Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Cardinal Talks To The Troops With A Message Strictly For Troops

Knights of Columbus saluting Pope Benedict in Washington last year.

When cruising through blog sites yesterday I came across an article which dealt with USCCB President Cardinal George's speech to the Knights of Columbus. Today I have found many blog sites addressing the same speech, but most especially one particular quote of the Cardinal's. This quote:

"A Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy."

I was stopped in my tracks with this particular quote. I don't believe I have ever heard the Catholic way of life described in quite this stark a way. Usually there is some token mention of love, occasionally sacrifice, often repentance for sins, and once in a great while some notion of communion. Now I guess it's just assent to revealed doctrine and obedience to appointed pastors. Nice to know the whole Catholic thing has become so simple.

Sarcasm aside, Bill Lyndsy has written a great piece on this whole notion of Cardinal George's vision of the Catholic way of life. Below is an extract. The full post can be read here.

Cardinal George’s attempt to ground Catholic unity in obedience to appointed pastors is actually a tacit admission that Catholicism has a big problem to deal with today. When coercion replaces the experience of love as the foundation and center of the Christian life, then something has gone radically wrong. And no amount of coercion is going to solve the problem, since the pastors doing the coercing are the ones who have led the church to precisely the impasse it’s now facing, through their attempts to replace love and communion with obedience and coercion.

If obedience is the best we’ve got to offer, we’re really admitting that we’ve simply failed to build communion by living communion. And so we need to use the cudgel of obedience, as we make ludicrous claims about its centrality to the Christian tradition and about what it means, to enforce a formal “unity” that is not really there in the life of the community, as the lived experience of love within a communion bound together in love.

Note where that cudgel is especially active today, and I think you’ll see the depths of the problem. It is no accident that Rome and the Catholic right in the U.S. (who have long egged Rome on with false apocalyptic claims about the situation of American Catholicism) are now targeting American religious women. Disobedient women. Nothing enrages the right more than women out of control.....


It maybe that Cardinal George fine tuned his thoughts for his audience. The Knights of Columbus is an all male organization and hierarchical in it's own right. One doesn't get to parade with a sword until one has reached fourth degree status. In a quasi military organization of men it might make more sense to define the Catholic way as assent to revealed doctrine and obedience to the appointed chain of command.

To the ears of this woman it sounds bizarre.

I have a friend who makes a very cogent case that the Church's biggest mistake was to organize along military lines--lines which may have been essentially co opted from the Roman military cult of Mithras. This allowed the clergy to become an officer class and relegated laity to the status of privates. Women religious were treated as the lowest of the official institutional privates, with their leadership accorded the status of perhaps a sergeant. Saluting was replaced with ring kissing and genuflecting. The return salute was father's blessing.

This notion makes far more sense to me than the official idea the Church is based on some kind of cosmic marriage or family model. The problem with the military model is it leads to objectifying, using, and finally abusing the lower troops while protecting the senior officer class and leaving junior officers out to dry. These less exalted troops are sometimes referred to as Canon fodder. Real military organizations have a judicial process which keeps the abuses in check and sometimes even punishes high level abusers. Not so much the Church.

I imagine it is difficult for bishops to deal with women religious who had previously acted as vowed privates only to find those privates have educated themselves into what must appear to the bishops as a separate officer class. No military organization can withstand the creation of a separate officer class. I think it's called insubordination and mutiny, ---sometimes even when none is present.

Also one is never allowed to self promote--in any sense of that word. It's bad for discipline. So is dumping your uniform which is frequently seen as desertion. Given all this it's no wonder the LCWR congregations are being investigated--or should I say court martialed.

The problem I have is that the military model works very well when the goal is the organized killing of mass numbers of people. Confusion in and about the chain of command or the quality of it's orders is inefficient and counter productive when the stakes are killing or being killed.

The Church is supposed to be about love, communion, forgiveness, evangelizing, and spiritual grace. It's supposed to be filled with servant leaders and members who demonstrate Jesus equal love for all of us. It's mission is life, not death. I guess I don't see how the military model is all that useful for a mission of life. In fact, it seems utterly counter intuitive, unless the mission is to kill spiritual initiative. The military model is pretty good for that, but then that's killing.


