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Dealing with difference in Rome

Dealing with difference in Rome
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul devoted a lengthy section (14:1-15:6) to tensions within the Christian community there. J.D.G. Dunn interprets the situation as arising from the return to Rome of Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Rome in 49 but who now, back in Rome after the death of Claudius in 54, found that Gentile Christians were in the majority in the communities. Obstacles had arisen in the way or re-integrating the returnees into the small communities. The one group felt obliged to continue to observe traditional dietary rules and feasts, bearers of their Jewish-Christian identity; these were not part of the Christian identity of the other group. What was at stake, one scholar wrote, was the complex issue of the continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and Christian belief.
St. Paul clearly states his own view: I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself (Rom 14:14), and from his own perspective he regards those clinging to the old traditions as weak in faith (14:1) and those who agree with him as the strong (15:1). What is striking, however, is the even-handed way in which he wishes the tensions to be addressed: Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains condemn the one who eats (14:6). Dunn comments:
There is a sharp psychological insight here, since more or less any grouping that shares a common ideology will have a spectrum of opinion in their understanding and implementation of that ideology, and the temptation will always be what Paul saw it to be: For those embracing a tighter understanding to regard o9thers who disagreed as apostates from the ture faith, and for those interpreting the common ideology more lossely to despise the more scrupulous for their narrow-mindedness and rigidity. The modern attitudes of and to the various fundamentalisms of twenty-first-century religions provide all the illustration that might be needed.
Paul devotes 14:4-12 largely to the weak in faith, and 14:13-15:6 to the strong. He urges the latter:
Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. ... Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.... We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good , to build him up. For Christ did not please himself (14:15)
And his injunction to all is:
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul devoted a lengthy section (14:1-15:6) to tensions within the Christian community there. J.D.G. Dunn interprets the situation as arising from the return to Rome of Jewish Christians who had been expelled from Rome in 49 but who now, back in Rome after the death of Claudius in 54, found that Gentile Christians were in the majority in the communities. Obstacles had arisen in the way or re-integrating the returnees into the small communities. The one group felt obliged to continue to observe traditional dietary rules and feasts, bearers of their Jewish-Christian identity; these were not part of the Christian identity of the other group. What was at stake, one scholar wrote, was the complex issue of the continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and Christian belief.St. Paul clearly states his own view: I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself (Rom 14:14), and from his own perspective he regards those clinging to the old traditions as weak in faith (14:1) and those who agree with him as the strong (15:1). What is striking, however, is the even-handed way in which he wishes the tensions to be addressed: Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains condemn the one who eats (14:6). Dunn comments:

There is a sharp psychological insight here, since more or less any grouping that shares a common ideology will have a spectrum of opinion in their understanding and implementation of that ideology, and the temptation will always be what Paul saw it to be: For those embracing a tighter understanding to regard others who disagreed as apostates from the true faith, and for those interpreting the common ideology more loosely to despise the more scrupulous for their narrow-mindedness and rigidity. The modern attitudes of and to the various fundamentalisms of twenty-first-century religions provide all the illustration that might be needed.

Paul devotes 14:4-12 largely to the weak in faith, and 14:13-15:6 to the strong. He urges the latter:

Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. ... Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.... We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good , to build him up. For Christ did not please himself.

And his prayer and injunction for all is:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Hi, Joseph:Interesting post. Interesting how many things Paul said that are ignored by the church he founded. E.g., In Christ there is neither female nor male. And if nothing is unclean of itself, why were women "churched" after childbirth, and why are women (and men married to women) barred from ordination? Gerelyn

Gerelyn: Paul didn't found the Church in Rome, although the last chapter indicates that he knew a number of the Christians there.

Oh, sorry. I meant the Church in general, not the churches in Rome.

