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Live by love and not by fear

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Frank Brennan |  25 June 2017

Homily, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Holy Trinity Church, Curtin, 25 June 2017

When I was a young Jesuit in training, I was privileged to know a larger than life figure, Charles Fisher. Charles was the headmaster of Geelong Grammar School. His father was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was fond of saying that there were two ways to run a school. You could do it by love or fear. You could probably say the same about how to run most institutions. You could even say it about the Catholic Church. In tonight's gospel, Jesus cautions against having our lives dictated by fear. Jesus tells the 12: 'Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.' Jesus wants to assure us that all the hairs of our head are counted, and not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father's knowledge. We are loved. We are offered God's mercy. We are invited to the table of the Lord.

There's a lot of fear in our world, a lot of fear in our lives, and a lot of fear even in our Church. It's on for one and all in Rome at the moment. There is a group of cardinals who are very afraid of what Pope Francis is up to. Last September four of the group wrote to the pope and when they did not get a reply, they leaked the letter to the press. In April, they wrote again. Once again, they did not receive the favour of a papal response. So, last week they published that letter too. They're carrying on like some of our politicians do.

These cardinals have a few strong concerns. They think the pope should be setting down clear universal rules that apply to everyone in every situation. Having spent a life time as a pastor in Buenos Aires, Francis knows life is much more complex and messy than that. He's had a life time of Roman edicts which don't quite cover the reality he used to experience when mixing with ordinary people in the poor areas of Buenos Aires. Francis has said that 'not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium' and that 'each country or region can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs'. These four cardinals pine for the papacy of John Paul II. John Paul was a great leader and a great pope for his time. Francis is also a great leader and a great pope for his time, for our time. John Paul and Francis are very different. But then again, the times are very different. I think John Paul would have made heavy weather of a lot of things going on in our church and world at the moment. And I don't think Francis would have had the same effect if he were pope forty years ago. We believe the Holy Spirit plays a role in providing the right pope for the times. But of course, even that is not assured.

The cardinals want to insist that the good Catholic acting according to conscience need only follow the instructions given by the pope and the bishops on all manner of things. Francis sees much more scope for the conscientious Catholic to form and inform their conscience, and to that conscience be true. He says, 'Conscience can do more than recognise that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognise with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one's limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.' This is too uncertain and self-determining for the liking of the four cardinals. They have been so bold as to assert that the pope is wrong because he is adopting a different approach than did Pope John Paul II who excluded 'a creative interpretation of the role of conscience' and emphasised that 'conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object'.

The cardinals are most upset because Francis says that while a person can be living in God's grace while 'in an objective situation of sin', that person might still receive the sacraments, including the Eucharist, because the Eucharist 'is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak'. It's the sick and supplicant who need the doctor, not the well and the righteous. Pope Francis demands that pastors and theologians not only be faithful to the Church but also 'honest, realistic and creative' when confronting the mess and complexity in our modern world. Just as he discounts those who have 'an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding', so too he dismisses those who 'would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations'.

The four cardinals are afraid that different bishops are giving different instructions around the world even permitting 'access to the Holy Eucharist for those who objectively and publicly live in a situation of grave sin, and intend to remain in it'. They see a situation of chaos emerging where 'what is sin in Poland is good in Germany, that what is prohibited in the archdiocese of Philadelphia is permitted in Malta'. Pope Francis is unfazed.

Pope Francis is tireless in proclaiming God's limitless mercy which is bounded only by the desire for mercy enunciated by the sinner, and God's boundless love which is limited only by the receptivity of the beloved. These four cardinals (and they're probably not acting alone) are tireless in urging Pope Francis to get back to the old-time certainties of Pope John Paul II. Let's pray for them all.

I daresay that Pope Francis goes to bed some nights at St Martha's calling to mind the words of Jeremiah in today's first reading:

I hear the whisperings of many, 'Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!' All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. 'Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.' But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure, they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Let's hope and pray that we, our pope, and the cardinals can live by love and not by fear. It may be for the best that the upset cardinals are speaking in the light what they have heard whispered around the dark Vatican corridors of power and intrigue, and that they have proclaimed their concerns on the housetops and on the internet. In the words of today's psalm, we pray:

We pray to you, O Lord,
for the time of your favour, O God!
In your great kindness answer us
with your constant help.
Answer us, O Lord, for bounteous is your kindness;
in your great mercy turn toward us. 

Imperfect and weak, one and all, we come to the table of the Lord.

 


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

 



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“He says, 'Conscience can do more than recognise that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognise with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one's limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal.' This is too uncertain and self-determining for the liking of the four cardinals. They have been so bold as to assert that the pope is wrong because he is adopting a different approach than did Pope John Paul II who excluded 'a creative interpretation of the role of conscience' and emphasised that 'conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object'.” Can one pope contradict other on a matter of faith? If not, only one of the above opinions has been correct for all time.

