Flying in the Face of Tradition: Can Roman Catholicism change?

This book is a must-read for any of my friends who are Roman Catholics, or troubled by the present state of the largest Christian denomination. Flying in the Face of Tradition is really defence of tradition, understood as one of the two pillars, Bible and Tradition, to which my church has always appealed. (Anglicans add Reason, and Methodists Experience). The author, Louis DeThomasis FSC, also refers to Phyllis Tickle’s recent book showing major changes and upheavals in the church every 500 years (which apparently is also discernible in Judaism). There is no doubt that this is an age in upheaval, and an age of great change.

I experienced two major changes in R. Catholicism in my lifetime. I was brought up in the old-fashioned Tridentine and Vatican I church, simultaneously triumphalist and with a ghetto mentality. In England, we were a small minority, remembering persecution not-too-distantly (read Dickens” Barnaby Rudge”, and also remember that Elizabeth I killed Catholics quite as unrelentingly as her sister “Bloody” Mary had killed Protestants.) We were so sure we had the whole truth and everyone else was mistaken, ignorant, or in thrall to falsehood. I was not allowed to go to school assembles, sing the 23rd Psalm in a “Protestant” version in music lessons or enter a Protestant church. My best friend wouldn’t set foot in the RC church building because she had been told “they will get you”. Our priest took part, eventually, in a joint Good Friday service, though most people didn’t realise it was in hopes of bringing other Christians into the true church. However, this church gave me an awareness of the Mystery, the Awesome. beyond understanding, but present in every thing and event. The world is a sacrament and God is real. I hope never to lose this awareness: to throw this out with outdated dogmas would be like putting out my eyes because I don’t see clearly any more.

Dedication to this, in my convent years, ran up against both Vatican II and first hand experience of those in power who demanded allegiance to mediaevalism, hierarchy, patriarchy and  submission to clerical certainties from our inferior state of lay ignorance. Studying the Constitution on the Church and studying the Bible both cracked my little box wide open. There are no second class Christians! We are all baptised followers of Jesus. We are all the church together. The way of Jesus is not a list of beliefs and catechism answers! When I taught this vision in a church school, I discovered that the three best student scores on my test were the three lowest scores on my co-teacher’s part of the test! AND the other way round. We loved learning and thinking and were not afraid. This seemed like a major disruption of tradition and was resisted, though in my experience, mostly it was welcomed.  It truly was an exhilarating time.Then the odd ruling on birth control led to the majority of Catholics here discovering their own informed conscience. That genie (cf. djinn/angel) cannot be put back in the bottle

Now and for the last 20 years, Rome has been trying to do just that. In the name of tradition, Rome wants to delete Vatican II from tradition, and calls this a “hermeneutic of continuity” – the current institutional stance. This is obvious even to people whose experience of church is only their local worshipping community. Rome says… Bishops (appointed by Rome) say… no more altar girls, or no more communion in both kinds, or use these words not those, or if you are gay, forget being visible, or if you are divorced or use birth control, keep very quiet. Sign declarations of faith (= an imposed creed), don’t oppose the Bishops’ politics.

But we learned the Bible. We are committed to the great themes of the Bible- compassion, justice and love for the outsider and the powerless, a covenant relationship with God that God does not break. We became more active participants in the Mass, which is still the central focus of “church” for most Catholics – and therefore we are not happy when Rome’s rules restrict the priesthood in such a way as to make that increasingly problematic. We women began to read the Word and plan liturgies as well as teach- and are less than happy with a retreat to submissive second-class status. Some of us even discovered that the Spirit did not consign half the Christians in the world into outer darkness at the time of the Reformation, but seems to be as active among “them” as among “us” and that women as ministers/priests and even as Bishops did not destroy the church. The R.C. Sisters who survived the upheaval became deeply involved in social justice issues, as our founders had been. This is my church.

And this is the church of tradition, rightly understood, according to the author of this book. The whole people of God moves through history, in continuity and also embedded in different times and places. Tradition means listening to the lived experience of the faithful. This De LaSalle brother, who has spent his life in the church and as an educator and in major roles of responsibility and now lives in Rome, is not the sort of person I would expect to rock the boat, but he is concerned about this second major shift, the attempt to undo Vatican II by the institutional church, which he differentiates from the local church and the People of God. His chapter on women priests is the best short chapter on the topic I have read. And don’t forget priests (us, too?) have been forbidden even to talk about this topic. One wonders what will happen. The institutional church is still trying to put the lid on and punish thoughtful Catholics.

If I thought you, dear readers, would all rush out and buy this book (though I did), I would not end with this: but you mostly won’t so I will. My words, not quoted, but the gist is this. It’s one of those stories going around right now. It’s just funny.

The Trinity was chatting on a balmy day in Paradise about Earth and its beauties. The Father said “I would like to go to Sinai. It was a majestic place, and will always remind me of giving the Torah to Moses.” Jesus says “I would like to go to Nazareth. My years there with Mary and Joseph were a joy and the hills are always beautiful.” The Spirit says,” I would like to go to Rome. I have heard so much about it, but I’ve never been there.”

This entry was posted in history, non-fiction, social justice, theology, world religions and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Flying in the Face of Tradition: Can Roman Catholicism change?

  1. ahuntca says:

    great blog. You’re right I’m not going to rush out and buy the book. So I’m greatful you included the story. Not laughing at Rome/Catholics but recognizing that it could have been “to a general conference” as well … blessings!


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