Joseph,There are many examples in Scripture that attest to the fact that certain teachings that were taught and practiced for centuries can be changed, while in modern times (e.g., the later 20th century), we find teachings that are claimed to be "definitive and irreformable". Consider the following.As a result of the so-called Council of Jerusalem, regarding the sign of circumcision that set apart the people of God, their advice to the gentiles was, we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. That was it, the sum total of what was left over from the 613 stipulations of the Hebrew law that were to be imposed on the converts.The Church can bind and loose as it sees fit. Yet, when it comes to sexual ethics, the Church proclaims that it cannot change something that is claimed to be divine law. Exactly what is divine law and how does one - pope, bishop, theologian or lay person - come to understand and apply it in one's moral decision-making? Most importantly, how can anyone know God's plan with moral certainty, save for Scripture and revelation?

Fr. Komonchak, I'm not sure how to pose my question. Here's a stab at it.Michael Barberi says: "The church can bind and loose as it sees fit." Much as I admire the statement the LCWR issues after its recent meeting, his remark, and what little I know, leads me to worry that the CDF, with the approval of the pope, has no limit to the demands or conditions it imposes on any group or individual. If prevailing Canon Law seems to place restrictions, then with a stroke of a pen, the law can be changed however the pope or his authorized agent decides to do so. In this sense, there is no EFFECTIVE difference between what Canon Law allows and what the pope or his authorized agent wants. I would hope that I'm wrong about all this. Am I?

Father K, thanks for this post. I have just returned from St. Louis, finally -- remarkable time, but canceled flights and such made for an odyssey through American airports. Hence my mental framework for these topics remains the LCWR and the Vatican. In that regard, I thought it notable that in his welcoming address to the LCWR, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, who is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, departed from his prepared remarks to cite church history for examples of resolving disputes:

"As people of faith ... we have some lessons to look back upon," he said making a reference to the First Council of Jerusalem where Sts. Peter and Paul engaged in a dispute over circumcision. "They managed to work out things then and I pray that you will resolve things now," he added.http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1203340.htm

Sister Pat Farrell also used that example in remarks later during the assembly. I thought it interesting that the archbishop put the sisters on the same level of the apostles, at least by analogy, and that he put the path to resolution in a conciliar framework. I am on vacation this week but I wondered if later it would be worth pursuing a story about the Jerusalem council, as a matter of historical interest for RNS readers but also for lessons to be drawn for today. I wonder if the historicity of the accounts tells us anything, or if it is more of a lesson in charity and spiritual growth amid conflict.

The "strong" are not to exert undue social pressure on the" weak" by embarrassing them into going along with conduct they inwardly oppose. But in the situation Paul describes, refraining from pressuring someone else is advised as preferable when the party refraining is in a dominant position, and likely to influence the "weak" just by behaving as they think they have a right to do. In the case of the LCWR the Bishops seem to be the ones who are in the dominant position, but their moral insight seems to require of the nuns religious obedience of mind and will to their authoritative statements. (Catch 22?)It seems though, that from their own perspective the nuns see themselves as acting in keeping with Paul's advice. They don't see themselves as bound by the Bishops' strictures, and could make a dramatic public case for themselves against the Bishops, but they are instead trying to find a way out for both parties by keeping dialogue going, and keeping the door open. On the other hand, they know they have chosen a response likely to drive the Bishops up the wall and put them squarely against the likely verdict of history. (Catch 22)?

At one point in the discussion of the third chapter of Lumen gentium, Pope Paul VI wanted a phrase inserted that indicated that the pope was bound by, accountable to, the Lord alone (uni Domino devinctus. The Doctrinal Commission rejected the addition on the grounds that there are many objective limits to the exercise of the primatial role, so many, it says, that they can scarcely be numbered. So it is not correct that the pope, or the Church, can "bind and loose as it [or he] sees fit." The norms of faith--Scripture and Tradition--need to be consulted.One of the most serious failures of Vatican II was that of not providing for the canonical and institutional implications of its teaching on authority, papal and collegial, and co-responsibility at all levels of Church life. A monarchical principle seems still to prevail everywhere, with very few limitations other than intervention from a superior instance, and, of course, none exists for a Pope's exercise of his role. Fraternal correction and prophetic protest seem to be the only recourse.I don't know enough about scholarship on the so-called Council of Jerusalem. I'll see what Dunn has to say in his big second volume, Beginning from Jerusalem.I think that Paul's discussion in Rom 14 should be cause for a bit of self-examination on the part of us all--not just others (bishops and nuns)--particularly the criterion of building up a person with whom we may disagree for fear of destroying one for whom Christ did not hesitate to die.

