Journey Towards Unity ?

I am not making much progress in my reflections during this Christian Unity Week.

Christian churches are deeply divided on issues of poverty, immigration, war, leadership, collegiality, freedom of speech, conscience v obedience, role of women, homosexuality and equality, reproductive ethics, economics, poverty, war, gun control (in the US), International Aid to name just a few !

This passage from St Paul to The Ephesians 4:1-16 are reminders for me of what life in Christ should be.

 “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, 
beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 
with all humility and gentleness, 
with patience, bearing with one another in love, 
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 
There is one body and one Spirit,
 just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 
one God and Father of all, 
who is above all 
and through all 
and in all.

This article by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB at Pray Tell Blog and its ensuing comments section has so much in it that sums up much of the dismay and sadness over these ever more frequent situations in the Catholic church.

I don't have any easy answers but in a week when we are praying for Christian unity there is much to reflect on. 

 I am demoralised by the lack of skill shown by the Vatican in the way it is failing to address issues other than via draconian acts of excommunication. Such power plays seem infantile, regressive and unworthy of the Body of Chist.

It is clear that the hierarchy of the church is being challenged seriously from within by the many theologians, priests, nuns and laity who support and wish to keep alive the spirit and the letter of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. 

Fr Ruff's introduction below gives a summary of the background to the current situation as does this article from The New York Times

"Redemptorist priest Fr. Tony Flannery in Ireland, co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, is in trouble with the Roman authorities. He was silenced a year ago for his writings, and he complied. 

He has been threatened with excommunication and ordered to sign a statement that women can never be ordained Catholic priests and the he agrees with church teachings on homosexuality and contraception. Now he is breaking his silence: he writes in the Irish Times that silence is “too high a price” when obeying his conscience is at stake.  

See Fr Flannery's article from the Irish Times here.

and a short video from RTE news here ( I can't embed it.)

Fr. Flannery aged 66, received strong support in a statement from his Redemptorist brothers in faith.

“In a statement, the Irish Redemptorist order said it was ‘deeply saddened by the breakdown in communication’ between its priest and the CDF.
“It described Fr. Flannery as ‘highly regarded and respected by many in Ireland’ and added that there was a ‘very lively spirit of debate and dialogue’ within the order.
“The statement said that although it did not accept the priest’s views on all matters, it understood and supported his efforts to listen to and articulate the views of people he met during the course of his ministry.
” ‘It is of immense regret that some structures or processes of dialogue have not yet been found in the Church which have a greater capacity to engage with challenging voices from among God’s people, while respecting the key responsibility and central role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,’ the statement said.
 Below is one of the trenchant comments made by Fr. Ruff taken from the comments section of his article at Pray Tell.
"It’s a tough time to be a Catholic, for all of us on all “sides” of these many issues. It just is. Part of having faith in the Church is accepting that you belong to her in this time and place, the messy way it is; I can’t decide I’d rather be a Catholic in 1950 or 1980 or 1280. I don’t mean to preach at you – I try to apply this to myself, and some days it’s pretty difficult.
I think there is something like a virtual schism in our Church, just as there is in the Anglican Communion and the various Protestant Churches. 

Our hierarchical structure, and our highly centralized polity (as of now, it wasn’t always this way in our past history) have not at all saved us from the problems of Anglicanism and Protestantism – it has just changed how we deal with it. 

In fact, some of the Protestant churches are less divided than we are. We have a hierarchy that claims to speak for all of us and claims to have the final truth, but we don’t have anything like agreement with that in the Church at large.

Fr Ruff concludes by saying : "Keep the faith. Corragio!"

Census after census in recent times in various Western democracies have shown that a majority of Catholic laity show support for many of the views that Fr. Tony Flannery expresses. Fr Ruff also suggests that many priests also hold the same views as Fr. Flannery on issues like homosexuality and women's ordination, but are afraid to express them.  

 Fr James Martin S.J on his facebook page gave this commentary below and his perspective on the issues involved.

