Thursday, July 06, 2006

Called Together To Be Peacemakers

The title of this posting is the title of the Report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference, 1998-2003.

1. In the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, a dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites took place over a five-year period, from 1998-2003. The dialogue partners met five times in plenary session, a week at a time. At the first four sessions, at least two papers were presented by each delegation as the joint commission explored their respective understandings of key theological themes and of significant aspects of the history of the church. At the fifth session the partners worked together on a common report.

2. This was a new process of reconciliation. The two dialogue partners had had no official dialogue previous to this, and therefore started afresh. Our purpose was to assist Mennonites and Catholics to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual isolation and hostility. We wanted to explore whether it is now possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other. After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ.

I guess that the question that has to be asked by many Catholics is "Just who are the Mennonites?"
Historically, the Amish are part of the Anabaptist family. Anabaptists trace their origin to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525, and were later called Mennonites after Menno Simmons. Menno Simmons was an influential leader and writer who joined the Anabaptists in 1536. In the late 1600's, followers of Jakob Ammann, who disagreed with some issues, separated from the rest of the Mennonites and thereafter became known as the Amish.

Since their trials in the 16th century, the have remained a fairly off-the-radar group along with other historical Anabaptist churches. Having discovered this document on the internet, I copied it and called up the local Mennonite pastor here in El Dorado (yes, there is a Mennonite community here), and asked him if he wanted to get together and discuss this document. Rev. Bill Odom agreed, and so we have been meeting almost weekly for about a year, along with Fr. Bob Allen from St. Mary's Episcopal. There have been quite fruitful discussions on the topics of this statement.

The Mennonites are an historical "peace church." That is, nonviolence and conscientious objection are cornerstones of their life as a church. Catholics, on the other hand, while we work for peace and justice, do not place peace and nonviolence in the center of our ecclesiastical life. So for us peace is important, but not quite as central as it is with the Mennonites.

While this statement explores the history of the two churches, and makes apologies for the violence and misunderstanding of the past, it also proposes a working together in mutual respect in the present for peace. We have found it a little weak in the area of church unity, and very strong on peace issues. I wonder if there are any other Catholics and Mennonites out there who are studying this statement, and if so, what have they discovered in their conversations?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

Today we celebrate the 230th year of our nation's existence. John Adams thought that July 2 would be the date because the Declaration of Independence was adopted that day. The signing day, July 4, however, became the anniversary we remember.

The Constitution was adopted in 1791. The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, adopted December 15, 1791, were proposed to make ratification by the states more palatable. Among those rights we recall the first, granting freedom of religion (along with freedom of speech, of the press, of peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for redress of grievances). Actually it really is a prohibition against establishing a state church (the non-establishment clause).
While the Middle Ages are slandered with the accusation that there was a state church then, the facts of history prove that false. Of course, everyone was a Catholic (no heretics, Muslims, or Jews need apply) in those days. That's obvious. Nevertheless, the princes of the Middle Ages were constantly at loggerheads with the Church over its rights and theirs. The Church was independent of princes, an idea that was fought over for centuries with ambivalent success for both parties. (The illustration at left shows Gregory VII fleeing Rome and the troops of the German Emperor Henry IV---a conflict that had ambivalent outcomes.)
It is only with Luther and other reformers who needed the help of the princes that the divine right of kings becomes a Protestant idea. Without the help of the princes, and their desire to absorb the Church, the establishment of state churches would have been difficult, if done at all. The remnants of these state churches can be seen in the UK, the Netherlands, north Germany, and Scandinavia. Our founders sought to keep that idea out of our national arrangement. The Puritans had suffered from the Established Protestant Church, hence their move to New England. With the non-establishment clause, those who had suffered under state church affliction were assured that they would be free of it in the US. Many gladly went back to England in the 17th century to fight against Charles I, defeating him and establishing the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.
Just to set the record straight, the legacy of non-establishment in the Bill of Rights is a reaction to Protestant state control of churches. The common perception of this is that we have freedom of religion, i.e., anything we call religion we are free to do. This is embodied in phrases like "we can worship any way that pleases us," or "worship at the church of your choice." This is all well and good in a nation of laws and protection of the minority. As Catholics, of course, we cannot abide this. We accept it (freedom of religion) because by the law of Christ there can be no coercion of conscience. We accept it because of the social contract, and we work to preserve it because it helps us. The last thing we would want is the Protestant hegemony taking church property and afflicting us. The whole phenomenon of Catholic parochial schools rests on the fact that the public school system of the 19th century was Protestant. Catholics were discriminated against, and evangelized in the public schools. Catholic education arose as a way of protesting that, although at most, there have never been much more than ten percent of the total of Catholic children in Catholic schools.
Getting back to the popular understanding of freedom of religion, we know that worship is not about us! It is about God. From a Christian understanding, we do not have the freedom to worship God as we want. We have the freedom to worship God as he wants. This is an important distinction. For all those lax Catholics who think the other way, it is necessary to ask ourselves at all times "What does God want me to do?" "What must I do to please God?" Aside from taking up the cross daily, when we come to worship, we worship in the way that he has established. I offer that this is the establishment clause that we should live under in our daily life as followers of Christ. To do any less is to abuse the freedom that we have in Christ, and while it is not the same as worshipping Baal, it comes very close to worshipping the self---in which there is no salvation.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Who will our next Bishop be?