  1. Oboedientia et Pax - John XXIII

    From the very earliest years of the Church, to be in communion with the Church is to be in union with its duly appointed pastors - see Ignatius of Antioch and his letters about obedience to one's Bishop and its connection to obedience to Christ.

    There is a false dichotomy being set up in this post between love and obedience. Loving obedience lies at the heart of Christ's sacrifice. "Not my will, but your will be done." Therefore it must lie at the heart of the Christian's life. True, this obedience is not mindless, but the very definition of Faith is assent to revealed truth. It's not a fuzzy, vague "experience" or feeling. It is, in some sense, obedience to the truth revealed to us by Him who commands us to love.

    Can't we just face it - God chooses to work in and through the broken, frail structures of the hierarchical Church? In fact, isn't this precisely what makes us Catholic? That we believe that the hierarchical and mystical Chhrch is one and the same reality (see Lumen Gentium)? Isn't this the scandal of the cross - God's action in and through fallen creation?

    Obedience is not slavery. It is to listen - and to hear the beautiful voice of God using human language.

  2. Anonymous, there is no false dichotomy set up in this post. Love for God is obeying God's First Commandment. Obedience is to God and He is number one always, with no exception, no deviation, not fuzzy or with a vague feeling. God is love. God is the source of love. It is to God that all of our obedience belongs, otherwise we replace God and that is idolatry.

    Colleen, I have inherited my father's Knights of Columbus sword.

  3. The hierarchical and mystical church are not one and the same reality. The mystical reality-the Church Triumphant- takes a much broader and longer view and often times is frustrated with the machinations of the hierarchical branch--the Church Militant.

    Joan of Arc was asked point blank if she felt her obedience was owed primarily to the Church Triumphant or the Church Militant. She said the Church Triumphant. Not one her more self preserving moments.

    Yes, God most certainly works through the broken and frail structures of the institutional church, but he also works through the Church Triumphant and other components of the Church Militant.

    One of the frailities of the institutional church is their insistence on their authority over the Church Triumphant. They should be working with it in tandem, except I doubt many of them actually see the Church Triumphant as realistically potent in the affairs of man---not predictable and therefor not controllable and therefor they give lip service.

    I am not setting up a false dichotomy between love and obedience. That dichotomy is being set up by the Church itself. As you state in your comment, Christ bent his will and love to His Father, not the church authority of His time. He taught us to do the same. He did not teach us to equate church leadership and authority with the will of His Father, and traditionally, neither has the Church herself fostered this melding.

    This creeping idolatory is a recent phenomenon and like all past heresies, it will not last.

  4. I thought of this post on Cardinal George and his address to the Knights while reading Thomas Moore’s new book, Writing in the Sand: Jesus & the Soul of the Gospels. Here is only one paragraph from a book I would highly recommend because it is filled with much wisdom.

    “[Jesus] models a personality that is accepting of human frailty, rarely judgmental, capable of deep friendship, and generally a healing presence. Today, it would seem more important for his student to emulate these qualities than to get the teaching exactly right and follow all the rules.”

    At the moment I am on retreat and this book has been a wonderful companion.

  5. Wild Hair, glad you stopped by and I hope your retreat goes swimmingly well.

    Thomas Moore is right. Jesus was a teacher who lived His teachings. The trait I most resonate with, and one I need to work at, is that His presence was healing, in a very global sense. That can't happen unless one "is accepting of human frailty, rarely judgmental, capable of deep friendship,".

    One of the areas I think there is great confusion, and it comes up in Cardinal George's vision of the Church is that between assent to teachings and obedience to authority. Jesus asked for personal assent to His teachings, but obedience to one's perception of His Father's will. Assenting to Jesus's teachings illuminates the path of God's will for the individual.