I wonder whether we should talk collectively about "the bishops" anymore. A few of them now sing somewhat different songs from the usual curial oratorios. Their songs aren't very loud (they're more like hums or whistles) but they're not the dirges coming from Rome. Anyway, Bishop Blair and Abp. Carlson don't seem to have joined in the chorus of "Oh Smack Ye Down the Sassy Nuns".But seriously, folks. Let's call a bishop who isn't completely yoked to curial dominance an "untethered bishops". He stays on range, but retains his proper freedom as described by V II. Maybe Bishop Blair, et al are untethered. Well, I can hope. For the nuns' sake we have to hope that they are at least a bit different.The question is: where are the boundaries of the Faith? The novelist Julian Green said that faith is not to believe without questions, but to question in order to believe. The nuns know this. Rome seems to have forgotten it or maybe has yet to learn it. What impresses me so much about these particular nuns is that at great sacrifice to themselves they are asking important contemporary questions not just for themselves but for the whole Church. We must not be indifferent to this struggle. It's about all the rest of us too. Pray.

The statement "the Church can bound and loose as it seems fit" is correct with clarification. It implies a formal authoritative pronouncement much like what was decided by the so-called "Council of Jerusalem". For example, in modern times this could be the pope and the bishops, or the Roman Curia. As part of this type of process, the CDF would ensure that Scripture and Tradition would be consulted. However, since both Scripture and Tradition is subject to exegesis interpretation based on our growing knowledge and expertise, and because many doctrines and teachings have been reformed, the "Church" can find a way to resolve disputed questions.

"A monarchical principle seems still to prevail everywhere, with very few limitations other than intervention from a superior instance, and, of course, none exists for a Popes exercise of his role. Fraternal correction and prophetic protest seem to be the only recourse."JAK --Suppose this is true. I think it very well may be. But wouldn't it be possible for fraternal correction and prophetic protest to be somehow systematized -- I mean acted upon? By that I mean, perhaps it would be possible for there to be canonical mechanisms that would *have to be* initiated to guarantee that serious accusations would be heard by all the bishops (with, of course, opportunity for self-defense by the accused), plus some mechanism(s) for exploring the questions the faithful deem important? Granted, the Church is not a democracy. Christ speaks of His *kingdom*. But it seems to me that the notion of an enlightened monarchy with a virtuous monarch has not yet been tried by Rome. For instance, enlightened monarchs consider themselves bound by law, even when they may change some laws. Enlightened monarch remove badly performing underlings when they mess up. Enlightened monarchs listen to others' questions even as they know the answers, and they patiently explain their answer. Even the ancient philosophers recognized that a good monarchy was the best sort of government, though the hardest to come by. Further, because the corruption of monarchy is the worst (tyranny) monarchies are dangerous.

