I spent all day yesterday traveling back to Chicago (and then recovering from the travel experience)...
Monday evening, the family members who could dropped by for supper. Mom and I left them with the dishes so we could attend a talk at Loyola. I had really been looking forward to it, hoping to gain some new insights and perspectives on evangelization and the renewal of the Church. After all, the title was “A More Evangelical Catholicism.” Just what we need, I thought to myself, a really Gospel-centered, Gospel-inspired renewal of the Church in America! Unfortunately, that is not what the speaker had in mind at all.
I found the overall presentation unimaginative and uninspiring. I don't know whether the speaker was playing to the house or what, but his attempts at humor were lame and unoriginal, and he really offered no positive, concrete suggestions as to how to bring about a more evangelical Catholicism as an answer to the dire statistics he had recited. The “evangelical” he was referring to wasn't Gospel-centeredness in itself, either; he meant it as referring to the American Evangelical Protestant experience of a powerful, personal relationship with Jesus coming from a pivotal moment of encounter. (He acknowledged that the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius were intended to provide just such an encounter.) Over and over he made the point that “this is the hour for the laity” to “take control of the Church”; for the Church to recognize lay charisms; the risk of a new clericalism and the disadvantages of importing foreign-born priests to provide the sacraments to a community which currently has one priest for every 5,000 Catholics. Well, yes. But he left unspoken what that would mean.
The audience proposed the “obvious” solution of ordaining women and married men. As one elderly priest commented (to the clear delight of many), “When is the Pope going to get off his duff and ordain women?” Clearly, this is a “no-brainer” solution to the numbers question; the only question is how a Pope who is universally recognized as a “stratospheric intellect” can't grasp it.
Regarding the ordination of married men, the speaker claimed that priestly celibacy was virtually invented and imposed in the Middle Ages. Helpfully, a priest in the audience gave the date as the First Lateran Council (1127), skipping over the Councils of Elvira (for Spain) in 306 and Nicea in 325, both of which enjoined the strictest continence even on married clergy. Never mind the Council of Carthage (about 400) which called this a tradition “taught by the apostles and observed from antiquity.” The speaker then jumped to the amazing conclusion that until the First Lateran Council, we had a married priesthood--as if the understanding of what that meant was identical with our contemporary vision, so influenced by the practice of the Reformation communities. (This strikes me as intellectually lazy or even dishonest.)
And why this focus on ordination? If “this is the hour of the laity,” why is the solution to ordain more priests? And if it is vital that the Church recognize lay charisms, shouldn't the academics recognize the charisms that have already borne fruit on an international scale in recent decades? I brought this up myself; it seemed odd that such vital movements as Focolare and Communion and Liberation should be passed over in silence, especially given their lay nature, officially recognized status, and great influence. The presenter admitted that these movements are characterized by a strong personal experience of Jesus that sets members on fire. Too bad their numbers are so small, he indicated, as to make them basically negligible. (Is it a numbers game, then?)