 "You will surely read about this, so you might as well read about it here. An Irish priest, Tony Flannery, CSsR, is planning to defy the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's silencing of him. This article from today's New York Times appears accurate, but since there will probably be discussion, here is some context.

Fr. Tony Flannery is a Redemptorist priest, a popular writer and someone who has also been an outspoken critic of the church's handling of the sex abuse crisis in Ireland. As a member of a religious order, Fr. Flannery takes a vow of obedience to his superiors, through whom he believes God will act. (That is, in addition to his vows of poverty and chastity.) When a religious priest says, writes or does something that is judged by church authorities as impermissible, restrictions on him are often communicated from the Vatican to his superiors. (Sometimes, though, the religious order itself acts on its own accord.) Here, it seems, the Vatican directed the Redemptorists to remove him from ministry; remove him from the leadership of the Association of Catholic Priests; direct him to cease publishing; and sign a document stating that he adheres to the church's teaching about women's ordination, homosexuality, among other matters.

Normally in these cases the issue turns on obedience. The religious priest will be called by his religious superiors (who themselves are under the governance of the universal church) to adhere to the vows he made long ago. 

The conflict for the religious, then, comes down to a conflict between two sacred matters: one's conscience and one's vows, or, as my moral theology professor put it, justice and fidelity. Sometimes (Thomas Merton, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar) the choice is fidelity, and the person agrees to his or her silencing, because they believe that God will work through their obedience. In other cases (Roy Bourgeois and many others), the choice is for justice, because they believe that God is calling them in their conscience to speak out.

The key in these cases is this: It is never an easy choice. One can say that in a perfect world justice and fidelity would always be one, but we see in some cases they are not. The person's conscience does not allow him (or her) to live out the vow of obedience. Remember that an informed conscience is the ultimate arbiter of the moral life, and one should never violate one's conscience, where, as the Second Vatican Council taught, we hear the echo of God's voice. (Clearly Fr. Flannery, an educated and thoughtful priest, knows what a formed conscience is.)

Let us pray for him, for all those who live in obedience, and for all those who seek justice. "

In the op-ed in The Irish TimesFr. Flannery gives a summary of the development of his ministry, the need for discussion in the church, the difficult proceedings with the Vatican, and concludes with a statement of resolve:

“There are people who will say I should leave the Catholic Church and join another Christian church – one more suitable to my stance. Being a Catholic is central to my personal identity. I have tried to preach the gospel. No matter what sanctions the Vatican imposes on me I will continue, in whatever way I can, to try to bring about reform in the church and to make it again a place where all who want to follow Christ will be welcome. 
He made friends with the outcasts of society, and I will do whatever I can in my own small way to oppose the current Vatican trend of creating a church of condemnation rather than one of compassion."

The rest of this post was initially separate from the above material but I decided to put it all together in one post. It just shows some more facets on the theme of unity and random thoughts. There is no pattern, which may be because there is no particular clarity for me this week !

 John Bell on The Scottish Island of Iona 

Two videos on the theme "Journey Towards Unity" from The Franciscan Friars Of The Atonement, which contain these notable quotes :

"The charism of atonement is needed now more than ever."

"The prayer from John 17 : 21 continues to be prayed by Christ to The Father as it has not been answered yet. "

 "that all of them may be one, Father, 
just as you are in me and I am in you. 
May they also be in us 
so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

Part Two 

I found this an interesting reflection here on Salvation and Divinisation from Eastern Orthodox Christian and Catholic viewpoints from The University of Reading Chaplaincy in the UK.

and this one from the same site with four different Christian creeds to contemplate and these accompanying questions below to reflect on:

 What are the similarities and differences between: 
1) their spirituality, and 2) their plausibility as literal fact? 

The painting above is titled "Flame of Truth" by Victor Bregeda. Click here for the artists's own reflections on the symbolism of his painting at his website.

Prayer for Unity 

You, the one
From whom on different paths
All of us have come.
To whom on different paths
All of us are going.
Make strong in our hearts what unites us.
Build bridges across all that divides us;
United make us rejoice in our diversity.
At one in our witness to your peace,
A rainbow of your glory.

-- Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB 

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