The LCWR, as with other progressives, has been engaged in the process of reform that has its foundations in the ever-increasingly retrogressively interpreted Second Vatican Council. (Read Massimo Faggiolis: Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning.) They consider the Church to be much more dynamic and complex than those who promote restorative policies. While they (and we other progressives) generally accept core Catholic ideals, we want and need our Church to adapt or allow for beliefs, values and practices that are relevant to our search for a contemporary faith, which, in contrast to what has been claimed, can be differentiated from the pattern of todays world.In the meantime, the institutional system reduces Catholics to immature children who are to obey Father or, in this case, those alleging to speak for the Holy Father. We are to give unquestioning loyalty to and rely on the Churchs teachings and laws in every circumstance. We are to accept that we have neither right nor privilege to differ from the current orthodoxy and, even worse, have no access to formal avenues to contest the charges made against us.The Vatican seems unwilling to admit to difficulties arising from theological and canonical constraints, which today are many and increasing. That reluctance has the potential to limit individual Catholics from making mature decisions to self-regulate, negotiate complexities, or respond creatively to lifes challenges. These qualities symbolize adulthood in most cultures, but are not recognized as such in the Catholic order of things. So, when the pope suggested a couple of years back that progressives do not have a grown-up faith, he implies that we should acquiesce to clerical advice, which would mean a return to an immature faith.It is therefore better to remain misunderstood or misrepresented and risk being wrong in what the pope might refer to as dissent. Because, for the sisters and all progressives, such sincere attempts to have our concerns heard are integral to finding an authentic, mature and Catholic faith. Without this latitude, conversations with the church become a dialogue of the deaf, but not in the way that Cardinal Levada would have us accept.

As far as I remember the phrase "my Kingdom" is found on Christ's lips only in Jn 18 or 19, when he says "my kingdom is not of this world". Nothing can be derived from this about the political constitution of the church. Maybe it cannot be a democracy but neither need it be a monarchy."One of the most serious failures of Vatican II was that of not providing for the canonical and institutional implications of its teaching on authority, papal and collegial, and co-responsibility at all levels of Church life. A monarchical principle seems still to prevail everywhere, with very few limitations other than intervention from a superior instance, and, of course, none exists for a Popes exercise of his role. Fraternal correction and prophetic protest seem to be the only recourse."And this "only recourse" has been systematically repressed by the Curia, using all the canonical and institutional weapons at their disposal.

This institutional un-accountability of the papacy is, of course, one of the major impediments to restoring unity with the Orthodox Churches. But I still would like to bring this thread back to its intent, which was not so much about other people's failures [read: Rome's], but about the tendency in all of us, thinking, of course, that we are the ones "strong in the faith" and others "weak," to forget that they are brothers and sisters to us, and that Christ died for them, too.

I think that Pauls discussion in Rom 14 should be cause for a bit of self-examination on the part of us allnot just others (bishops and nuns)particularly the criterion of building up a person with whom we may disagree for fear of destroying one for whom Christ did not hesitate to die.I agree wholeheartedly.

I'm not sure what it means to build up a person with whom we disagree. It feels more like tearing down to me. The mean comments posted by editors (and the creeeepy private e-mails one contributor in particular sends out) seem designed to stifle disagreement and intimidate those who dare to differ. Agree with Joseph K. that it's easy to forget that we are one another's sisters and brothers. One day we will see one another's histories, starting with the struggles of the one-celled ancestors and continuing through the darkest ages, the burning times, etc. Why doesn't dotCommonweal require pictures to be posted with every comment? Seeing faces makes it harder to be nasty/crazy/etc. (That's why those about to be hanged/shot/burned/disemboweled/etc. get their heads covered. Makes it easier on the executioner.)Love to all from Gerelyn.

I thought it interesting that the archbishop put the sisters on the same level of the apostles, at least by analogy, and that he put the path to resolution in a conciliar framework.NEWS.VA has a letter from +Sartain today that it also respectful of the LCWR:

Coinciding with the Assembly conclusion, the following statement by Archbishop Sartain was released through the Archdiocese of Seattle: The Holy See and the Bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious to our country through social, pastoral and spiritual ministries; Catholic health care; Catholic education; and many other areas where they reach out to those on the margins of society. As an association of women religious, the LCWR brings unique gifts to its members and to the Church at large. This uniqueness includes sensitivity to suffering, whether in Latin America or the inner-city; whether in the life of an unborn child or the victim of human trafficking.Religious women have made a lasting contribution to the wellbeing of our country and continue to do so today. For that they deserve our respect, our support, our thanks and our prayers.Along with the members of the LCWR, I remain committed to working to address the issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue. We must also work toward clearing up any misunderstandings, and I remain truly hopeful that we will work together without compromising Church teaching or the important role of the LCWR. I look forward to our continued discussions as we collaborate in promoting consecrated life in the United States.Outgoing president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, said the LCWR officers would begin dialogue with Archbishop Sartain, from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue. The Archbishop is expected to attend the organization's board meeting August 11.http://www.news.va/en/news/abp-sartain-us-church-deeply-proud-of-its-wom...

