Sunday, 15 March 2009

On being scandalized: 'temple police' or firefighters?


There is another of those emails circulating around the traps, intended I think to soothe fevered brows, this time a conference by the great Fr Faber urging us not to be scandalized easily, and not be pharisees in our attitudes. Now there is something in this, but it is an argument that I think is being much misused these days.

Private religion and practice

One of the most insidious ideas of our secular culture is that religion is a private affair. And it has infected many within the Church in the notion that we shouldn't be concerned about abuses and doctrinal problems 'over there', in other parishes, dioceses or countries. And there is a certain irony in this given the ecclesiology around the 'People of God' and such like concepts most often stressed by those making such claims.

It is a view that is wrong on a purely pragmatic level: the geographical concept of the parish has little relevance today in an area of mobility and travel. There are times when the only available mass or place for confession will be somewhere other than our normal place of worship. Not to mention those unavoidable occasions such as baptisms, confirmations and weddings when we find ourselves in strange parishes. And some of them are very strange, very dangerous places indeed!

But most of all it is wrong on an ecclesial level. We are all part of one Church, one body, and wounds suffered in one part of the body affect the entire body.

Sin and suffering

One of the great myths of our society is the notion that the individual controls his or her destiny. And to the extent that our autonomy is threatened, science will (eventually) be able to rectify the problem.

It is however an illusion, a modern myth! We all inherit the genes - good or bad - that our parents bequeath us, just as we all suffer the effects of original sin. Our 'life chances' are affected by our family, the society we live in. The actions of others - good and bad - have consequences for us individually. And of course there is this person called God who sustains everything in existence, and whose providential plan for each and everyone of us unfolds every minute, every second of our days.

In short, our lives are determined as much by factors outside of ourselves as factors particular to us - because we are not just individuals but part of a broader community living in a world that is moving ever closer to its consummation in the New Jerusalem.

And just as materially, so too spiritually. Our prayers and sufferings can help others, both those alive now, and those in purgatory; but so too our sins can have the opposite effect.

Collective responsibility

That's why, when God threatened the Ninevites with the destruction of their city, he didn't just send Jonah to temple x or y, or to sinner Mr A or B, he sent him to preach to the whole city. And why the whole city, even the animals, did penance in order to avert God's wrath.

It is why all of us have an obligation to be active politically, and do what we can to overturn unjust laws, or prevent further evils.

And why we should all be concerned if a particular parish flouts Church law and encourages, for example, the sinful reception of the eucharist.

The witness of saints

Fr Faber in the conference writes that 'I do not remember to have read of any Saint who ever took scandal'. I hate to disagree with so eminent an authority, but really? I can actually think of quite a few. Let's just name a few of the biggies. St Paul. St Athanasius. St Catherine of Siena. There are many more.

Because there are times when we do have to take a stand.

Indeed, it is times like these that call forth great saints - and St Teresa of Avila tells us that we should all aspire to be amongst them!

Archbishop of Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn in his Lenten message tells young people to be 'firefighters not arsonists'. It is a nice analogy. And controversial though it may be to some, sometimes a little pre-emptive backburning is required to prevent a major conflagration or two.

Certainly, we could all consider, at this more or less halfway point of Lent, whether we are doing enough by way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to atone for the sins of our society and church community, and renew our commitment to the penances we have undertaken.
And do pray for those who are being attacked as 'temple police', dobbers and so forth in relation to St Mary's, Brisbane and other conflagrations around Australia.

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