Chill, People

Sheesh! The American Bishops come out with some tentative document (promulgated by who? with what force? binding on the faithful how?) whose very first word is “Reflections” (hint: rumination, cogitation, thinking, working through, not the Final Word) and half my readers are ready to leave the Church. One of them posts the link and says “Let the excuses begin”. Not surprisingly, he later condemns the document (one wonders if he’d read it before posting the link). Others are rending their garments and saying things like “This USCCB document is therefore fundamentally flawed, and dare I say, heretical. Moreover, it demonstrates a growing disturbing trend in the Church to dispose of her authority and become Unitarian. Finally, the fact that the non-Roman Churches are part of the USCCB means that they too, are complicit in the demise of the Church. Catholics, where will we go?”

May I suggest nobody go anywhere, even if the document is rank heresy (which I am not at all convinced it is)? Worst case scenario: Some bishops committee issues a document tomorrow declaring that Jesus is unnecessary for salvation. They would have to do it tomorrow because–mark this–they didn’t do it today. Today’s document makes clear that Jesus is the savior of all people, whether they realize it or not. It was to that question I originally spoke and there is simply no shred of evidence that the bishops denied this. That would be the essential heretical statement, if there were one in this document. It’s not there.

But suppose it was? Then what. Well, first of all its just some bishop’s committee. Second, even if the American bishops signed off on it, we have to ask ourselves “Should I have bailed on the Church when most of the bishops were Arian in the 4th century?” If not, then what should I have done?

But all this is extremely hypothetical since, in fact, the bishops’ reflection is not, so far as I can see, heretical. So what is there?

Lawrence King sums it up nicely below: “The Old Covenant is indeed salvific, because the New Covenant is hidden in the Old.” That’s the kernel of what the bishops are getting at. As a result of that insight, the bishops initiate nothing new, they simply note that the Church as an institution, will not be “targeting” Jews for conversion. No institution-driven proselytizing. Can individual Catholics bear witness to their faith? Of course! Can Jews bear witness to theirs (which is also from God and of permanent validity according to Romans 11)? Yes. Is Jesus the savior of all? Yes. The only real question the bishops deal with is the highly tentative matter of what is the best way to proceed in terms of dialogue with our Jewish elder brothers. And that, so far from being revolutionary, looks like a reassuring statement for the benefit of Jews that Catholics will basically go on as they have been doing, honoring their tradition and not demanding they violate their consciences.

I think it vital that panicky Catholics remember that the Church is indefectible *and* that the bishops are basically in the same boat as the rest of us as they mull over the relationship of the Church and the Jews: that is, they are indeed mulling at this point. The document is called “Reflections” for a reason. It has all the earmarks of a meditation (which some practical attempts to put legs on that meditation, of course). It is not written for the ages and it is not the final word of the Church by any stretch. Instead of insta-judgements and calls to abandon ship, some sense of proportion is called for.

Or, if you really think the Church is proposing something wildly different from what you are, in fact, doing already with respect to your Jewish neighbor let me candidly ask you: when was the last time you walked up to your Jewish friend and said, “Repent! And become a Christian!” Tell me how successful that was. If you haven’t done that lately, what exactly are you screaming at the bishops for?

Are our bishops frequently a bunch of spineless screwups? Readers of my blog know my answer to that. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Deep cleansing breaths everybody. And then discuss.