Sunday, 22 November 2009

The identity of the Catholic priest today

What is the identity of the Catholic priest in the secular world of today?

I have been reading a wonderful book these days by Eugene H. Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor in the United States. Peterson says that the job of a pastor is to preach and to pray, to proclaim Christ's word and to witness his Mercy. Peterson makes a very powerful argument for his case, deriding the tendency he finds in his country and his church to package and sell religion, the threat that religion is being swallowed up by the culture of corporate management.

On the other hand, since I am somewhat familiar with Lonergan, I remembered that Lonergan had somewhere an article with the title, "The Jesuit as Priest and Apostle in the Modern World." I found there this very interesting proposal for the ministry of the Jesuit priest in the modern world. The priest, says Lonergan, is leader and teacher. He has to lead and teach in his contemporary context, and this context is marked by modernity, secularism and self-destructiveness. This means that the modern Jesuit has to (1) overcome vestiges of his classicist upbringing; (2) discerningly accept the gains of modernity; and (3) find ways to creatively combat the destructiveness of secularism. To this end, Lonergan proposes that there be worked out a set of ongoing strategies, constantly referred to some central 'clearing house' or coordinating body.

I have the greatest respect for Lonergan, and I am also taken up with Peterson, who is a Presbyterian who is completely at home with the two thousand year old tradtion of the Church and who does not hesitate to draw from all of it with the most amazing results. But there is obviously some conflict between these two trends of thought, at least as far as the identity of the priest is concerned.

Of course, we must keep in mind that Peterson is talking about the ministry of the pastor, whereas the identity of the Catholic priest does not necessarily coincide with the ministry of the parish priest. Again, we must keep in mind that Lonergan is addressing himself to Jesuits, and the identity of the Catholic priest does not necessarily coincide with that of the Jesuit priest.

Still, there is here a creative tension that might be exploited, and that certainly gives food for thought.

I think it would not be wrong to say that the question of the identity of the priest has been in ferment since Second Vatican Council. I think it would also be agreed that we have not yet reached any consensus.

There does seem to be, however, a consensus that the theology of the priesthood must be closely linked with Christology and with ecclesiology. For the priest is at the service of Christ and his Body, the Church. The priest, therefore, shares in the mission of Christ and the Church.

The mission of Christ is to gather togetehr the scattered children of God; it is the reconciliation of all things in himself, so that all might be reconciled to God; it is the redemtpion of the world so as to bring it to the Father. This is also the core mission of the Church, and here lies the core identity and mission of the priest.

If before the council, the sacerdotal or 'cultic' role of the priest was emphasized to the neglect of other aspects, post-conciliar theologians have sometimes called for the abandonment of the cultic role in favour of the priest as prophet, teacher, leader, and builder. Theologians have noted that different conciliar documents contain different explicit and implicit theologies of the priesthood. The Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, for example, might contain an overly cultic and traditional defintiion; but that has to be read and integrated with the large vision of the mission of the Church laid down in Lumen Gentium. It is becoming clearer, then, that the priest cannot be seen merely as tied to the altar and sacristy; he is the teacher, leader and builder of community; and, as Kunnumpuram points out, not merely of the Christian community, but of the larger community. So the preist is prophet to the world; he is builder of the new communty that is the family of God. And this ample vision of things has been recently reconfirmed by the authoriative voice of Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate.

In the light of all this, we might return again to where we began, with peterson and Lonergan.

Clearly the two approaches need to be held together in creative tension. As Lonergan himself has pointed out elsehwere, there are the two dynamics of healing and creating in history, and both are necessary. So the priest of today is called to concern himself with nothing less than the redemption of the world, and here lies the vision of Lonergan. But he is called to do so precisely as a priest, and here is the wisdom of peterson's emphasis: he is called to preach and to pray. But Lonergan would have no difficulty agreeing with that, for he concludes his suggestions with the reminder that the preist is to do all this "in Christ Jesus."