To Joseph O'Leary:Maybe not all of Jesus' words about his kingdom survive. They seem to have made a big impact on his contemporaries. Even as late as Jesus' grandnephews' time, the emperor Domitian was concerned about the kingdom. He summoned Jude's grandsons to explain. (As we know from Eusebius, the Father of Church History: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm Book III, Chapter 20.)

"Why doesnt dotCommonweal require pictures to be posted with every comment?"I'm not sure how to make it appear every time, but if this helps, think of this every time I comment: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alicegorman.com.au/wp-content...

The problem with the monarchy is that it is not a governance structure suited to dialog, saintly kings being the exception rather than the rule. Monarchy is also allergic to transparency and accountability. Ironically, the European royal court style of governance isn't even traditional in the two thousand year history of the church.

Hi, Jim: Here's a link to a page where you can write your own epitaph and see how it will look.http://www.tombstonebuilder.com

"the tendency in all of us, thinking, of course, that we are the ones strong in the faith and others weak, to forget that they are brothers and sisters to us, and that Christ died for them, too."For reasons that seem to be difficult to discern, and which apparently we haven't learned yet to counteract, we are living in an age of division. Certainly we see this politically: our two parties no longer seem able to come together to work in a bipartisan fashion, even in exigent circumstances, cf the looming "fiscal cliff".Perhaps that political division is symptomatic of more fundamental division in our society? Certainly, similar polarities are observable in online discussions of Catholicism. dotCom may actually be one of the more civil virtual places in that respect. (Shall we all now quibble whether the progressives or the conservatives here deserve more credit for this relative comity? :-)).I've been reflecting a bit on this in light of our Lectionary trip through John 6 this summer. The Eucharist perhaps is the key to Catholic unity? Yet fewer and fewer Catholic partake of it, judging by those frequency-of-church-attendance studies. And in John 6 itself, Jesus' teachings seemed to have caused division.

JIm P. --I agree with all you say. And it seems to me that the reason so many people no longer think Communion is important is that their concept of what/Who God is not of someone to respect and love. So why go to church? The young people are without hope for the future. The pop closing of the Olympics showed that too clearly -- ". . . we're the West End boys in the dead end City". "The City of God" is meaningless to them because "God" has no real meaning.Yes, I think that British pop music/culture has, since the Beatles, had tremendous influence on the young world-wide, and through the young on the wider culture. Unfortunately, right now they seem to be largely nihilists.

DISTRACTION:Speaking of differences, in the Vatileaks case it was announced that besides the butler there was indeed a second person arrested, a computer expert, and that several other people were involved in exchanging documents. Most intriguing in the LaStampa report is this" Among the documents seized from Paolo Gabriele, the popes butler who today has been committed for trial, charged with aggravated theft of confidential papers belonging to the Holy See, the Vatican gendarmerie also found a cheque dated 26th of March 2012 and made out to His Holiness Benedict XVI for the amount of 100 thousand euros, a gold nugget and a 1581edition of a translated version of the Aeneid."Now I ask you: could Dan Brown have made this up?Oy, oy, oy. :http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/homepage/the-vatican/detail/articol...

"The Eucharist perhaps is the key to Catholic unity?"That's the number 1 reason why I go to mass every Sunday. I always feel so much better after mass and so much more in charity with other people; the differences don't matter so much when we're all worshipping together. The "big rules" of Christianity are so straightforward, but can be so hard to follow (for me anyway). Jesus says straight out and over and over: love and take care of each other, don't judge each other. And he doesn't add any qualifiers like "Love each other, BUT... or don't judge others, EXCEPT...It's just very hard to live up to that.