With the departure of Bp. Sartain to Jolliet, and the election of Msgr. Hebert as administrator by the priest consultors, we enter into the between times. How long it will be before a new bishop is appointed is anyone's guess.
Who will Rome pick for us as bishop? What will he be like? Conservative or liberal? Will the new bishop be a priest of the diocese, or brought in from somewhere else? I haven't heard Abbot mentioned much this time, unlike during the previous sede vacante. Of course, everyone has their own (short) list of the ones they don't want.
Since none of us really knows who the next bishop will be, all speculation is idle. Whomever we get will appeal to most of the faithful, but not to others. His decisions will please some and displease others. While he tries to be all things to all men as the Apostle says, he will still have to make decisions some will find painful, like changes of pastors, the consolidation of parishes, and maybe (God help us) the closing of some. Vocations are a problem all over the US. Even though we've been blessed recently with several ordinations, we are still way behind the number we need. All of these things will come across his desk at some time or another. Let us pray that the new bishop will be inspired by the Spirit in all his dealings!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Making people happy all the time?

Being a politician, head of state, or pope, means that you're always under the microscope. It comes with the territory. When it comes to the Holocaust no words are adequate to the horror, yet words must be said. Here's something from Rome:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Amid lingering questions and even
disappointment about Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at the Nazis' Birkenau death camp, the Vatican has published a book that attempts to place the speech in a wider context. The book, "Rouse Yourself! Do Not Forget Mankind, Your Creature," was released in Italian June 27, and an English edition is being prepared. The title is a line from the German-born pope's May 28 speech at the death camp in Poland, a speech
that focused on the theological question of where was God when the Nazis were exterminating 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other innocent people. While both Christian and Jewish scholars
acknowledged the theological importance of the question, many of them
expressed surprise and even criticism that the pope did not focus more on the question: Where were the Christians -- particularly German Catholics -- and other people of good will? In addition, some were puzzled that the pope did not use the occasion to condemn anti-Semitism.

You try to do something nice and brotherly, and you just cain't win, as we say down here in the South. You have to write a book to explain what you were saying, because it was thought to be inadequate? Nothing we say about the Holocaust or who's to blame will ever erase it, or be commensurate to the horror thereof. You can't cover all the bases in every sermon or speech. Or must you keep talking until a straw vote shows that everyone is satisfied? Or should templates be issued by the authorities (whoever they are) that will have to be followed by anyone speaking on the Holocaust? Give us a break.