Healthy religion gives us a foundational sense of awe. It re-enchants an otherwise empty universe. It gives people a universal reverence toward all things

By Richard Rohr, Jan 6, 2021

A Foundational Sense of Awe

Abandon hidden things, / Take up what is revealed!
—Ephrem the Syrian, Hymn 81

Healthy religion gives us a foundational sense of awe. It re-enchants an otherwise empty universe. It gives people a universal reverence toward all things. Only with such reverence do we find confidence and coherence. Only then does the world become a safe home. Then we can see the reflection of the divine image in the human, in the animal, in the entire natural world—which has now become inherently “supernatural.” CAC teacher Barbara Holmes describes this awakening so well and poetically:

When we are fully alert in spirit, mind, and body, we are more than we imagine and can accomplish more than we suppose. Moments of awareness occur as a dawning of meaning, when the familiar suddenly becomes infused with new insights or unfamiliar ideas merge with the wellspring of experiences and beliefs that pervade human consciousness. Such occasions feel like personal discoveries. While in the midst of an epiphany, folks inevitably apply the term “discovery” to lands, people, and ideas that have always been present. We use the language of strange and alien sightings when the more accurate statement would be, “Eureka! I have just awakened to a long-standing reality that an inner unveiling has finally allowed me to see.” . . .

An awakening is necessary to reconnect us to our origins and one another. [1]

Instead of nurturing awe, reconnection, and awakening, I’m sorry to say that today we have a lot of ideological hysteria and junk religion—on both the left and the right. Junk religion is similar to junk food because it only satisfies enough to gratify the momentary desire but does not really feed the intellect or the heart. Junk religion is usually characterized by fear of the present and fear of the future. What we experience when people have really met God is that there is no fear of the present because it is always full. There’s no fear of the future because a loving God is in charge. There’s no fear of the past because it has been healed and forgiven. Then people do not use God to avoid reality or to fabricate a private, self-serving reality. They let God lead them into the fullness of Reality; not away from dilemmas and paradoxes, but right onto the horns of the human dilemma!

Whatever reconstruction we’re going to do cannot be based on fear or on reaction. It has to be based on a positive and fully human experience of God as a loving Presence. True religion is ready to let God be God, and to let God lead us into a new future that we do not yet understand—and no longer even need to understand.

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 65, 74.


The tragedy of all-pervading Church politics

In the Catholic Church in the United States, one of the most important Churches in the world, the structures of ecclesial conversation have all but broken down

By Massimo Faggioli United States

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One of the tragedies of contemporary Catholicism is that the Church has become overly politicized.

We’re not talking about being political in the elevated sense of the word — that is, committed to the ecclesial community as well as to the polis. Rather, the Church has become politicized in the sense that political divisions among its own members tend to dominate everything.

They dominate not only the crafting of careful public statements by those who work in and for the Church, but also the very process of forming ideas, worldviews and opinions.

The Church has become politicized in a way that reflects the slogan of Charles Maurras, one of the heroes of the neo-integralist Catholics:”la politique d’abord!“.

It’s not politics in the sense of day-to-day politics. It’s politics in the sense that the political order comes first as key to all other questions: ecclesial, theological and spiritual.

It also comes at the expense of all other questions. It’s not about how to avoid tripping a wire. Indeed, political survival is now the very wiring of Catholic leadership and is much more decisive than possessing intellectual, spiritual or even managerial skills.

Examples of how politics has taken over completely within the Church

One recent example of the ruthlessness of this primacy of the political are the December 31departures of a senior journalist and the editor-in-chief of the US-based Catholic News Agency.

The news came just one day after the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) announced a number of changes to its television and radio programming including the ouster of Gloria Purvis, an outspoken champion of racial justice and host of the “Morning Glory” radio show.

On one level this is an egregious example of the fact that, in American Catholicism today, Black Catholics continue to pay the price for anti-racism work.

