Stephen Crittenden has found another one for his collection of Catholic priests and religious chafing at the bit for their opportunity publically to bag “The Old Lady” (aka, Holy Mother Church): Fr John Dear, SJ. In this program (which I only finished listening to this morning on my MP3 player) I learn what a difference 6 years makes. I thought you had to be at least 50 to espouse the sort of Christianity Fr Dear does. I am turning 41, he’s 47. He began his theological education in 1982, I began in 1984. Fr Dear and I must therefore represent something of a turning point in the theological climate–he being one of the last converts of the social gospel, and I one of the new wave of converts to evangelical Catholicism.
Both of us are converts. He describes his conversion experience in Israel:
I’m reading the beatitudes and I see all these jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee, and drop a whole bunch of bombs 50 miles away at Lebanon, and kill a whole bunch of people. And I made a solemn promise that I would spend the rest of my life working on the Sermon on the Mount, that this was the core theme of Christianity: Love your enemies, Blessed are the peacemakers. So I had like a second call within a call, and committed myself there where I’d actually witnessed warfare at the place where Jesus taught non-violence. And here I am, 25 years later, still trying to explore and practice the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.
When I heard this I was reminded of Kevin Rudd’s comment that “Christianity begins with a theology of social justice.” As Tony Abbot pointed out recently, that’s “just plain wrong”.
Christianity is not about a “core theme”. It is not about “an idea”. Contrary to Fr Dear’s statement, Jesus (“our guy”) did not suffer and die “for working for justice and peace.” He suffered and died to redeem the world from enslavement to sin. One is reminded of the immortal line from Benedict’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life, the new horizon and a decisive direction.
Unfortunately Fr Dear does seem to have been converted to an idea rather than to the divine and human Person of Jesus Christ.
There is so much that mystifies one when listening to the rantings of clergy like Fr Dear. For instance, what is one to make of his assertion that
People actually think…that the Holy Spirit has moved on, we don’t need to focus on the Gospels, which is the heart of what’s missing here, and instead God now only speaks to the hierarchy and canon law and catechism, and so young seminarians over the last four, five years, in the United States, are being told to memorise canon law and catechism and that’s what they’re to preach as young priests. So literally, the people in the parishes around the United States are literally not hearing about the life of Jesus.
I’ll never get why “progressive” Catholics always try to play off the catechism against the scriptures? They obviously haven’t read it, otherwise they would know it is packed with scripture, especially from the Gospels. And maybe one day, Fr Dear and co. will wake up and understand that Canon law is also about liberation — the liberation of the faithful from the whims of certain bishops and clergy.
And what about the strange way he talks about the anonymous “them” throughout this interview–25 times in all, in contexts such as:
“they’re deliberately appointing people”
“they don’t talk about it”
“they mounted a campaign”
“they’re going after a bishop”
“they have clamped down on him”
“they’ve kicked him out to punish him”
“they succeeded”, etc.
Who are “they”? Is this just another case of John Allen’s “recipe for grumpiness” that identifies the Church with the “they” of the hierarchy, or is it some sort of ecclesiastical paranoia?
Anyway. I comfort myself in knowing that Fr Dear belongs to “the old generation”, and the times (as Fr Dear would properly sing to a guitar) “they are a’changing”.