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Storm Warning: Chapter 11

For the Sake of the World

Unleashing ethical action

Although they acknowledge that mere activism is not enough,1 the authors want to see their version of “the spiritual heart of the Gospel” established in the Church2 primarily as a sparkplug for social and political reform, “firing our hearts so that we can reach out to everyone”3 to address today’s human needs.4 They demand action and response as proof of authentic “vision,”5 but recognize that “with believing people it’s the religious imagination, nourished by the symbols and stories of the Christian tradition, that unleashes ethical action.”6

While the authors would certainly encourage action and response to the Gospel in one’s personal relationships, what is foremost in their minds is national and international social and political action. Among the important issues the world faces, they include the allegedly critical population problem,7 poverty, hunger (Chapter 6) and war – particularly nuclear war (Chapter 7).

Roche believes that the Church as the potential “to inject strong ethical force into public policy formation.”8 If the Church can invovle enough people, politicians will be forced to pay attention, 9 and global strategies can be developed to address the world’s problems. He suggests that the “institutional Church” is needed for this reason.

The peope, the media, regard the Church as an institution. . . as a juridical force . . . it’s the only theing the media pays any attention to. If we are going to get through via the media, to influence public opinion, it’s got to be with a voice that is recognizable and identifiable. They ought to listen to [us]. The fact is, they don’t . . . But they are all ears for whatever the Pope says.10

Roche’s angry denunciation of Catholic teaching on sexual morality and authority within the Church arises largely from his concern that widespread disobedience to unpopular teaching undermines “the credibility of the institution on issues of public policy.”11 Unpopular teaching also discourages ecumenism, and, through it, the united religious front which he believes essential to the solution of global problems.12

However, Leddy is jealous of anything that might be construed as “reinforcing the power of Rome.”13 She prefers local initiatives. Using war and peace as an example of authentic action and response to the Gospel, Leddy suggests that the Church ought to dedicate ten percent of congregational donations to the cause of peace: “We will hire peace officers . . . we will have a peace program, we will declare the dioceses nuclear-free zones.”14 Presumably other approved causes would enjoy similar support.

Liberation, not salvation

The authors want to reform the Church “for the sake of the world,”15 but they are not offering the world salvation in any traditional Christian sense. De Roo dismisses the idea of converting people to Christianity: “[I]t’s more a question of liberating – liberating persons and cultures from powers that are oppressive and destructive.”16

What, then, of Jesus Christ? He appears in the book here and there, but His place in the authors’ scheme of things is not entirely clear. Leddy and De Roo are at times ambivalent about Him;17 Roche mentions Him in the context of social justice,18 eumenism19 and as counterculture personified.20

When Bishop De Roo speaks of Jesus, he sometimes speaks like a believing Catholic.21 But he emphasizes the humanity of Jesus almost to the exclusion of His divinity, 22 stating that the univesal mission of the Church is to bring “the hmanity of Jesus into the world in such a way as to humanize creation.”23 It appears that Jesus makes a difference to De Roo, not as our Saviour, but as the exemplary teacher “living our life and showing us a new way.”24 From His example, De Roo concludes that the task of a bishop “is to be with people who are seeking a news way, who do want to change things and not just to affirm the world as it is . . . who want to relate the story of their lives to a story that has greater meaning.”25

The Council: that all might be sanctified

Vatican II was rather more specific in describing the true task of a bishop, seeking it in Jesus, “the Son of the Living God, [who] came to redeem his people from their sins, that all mankind might be sanctified.”

[H]e in turn sent his apostles whom he sanctified by conferring on them the Holy Spirit so that they also might glorify the Father on earth and procure the salvation of men.26

Bishops “take the place of the apostles as pastors of souls.”27 The role of a bishop is neither political nor social. He holds an apostolic office “instituted by Christ the Lord and. . . directed to a spiritual and supernatural end.”28 Thus, a bishop “should be, above all, a preacher of the faith who brings new disciples to Christ.”29 Among his other duties, a bishop has “the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of the faith and of uupholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church.”30

The spiritual nature of episcopal office was particularly emphasized when the Council reminded bishops that “they have been chosen from among men and made their representatives before God to offer gifts and sacrifices in expiation of sins”31 It is also the responsiblity of a bishop “to raise up among his people, espeically among those who are sick or afflicted, souls who with a generous heart will offer prayers and works of penance to God for the evangelization of the world.”32

For though it is the duty of all to alleviate suffering by every legitimate social and political means, it is the unique obligation of the Church and her pastors to preach the sanctification of suffering through the way of the cross.33 Not that we are entitled to ignore our earthly responsibilties:

The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbour, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation.34

But eternal salvation is the end in view. While Christians are to strive for the just distribution of earthly goods,35 they must recall that material wealth and equitable social and polictal systems do not guarantee salvation.36 Suffering, however, is and will continue to be the common lot of mankind. By the power of the cross and the grace of God it is also the currency of salvation.37 For the impoverished and persecuted of the world, the good news is that authentic Christianity strives to overcome their sufferieng.38 But the Good News is that through their suffering they can attain eternal life.39 It is the principal duty of a bishop to proclaim the Good News that gives life in the midst of suffering.40

There is much that Christians can and must do ‘for the sake of the world.’ Nonetheless, the Council reminded us of the clearly established priority: “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.”41

Notes

1. Roche, p. 83; Leddy, p. 82

2. Leddy, p. 79

3. Roche, p. 129

4. Roche, p.82

5. Leddy, p. 33

6. Leddy, p. 100

7. Roche, p. 56

8. Roche, p, 31; 26-27

9. Roche, p. 192-193

10. Roche, p. 122-123

11. Roche, p. 189

12. Roche, p. 67-68, 100, 103

13. Leddy, p. 122

14. Leddy, p. 114

15. Leddy, p. 151

16. Leddy, p. 149

17. Leddy, p. 141; De Roo, p. 148, 160

18. Roche, p. 37, 42, 87, 168

19. Roche, p. 140

20. Roche, p. 172, 175

21. De Roo, p, 42

22. De Roo, p. 149

23. De Roo, p. 171

24. De Roo, p. 169

25. De Roo, p. 169-170

26. Vatican Council II (1965) Christus Dominus, 1

27. Ibid, 2

28. Ibid, 20

29. Vatican Council II (1965) Ad Gentes Divinitus, 20; Christus Dominus, 12

30. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 23

31. Vatican Council II (1965) Christus Dominus, 15

32. Vatican Council II (1965) Ad Gentes Divinitus, 38

33. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 41, 42

34. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 43; 30

35. Ibid, 69

36. Ibid, 39

37. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 22; (1965) Nostra Aetate, 4

38. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 8

39. Ibid, 7, 11

40. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 25; (1965) Christus Dominus, 12

41. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 72

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