Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Martyr For The Dispossessed

As the votes were being counted in the same sex marriage referendum here, its outcome already certain at an early stage, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified in El Salvador. There are many delighted by this event and many appalled. This division is a political one and one, I believe, quite out of sync with who the Archbishop really was. I wrote some posts on him before trying to show that Blessed Oscar was not a communist, nor a Marxist, but a Catholic (see here and here). 

His concern for poor was not motivated by those atheistic materialist movements, but rather by Christ's own love for the poor and dispossessed. Blessed Oscar did seek a revolution, but not one in which arms are taken up, rather a revolution of love. He called on right wing leaders who maintained they were Catholic to do what was expected of Catholic leaders - to be just towards their people and assist those most in need. That's not communism or Marxism, that's Catholicism. As some have been saying in the last few days, some of those who were suspicious of Blessed Oscar were perhaps too rooted in the establishment, they did not want to rock the boat, they may have preferred to use old diplomatic, quiet ways of effecting change. There are times when that is useful and times when it useless, a barrier. Given the situation in El Salvador the Church was too close to the ruling class, Blessed Oscar gradually realised that and pulled himself away to be free to preach the Gospel. In a sense his position was like St John Paul II's with regard to realpolitik.

Some have problems with Blessed Oscar's relationship with Liberation Theology. I think at this stage it is obvious he was not a supporter of Liberation Theology in its Marxist dimensions. I believe a Liberation Theologian came out a few days ago to say the Archbishop was not a member of the movement, but rather the movement was influenced by him. Again, that is not to say he was a Marxist. Liberation Theology is a multifaceted movement, to dismiss all of it would not be wise. There are dangerous elements in it, and these were addressed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in his Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation" - I draw your attention to two important words in that title: "Certain Aspects". Now I am not an apologist for those aspects which are contrary to the faith (how often I have been accused by certain people of being a leftie, as I have often been accused of being right wing!), but we need to look beyond politics and be open to the fact that the Gospel of Christ is more radical that we envision it: it is not a right wing manifesto, no more than it is a left wing charter.

Blessed Oscar's stance and martyrdom comes into clearer focus as we believers in Ireland come to terms with what has happened here today. The Church will have a lot to reflect on, and I hope our Bishops and faithful will finally wake up and see the social revolution which has been occurring around us for years, a revolution that has been underestimated. The Church has played a part in that revolution in her failure to communicate the Gospel as it is in favour of  a lightweight pastoral strategy which has all but excised sound teaching in the name of being open, kind and compassionate. My issue with the Church, for the whole of my lifetime, is that it has been part of the Establishment here in Ireland, and it still thinks it is. This has come at a price, a high price, and that has been a dilution of the Gospel and the failure to form disciples. A dismal catechetical programme stands as a potent symbol of this. 

One of the good things which will come out of this referendum and its results is the undeniable fact now that the Church is not part of the Establishment, she is very much a minority - even if a majority of Irish men and women still identity as "Catholic", that identification does not translate into discipleship (and that is not a value judgement, it is a simple and undeniable observation). The wisdom of Blessed Oscar should now become clear to us all, we must begin to think in a new way, and part of that new thinking must be evangelical. We must now look to the failures of the Church in Ireland - not just the horrendous abuse, but her failure to inculcate in her members an understanding of the faith. People in Ireland use Christian words and concepts like charity, compassion, being Christian etc, but they do not understand what they really mean, the meaning has changed and they are now being used to construct a new society which as far from the actual teaching of Christ as you can get.

Blessed Oscar, a martyr for the dispossessed may well have many lessons to teach us now; we may need to heed him, and take courage from his heroic stance in the face of opposition. I would also suggest we begin to listen to those voices within Ireland who have been saying for years that there is something wrong in the Church. I am not talking about the liberals, many of whom, priests and sisters among them, who came out in favour of the referendum: they are false prophets, members of the new Establishment in Ireland. I would recommend a reading of Fr Vincent Twomey's work, a priest who is very much outside the Establishment here in Ireland (Church Establishment as much as state). His book The End of Irish Catholicism? contains an objective diagnosis of what was wrong with the Church in Ireland - one major issue being the failure to think the faith. As I know personally, there is a certain anti-intellectualism in the Church in Ireland, it is indicative of a uncomfortable attitude towards thinking and discussion. If the faith is to be passed on people must think, think their way through what Christ teaches, they need to talk about it and explore it in order to understand it and live it.

Other books I would recommend at this time to help us understand where we are and where we need to go: Fr Benedict Groeschel, The Reform of Renewal, a manifesto, I suppose, for a revitalization of faith and discipleship. Fr Goeschel was much admired in the US, though he was also divisive figure for many. I remember when in seminary speaking about him with a member of the theology staff, the lecturer dimissed Fr Groeschel "He's a most dangerous man!". Indeed he was, as was Christ whose teachings Fr Groeschel sought to live. Finally, a book to help us understand where we are now: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, a work of moral theology which suggests we are on the edge of another collapse of western civilisation. He sees the Church as having a role in the preservation of culture, learning etc, as she did at the last collapse. MacIntyre also reiterates the fact that being Christian is not about following rules, but rather living virtue in the context of the Gospel. Our social revolutionaries have been so successful here because for most people in Ireland Christianity is about rules, not virtue and certainly not holiness - that is potently revealed in the poor state of Postulation in this country.

A few thoughts, my readers will have read them before on this blog. But now I need to restate them not to condemn anyone, but in the hope that we may see where we really are and begin in earnest what St John Paul instituted in his ministry: a New Evangelisation. That is the future and it is a radical one. We Christians in Ireland, who continue to believe and will not accept the new definition of marriage now to be Constitutionally enforced here, will now have to be witnesses, to go against the tide and that will be difficult. Only true disciples will be able to do that, and it is for that reason we have to move beyond forming social Catholics and keeping numbers up (nurturing the delusion) to nurturing and forming authentic followers of Christ: men and women who will not be afraid to lose everything rather than renounce Christ or his Gospel (as he taught it!). 

The relics of Blessed Oscar are carried to the altar: the bloodstained shirt worn on the day of the martyrdom

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