Sunday, July 7, 2013

Colleen Baker on New Papal Encyclical: The Centrality of Touch in the Life of Faith (and Implications for Canonization of JPII)

In the January 2011 posting about Eugene Kennedy's commentary on the beatification of John Paul II that I just re-posted, I wrote, 

And here's the problem, of course: many of us don't want an icon of holiness for our church today who looks away, in the face of human need and human problems.  We want pastors who are human, who can engage our human faces with their human faces, face to face, eye to eye.  We want--we desperately need--pastors who will walk among us, hearing our voices, listening to our concerns and to what we have to say.  We don't want, we don't need, rock stars on stages lit by bright lights, far removed from us.

And now here's Colleen Baker at Enlightened Catholicism two days ago, commenting on the new papal encyclical about faith, which was coauthored by John Paul's right-hand man and successor Benedict XVI and the new pope, Francis: 

I will have more to write about this encyclical in the coming days, but I do want to hi lite one thought that is very prevalent through out this encyclical.  It's the well developed notion that Faith is defined and passed on through light and sound, through vision and hearing.  God is light, God speaks, are ideas that figure prominently.  Where the encyclical really fails, at least as far as I'm concerned, is the almost total lack of reference to touch. Touch, the one sense perceptive ability that makes material reality so unique.  The one perceptive ability that is manifested solely in the Second Person of the Trinity.  The one perceptive ability that the Church has never come to terms with because one of its pinnacle expressions, at least as far as love is concerned, is in sexuality.   
I've really found this refusal to meaningfully touch on touch somewhat ironic in a Faith that claims God incarnated in Jesus.  Why would God incarnate if it wasn't partially to experience the reality of a material universe which allowed for a whole new method of receiving and knowing love and of giving and receiving knowledge of God?  So much of what Jesus did revolved around his touching, not just his speaking, and not just the seeing of him. Virtually all of the healing episodes describe him touching the one to be healed. The institution of the Eucharist is a touch phenomenon, a body to body experience....take and eat for this is my body, 'take and drink..this is the mystery of faith'.  He didn't say 'pray and think' or 'look and hear'.  He said 'eat and drink'.

As Colleen notes, this encyclical is very much Benedict and very little Francis, who has said, after all that pastors (a word that literally means "shepherds") should smell like the sheep among whom they 're supposed to walk (in theory, at least, if not in practice, when it comes to most contemporary bishops) and whom they touch. Colleen concludes that this encyclical on faith is "in reality Pope Benedict's  final encyclical." And then she sums up,

This encyclical on Faith is as devoid of thought on touch as it is on women.  I suspect that's not an accident, and even though it might not be consciously intentional, I think it points to the two seriously deficient aspects in traditional Catholic theology.  Its lack of respect for women, and its lack of respect for the fact we are all incarnated in a material universe and touch is critical to our well being.  If a person thinks about it,  the two things, touch and the feminine,  are traditionally equated with temptation and sin.  I found a great deal of interest in this encyclical, but the lack of awareness of these two realities was so glaring, I can't say I found much 'light'. 

By choosing to publish this encyclical on faith along with Benedict, and by continuing Benedict's plans to rush John Paul II to canonization, the new pope may well be seriously undercutting his fine statements about the need for more pastoral pastors in his church, and may be signaling to many of us that just what we feared is, in fact, the case: that we've been offered yet again by Rome a lot of pretty window dressing when what we've longed for, hungered for, cried for is authentic pastoral leadership from pastors who walk among us, listen carefully to us, and embrace us.

As the God on whose behalf these men claim to speak does.

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