But on another level, it demonstrates how politics has taken over completely, when a conservative Catholic media conglomerate like EWTN thinks it can get away with so blatantly signaling its position on the issue of racism in a country where Trump and his Catholic supporters will likely refuse to leave the stage even after Joe Biden is inaugurated president on January 20.

Another example of the primacy of politics in current American Catholicism is the way the US bishops have dealt with Donald Trump’s threats to democracy during his presidency, his failed re-election campaign and in the aftermath of Biden’s clear victory.

The silence of the shepherds

As a national body, the bishops have said nothing about how Trump — a president many of them saw as an ally in the “culture wars” — has posed a threat to the Republic.

Their silence is due, in part, to a kind of constitutional agnosticism. It is also partly out of fear that they might send a political message too uncomfortable to stomach for Catholics who voted for Trump. And it’s due, in good measure, to the political sympathy many of the bishops have for the outgoing president.

In Trump’s assault on the rule of law, with flagrant attempts to overthrow an election and institute authoritarian rule, the US Catholic leaders’ efforts to remain neutral show a detachment that absolves the extremists.

They also display the culture limitations and lack of leadership in the generation of clerics currently in power in the Church.

But such ecclesial politicization is evident not only in the Church in the United States. It’s a problem wherever the Church has become complacent to the threat of ethno-nationalism. It is a problem both of political and theological culture.

The fatal alliance of faith and political power

On the one hand, it is clear that the damage done by Christian nationalism cannot be repaired from within a religious framework alone, as Victoria J. Barnett wrote recently.

Catholics in America must recognize the fatal alliance of faith and political power. Civic reconciliation must begin with the clear repudiation of religiously driven nationalism and hatred, with a discernment in the public square that is politically visible.

On the other hand, there also has to be a de-politicization of the internal debate in the Catholic Church.

In Catholicism today, the chaos at the level of political conscience is the result of inverting the roles of the Church’s ecclesial-sacramental life and its media-virtual existence, with the latter now imposing its language and morality upon the former.

“This new media ecology threatens the unity of the Church, as it replaces Catholic ecclesial notions of communion with an imported secular model of cultural identity that reduces ritual and doctrine to tools to mark difference,” wrote Catholic theologian Vincent Miller in an essay published in 2015.

“At its extreme, unity is reduced to the mere internal result of the external marking of difference,” he said.

The serious threats of ecclesial politicization

This is the framework — not sacramental, but political — in which American Catholics understand the bishops’ threat to impose sanctions on President Biden’s access to the Eucharist.

It manifests how such an ecclesial politicization threatens to destroy the Church’s sacramental orientation.

It also extinguishes the Church’s ability to deal with internal differences in a way that is not dominated by a superimposing partisan framework, including the way Catholic politicians deal with the abortion issue.

As Terry Eagleton wrote in his book Hope Without Optimism, the true calamity is the extinction of the word: when language is obliterated, hope is extinguished and meaning collapses.

The problem of polarization in the Church is not just due to the extremism of the positions.

It is also related to the fact that the current model of the Church is the result of the projection of political faiths on an ecclesial screen. The notion of Church unity has been reduced to expectations of political uniformity.

On top of all the huge challenges facing an institutional structure struggling to make sense of itself in the wake of momentous and all-encompassing changes nationally and globally, it is urgent for the Catholic Church to assume a new matrix of understanding that gets rid of the mantras of right-wing ideologues that have led to this perilous politicization of the faith.

Catholicism did not start in the 1980s. There is a deep Catholic past from which we can and must draw.

In order to be truly counter-cultural, Catholics must be able to offer a sophisticated critique of modernity, and not some dubious “Catholic spin” on the critique leveled by such non-Catholic cultural warriors as Jordan Peterson or Ben Shapiro. The either-or lens offered by those playing theology as a blood sport has done enough damage already.

In the Catholic Church in the United States, one of the most important Churches in the world, the structures of ecclesial conversation have all but broken down.

And it’s here, unfortunately, where Pope Francis’ promise of synodality looks like nothing more than a mirage.

Follow me on Twitter @MassimoFaggioli

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