Monday, January 28, 2008

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism 1a

Last Wednesday was the first of three Faith, Order & Witness meetings we'll read and talk about A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism, by Walter Cardinal Kasper; here's my first blog about the book. Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism coverAlthough we won't meet to discuss chapter 2 until late February, I decided to add to my earlier thoughts, both to comment post-our group discussion and tamely and politely (I trust) write a little about how some of Cardinal Kasper's assumptions about protestants and Mariology surprised me. For lack of time but primarily because in print and on the computer screen the reader has neither the face nor the inflection of the writer, last week I hesitated to write anything, so I didn't. For example, on page 14 he uses the phrase, "Mary, the Virgin Mother of God," which no protestant I've ever known could agree with, but like many others I'm cool with Theotokos—God-bearer; pages later, starting with a heading, Mary, the Mother of God and onto page 34 he suggests, "Together, Christians can
  • acknowledge the place of Mary in sacred Scripture and ponder with her the great things that God has done in salvation history [yes, of course, to both of those ideas, at least from where I sit]
  • study the witness of early Christianity regarding Mary…[I'll agree to this, as well]...
  • promote mutual knowledge and appreciation of various traditions in devotion and spirituality related to the Mother of God in both the East and West…" [my Roman Catholic and Antiochian Orthodox committee colleagues distinguished "veneration" and "adoration", so I can go there as long as Mary is God's-bearer and not God's-mother…]"

But in a far more radiant light, everyone in our group appreciated the ecumenicity of Cardinal Kasper's section headed Martyrs and Witnesses unto Death starting on page 35, and I love his quoting John Paul II's Tertio Millennio Adveniente, "Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things that divide us." [page 36] He follows the JP II citation with examples including, "Together, Christians can
  • offer ecumenical prayers for Christians of all traditions who still are victims of persecution and violence...
  • publish locally or regionally updated registers and biographical notes regarding recent witnesses to the faith unto death; this can be done ecumenically, reminding everyone that the shedding of blood is a common inheritance of all Christian traditions."

Then, on page 38, without specifying names other than "the four Evangelists and the Apostles" Kasper seems to consider holy persons and redemptive actors from all Christian traditions Saints, apparently not limiting sainthood to those in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox canon. It's not clear to me if this is like "saints" in a Pauline salutation or something other-than.

In my first blog on the book I said, "I'm curious about the implications and resonations of the word spiritual with a lower-case "s". Even non-church people often talk generically about spiritual aspects of existence (and hey, everyone's heard "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" far too many times)." One of our members sort of equated "spiritual" with "prayer," so I'll leave that alone for now.

We also had a short-go-around about ecclesial communities and valid sacraments/eucharist, as well as my own near-craziness about Catholics under Rome's aegis not qualifying their name with Roman; to that Fr. Vince, a retired *Roman* Catholic priest, told us he had been ordained a priest (in other words, lots of church experience) when someone in England or elsewhere in the UK asked him if he was "Roman Catholic," and he'd replied, "No! I'm Irish Catholic!" He told us that was the very first time he'd ever heard Roman Catholic!

During August 2004 in Culture Bound (Culture, identity, home, belonging, etc.) I wrote:
As those cultural anthropologists insist, each of us inhabits a range of cultures; more than a single culture encumbers each of us. We see, hear and feel; we remember, dream and hope through the senses our cultures have given to us and we've inadvertently received; and to some extent, our cultural identities constrain and limit us.
From July 2007, here's my blog about my experiences at the Orientale Lumen conference. Although I'm considering seriously attempting to ferret out the claim of the Antiochian Orthodox Church as the only, most true church, though they credit Roman Catholic and other Orthodox church bodies with valid sacraments because of apostolic succession, last July I found the Orthodox Eucharistic liturgy very eastern, highly un-western in style and expression. Clearly I have a habit of bringing Pastor Martin Luther into a lot of my blogs and live-talk, and Luther famously lists as one of his marks of the true church prayer and hymn-singing in the vernacular—in spoken, visual, symbolic, and cultural speech people in the pews can comprehend! But of course there's valid argument for liturgies that are more formal and elaborate in terms of music, visuals, and gestures sometimes helping people more easily imagine the Reign of Heaven here on earth, assisting their belief and trust in something "other than" the mundaneness of routine everyday existence.

Regarding various varieties of theology and expression, again I'm considering my own experience as someone who didn't grow up in the Church or on its peripheries; I first met Jesus, the Church, and the Spirit within a context powerfully related and completely relevant to my own cultural background, passions, and hopes: a small, very urban, passionately worshipful, liturgically variable, socially and politically activist community that demanded, expected, and guided my full participation and commitment in all those areas. How many times have I told myself (probably) none of the congregations I've formally served on staff nor any I've attempted to get involved with since then wouldn't have attracted me at all, because I'd have been unable to discern the reality amidst the unfiltered and uninterpreted apparent clutter. And although these days I'm a good-enough cultural anthropologist, I know sufficient theology and understand the Western (and the Eastern) Churches' historical liturgy so I'm able to get a clue to the texts, actions, and meanings I experienced during the Orthodox Liturgy, I cannot imagine any person who's a product (literally) of Western culture and sensibilities comprehending Orthodox Liturgy as much more than an Adventure in Anthropology or in Comparative Christianity.

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