Changing Paradigms

(part 2)

 Brenda Peddigrew, RSM (for New Catholic Times Sensus Fidelium 2007)


          In May of 2006, I wrote an article called "Changing Paradigms of Religious Life" in what was still Catholic New Times. At the end of the article I included my email address and invited comments. So many people responded positively, wanting more, that I was unsure of how to go about it and took some time to consider. Then Catholic New Times ended as a paper.

          This new endeavor, "New Catholic Times: Sensus Fidelium," is first of all a sign of changing paradigms in that it is appearing online only. Even a very few years ago, it would be unthinkable to move in this direction. What has changed in a short time? What has been stirring us toward a "sense of fidelity?" What is moving us toward a collective Catholic voice now?

          I once had a conversation that I've never forgotten. It was sparked by the choice of a friend of mine to announce her decision to leave the Catholic Church because of the horror of several clergy child-abusers in her local diocese. A few months later I was speaking to a priest of that diocese, not one of those charged, who said to me "isn't it too bad that _____has lost her faith over this?" For a few seconds, I couldn't speak with the shock of what he'd just said, giving time for the realization to dawn that he was equating faith with belonging to the Catholic Church. I had no trouble returning his observation with the certainty that she hadn't lost her "faith" at all; she had only chosen to leave the Church. He couldn't see that difference, and this small exchange led me to a wider and deeper understanding of faith.

          So much about Church faith is taken for granted. Rules followed, liturgy attended, membership guaranteed by the sacraments. Some belong, some don't. What and who defines belonging? And who decides who belongs? It's the taken-for granted nature of an unquestioned Church with an unquestioning membership that deprives it of the power for good that it also has, but only when choices are made around meaning and God, not around rules and mandates. Are we still being faithful to a Church which continues to silence and sanction faithful members whose words rattle cages, e.g., the Vatican's latest sanction against Jon Sobrino, liberation theologian in El Salvador, spoken about in a recent Sojourners magazine, for teaching that Jesus is the Liberator of the oppressed and impoverished? Sobrino has seen many of his colleagues tortured and killed, yet he continues to speak.

          Recently I was in a group when someone asked the question "why do we continue to attend week after week, when the liturgies are rote and meaningless?" Another man responded, "it's because we can't stand the empty space, the giving up of the routine. We can't sit with the emptiness long enough to allow something new to emerge. We're caught in our conditioning." I would add "and transformation only happens when something else dissolves, leaving a formless space from which the new makes itself visible.

          The empty space left by dissolving the old form of Catholic New Times has allowed this new possibility of Sensus Fidelium to come forth. A sense of fidelity at this time in history seems to me to have more to do with questions rather than answers; more to do with exploring our place in the world from a faith perspective rather than announcing the right way to be and to belong. The kingdom of God has always been more about within than without, yet the cultivation of the "within" has been left to individuals and the "without" to institutional structures, now dissolving or simply dying away. Now is the time for a mystical activism, a contemplative justice, a community of people who pray as long and as hard as they work or study or protest. Else the world spins on in its out-of control way.  Now is the time for what Audre Lorde, speaker on behalf of justice for women, calls "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action."

          Where are we now, with the matter of faith, and what does it mean to live with a sense of committed faith? Who are the faithful and how/where do they live and worship? Is the faith of the faithful to God or to an institution?  How can we live from within and form an egalitarian community of committed faith? How can we transform our silence into language and action?