Monday, April 30, 2007

It's Not So Much What I Think That Matters,
It's More What Christ Wants That Matters

Mentioning something about how I don't believe I'm meant to do formal interreligious dialogue or ecumenical work (though I believe informally perhaps), prompted my friend to send me the following message:
I guess because of your comment, it seemed like you were saying that you could never imagine Christianity being united under one common practice. I guess I was curious if the reasoning is because you think certain Christianities or one in particular Christianity is inferior to others. Meaning some Christians are correct while others don't have a good grasp on their practices. Just trying to understand the motives behind your comment, but maybe trying to get into your head is a scary thing?
All of my friends realize this last point to be true, so a question mark is not necessary here. (The reason getting in my head is so scary is somewhat telling though.)

Reading this even now, I have a flood of thoughts, because these are the questions that one begs for inside--and yet dreads--if one loves God and the Church. This is because there is only one "best way to answer" such a question (and one rarely knows exactly what this "best way" is), but even that "best way" will be an answer that one person hates, another hates more, another loves, and another loves more. (The "best answer" is not the same as the "best way to answer" by the way, because the subtlety and "soft skills" to say the objective "best answer" in the way that a particular audience of people will understand it best--and absorb it--is a touchy thing indeed.) On top of this and perhaps more horrifying and exciting at the same time, there is the inherent realization that in answering the question, one's level of understanding and need for growth become obvious to oneself.

Enough of that though. I can't possibly answer the multiple (and implied) questions completely, so here are a few random thoughts:

1. Christians can and will be and are (in different senses) united, but I sadly don't think I have the patience to help make it happen in a formal, fuller, and visible sense. Thank God some people do!

2. Which is a good segue, to saying: of course some Christians are correct and some are incorrect, and some have a good grasp on their practices and some do not. This is the very reason that Jesus told parables (Matt 13:10-15):
The disciples approached him and said, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He said to them in reply, "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because 'they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: 'You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.'
Sadly, almost all of us reject this healing in little and big ways. Those in the Church--however you define its bounds-- are no exception, for the Church is made up of both sinners and saints (Matt 13:24-30):
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'
That is, Christ predicted long ago that the weeds would grow amongst the wheat. Some people are indeed weeds, others are wheat. And even the wheat, the saints, tend to have their blemishes. If I am a saint, then one of mine is impatience with the lack of fuller, visible unity.

3. There are not "Christianities," there is one Christianity. There indeed are different professions though. The Second Vatican Council addressed this quite directly in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church #15:
The [Catholic] Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter [ie. Christians not unified under the Pope]. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ [ie. baptism is the visible sign, the sacrament, which points to unity in Christ and membership in His Church]. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits [which are good things]. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined [a key word] with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces [another key word] whereby He is operative [another key word] among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.
This last bit is the point from which my impatience with the lack of a fuller, "visible" unity stems. The third sentence of Lumen Gentium (#1) is "T
he Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race." And yet, the unity of the Church is not visibly present for all the world to see. The world does not see one Church--though it is one Church. Though we are as one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ, the world often enough sees "certain Christianities": if not altogether different, minimally separated. This is the major drawback to an "invisible" unity in my own mind and the source of my impatience. I believe the visibility of a truly unified Church is a message to the world which takes note of whether the Church is visibly unified or not.

But then, why I couldn't do formal ecumenism or interreligious dialogue wasn't the question, nor should it be. Just as visible disunity is opposed to visible unity, my impatience with this is opposed to what ought to be my patience with Christ's timing. Furthermore, the "manner determined by Christ" for full unity ought to be good enough for me and for all Christians.

And thus the dreaded and (to quote myself) "
inherent realization that in answering the question, one's level of understanding and need for growth become obvious to oneself" finally hits home for me: even the wheat needs "purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ [the Church] may shine brightly over the face of the earth."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

An Apology and a Request for Help

"[The Church's proclamation must be] humble, in the awareness that the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ has been received as a free gift (Ep 3:2), and that the messengers of the Gospel do not always fully live up to its demands (Joint Document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue And Proclamation: Reflection And Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue And The Proclamation Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ, Rome, 19 May 1991, #70c)."
I sincerely apologize to you for being so delinquent in getting something, anything out on my website.

This being said, I need to appeal for help from anybody who has the time and the desire to help me out in the short term. Basically, I have been writing a few works that are essentially longer than I would typically post to my website. While I am in Rome, I have access to some sources [books, articles, and libraries themselves] that I will not have access to once I return to the United States (which will probably occur in June). I have thus been researching a few topics related to these works to which (I believe) God has pointed me. The problem at the moment is that I have too many things to research in too little time. Thus, I need to narrow down the focus a good bit. This is where I can use some help.

More specifically, I have two very different types of help that I need:
1) I need questions that people have about the topics I believe I am supposed to research. The more questions I have the better. This may contrary to the idea of narrowing down my research on these topics. I assure you this is not the case, as I have far too many questions on these topics already (both written down and in my head). Your questions will help me to identify the questions most common for people other than myself. This will help me to narrow down my research to those things which will actually help people, rather than those I find most interesting personally.

If you are interested, please email me a short list or paragraph about what about religion or spirituality has typically interested you most in the past. From this, I can try to choose one or two topics I am looking at which may be most interesting to you (and for which I need questions from you).

2) I have a moderately long list of Bible passages I need to look up, but every minute I spend looking them up is a minute that I can't spend researching (using materials that only exist here in Rome). I have reason to believe that these Bible passages all are related to the topics I am researching (I believe this because the books I have been reading over here reference these Bible passages, but usually do not quote them. It is highly inefficient to have to flip for each reference knowing the library will be closing soon.) I need to be able to quickly group these passages into topics and to be sure that I have thoroughly researched the main topics they contain.

More specifically, what I would need here would be for someone to type up (or to simply cut and paste) passages into a text document or an email. I need this because I need to be able to print out these Bible passages and carry them with me to the library, because the primary library I use here does not allow me to check out materials. I do not care much which version of the Bible you use at this point.

If you can help me out with this, please email me and let me know or just leave a comment out at TomReagan.com. I will try to split the passages between whomever says they can help (and depending on how much each can help). I do not need immediate responses. (At the same time, the faster I do get responses, the more focused my research can be.)

I realize all of this is a bit unusual, but nonetheless I believe it can help me out a great deal and I have been praying to God that He will show me how to accomplish what I understand that He wants from me (which is a bit overwhelming at the moment). Here, I must add a third area of help: any and all prayers you can lend.

Thanks in advance for any ways you can help and for your continued prayers!