Paul certainly set the bar. But Damasus and many other "Fathers of the Church" turne a way of life into a constant polemic. We may need to come to terms with our penchant for infallibility and realize that the Fathers of the Church did a lot of harm to the church. Here is Francis Schussler-fiorenza on the subject. "This is one of the key problems with Ratzinger as I see it: his reliance on the Fathers of the Church. Ratzinger and most fail to see that the Fathers presided over the most radical corruption of the church which was not really widely challenged until Vatican II. Interesting when Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza showed Ratzinger how Scripture favored women's ordination, Ratzinger acknowledged her scholarship and simply reverted to the authorities of the Fathers. This misunderstanding of tradition has really caused shipwrecks throughout the history of the church. "

Thanks, Fr. Komonchak, especially for the comment you posted yesterday. The lacuna you mention that was left by Vatican II seems to be ever more harmful, both ecumenically and within the Church. I have nothing useful to say about all this and I'm sorry for whatever part I have played in deflecting your opening comments from your purposes.This issue of the scope and absoluteness of papal power, though, gets harder and harder to address in any reasonable way.

One of the concrete examples that comes to mind in reading this passage is the attitudes we bring to people whose style of worship and taste in music is different from our own. I've seen people at daggers drawn over things like whether or not to use Latin chant, whether or not to use rock music, whether to raise our hands or fold our hands, to kneel or stand -- and I confess to having my own strong opinions. Yet I know it's my challenge to love the people who want to do the opposite of what I find helpful in matters where we have a choice. So, when it's really a penance for me to listen to another rendition of some glitzy hymn I try (try) to remember Paul's words and to take into account that someone else is taking solace or finding comfort and maybe even hearing the voice of God in this song. Another example: inclusive language. I take a broad view of how language may be used, but if I am with someone for whom certain types of language betoken exclusion and cause them to stumble, I will adapt as much as I can for the sake of the other person.

"Maybe not all of Jesus words about his kingdom survive. They seem to have made a big impact on his contemporaries. Even as late as Jesus grandnephews time, the emperor Domitian was concerned about the kingdom. He summoned Judes grandsons to explain."" he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were... And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world" (Eusebius)The idea of an earthly kingdom set up by the Son of David plays around the edges of the Gospel (the triumphal entry, the request of the sons of Zebedee, the apostles' question in Acts I). In Mark 12 Jesus seems to reject the idea that the Messiah is Son of David and in 14:62 announces a kingly coming in glory. Matthew and Luke use the poetry of the Son of David idea, but again make the kingship eschatological.

Rita: I once was told, and do in part believe, that sometime in the late '60s, early '70's, a priest came to say Mass at a convent in N.Y. The sister who answered the door asked him, "Which Mass are you saying, Father?" The nuns were so divided over changes in their habit that they couldn't peacefully celebrate the Eucharist together.

JAK --Those might have been some of the nuns I knew at Catholic U at the time. You must realize that for them the habits were a burning issue, being the symbol of the old way of life versus the new that Vat II allowed them to anticipate. Symbols are terribly important, especially when they are all you have of your own.

Ann: You wrote: "You must realize that for them the habits were a burning issue, being the symbol of the old way of life versus the new...." This is a pretty good description of the views of those in Rome still following the dietary rules and feasts; their identity was tied up with them, even though they were Christian believers. That's why Paul wants the others (the strong) to be sensitive to them and to beware of scandalizing them or leading them to act against their own conscience.

Joseph: Are you sure he wasn't just a bum preacher whom she wished to avoid? ;)Only joking...But to be serious for a moment, what would be the best response of the priest in that situation, given Paul's advice? To respect that each group was following conscience and to avoid uncharitable thoughts or words to any of them, I would suppose.

