Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Power of the Laity?

Recent times have seen great changes and indeed turmoil within the Church of God as a result of several changes in society and how those changes have been addressed by the Church. Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger famously said:
“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4.14) comes true.”
The 20th Century has been a crucible of ideologies, testing them to breaking point. Aristotle’s theory of virtue as the middle way between extremes has been tested to the uttermost as Man has struggled to work out who he is, and in doing so has endured some of the most abominable suffering that he has caused himself as he has effectively torn himself apart in his investigation.

What we have been left with in the West is a strange notion of equality as people have tried to free themselves from the shackles of oppressive regimes. Empire, Reich, Republic and Communism have pushed each other out of the way in offering alternatives to human beings who seek to end their oppression and find genuine freedom to be themselves.

What has emerged in the West is Equality.

Equality has affected the Church as the tensions about the proposed ordination of women and the sacramental marriage of practising homosexuals have been introduced or thrown out or debated or caused splits. It seems that for every ideology seeking equality, there is a church. What is behind this equality? I wonder whether the answer is a struggle for the individual to define himself as an individual in amidst other individuals. Society is becoming more atomic as people seek to assert their distinctiveness as individuals.

For example, if we look carefully at the purported Ordination of Women issue, we do have to ask why women want to be ordained in the first place. The objection to the exclusive priesthood of men is the belief that God can call women as equally as He can call men. There are times when the clergy can seem like a self-important clique hiding behind robes and prayers and wielding power over the souls of the laity. If this is true then it is wrong – fundamentally wrong – and it is perfectly reasonable that women should object to being lorded over. Given that God calls men to be priests and not women, there is certainly an apparent imbalance in the way that women perceive their relationships with God and the Church.

It has been said that God calls men to be priests and women to be mothers. Often this is rejected on
the grounds that women want to be seen as beings beyond their biological functions. It is also rejected on the grounds that men already have a biological function in becoming fathers of the children that are born from their wives. One also notes that comparatively few men are called to be priests in comparison with a large majority of women become mothers. There is something very particular in being called to be a priest and something very common to being a mother.
And yet this attitude does denigrate an undoubted miracle which causes human beings of all stripes to stand back in awe and amazement as a new life is brought into the world. One cannot and should not belittle birth, nor should one belittle being a mother. Motherhood is a commonplace miracle.
St Thomas Aquinas reminds us of the duality between life and Sacrament.
“Now, in a bodily and natural life three things are necessary of themselves, and a fourth incidentally. For first, by generation or birth a thing must receive life; second, by growth it must arrive at its due size and strength; third, both for the preservation of life acquired by generation and for growth nourishment is necessary. And these are of themselves necessities for natural life, because without these bodily life cannot be perfected; wherefore, one assigns to the vegetative soul which is the principle of life the three natural powers: that of generation, that of growth, and that of nourishment. But, since there can be an impediment to natural life from which the living thing grows weak, a fourth thing is incidentally necessary; this is the healing of the sick living thing.

Thus, then, in the spiritual life, also, the first thing is spiritual generation: by baptism; the second is spiritual growth leading to perfect strength: by the sacrament of confirmation; the third is spiritual nourishment: by the sacrament of the Eucharist. A fourth remains, which is the spiritual healing; it takes place either in the soul alone through the sacrament of penance; or from the soul flows to the body when this is timely, through extreme unction. These, therefore, bear on those who are propagated and preserved in the spiritual life.” (Summa contra gentiles IV.lviii.3-4)
As a man can be an ikon of Christ, so a woman can be an ikon of the church. Christ is the groom and the Church the bride as we read throughout the testimony of the Lord’s teaching. A mother brings to birth a baby; she nurtures it, she feeds it, she mothers it. Of course, fathers play a big role in the development of offspring even though they lack the physical make up to be as effective. It cannot be denied that men can feed a baby, but artificially so; men can nurture a child, but the bond that comes from bearing a baby in the womb is uniquely female and is carried through birth. This does not in any way deny that a single father can bring up perfectly adjusted children, but there is a lack. Children have been conceived by two parents and they benefit most with each parent making an investment in their welfare. That investment, however, is going to be peculiar to each parent.

There is, however, more to humanity than progenesis and men and women experience in life. Equality of fatherhood and motherhood is meaningless even though there are very obvious rights and responsibilities that are shared with being a parent of a child.

The key to the modern notion of equality lies in the whole system of rights and responsibilities. We cry for equal rights for all, desiring that everyone be treated equally and that everyone plays an equal part in society. The idea is perfectly reasonable: if we wish to function properly in our society we should make an investment in that society that is in keeping with what we can provide for that society so that we can draw from it fruits that we desire from it. If we want more, we must invest more.
 The whole issue of equality arises from the many instances in which some draw out from society more than they put in, while others’ investment is eroded. True equality lies in the balance between investment and fruition.

