Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April begins, the snow continues, notes on ecumenism, and the ND controversy goes on


Okay, if April showers bring May flowers and Mayflowers bring pilgrims, what does April snow bring? It is April 1st and still snowing here along the Wasatch Front, that is enough April Fool's for me. This past week and a half has looked more like the end of November/beginning of December. It is cold and snowy. All of this after an almost 80 degree day on Saturday, 21 March! Actually, I don't mind at all.

Up to now, I have imposed silence on myself with regard to President Obama giving the commencement address at Notre Dame next month. As with Rahner and Balthasar, I am split and ambivalent. While I never like the ecclesial free-for-all that ensues when such matters arise, despite the fact that sometimes I am a participant, though often one who regrets it, there are reasoned voices. Last fall I was working on a paper about papal infallibility which I entitled An Ancient View of a Relatively New Development of Doctrine: St. Vincent of Lérins on Papal Infallibility. Of the many books I referenced on the issue, two in particular assisted me in arriving at what I think was at least a provisionally accurate assessment of the First Vatican Council's dogmatic definition of papal infallibility. One of the books was Hermann Pottmeyer's Towards A Papacy In Communion and the other book was Archbishop John Quinn's The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity. Both books are part of the Ut Unum Sint series. This series and these books were inspired by Pope John Paul II's call in his encyclical on Christan unity, Ut Unum Sint: On Commitment to Ecumenism (i.e., That they may all be one, a quote of our Lord from John 17:21), for a reassessment of the role of the Bishop of Rome in order to move Christians closer to the unity willed by Christ. To that end, JPII wrote: "As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present Encyclical Letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God's faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation" (par. 95 underlining emphasis mine).

Therefore, I am very pleased that Archbishop Quinn, who is the archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, has taken the time to comment on the Obama-Notre Dame controversy with his article, which appears on the America magazine website, entitled A Critical Moment: Barack Obama, Notre Dame, and the future of the U.S. church.

For both of you who might be curious, here is my conclusion regarding papal infallibility:
"While Vatican I’s definition of papal infallibility is a legitimate development of the church’ self-awareness, the way it has been maximally interpreted is the single biggest obstacle to Christian unity. Since Vatican I, efforts have been made to downplay this maximalist interpretation. Despite this, much remains to be done in clarifying the universal ministry of the Bishop of Rome, as well as the relationship of the universal church to local churches. In his encyclical On Commitment to Ecumenism (Ut Unum Sint), Pope John Paul II recognized that whenever the pope exercises his universal ministry it 'must always be done in communion' (par. 95). In reaffirming 'that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ,' he recognizes that this affirmation 'does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also 'vicars and ambassadors of Christ'' (par. 95). Further, he acknowledges that '[t]he Bishop of Rome is a member of the "College", and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry' (par. 95). In his homily for the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI set an ecumenical tone for his papacy: 'This is the task of all Peter's Successors: to be the guide in the profession of faith in Christ, Son of the living God. The Chair of Rome is above all the Seat of this belief. From high up on this Chair the Bishop of Rome is constantly bound to repeat: Jesus is Lord…'"
Dove-tailing from this, I am happy to pass along the words of Archbishop Quinn: "But it does not improve the likelihood of making progress on this and other issues of common concern if we adopt the clenched fist approach. The president has given ample evidence that he is a man of good will, of keen intelligence, desirous of listening and capable of weighing seriously other views. The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, citing Augustine, points out that 'Certain situations cannot be resolved with asperity or hardness' and goes on to say '(B)ecause his daily pastoral concerns give the Bishop greater scope for personal decision-making, his scope for error is also greater, however good his intentions: this thought should encourage him to remain open to dialog with others, always ready to learn, to seek and accept the advice of others.'" Our job? To pray for our bishops, to give advice when asked, and to attend to the common good, heeding Quinn's exhortation to keep in mind that "[t]here is always the twin issue of the objective itself and the means of achieving it. One may be good, the other not." Meaning that if both are not good, then we are not acting in a moral, that is, a human way. So, as Christians it is not only what we say, but how we say it and what message that sends, which often has more resonance than the content of any given communication.

I would also like to draw some attention to Kenneth Woodward's Washington Post piece Why Notre Dame Should Welcome Obama.

While I am all about including everything this morning, and for something completely different, do not miss Deacon Greg's debut on NET's City of Churches series.

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