Sunday, June 12, 2011

Highways, Byways, and Fellow Pilgrims: The Discussion of Who Defines Catholic Faith Continues

As a follow-up to what I posted yesterday about Steve's and my recent trip to Minnesota (and not an afterthought; rather, a complement to that story): the trip did bring us some important spirit-building experiences.  Chief among those was having the chance to meet fellow blogger and colleague Michael Bayly, who maintains the Wild Reed blog and the Progressive Catholic Voice blog, both of which have links on the main page of this site.  Michael lives in the twin cities.

I had already known that Michael is a first-rate human being, from reading postings on his blog and following his comments at other blog sites.  And meeting him in person only confirmed those impressions.  And made me recognize how significant the community of bloggers with which we've come to interact in the past several years has become for Steve and me.  That includes, of course, people who regularly comment on this site and others I read, but who may not maintain a blog of their own.

I have somehow failed to mention in the last few months that we also had the wonderful opportunity to meet Terry Weldon of Queering the Church and Jayden Cameron of Gay Mystic in London this past December.  That, too, was a highlight of our trip overseas this winter.  Wonderful human beings, each of these folks to whom we've connected through the world of blogging, and whom we've now met.

And human beings who help keep faith alive for me as we (to borrow TheraP's delightful phrase from a comment here yesterday) tramp together along the highways and byways of our shared faith journeys.  And surely that's what the life of faith in the communion of church is all about, first and foremost: the shared journey and shared experience of faith.

Not conformity to an externally imposed rule or "truths" handed down from on high by some centralized authority figure.  That understanding of the life of faith, which now dominates the thinking of many Catholics, has things so spectacularly wrong-headed that you have to wonder how a church with a long, rich theological tradition and powerful schools of spirituality could ever have ended up with such an unconvincing, dessicated, stultifying, and beside-the-point notion of faith.

It is fascinating to read the (predictable) responses of some fellow Catholics to Anthony Padovano's sane, deeply traditional statement that "baptism unites the church, not ordination"  at the American Catholic Council that will end today in Detroit. Padovano states, 

The pope does not unify or sanctify the church and make it catholic or apostolic. This is the work of the Spirit and the community. The pope is an institutional sign of a unity already achieved by the faithful. The pope does not create a community of believers or validate baptisms or make the Eucharist occur.

And there's nothing in the slightest novel, loony, or doctrinally suspicious about those statements.  They're bedrock affirmations of Catholic teaching that have long been central to the Catholic tradition.

Which makes it mind-boggling to read one comment after another at American Catholic blog sites now which suggests that the church (and its communion) exist solely because bishops effect the communion of the church--through their teaching and doctrinal fidelity.  Bishops make unity in the church, many American Catholics intently concerned to knock their fellow Catholics into shape insist.  Bishops impose unity on a refractory body of Christ by dictating doctrinal truth from top down, imposing it when the faithful in any way stray from Catholic truth as determined by the bishops.  As a commenter whose username is Bender says at a Commonweal thread now underway about the case of Elizabeth Johnson, "The bishops, in union with the Pope, determine what is Catholicism and what is not."

The bishops and pope determine what is Catholicism.  But Catholicism doesn't even exist without the faithful, who are baptized into the body of Christ in a sacramental action that has nothing at all to do with stamping a person's soul with Catholic truth and everything in the world to do with initiating a person on his faith journey and welcoming her into the family of the church.  Into the family of the church, whose unity in the body of Christ constitutes the Catholic church.  Whose lived experience of faith, centered on the Eucharist, keeps faith alive in the world, embodies, expresses, and transmits it to each subsequent generation of believers.

Without the people of God, without their lived Catholic faith, there would be no Catholic faith (or Catholic truth) at all.  Nothing for the bishops and pope to parse and decipher, rule or regulate. 

To say that the bishops and pope determine what Catholicism is and what it is not is to reduce faith to a meaningless, imposed-from-above conformity to rules and regulations extrinsic to persons in their personal depths, to their consciences and hearts and inmost yearnings for the divine.  It is to turn the church into a kind of police state run by policemen with big sticks whose primary job is to cudgel dissidents into submission, rather than to serve the unity of the body of Christ which is the people of God.

The definition of faith with which many right-trending Catholics have come to be comfortable in recent years, and which they're intent on imposing everywhere in the church, robs the Catholic tradition of everything that has given it spiritual and theological depth for centuries, and turns the journey of faith into dryasdust extrinsicist conformism that touches the depths of human persons hardly at all.  It also turns the body of Christ into a grotesquely distorted head supported on a tiny, dried-up stick of a body, a body whose sole purpose is envisaged by "orthodox" Catholics as serving the engorged head.

I'm grateful for the experience of blogging in recent years, for the opportunity to meet people like Michael, Terry, and Jayden in person, for the many other wonderful bloggers (Colleen Baker pushed me into the blogging pool, Betty Clermont prods me along when my spirit falters, Frank Cocozzelli, Kathy Hughes, TheraP, Mark [Mareczku] and countless other friends inspire me with brilliant postings and comments) with whom I interact daily at this and other sites, if only because that experience has kept my own faith alive, when the option for understanding the life of faith offered to me by many fellow Catholics who insist that their flavor of Catholicism is the only flavor possible would leave my soul completely starved, if I accepted that option.

As Betty has been insisting for months now, we need to find a way to get together, those of us who are pooling our efforts in this progressive catholic blogging venture.  Steve's and my meetings in recent months with several blogging friends we'd previously known only online convinces me Betty's right.

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