    In my thinking the Church should be there along anyone's path to offer it's sacramental and spiritual help. I don't know that it should be dictating the path or pre determining who is eligible for it's sacramental and spiritual sustenance. I think this is the whole point of the story of the Good Samaritan. The man who was found prostrate on the path was not helped by the Pharisee or the Lawyer--the people who should have helped Him in Jesus's scheme of things as servant leaders, but by the very man both condemned as an unclean heretic.

    Do you suppose we'll ever get this story?

  6. There's an old Evangelical hymn entitled "Trust and Obey."

    Note that Trust cometh before Obey.

    If the Cardinal really believes that "a Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy" then he and his cronies had better work their butts off to get back the trust that they have lost. No trust; no obedience.

    End of discussion.

    Jim McCrea

  7. Amen brother Jim. No trust no obedience, no real love, and that's the key issue. No real love.

  8. 8. The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization[9] through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complete reality which comes together from a human and a divine element.[10] For this reason the Church is compared, not without significance, to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature, inseparably united to him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a somewhat similar way, does the social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body (cf. Eph. 4:15).[11]

    This is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic,[12] which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care (Jn. 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it (cf. Matt. 28:18, etc.), and which he raised up for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.[13] Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.

    This is the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, paragraph 8. It's flat wrong to say that the hierarchical and mystical Church are two seperate realities.

  9. Colkoch -
    Why in the world would you quote Joan of Arc when the point of this post is to show the insufficiency of the military?!?!? This is a woman who fought for the glory of France --- with a sword!!! (maybe even a feathered hat...)

    Butterfly - The commandments did not fall out of the sky - it is precisely in and through visible structures that we have received them. It is not Catholic to posit whispering angels, speaking silently into the ears of men and women. God speak through the Church.

    And can we actually define "love"? What does it really mean?
    I would define love as to "will the good for the other." The good is ultimately eternal salvation, uniion with Christ forever.

  10. I had no idea the Catechism used the word reality in this context of Church Triumphant and Church Militant. I meant something different when I used the term reality. When I said "The hierarchical and mystical church are not one and the same reality." I mean they aren't the same because they experience the same reality vastly differently.

    They can't be the same reality, as we exist in two different physical and experiential realities.

    This would be somewhat the same as the physical body of Jesus after His Resurrection is both the same and different than it was before His Resurrection. He is in our reality, but now experiences it vastly different because He is no longer bound by space and time at all.

    Previous to His Resurrection He certainly demonstrated a capacity to go beyond space, time, and matter, but He was also contricted by His Human body.

    He now exceeds the limits of our Newtonian physics of time, space and matter. So do some of the members of the Church Triumphant-- like the Angelic realm. The human element is waiting for the Resurrected body, but never the less can have a major impact on our reality.

    These other intelligent beings are quite capable of interacting in our personal time, space, matter reality and assisting us to transcend same--just like with Jesus. See Padre Pio.

    The Church Triumphant exists as a sort of circle which encompasses our reality, as God exists in a circle which encompasses both our realities. Or let me put it this way, we share the same reality but have very different experiences and understandings of that reality, Ultimately it is God's reality.

    This passage, which you quote, is very close to double speak, because it supports my basic point while coming very close to contradicting the previous points in your quote):

    Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are FOUND OUTSIDE its VISIBLE confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.

    Reread what you've quoted. The catechism wants it both ways. Yes the Church Truimphant is part of the same reality, but it has a different scope. Not very dissimilar to how atoms share the same reality as the molecule which encompasses them.

    It takes both atoms and molecules to form an element. They share the same element, but not the same dynamics. Same reality, but different spheres of that reality.

    Atoms alone do not create the molecule or element they are part of. They aren't the source of the information which causes the molecule or element to organize. That's ultimately the influence of God's plan and His will for creation. Quantum Physics is beginning to see there is a source of ultimate organization, and it's not just mindless attraction.

    The Church Triumphant understands all this much better than we do. Too bad the Church Militant doesn't have the ears or eyes to acknowlege this.....

    Mary sure tries though. She's appearing quite a bit these days and her knowledge is way beyond Benedict's--or Stephen Hawking's.

