Mutual acceptance is the stuff of every day life, in family and work. We have to accept others the way they are, and they have to accept us. Most of the time, mutual acceptance works very well, and when it doesn’t, the metaphor has teeth: if you don’t accept me, I won’t accept you either; we can play tit for tat, and after that, hopefully we come back to some mutual acceptance.

    Reception is a basic dimension of biblical salvation: “God came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” The kingdom of God is not to be conquered; it must be received. Whether one has been given five or ten talents, they must be received and multiplied. “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”   Mutual reception is also basic in St. Paul’s metaphor of the church as body: all members are in constant inter-relation, in constant mutuality.

     In a Christian community, there is a right not only to speak out but to be listened to; this right prevents the church from becoming similar to a military organization or a bureaucracy. The church of Pope Francis is/will be a church of mutual reception, as evidenced by the use of surveys for the Synod of Bishops; at this Synod Francis encouraged frank disagreement and mutual reception among conservative and liberal prelates. 


The need to always listen

"I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
Pope Francis, August 2013
Quoted by Kenneth Parker

The church as community of faith and love, not obedience

My thinking about the church has changed over the last sixty years due to a growing unwillingness to view the church as hierarchy and my difficult switch to thinking of the church as a community in which love, hope and faith are shared.

The Catholic Church seems to have failed miserably in the communal aspect precisely because it so vigorously insists on its hierarchic nature. What a hierarchy can do is preserve a semblance of communal belief and practice (and this is what it has done so well historically); what it cannot do is form actual communities of hope and faith, but rather is adept at creating and preserving skeletons. Where is the diocese or even a local church which can justly be called a community? Hierarchy places a premium on obedience for that reason, for obedience requires uniformity of speech and behavior.

If you want communities of hope and faith founded on the love of God and neighbor, you have to start on the horizontal plane of communication lit up with devotion to the transcendent God and the acceptance of the suffering and risen Christ. Where you've got that, you have the Holy Spirit working and you have a church of Christ. Monasteries and convents, even large Catholic movements are the loci of Christian community – dioceses and parishes are failed communities.

The Roman Catholic Church is not so much a church as a religious organization. The hierarchy has canonized itself and made itself the direct will of Christ for all Christians, while it should be a simple agency serving faith and hope. As divinely instituted structure it must go.
William M. Shea,
College of the Holy Cross

To be heard – not herd

More and more, in my work as a campus minister and in my outside life, I encounter people who are active antitheists because the God they have received, as reflected through their church experiences, is one who simply denies them the right to think and be critical. Nietzsche sneeringly notes that despite the heavy price paid in the garden, Christianity demands that humanity does not have the knowledge of good and evil: whatever our efforts to use our reason, to be critical and think anew, God (as vocalized through the authoritarian church) functions as the ultimate trump card denying people the right to think.

My friend and mentor Dan Finucane, whose work centers on the sensus fidelium, says that we will only truly be the church when the last person in the pews has been allowed to have a say. That does not mean raw democracy of “majority rule,” but of respecting people enough to at least pretend that what they have to say matters.

Erich Fromm said a lot about authoritarianism and disobedience and autonomy. Here's a quote that has kept me up nights for the past few months: “The scars left from the child’s defeat in the fight against irrational authority are to be found at the bottom of every neurosis.” To say that we are not allowed to talk about matters of critical judgment is not only anti-“republic,” it is ultimately traumatic for an awful lot of people. Letting people know that their opinions and their best efforts matter is not saying we are beholden to them, but that we want a church of grown-ups. Too often it seems that the authoritarian church wants people to be herd when what they want is to be heard.
Patrick Cousins,
Campus Ministry, Saint Louis University

The three elements of religion

My own resolution of the ecclesiology question has been to adopt von Hügel's three elements of religion: the child's way, the youth's way, and the mature person's way. This is what I teach in my freshman Theological Foundations course:

The child's way (reflected in authority, institution, and the tangible nature of ritual and symbol), is crucial in cultivating a religious imagination. We need it, but if narrowed down to this dimension it becomes distorted and confining.

The youth's way (reflected in curiosity, reasoning, and the quest for the "whys" of belief) is a critical part of the grown of faith, as our experiences open up new possibilities, and the certainties imparted by authorities and institutions lose their black and white distinctions. It is not questioning that leads to a loss of faith, but the stifling of questions that leads to loss of belief.

The mature person's way (reflected in mystical encounters with God and/or acting on the principles of the faith – and the discovery of their truth and value in that enactment), embraces the ambiguities between the "norms" of institutional and authoritative definitions, and the realization that our faith in God, once interiorized, is a dynamic power that prioritizes of "pastoral concern" for persons we encounter over enforcement of rules or protecting "authority."

I never expected to live in a time when a pope actively embraced the 2nd and 3rd elements of religion, and called the Church to live them. I had come to assume that that was not his job. It always seemed to be "my" job to get on with living the truths of the faith I have come to understand and value. It is why I love being able to quote Pope Francis, and read with enthusiasm the reforms he is enacting, but I refuse to assume that he will lead us into a new era that will forever change the church. That is our job.
Kenneth L. Parker,
Saint Louis University

Responsibility for handing down the faith

So long as people are convinced that the "Church" is (must be) a world-wide organization, theologically and socially a magnificent "synthesis" of all truth and order, the very idea of responsibility for the transmission of faith being handed over in some way to a loosely coupled, somewhat anonymous population called "the laity" would be a formula for chaos.

In fact, the laity are responsible for handing on the faith in today's Church. They control the process. They are doing a poor job of it. Various studies document how the religiously homeless Catholic parents of today are not able to cope with the situation of their own faith in a post-modern, mass-mediated culture. For example, much of First Holy Communion catechesis is in the hands of the laity--catechists. parents, school teachers and the anticipated outcomes of often months of preparation leave us with the status quo almost every single time.

It is not enough to say that the laity have or should be recognized as having the responsibility for handing on the faith. The Church needs structures, places, and opportunities for the "practice" of laity passing on the faith to be a process of communal discernment and communicative action.

More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving...” Pope Francis.

The clergy will not be the movers and shakers on this front. How about theologians? Can they "do" or only "tell" us what to do?
Richard Shields,

University of St. Michael's College, Toronto

“Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honor!”

Pope Francis to new cardinals, February 2015