Not every priest is called to be a scholar, visionary or activist; but every priest will recognize this as part of the mission of the Church. Again, not every priest is a parish priest, but every priest will keep in mind that he is also called to preach and to pray, to proclaim Christ's word and to witness his Mercy, whether he is involved in inter-religious dialogue, or in the academic, social, literary, or political fields. For if there are many different gifts and tasks in the Body of Christ, there are many different ways of being a Catholic priest today.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Understanding and explanation

Gadamer places a premium on understanding, Habermas on explanation, while Ricoeur wants both. Ricoeur: "understanding without explanation is blind... explanation without understanding is empty." (Ricoeur, "The Conflict of Interpretations: Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur," Phenomenology: Dialogues and Bridges, ed. Ronald Bruzina and Bruce Wilshire [Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1982] 307. D'Souza, DJPE 19 [2008] 177.)

Under explanation Ricoeur / Keith D'Souza include devices such as structuralism and historico-critical methods - what I have been calling 'lower blade' methods such as those taught by Henrici. (D'Souza 177)

There is a hermeneutical arc between explanation and understanding: "to explain is to bring out the structure, that is, the internal relations of dependence that constitute the statics of the text; to interpret is to follow the path of thought opened up by the text, to place oneself en route toward the orient of the text." (Ricoeur, "Discussion: Ricoeur on Narrative" 122. D'Souza 177.)

Self and tradition

"[T]he interpretation of a text culminates in the self-interpretation of the subject who henceforth understands himself better, understands himself differently, or simply begins to understand himself." (P. Ricoeur, "Discussion: Ricoeur on Narrative," On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, ed. David Wood [London: Routledge, 1991] 118.)

Self-understanding is a function of text-interpretation: "in hermeneutical reflection - or in reflective hermeneutics - the constitution of the self is contemporaneous with the constitution of meaning." (Ibid. 119)

Interpretation thus makes "one's own what was initially alien." (Ibid. 119)

(From Keith D'Souza, “Habermas and Hermeneutics: The Need for Critical-Hermeneutical Dialectics.” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 19/1-2 [2008] 176-7.)

Compare Fred Lawrence's formulation: the coming to light of the tradition is at once the coming to light of the self.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution

“My encounter with The Modern Philosophical Revolution has been one of the most formative experiences in my life as a philosopher. I have no hesitation in placing it along with Bernard Lonergan’s Insight and Eric Voegelin’s Order and History as one of the greatest works in contemporary English-language philosophy, and I predict its French and German translation will follow even more rapidly than did those of Lonergan’s and Voegelin’s opera magna.”
Brendan Purcell, Review of David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), The Review of Metaphysics 62/3, issue no. 247 (March 2009) 700.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Growth in the spiritual life

A passage from Lonergan that I have never really reflected on:
"Christian development is over a long series of barriers, barriers to purification, barriers to enlightenment, barriers to loving God above all and our neighbour as ourselves. The first barrier to purification is habitual mortal sin.... The second barrier to purification is the occasional mortal sin; we have to study the occasions that give rise to temptations, to ferret out the feelings that give the temptation its attraction for us, to plan how we can evade the occasions and encourage countervailing feelings. There remain the barriers that are habitual venial sins; but now the struggle is on a new front; the campaign is essentially the same as before, for there are bad habits to be broken; but it is not so urgent; as the evil, so the risk is less. But the very slackening of urgency can give place to tepidity, and when that danger appears, we have to proceed against the barriers to enlightenment." (Lonergan, "Pope John's Intention," A Third Collection [1985] 236.)
Lonergan goes on to speak of Newman's notional and real apprehension, notional and real assent. The attainment of enlightenment, he says, is the attainment of real apprehension, real assent, and the motivation to live out what we have learnt. "It is brought about through regular and sustained meditation on what it really means to be a Christian, a real meaning to be grasped not through definitions and systems but through the living words and deeds of our Lord, our Lady, and the saints...." (236)

Knowing and loving, metaphysics and ethics

I was thinking that Levinas' emphasis might be understood in terms of the two ways. on the way up, knowing precedes loving; but on the way down, loving precedes knowing; and since loving has, in the ultimate sense, the precedence, perhaps we could say that love comes before knowing. and it does: God's love is prior to our knowing; the love of parents, in a sense, precedes their knowing their child; and so on. ...

I think the question of ethics and metaphysics parallels the question of which is prior, metaphysics or phil. of knowing. Lonergan says somewhere: as far as we are concerned (the priora quoad nos), knowing comes before being; but in itself (priora quoad se), being precedes knowing...

in his later writings L would constantly speak of the primacy of the existential, and would quote a number of philosophers: Newman, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Blondel... I suppose he was not familiar with Levinas...