Cambridge, MA. I write with two just-reported deaths of religious leaders in mind.
All of us, I am sure, were saddened to hear of the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, that admirable pastor and scholar. Many of us were also edified and encouraged by his sober and honest last interview, with Georg Sporschill, SJ., now available in English at Commonweal, as reported by Paul Moses. The Cardinal offers three challenging and wise words of advice on what we can do to bring the Church back to life: recognizing the need for conversion inside the Church, hearkening to the Word of God as a guide to a new inwardness, and a return to the sacraments as the means of deeper healing. These are gifts that all of us are invited to take to heart, while the official Church is called to purify itself and learn to get out of the way, so to speak, to allow these gifts to pour forth their grace, less hindered by our 200 years-plus of weariness, smothered flames, and institutional bondage. (But I am summarizing in haste; read the interview for yourself, via the Commonweal link.)
But, given my attention to the world of interreligious possibilities, I add a fourth challenge: learning from outside the Church, from people of other Christian communities and farther afield. Surely Cardinal Martini did not mean to suggest that the Church ought to heal itself entirely with its own inner resources, as if self-sufficiency were an unyielding value here. He was, after all, a scripture scholar who studied Judaism with great respect. But still, it must be emphasized that we do well to look abroad, if we are to renew ourselves.
There is no shame for the Roman Church to admit that it has much to learn from Anglicans, the variety of Protestant communities, the great Orthodox traditions and our own churches of the East. It would be a blessing if the Church would do more to lead the way also in substantive learning from Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, and peoples of other traditions too. It is not as if this recognition of our greater need, and witness in humble learning, would mean that the Church would lose its distinctiveness. There is no virtue in broadcasting the truth without ever being able to listen to it too. Indeed, our confessing our need for blessings from outside can be a source of inspiration for people in those other traditions too. It is possible, after all, to remain true to our vision of God’s gifts to us, without being blind to God’s gifts to others, and to us through them.
But there was another notable death to ponder, and so I am mindful too of the death on Sunday of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, or more fully “The Holy Spirit(ual) Association for the Unification of World Christianity.” Less reverently, the Moonies. Though suspect in many circles for his business and political ties, he was revered among his followers as a Messiah, visionary, the true prophet of God (and Jesus Christ) for this age of the world, a divine presence in today’s world. And yet most of us - me included - know very little about him.
I mention him here, just paragraphs after reflection on Cardinal Martini and the ailments of our Church, since it seems to be our duty today to learn even from figures like the Reverend Moon. What is their message, and its inspiration? Why do so many people follow them, even for a time? For it may be that their witness is a sign for us as well – not to abandon the Catholic faith but, as we learn humbly from our neighbors, to ponder the charisms unexpectedly and for a time given to such figures.
But yes, to dare to learn from the Reverend Moon or even a somewhat inscrutable church such as Scientology (as I mentioned a few blogs ago), requires attention, study, and the clear-headed ability to sort out the wise and the foolish, the insightful and the erring. No easy condemnation or bland benevolence will do any good. As the Cardinal suggests, we need our wits about us if we are to stir to new life the embers of the Church’s great fires. Only in this way, really, will the Church catch up with today’s world, without losing itself by going too fast or by dragging its feet or by not moving at all.
But I intend to practice what I preach, though not by a study of the Reverend Moon. Rather, in the next month or so I am thinking of offering here a series of reflections on the Book of Mormon: granting that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, what does that mean? What will we learn, if we pick up the Book of Mormon and actually read it? Stay tuned.
Monday Addendum: To all those making comments on this blog, on whether it is possible or good or wicked or a waste of time to try to learn from Reverend Moon: Why speculate? Give it a try, for example by reading his Christology. Then post another comment, to let us know what you think.