Saturday, 9 April 2011

Assisi III: a plan in peaces (updated)

In January I and many readers, not to mention a lot of people, were disappointed to learn that Pope Benedict plans this year to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Paul II's peace pow-wow held in Assisi in 1986. Here is what I wrote in reaction to the news:

The problem is that such a ceremony, under such patronage, seems to occlude, to hide, to veil from view the salvific peace which Christ came to bring the world. What does Christ mean by peace in the gospels? Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. The Church is not a wing of the police, and still less a wing of the diplomatic service. If we are against violence, our opposition is only relative; after all, only the violent bear away the kingdom of heaven. Is there not something in Assisi which lowers the temperature of the Church's zeal for her mission to spread not civilisational order but salvific peace? Is there not something in Assisi which seems to beg us to be contented with a peace which is purely civilisational? And is there not the danger that this civilisational peace is then confounded with a salvific peace, in a tangle of ideas which the SSPX and other traditionalists feel they must denounce as syncretism? Those are the questions. My fear is that this confusion over peace is deeply problematic. I would like an answer. I'm more likely to get one from Pope Benedict than from anyone else. Let us be patient.

So, now the Vatican has released its description of the event, where does that leave us?

Here is how the Vatican describes the theme of the event:

The Day will take as its theme: Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. Every human being is ultimately a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness. Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism. To the extent that the pilgrimage of truth is authentically lived, it opens the path to dialogue with the other, it excludes no one and it commits everyone to be a builder of fraternity and peace. These are the elements that the Holy Father wishes to place at the centre of reflection.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. There are so many generalisations here, not to say dangerous insinuations. Whoever wrote this text has a serious problem with differentiation for a start.

That every human being is a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness is a reasonably accurate description of the human intellect and will, our principal and distinguishing faculties. But then what do we have? Believers too are constantly journeying towards God. The problems here are severe. There is a substantial difference in the journey of a man who already possesses the fulness of the faith and a man who does not. Of course they are both viatores but in quite distinct senses.

Let us find a comparison. Can you imagine what a woman would think of her husband if he sat in a room full of single people and, gazing around at them, said: 'We are all seeking love!' 'Well, you've got it chum!' she would say. And if you muddle the search for love by pretending that the internal journey of a married couple and of a single person are the same, you're in dead trouble. Actually, it is those very differences between believers (the possession of full or partial truth) that demand we should be in dialogue with others and not the fact we are on the same journey. But unless the distinctions are observed - AND HERE THEY ARE NOT! - warning about syncretism is merely shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

I applaud the fact that the meeting will be significantly different from the 1986 jamboree. But, really, what does peace mean when it is beset by so many confusing and misleading symbolic acts? The best we can hope for is that many people will put the best gloss on it and assume that Pope Benedict is not saying all religions are equal - an interpretation laid on Pope John Paul's Assisi meetings by some.

The worst, however, seems to be expressed in the Vatican's very own bulletin on the event. So all believers are continually journeying towards God, are they? And how different is that really from saying our religions all do pretty much the same thing?


This topic has been at the back of my mind all day (which we spent with dear friends). So I have to come back to it with just another thought or two.

It is possible that the change in the programme of this event might make the meeting in itself less susceptible of misinterpretation. I think the case could be argued either way.

But what is more disturbing is the language of the Vatican announcement which is as loose and as embarrassing as an old man's pyjama bottoms. Peace, peace, peace? St Augustine said peace is the tranquillity of order. If you want peace before order, however, you can find it in a gentlemen's club.

I think what I'm trying to get at is that a Catholic discourse which seeks to airbrush out the obstacles is as potentially damaging as a Catholic discourse which insists on beating one's interlocutor over the head with the obstacles. If we believe in the faith of the Church, we cannot describe our quest for truth - our attempts to understand better the faith, become finer realists, know ourselves but firstly know God - as if that were substantially the same as the quest of someone who is not even sure there is a God. Yes, we are all viatores, but the language of the Vatican about Assisi III makes it sound as if nobody has the map.

If Vatican officials they think they haven't got the map, I think they ought to tell us and resign! And if they have, well, why the bloody hell are they talking as if they don't?

I'm fulminating now, so I shall go to bed!

Happy Passiontide!


More thoughts on Assisi here.


Anonymous said...

The Holy Father could have a debilitating migraine that day. I do not know how else he gets out of this.

Ches said...

