Thursday, October 28, 2010

What I Believe

Swiss theologian Hans Küng's latest book is titled What I Believe.

He wrote it, he says, in answer to one of the most persistent questions posed to him: "Be quite honest: just what do you personally believe?"

Küng's response is couched in terms theological and philosophical, but not for that reason divorced from everyday life. He writes about the meaning of life, about a basis for ethics accepted by all human beings, about his personal trials and disappointments with Church leadership.

Küng's explanation of his personal beliefs made me ask myself, "And you, what do you personally believe?"

I have never organized my personal credo in such a way that I could write a summa of my faith and life. I suspect I would discover areas into which I have never ventured, and perhaps some that are contradictory one with another.

God, Church, spirituality, ministry, relationships, sin, grace, Scripture, Eucharist, knowledge --these would be at the top of my list of concerns, but I am regrettably unable to spell out conclusively even for myself what I personally believe about each one and whether those various beliefs are compatible with one another.

"Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

At this moment of my life Church looms large as an area of concern. I have been reviewing the documents of the Second Vatican Council and reading histories and analyses of that historic event. I am old enough to recall those so-called "heady days" when we were surprised by what we heard from Rome and excited about the possibilities.

Fifty years later my excitement has abated and surprise has turned to a heaviness of spirit. The hopes, dreams, and promises of the past have clashed with the polarization, ennui, and regression of today.

In 1932 young German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer shocked the congregation which had assembled for Reformation Sunday in Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin when he said that the Protestant Church was in its eleventh hour, and that it was grotesquely inappropriate for them to be in a celebratory mood when they were in fact attending a funeral.

Bonhoeffer advised the assembly to wake up and stop playing church. He saw blindness among his co-religionists; he also saw the coming hegemony of the Nazi party. Bonhoeffer's analysis is eerily appropriate today.

Since I am still assessing what I believe, and I leave open for myself the possibility I will change my mind should I discover something new, I at this moment conclude that the Catholic Church is currently idling, in neutral, low on gas and hesitant about which road to take.

The Church, opened by the council to dialogue and involvement with the world, now sits in a paralysis of navel-gazing, overwhelmed by internal scandal, inept in evangelizing, irrelevant to some of its members, and officiously engaged in re-arranging the oft-mentioned deck chairs.

"No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" (cf. Luke 9:62).

I believe we have lost momentum, enterprise, and direction. History reports that this has happened before. And that history of confusion, doldrums, and dullness gives me hope. For it is in just such circumstances ("darkest before dawn") that something or someone comes on the scene to breathe new life and effect the answer to our prayer for a new Pentecost in our time.

I believe that both history and the Lord's promise to send the Holy Spirit are reasons to be confident about the future.

"Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (cf. Matthew 28:20).

I may not live long enough to see it, but I believe we are standing on the threshold of a new age in the Church. As Francis of Assisi revitalized the Church in the Middle Ages and Pope John XXIII refreshed the Church in the 20th century, someone or something will re-invigorate the Church of the 21st.

I believe the mission and ministry of the Church will be fulfilled. I believe in the dreams inspired by Vatican II. I believe what Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil, once professed, "If one person dreams alone it remains a dream. But if we all dream together, it becomes reality."

Perhaps you do not share my beliefs or my dreams, but I think I am in good company when I am with Küng and Bonhoeffer and Camara --and Christ.

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