Roy Chen Yee 26 June 2017

We Catholics need to understand that over time the changes we make to how we teach and the changes we observe as the outcomes of teachings can result in changes to what we actually teach. Those changes cannot come from individual bishops but they can be authorised by the pope, either with or without a council of bishops. I call to mind the pioneering work of the American jurist John T Noonan who died last month. He was one of the great Catholic thinkers in the US. Prior to the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, he wrote a definitive book on contraception. In recent years he wrote a book called 'The Church That Can and Cannot Change'. The great moral theologian Charles Curran wrote an obituary on Noonan in the National Catholic Reporter. Here is part of what Curran wrote reflecting on the life of Noonan: ‘Noonan, in looking back on these changes and developments, notes that the process of change requires a complex constellation of forces. There is no readily available grid for determining how change occurs. Noonan agrees with Vatican II that change comes from the contemplation of believers, the experience of spiritual realities, and the preaching of the church. He wants to avoid the extremes of maintaining that no change can and should occur in what the church has consistently taught in the past on moral issues and the modernist approach that doctrine is only the projection of human needs. The great commandments of love of God and of neighbor, the great principles of justice and charity, continue to govern all development.’

Frank Brennan SJ 27 June 2017

“He wants to avoid the extremes of maintaining that no change can and should occur in what the church has consistently taught in the past on moral issues and the modernist approach that doctrine is only the projection of human needs.” This is consistent with the philosophy of legal change by judges stated by Frank Brennan’s father in Mabo 2: “29. In discharging its duty to declare the common law of Australia, this Court is not free to adopt rules that accord with contemporary notions of justice and human rights if their adoption would fracture the skeleton of principle which gives the body of our law its shape and internal consistency.” The four cardinals want to know whether the Vicar of Christ as supreme legislator/judge of the Roman Catholic Church is free to adopt rules that accord with contemporary notions of justice and human rights but which may fracture the skeleton of principle which gives the body of Tradition its shape and internal consistency. By convention, the proposer of a change bears the onus of proving its worth. The cardinals’ dubia is the mechanism of petition by inferiors to a superior requesting convention be followed.

Roy Chen Yee 27 June 2017

Father Brennan's citing of Curran and Noonan is problematic. There are American Catholics who can offer reasoned support for the proposition that the ideas of Curran, Noonan and like-minded intellects have wrecked the faith of many thousands of American Catholics and contributed to the devastation of the Church there. "Noonan agrees with Vatican II that change comes from the contemplation of believers, the experience of spiritual realities, and the preaching of the church. He wants to avoid the extremes of maintaining that no change can and should occur in what the church has consistently taught in the past on moral issues and the modernist approach that doctrine is only the projection of human needs. The great commandments of love of God and of neighbor, the great principles of justice and charity, continue to govern all development" are words to which no exception can be taken. But it's never the sentiments expressed in the words that are the problem but how those sentiments are applied. When a national church that has been liberal in character for decades is haemorrhaging believers, how can orthodoxy be blamed?

Roy Chen Yee 28 June 2017

“A feature of these ACP meetings was how often priests mentioned the lack of leadership or support from their bishop” “All I can see in our hierarchy is fear, anxiety and a desperate clinging to old ways. And this at a time when Pope Francis has by now clearly charted a new way, a new presentation of the Good News of the Gospel, based on openness, listening and courage”…………………….. Is lack of leadership the on-going culprit? It is and it isn’t, yes we have a contradiction and the reason for this is that Christian leadership should be manifest by the serving of the Truth and for many this serving of the Truth in trust is/was given over in obedience to the hierarchy of the Church as “a divide house cannot stand” but in doing so failing to see that the rock of Truth can only be served individual as this is the mortar that holds His house together, it is a precious commodity and rare because to possess it takes courage. The Seminaries that moulded priests (Some now Bishops) taught them (As they were taught) that obedience to the church (Establishment) is paramount, but failed to TELL (teach) them that obedience that does not embrace TRUTH, is an easy option, as it takes away responsibility for ones actions or inactions, and that the price to pay is loss of integrity, in effect one becomes a lackey and the image of Christ in his/their sacrificial life before mankind would be lost. They would have been unaware that the Church since its earliest beginnings was at war within itself, they would not have known that some who taught him and others who would have authority over them, were waterless clouds (producers of deserts), dry trees (those who renounce good/Truth to serve evil) and dreamers (manipulators). See Epistle of Jude. And this obedience without Truth would enable them to prosper This docility (lack of vigour) to uphold the Truth has enabled those in authority to perpetuate great acts of evil, one been the cover up of the child abuse scandal, as our Shepherds/Bishops embrace this truth they must realize that they have been complicit (by neglect) by serving obedience before the Truth. In effect the lack of leadership is due to mutual ongoing collusion within the clerical system. How can fear and, anxiety and a desperate clinging to old ways in the hierarchy be remedied? The priesthood that includes the hierarchy will have to confront the trappings of clericalism, that spider that has caught so many in its web of deceit and arrogance. As all of us Christians need to be seen by mankind in been honest with ourselves by acknowledging openly our warts and all, in doing so we will be seen to be walking in obedience to the Truth (Way) if we do this His Light/Breath will dwell within us manifesting itself as humility. A disarming action in the simplicity of been honest, as His Holy Spirit now dwelling within us will encompass those we encounter along the Way, leading them also to follow His Way of Truth/Love onto the pathway of humility. “Who are the leaders?” The servers of the Truth within the Church “Is there anyone among them with the courage to lead?” We may find some that are deeply committed to the Christian Faith with the courage to embrace this question, which is amplified in the link below. Is an act of humility too much to ask?

Kevin Walters 05 July 2017

We may find some that are deeply committed to the Christian Faith with the courage to embrace this question, which is amplified in the link below. Is an act of humility too much to ask? http://johnmenadue.com/geraldine-doogue-flawed-catholic-church-a-test-for-the-true-believers/#comment-52706 kevin your brother In Christ

Kevin Walters 06 July 2017

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