing that steadily for the last fifty years and all we have to show for it are plummeting vocations, religious evacuating their orders en masse, churches built in a brutal modernist style, a wholesale abandonment of the rich teachings and traditions of the faith, widespread disregard for the moral teachings of Catholicism, the priest sex abuse scandal, financial abuse and a church in crisis.
So we want more of the same? This is the definition of insanity isn’t it? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Fr. Dwight says he’s not concerned with what the Cardinal says, but with what he doesn’t say. More:
I want to understand the Cardinal’s teachings, but it comes across to me as “get involved in changing things politically. Live together in peace and feed the poor. Then people will see how happy you are and want to become Catholics.”
What seems absent in his vision is the call to authentic personal holiness, sacrifice and being transformed into the image of Christ. In fact Jesus doesn’t get much of a mention at all except in his example as a humble carpenter, an outsider and a friend of the poor. There is no mention here of Jesus Christ as Son of God, the savior of the world. There is no mention of mankind’s bondage in sin and his need of forgiveness. No mention of the cross as a redemptive act or of the need for individual repentance and conversion.
By “evangelize” it sounds like the Cardinal means “We can make a difference, yes we can!”
What do you Catholic readers say? It seems pretty clear to this non-Catholic reader that the era of John Paul II and Benedict is over, rover. What does this mean for the Christian churches who aren’t Catholic? For the world itself?
UPDATE: The Catholic writer and editor John Zmirak writes:
Cardinal Maradiaga’s vision of the future of the Catholic Church is really a yellowed snapshot of the past—of the recent past of the Anglican church, which has buried the clear and consistent doctrines of Christianity, in favor of social activism on behalf of foolish and counterproductive policies. The result was predictable; it became spiritually irrelevant, a decorative tassel hanging from the left wing of public opinion, while its most fervent believers split off to found new churches that actually taught the Gospel, or decamped for Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. If the Catholic Church follows its lead, to the point where it throws infallibility into question, the same thing will happen. Expect a torrent of converts to the Orthodox Church—made up of the most active, fervent, believing, Catholics.
As a North American who is grateful for the relative religious and economic freedom that produced a successful country, I reject the Marxian bromides being offered by men whose countries have never known such freedom. Amidst all Maradiaga’s rhetoric about Gospel solidarity with the poor, I smell more than whiff of brimstone, of a national and regional envy that has no clue how to lift up the impoverished, but would happily settle for tearing down the prosperous.
The poverty in South America is the result of bad governments, which descended from the bad governments that ruled Spain during the colonial period, and the political culture they helped create. That poverty is not the fault of Americans who were blessed with a better, British model of free government and a free economy. Standards of living have risen even in poor countries because of the technological and medical advances created exclusively in nations where the rule of law and economic freedom prevail. There are few new vaccines, medical procedures, or other inventions emerging from socialist nations in Europe.
Impose upon the U.S. the kind of socialism that Cardinal Maradiaga clearly favors, and we will stop inventing things too. We will follow the path of Argentina, a once-prosperous nation that allowed pandering politicians who used the rhetoric of social justice to cripple its productive citizens, and spent itself into bankruptcy. It is not encouraging to hear a cardinal citing as an authority that friend of Communist Cuba Jean Ziegler—who has called the United State an “imperialist dictatorship.”
I reject Nietzsche’s characterization of Christianity as a “slave morality.” I resent churchmen who do their best to try to prove it true.