Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Church and the LCWR

"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
         Romans 12:4-5

"For we, being many, are one bread, on body: all that partake of one bread."        1 Corinthians 10:7

With the recent decision of the Holy See to evaluate the differing positions of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), there has been much uproar about how the male-dominated Church hierarchy is oppressing the women religious in the United States. This is not what the Church (or, if you prefer, the hierarchy) is doing, though. 

First off, let us examine the word "Hierarchy." Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a 6th century theologian, wrote in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy that a "hierarchy" is a revelation of something holy. In English, hierarchy is typically translated as something that is overbearing and limiting free thought. This is not what a hierarchy is.

In the Bible, Saint Paul appoints elders, or overseers (bishops), in each town he visited (Titus 1:5). When Christ gave authority to His Apostles (Matthew 16:18-19, Matthew 28:18, John 20:21), He gave them authority in His name to spread the gospel. One way the Apostles chose to do this was to established a "hierarchy" in places where the Apostles could not stay, appointing men to lead the Church in local communities. 

There is some controversy as to whether Christ picked women or not to be His immediate Apostles. There is no biblical evidence to suggest that He ever did pick women to be His Apostles. Therefore, Christ gave His power to twelve men who in turn gave that power to other men, who gave it other men, these men being the bishops of the early Church. The bishops of today are the descendants of those bishops who were ordained by the original Twelve Apostles. 

Part of this apostolic succession is safeguarding the beliefs of the Church, no matter what age the Church is in. Now, the LCWR, for all of the good that they do, hold beliefs contrary to Catholic teaching, for example: Supporting the ordination of women, giving money to pro-choice endeavors, and promoting social justice concerns at the expense of core Catholic beliefs. 

This may not be a fair assessment of the LCWR as I am a man, but this is what most people see when looking at the LCWR. If the original Twelve Apostles gave Christ's power to a certain group of men to protect the faith handed down from Christ, shouldn't the bishops of the Church today safeguard the beliefs of the Church? Especially protecting the members of the Church from heretical teachings held by canonically-sanctioned organizations?

With the average age of the members of the LCWR being 60, newer congregations of women religious who abide by the teachings of the Church, their numbers are growing. One order, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, their average age is 26. The youth of the Church today want to return to a Church where the timeless teachings of Christ are upheld and promoted. There is even a rise in the number of priests in the United States precisely because of this recatholization of our Catholic culture.

The hierarchy of the Church "going after" the LCWR is not a movement motivated by a personal vendetta or an excuse to exterminate liberals, it is the Church coming to the aid of a dying organization, trying to address problems that are plaguing the Church in the U.S. Let us pray for Archbishop Sartain, Bishop Paprocki and Blair, and the members of the LCWR to accept the will of Christ in their lives. For the will of Christ is the will of His Church, His Mystical Body. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

Every Christian is called to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even Catholics. Though the phrase "personal relationship" may seem like a Protestant term, it is perfectly apt for Catholics as well. Dietrich Von Hildebrand, a twentieth century Catholic theologian (who was a Protestant), describes a personal relationship with Christ as an emptying of oneself to Christ, allowing Christ to impart grace to the person so the person may be transformed in Christ. One way for a person to encounter Christ and develop a personal relationship with Christ is through that person's active participation in the liturgy.

Father Jean Corbon, a French Dominican friar, says that Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross was a kenosis, or an emptying of Himself. Christ emptied Himself to His Father, thus enabling Him to maintain a relationship with His Father. All Christians are called to this kenosis. Submitting yourself to God is an act which is not full of pride; rather, it is a very humbling experience. Just as Christ went to the Cross in obedience to His Father's will, so too must the Christian empty himself to the Father and humbly accept God's will in his life. Man comes to know this kenosis through his active participation in the liturgical life of the Church.

The liturgy is not the work of the people. The liturgy is God's work and man responds to this by carrying out the actions of the liturgy, both the priest and laity. The liturgical life of the Church teaches man to submit his whole self to Christ. In baptism, the person being baptized dies to himself and puts on Christ. Saint Basil the Great, the third century bishop from the East, says that man dies to himself and this is symbolized in the immersion in the Holy Water fount. Man is buried with Christ so man can rise with Christ to new life. But this death is not a physical death, it is death of a former way of life to begin a new life, a new life in Christ.

The liturgy, even at baptism, teach man that his first obedience is to God. Obedience to God, though, is an act of the free will; God does not demand obedience from His creation, rather, He gives man the option of emptying himself. The liturgy allows man to learn from his Savior's example to render his whole self to God. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, man joins his sacrifice to Christ's through the sacramentization of the priest's sacrifice. For the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross are one sacrifice; it is only logical then that man unites the sacrifice of himself to Christ's Sacrifice carried out through his active participation in the liturgy.

Man is called to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Just as Christ surrendered Himself to His Father, so too does man surrender himself freely to the Father. By imitating Christ, man strengthens his relationship to Christ and becomes Christ through being Christ. Active participation in the liturgical life of the Church shows man how man can surrender himself to the Father. Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross is re-presented in Mass and man unites his sacrifice with Christ's once and for all Sacrifice. Man becomes Christ when he learns how to imitate Christ in the liturgy.