He doesn't need a migraine. Let him speak clearly and unequivocally about the faith of the Church in the unique saving action of Christ, as realised fully through the Catholic Church. Let him put forward what peace means in that context. That will be scandal enough!

Seth said...

*Perhaps* one could interpret "believers" as referring to Catholics alone, who realise that the truth and goodness everyone else is seeking is to be found in God revealed in the Catholic Church (the fulness of faith). All other other religions are perhaps then categorised as "unbelievers".


Anonymous said...

In the end there will be only one flock and one shepherd.

Anonymous said...

To hold fast to tradition is a very lonely and hard path. One does not have the luxury of expecting the Holy Father to strengthen the brethren, and unfortunately, consequently the brethren are very weak.

We are now in the time of finding solace in the Psalter of Our Lady and the wearing of her livary. Kyrie Eleison!

Anonymous said...

I've noticed a new trend..."believers" and "nonbelievers".

Is that what we are going to be reduced to? A lower common denominator couldn't be found.

Ogard said...

CHES, I have made a substantial comment on Assisi Obex following K Gurries' contribution, but on two occasions when I posted it, it first appeared on the place where it should have appeared, and then – disappeared, and don’t know why.

I think it contains answer to what unnecessarily bothers you, because – so it appears to me - you simply might have missed the point of these meetings. Do you want me to post it here ? It will be a little bit out of contaxt, but not too much.

(Happy Easter to everybody. I am yust back from the Ukrainian Cathedral – they happened to have their Easter today – and it was a Pontifical spectacle beyond belief.)

Ches said...

I'll happily consider what it is you think I am missing. And a happy Easter to you!

Ogard said...

Here it is as posted before without success.

K GURRIES, I think you are right although I wouldn’t use the “destructive elements” language. Have never ventured to go into details of other religions, except the Eastern Orthodox and Islam, and as far as I understand these, there are no destructive elements.

But whatever the case, the fact is that the Church is for ever bound to spread the Gospel to all nations, while the times when that was possible with the help of civil authorities by privileges (Roman Empire), force (Latin America), or carrots (Asia, Africa), are now over.

On the other hand, a BETTER APPRECIATION OF CONSCIENCE, in which: man “is alone with God” and “according to” it “he will be judged” (GS 16), and is never allowed to violate it (“if one acts against conscience one is certainly in the wrong”), because it is an individual’s “last and the best”, even if he is in error, “judgement concerning what one should choose” (Grisez, vol. I, p. VI, and 78, interpreting S. Th. 1-2, q. 19, aa. 5–6), RAISES TWO PROBLEMS FOR US.

First, granted that those who belong to other religions are as certain that they are on the right path as we are certain or ours, we have to be aware that their conscience forbids them, as our conscience forbids us, to expose themselves to influence of whatever kind that might endanger their faith; in other words: to compromise their conscience. Second, granted that it is immoral to incite others to act contrary to their conscience, it seems clear that we must refrain from actively trying to convert anyone, as different from a situation in which his conscience is perplexed and he is himself asking for help because he doesn’t feel at ease with the religion in which he happened to be caught.

So, how to evangelize the world? I think we should change the aim of conversion, from persuading somebody to “join the club” to bringing him as close as he is prepared to go, or as far as God provides him with grace, to the fullness of faith of the Catholic Church, even if he is unlikely ever to reach the stage of “joining the club”.

How to bring him closer? Certainly not by our secret will to bring him into the club – it would be off-putting, offensive, and even an obstacle to conversion at any time in the future - but by acknowledging, with gratitude to God, any truth and good he is in possession already, by willingness to discover more of it in a sincere dialogue, because that cannot be but the truth and the good of our Faith; and supporting it by any possible means at our disposal, because that far he has already been converted or, in a sense, he has never been a non-Catholic.

That constitutes the healthy base on which he can build if interested, and it goes without saying that requires our own conversion, because who among us can claim to be materially better Catholic than he is, as different from being formally in the club.

I think this is the aim of the meetings like so much maligned one in Assisi. So, I don’t see anything “deeply scandalous use of the churches of Assisi during the 1986. Consecrated sanctuaries being used for Buddhist rites, for example” as CHES sees it, if the Blessed Sacrament had been removed (more scandalous is when the church is used for purpose other than religious in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament).

There are no false religions: all of them are defective forms of life due to our neglect of duty to spread the Gospel, but the aim of all of them is to honour the Creator, or to seek Him.

(note: after I have made this comment ready for posting I noted the Assisi III post, and will comment it sepatately on its own place)