Monday, May 22, 2006

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses

James Davidson of Purdue University is considered one of the three top sociologists of Catholic life in the U.S., the other two being Dean Hoge at Catholic University of America and Andrew Greeley (sorry, but I hate calling such a man, "Father").

Dr. Davidson was in the Twin Cities recently talking to the National Federation of Priests' Councils meeting there. Afterwards, he had an interview with The Catholic Spirit, a paper with which I was once briefly associated. In it, he noted the serious ideological divide between today's priests -- the so-called John Paul II priests and the so-called Vatican II priests.

His solution to resolving this divide is summed up thusly:
Priests are much the same way, in that they have hierarchies of truth. There are some things that are central to the faith and other things that are not. If I were going to bring the priests together, I would remind them of the things that they agree on and challenge them to recognize the core teachings of the church, the core truths that are central to their ministry, and then ask them to identify the things that are more optional to them — more a matter of rules and regulations that apply at a certain period of time in the history of the church but maybe not at other times.

If you did that, I think you would find that the arguments are not over core teachings. They are over the more optional or temporal issues. I think that would help them go a long way to say, "You know something, we may disagree on certain specific issues having to do with ministry, but by God, we agree on resurrection, we agree on incarnation, and we are brothers after all. It’s just that we sit in different pews."
How quaint. So saying, "We agree on resurrection and incarnation (Hey, Jim! Where did the definitive articles go?), so let's all just get along" is going to bring these divided men together? This was how he earlier summed up the divide:
There are some priests who tend to prefer a model of priesthood that involves teamwork and collaboration with lay people and with bishops. They think in sort of a horizontal model of a team of people playing together on a level playing field. There are other priests who think more vertically about the authority relationship between themselves and their bishop and see themselves as being of a status that’s higher than that of the laity. So they don’t think so much in terms of teamwork as they think in terms of authority and accountability.
What a marvelous obfuscation. It appears from what Dr. Davidson says that these priests think in a context where there is no philosophical or theological basis for their thoughts, only sociological or political considerations. Therefore, all they need do is say, "Hey, we agree there are such things as incarnation and resurrection, so let's be best buddies."

But the split flows from very different theological understandings, not mere sociological or political opinions. Those who say that the priesthood should be more collaborative do not believe in the real theological reason for the priesthood's existence, which is to teach, sanctify and govern --
*The teaching comes from the teaching of the Apostles and is handed on through the Magisterium and the Tradition;
*The sanctification comes when he offers sacrifice in the name of the people, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit;
*The governing comes from the power he has from Jesus Himself to judge -- "You will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28).

Now it is true that some priests who rightly understand their authority and the fact that they have been set aside for the service of God (the word in Latin for priest is sacerdos which has obvious roots in "sacred," which means to set aside for service to God), sometimes wield it like a club and feel themselves as superior and above the rest of humanity. This, however, does not mean they are wrong when it comes to their understanding of the priesthood's nature, only wrong in how they understand and carry out its implementation. They need a dose of humility, not to keep them from being true priests, but to show them how dependent they are on the Lord for their exalted position and how they do need the help of the governed, and that they are here "not to be served, but to serve" and to imitate Him who gave His life "as a ransom for the many."

What is interesting is that Davidson talks only of the Incarnation and the Resurrection (at least I presume he's talking about these Catholic dogmas. It's sometimes hard to tell when the definitive articles are dropped that this is exactly what the heterodox believe). Nothing about sin, the Fall, the Cross, suffering, sacrifice, redemption, salvation, the power of the Holy Spirit, deification. Only incarnation and resurrection. Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know where he would rank the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the beginning and end of human life in that hierarchy of truths.

There's no way the Davidson model will work because it is grounded solely in human understanding and categories -- much the way the "horizontal" model of priesthood is based as well. Without the divine nature of the priesthood, it comes to nothing. And because the "horizontal" model has prevailed since the end of Vatican II, men have simply failed to show up at the vocations director's door, a fact that no amount of rose-colored glasses will change.

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