JAK,I would like to know your take, or Dunn's, on the "Council of Jerusalem". IMO, it functioned like an ecumenical council in today's terms. At that time, it was the early Church's authoritative body, including the bishop of Jerusalem (James at that time) and other bishops, and it issued definitive statements on faith and morals. I believe the Church (holistically defined) can bind and loose as it sees "fit". This implies a solid philosophical and theological justification given Scripture, Tradition, Human Experience and Reason. IMO, not enough emphasis is placed on Scripture, Human Experience and Reason, leaving Tradition (and its novel interpretation) as the primary source of truth and Christian ethics, especially in the 20th century.I agree that no one, individual or group, should believe they are the strong in faith, while others are less so...especially if all are faithful Catholics. We all should be sensitive and respectful to each other even when we disagree for good and just reasons, and especially when our disagreement is in tension with certain Church teachings.

Rita: I think the point was that there would be two Masses that day, one for the traditional habit, the other for the reformed.

JAK, I see. The memory you shared was sparked by my comment about "being at daggers drawn." Understood.From your comment earlier I thought you were interested in thinking things through not about "others" (e.g. Rome, or for that matter sixties nuns locked in disputes over the habit) but about ourselves today, which is why I thought that you, as a priest, might have been reflecting on the experience you described as an instance where the priest was called to behave or respond in a certain way."But I still would like to bring this thread back to its intent, which was not so much about other peoples failures [read: Rome's], but about the tendency in all of us, thinking, of course, that we are the ones strong in the faith and others weak, to forget that they are brothers and sisters to us, and that Christ died for them, too."

Rita: I think it would have been appropriate for that priest to have invoked the example of St. Paul. Whether or not to wear a bow under one's chin was in itself insignificant, and if it was blown up to be a criterion that prevented sisters from celebrating the Eucharist together, I suspect that there was probably a lot of fault to go around, among both "weak" and "strong." The valences of "weakness" and "strength" would vary with each group (who's going to admit that they're "weak in faith"?), of course, but it would have been incumbent on both sides to reflect on the advice the Apostle gave to both "strong" and "weak."

My hero is the Dalai Lama, who is still able to refer to the Chinese as "our so-called enemies"; but I find myself still far from that ideal, much less the ideal proposed by Christ and St Paul. It seems to me that we are living through one of those times in history when great change is taking place, like the end of the Western Roman Empire, or maybe better, the dawn of the High Middle Ages, or the Renaissance. The future is foggy; we can't see the road ahead. And many of us, on left and right alike, feel a sense of panic -- but we react in opposite ways. Some of us are fearful, others very hopeful. Some of us reject trying to incorporate 'modernity' into our religious world view, while others of us give it a try. But then we rail at each other. Part of our problem, I think, is that we have this insistence that everyone must do everything (including thinking) the same way at the same time (in theory, at least, if not in practice; consider Italy!). That more or less describes, for instance, the way we introduced the vernacular after Vatican II. Personally, I had been longing for the day; but I also had some feeling for parts of the Latin liturgy, and some understanding of how others felt. It's interesting to contrast our approach with those of the Orthodox Churches -- a muddled, time-consuming, not-yet-finished process in almost every jurisdiction, but one which has avoided some of the ruptures we have suffered. If we had taken that path, no doubt we would not be as far along as we are; things would be messier (perhaps), but maybe we would not be so polarized either. It is difficult to say for sure. Still, it seems to me that their approach was more like St Paul's than ours has been. The recent kerfuffle over the new "translation" seems to me to be just the latest round of "payback" for the mistake we (collectively) made 50 years ago. This tendency to want uniformity (which has caused so much friction with the Christian East in the past, and which has largely ruined our ecumenical relations recently) seems to me to be the pragmatic equivalent of our insistence upon intellectual infallibility. We're rigid in both spheres, it seems. That (plus our hypocrisy, lack of transparency and accountability, etc. etc.) may be a reason that many, both young and old, are leaving our number. Come, Holy Spirit! We need you more than ever.

Gerelyn, "Why doesnt dotCommonweal require pictures to be posted with every comment? " Because some of us are ugly as sin. Or, maybe prone to cheat a little with our photos.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.