The ordination of women is a case in point. Female Christians have a true, honest and fervent desire to love and serve God in exactly the same measure as any man. Yet they see no potential fruit in the Church which will meet with the investment that they innately desire to make, except within the vehicle of the Sacred Priesthood. Yet, many men have exactly the problem. These folk come to God with their willing and honest sacrifice only, like Cain, do they have it rebuffed.
The objection for the women is that it is a rejection on the grounds of sex, whereas for men turned down for the priesthood it is something else. It is here that the comparison with women priests and male mothers seems more reasonable. The passion and desire to make the investment is not enough to realise the outcome; the necessary machinery for realisation is not there and cannot be there for ontological reasons. To obtain the desired fruit would mean a complete change in whom one really is. Far from ratifying the individual, it would destroy it. Exactly the same issue underlies many problems within the Church and within Society.

However, the outcome is still the same regardless of any underlying issue: one has been rejected and one’s desire to play a role has been spurned, not at the level of a genus, nor at the level of a species, but rather at the very nature of the individual itself. In the face to this lies the question ”what is one’s true vocation?” Where does this love of God, this desire to serve, this longing to be in participation with His Creation have its fulfilment?

The answer can only be found in a search in one’s life. Given one’s passion, what machinery is there that can indeed reify that desire and cause it bear the proper fruit of one’s investment. Rejection from the priesthood means a vocation within the laity.

It is the distinction between clergy and laity that seems to cause the majority of problems. The perception is that the clergy gain fruit more out of their investment than the laity. In the old days, the clergy were more intellectually qualified than the laity. The priests and monks were the wise men with “all the answers” the laity were those who worked and supported the church with their tithing and craftsmanship. Of course, this paints a particularly rosy picture of how life was and perhaps this is a little romantic, but it does have the seeds of the truth which we have lost.

It is very easy to be a passive Christian these days, especially in a Traditional Church where the priest says Mass and Office and everyone else sits apparently passive. Ideally, the laity should be praying the Mass with the priest, and prayer is not a passive activity but involves the focus of the mind and the heart. If, however, the Mass and the Offices are the only opportunities in which the Laity are engaged in the Church, then there seems to be very little to do. What has been forgotten is the idea of the priest as a servant of the servants of God – a title which these days seems only to apply to the Patriarch of the West.

What has been lost is an integrated society in which the parish church represents the worshipping part. The burning desire to serve God that many men and women feel is being subverted by the pressures of time and secular work. We might desire fervently to work for the glory of God, but find that all our efforts go in to reinforcing a secular machine which has no care for our church and our religious beliefs. The secular and sacred divide is essentially dividing our desires for a happy, God-fearing life in our society between God and Society. Our secular jobs take us away from devotion with the result that we either settle into our jobs and take a passive pew, or we resent our secular jobs and desire to devote our energy into serving the Church. For many, the Church is not as physically nourishing as it was when it was richer.

Here is the dilemma for the laity and also for non-stipendiary clergy. The laymen and women must be allowed ownership of the Christian Community of which they are members. This means that they must be responsible for the growth and the upkeep of their parish and work to realise its existence. Too often, it is the clergy that have to take all the responsibility and, becoming accustomed to doing so, view any attempt to wrest that responsibility (particularly in leadership) with suspicion on the grounds that the laity have the right intentions but the wrong ideas.

We therefore have boiling away here a mutual distrust between clergy and laity. One way to get around this is for dialogue between priest and people. The priest must remember his duty of service and spiritual guidance for the laity. He is a facilitator, educating the laity into the ways of the church that they may serve faithfully and trustworthily in the Traditions of the Church and thus fulfil their innate desires to serve God as an individual in a community.

The priest is the father of the community, hence his title as “father”. Yet fatherhood is quintessentially a status of relationship than a status of absolute authority. God the Father is precisely so because of the existence of God the Son. The Son obeys His Father and the Father supports His Son. In the Son we see the Father and the Son is given the right to reign over his Father’s Kingdom. The leadership is shared because the Father trusts the Son and the Son obeys the Father. This should be the model for our parishes. There is plenty of evidence of female leadership in the Church, indeed in Ss Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Hilda of Whitby and Theresa of Avila. In them is obedience and the result is trust in their leadership.

The Church does not need new Puseys, Newmans, Hookers, Kebles, Lauds, Gardiners or Cranmers or any other inspirational figure to start a new movement within the Church to bring it together. It does not need Fresh Expressions, Messy Churches, or innovation after innovation after innovation. All lt needs a laity educated in and faithful to Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason who will rejoice in their lay-status and support the man that God has chosen to act as alter Christus at the altar. We need a laity who are willing to invest in the parish in union with their secular lives in order to reap the fruits that God will give them. We also need a priesthood that is comfortable in its service to the laity to allow that laity to grow the Church and guide it according to the Law of Almighty God.

Individualism leads to atomism and anarchy. Honouring the individual in the context of the Church under the love of God leads to harmony with the Divine and the building up of the Kingdom of God.

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