  11. Second anyonymous. I quoted Joan of Arc precisely because the male military was not enamored of her military skills, but believed in her angelic connections.

    OK, I had other reasons, more personal.

    Michael is a military genius and has been involved in more than one military campaign in man's history. Joan's case is unique because she was aware of him and his interaction both on her behalf and on France's behalf.

    Don't think for one minute his goal was the greater glory of France. He is following a plan which is far beyond our limited scope of understanding and sometimes war is a necessary furtherance to the plan.

    When the US invaded Iraq, something I was quite for at the time, he showed me the battle for the city of Baghdad before it happened.

    It was incomprehensible to me that there would be no real battle. I asked him what would happen to all the elite Iraqui troops that were supposed to be in Baghdad--- Wouldn't they just melt into the country side and be a major proble,.

    He said it was about Islam and whose version of Islam that part of the world would choose to follow.

    Yes, the US would suffer some casualties, but no where near the numbers they would if there was an all out battle for Baghdad. The Islamic population on the other hand, would keep suffering casualties of their own making, until they gave up violence as a solution to their problems and accepted the rule of democracy.

    Please don't think this is an angelic affirmation about the heavenly attributes of democracy. It's about choice.

    Democracy is about personal choice and that is all about why God put us here. We may screw up with some of our choices, but God is quite willing to forgive us once we've admitted we screwed up.

    Ultimately it's our choice to find, recognize His existence, and return to His love,--especially when we find Him in each other-- which validates our presence on this planet. It's what we're here for. It's what Jesus told us we were here for. When we get this, a whole different universe opens up for us.

  12. "Michael is a military genius and has been involved in more than one military campaign in man's history. Joan's case is unique because she was aware of him and his interaction both on her behalf and on France's behalf.

    Don't think for one minute his goal was the greater glory of France. He is following a plan which is far beyond our limited scope of understanding and sometimes war is a necessary furtherance to the plan.

    When the US invaded Iraq, something I was quite for at the time, he showed me the battle for the city of Baghdad before it happened."


    The quote in my post above is not the catechism. It is the Second Vatican Council, in the Church's Constitution on the Church. It's the same document that reminds us of the laity's dignity and the universal call to holiness.

    The Church does indeed believe that "elements of truth and [holiness] exist outside the visible structures of the Church." Notice it says elements, elements which impel us to CATHOLIC unity. In other words, bits and pieces, like "the scraps of the table" spoken of in Sacred Scripture. This was recently clarified by the CDF in Dominus Iesu, although I admit this will probably not mean much to the gnostics (aka enlightened Catholics) out there who believe in direct reveletion without that pesky nuisance that is the visible, ordered Church.
    I am afraid the defined Dogma of the Church is that the Catholic Church has the fullness of revelation. This is surely inflammatory, and it may not be true, but it is in fact the claim of the Catholic Church.

    The Church militant and Church Triumphant are images, and are used to describe a revealed mystery (revealed via the Church and her visible structures). At some point, like all images, the analogy breaks down. To set up such a clear disctinction between those who are waiting the resurrection of their bodies in heaven and those of us schmucks who labor in this veil of tears does violence to the very notion of the Mystical Body. At least it seems to me...

    Surely I agree that those in heaven awaiting resurrection "experience" things different than us poor saps. But there is a mysterious union between the two. Union of intellect with God? - this is for heaven. Union of will with God? - we can get this drink this side of the veil.

  13. Absolutely true tale.

    Semantics is such a tough thing.

    I don't think that the, call them connections, that I've experienced are only available to 'special' people.

    Basically you need some ability to disassociate, like day dreaming or trance meditative states, and you need the appropriate respectful and prayerful attitude.

    I sometimes wonder if Mary doesn't stress praying the rosary because done with focus and intent it fosters both a somewhat disassociative trance state and the right attitude.

    But then genetics can play a part, and our government is way ahead of the Church on inner demensional communication, which should have been her forte. So are the Russians and the British. For that matter so is Phizer Pharmaceuticals.