Inside out

There are two things with which we [as Americans and as American Catholics] have a hard time: relationships, and seeing the whole thing. We’re very good at individual choices, which often separate us, and we’re very good at specializations, which also separate us. If there are lacunae in the culture that is ours, which we all have to love, it’s a lack of appreciation for relationships that you can’t un-choose and that are constitutive of your identity, and also this ability to see the whole thing, to see it as global, to get outside the national parameters that define how we look at everything, including the church.

From an interview with American Catholic bishops’ leader Cardinal Francis George, published by National Catholic Reporter.

More, from later in the interview:

Is part of the problem, with the lay role in the world, that so much of the energy of our best and brightest laity over the last fifty years has been consumed by internal Catholic battles?

Yes, absolutely. The pope in his 2005 address to the Roman Curia, about the reform, was somewhat wistful about how we’ve wasted fifty years, forty years, so let’s get on with it. I would tend to think that’s true. We’ve wasted a lot of time. Instead of hearing what the council was really saying . . . and of course these were unusual conciliar documents, as everybody has said, because usually conciliar documents are simply declarative. Here they put the exhortation directly into the documents for the first time. That’s pastoral, it was a pastoral council. Of course, you can take those pastoral elements in different directions, but I certainly think we went in the wrong direction when from the beginning we interpreted the council in liberal and conservative terms.
   We forgot that it was supposed to be church/world, that those were the terms that were supposed to be used, not liberal and conservative inside the church. That was terribly destructive. People got caught up in that. Of course, their intentions were good, but they got caught up in it . . . religious orders got caught up in it, thinking they were being faithful to the council, but they weren’t. They were being faithful to a particular interpretation of the council.

Left, right or center, the primary optic for reading the council has been ad intra, meaning its implications for the internal life of the church.

That’s right. You asked a moment ago where are things working, and the answer is, look at those organizations and groups that don’t worry about the internal dynamics, but who worry about the mission.

Something like Sant’Egidio?

I was just going to say that. You’ve got the Community of Sant’Egidio, which I really admire. That’s why I’ve got the church I have. [George’s titular church in Rome is St. Bartholomew’s on Tiber Island, where Sant’Egidio often gathers.] I’ve admired them ever since I saw them at work in Namibia, when the Oblates were fairly strong on the ground there and were very concerned about the situation. Sant’Egidio carried it off, they made the peace in Namibia. Today Namibia has one of the best constitutions in Africa, and it’s worked. They’ve been less successful in a few other places, but they’ve still been helpful.
   That’s the perspective of starting with the poor. That’s the evangelical touchstone. You take a group that starts with the poor, and then you know that there’s evangelical motivation. There’s no power or anything else, because these people don’t have power. They identify with the poor, and then they say, things have to change for the poor. . . .
   Also, Sant’Egidio from the beginning prayed together, in ways that the church recognizes as prayer. You’ve heard the way they pray . . . it’s unbelievable. It’s the way the poor in the mountains pray. It grinds on you, but it’s the prayer of the church. It really is remarkable.

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