The National Catholic Review

Cambridge, MA. I write with two just-reported deaths of religious leaders in mind.

All of us, I am sure, were saddened to hear of the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, that admirable pastor and scholar. Many of us were also edified and encouraged by his sober and honest last interview, with Georg Sporschill, SJ., now available in English at Commonweal, as reported by Paul Moses. The Cardinal offers three challenging and wise words of advice on what we can do to bring the Church back to life: recognizing the need for conversion inside the Church, hearkening to the Word of God as a guide to a new inwardness, and a return to the sacraments as the means of deeper healing. These are gifts that all of us are invited to take to heart, while the official Church is called to purify itself and learn to get out of the way, so to speak, to allow these gifts to pour forth their grace, less hindered by our 200 years-plus of weariness, smothered flames, and institutional bondage. (But I am summarizing in haste; read the interview for yourself, via the Commonweal link.)

But, given my attention to the world of interreligious possibilities, I add a fourth challenge: learning from outside the Church, from people of other Christian communities and farther afield. Surely Cardinal Martini did not mean to suggest that the Church ought to heal itself entirely with its own inner resources, as if self-sufficiency were an unyielding value here. He was, after all, a scripture scholar who studied Judaism with great respect. But still, it must be emphasized that we do well to look abroad, if we are to renew ourselves.

There is no shame for the Roman Church to admit that it has much to learn from Anglicans, the variety of Protestant communities, the great Orthodox traditions and our own churches of the East. It would be a blessing if the Church would do more to lead the way also in substantive learning from Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, and peoples of other traditions too. It is not as if this recognition of our greater need, and witness in humble learning, would mean that the Church would lose its distinctiveness. There is no virtue in broadcasting the truth without ever being able to listen to it too. Indeed, our confessing our need for blessings from outside can be a source of inspiration for people in those other traditions too. It is possible, after all, to remain true to our vision of God’s gifts to us, without being blind to God’s gifts to others, and to us through them.

But there was another notable death to ponder, and so I am  mindful too of the death on Sunday of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, or more fully “The Holy Spirit(ual) Association for the Unification of World Christianity.” Less reverently, the Moonies. Though suspect in many circles for his business and political ties, he was revered among his followers as a Messiah, visionary, the true prophet of God (and Jesus Christ) for this age of the world, a divine presence in today’s world. And yet most of us - me included - know very little about him.

I mention him here, just paragraphs after reflection on Cardinal Martini and the ailments of our Church, since it seems to be our duty today to learn even from figures like the Reverend Moon. What is their message, and its inspiration? Why do so many people follow them, even for a time? For it may be that their witness is a sign for us as well – not to abandon the Catholic faith but, as we learn humbly from our neighbors, to ponder the charisms unexpectedly and for a time given to such figures.

But yes, to dare to learn from the Reverend Moon or even a somewhat inscrutable church such as Scientology (as I mentioned a few blogs ago), requires attention, study, and the clear-headed ability to sort out the wise and the foolish, the insightful and the erring. No easy condemnation or bland benevolence will do any good. As the Cardinal suggests, we need our wits about us if we are to stir to new life the embers of the Church’s great fires. Only in this way, really, will the Church catch up with today’s world, without losing itself by going too fast or by dragging its feet or by not moving at all.

But I intend to practice what I preach, though not by a study of the Reverend Moon. Rather, in the next month or so I am thinking of offering here a series of reflections on the Book of Mormon: granting that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, what does that mean? What will we learn, if we pick up the Book of Mormon and actually read it? Stay tuned.

Monday Addendum: To all those making comments on this blog, on whether it is possible or good or wicked or a waste of time to try to learn from Reverend Moon: Why speculate? Give it a try, for example by reading his Christology. Then post another comment, to let us know what you think.

Comments

LARRY | 9/4/2012 - 4:59pm
"Scriptures, n.   The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based."

                   -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), The Devil's Dictionary    

Yes, Fr. Clooney, with a smile and with thanks to Ambrose Bierce, and without losing our faith in Jesus, there is much wisdom in the "false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based..."

Comment: Yes, indeed, that is exactly the way the Devil would get us to dismiss other religions with contempt! FXC
Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 9/4/2012 - 12:25pm
Martini is wearing feathers (or ermine?) and Moon is wearing a dress with gold rick-rack.


Reading about the historical and cultural setting in which people like Smith and Moon are able to attract followers is waaay more interesting than reading their gibberish. 

(For anyone unfamiliar with the Second Great Awakening, the Burned-Over District, etc., try Googling "Joseph Smith one of many".)
Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 9/5/2012 - 10:10am
Hi, Patricia:

It's not surprising that you don't know much about Mormonism.  Few non-Mormons know much (or anything) about the beliefs and practices of Joseph Smith's followers. 

And there are many Mormons who know little about their religion's ever-changing teachings.  E.g., Heavenly Mother, eclipsed for a couple of generations may be making a comeback.  http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=Mormon+Heavenly+Mother&gbv=2&oq=Mormon+Heavenly+Mother&gs_l=heirloom-hp.13..0j0i5i30j0i8i30l7.1954.6110.0.9985.22.15.0.3.3.0.375.2515.2-7j2.9.0...0.0...1c.nYldWgL8yHU

A good place to learn details about Joseph Smith's religion is the Short Topics page at the ex-Mormon board:

http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon_shorts.htm

Agree that Francis X, Clooney's future posts on Joseph Smith's teaching should be interesting.  (Anyone who knows ''exactly the way the Devil'' works can't help but be interesting.)
PJ Johnston | 9/4/2012 - 10:04am
Michael:

Agreed, especially as Vodou can be parsed as a form of inculturated Catholicism.
Michael Iafrate | 9/3/2012 - 9:42pm
Perhaps Fr. Clooney could write about vodou sometime to help curb derogatory use of the word voodoo by Roman Catholics. 
David Smith | 9/3/2012 - 7:19pm
Belief is bedrock stuff, but it's not logical.  We don't know anything about religion, but we know what we like, what matters to us.  Looked at in the light of logic, though, it's all absurd - Jesus Christ no less than Joseph Smith.

The popular assumption that people who claim they live on logic alone are superior to the ''superstitious'' folk who follow their heart is nonsense.  There is no logical truth - just logical truths.  None of us poor humans can know anything except through our heart.  The logical stuff just keeps us from bumping into doors and falling off cliffs.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 9/3/2012 - 7:35pm
I would like to tentatively agree with Luisa. Not all that is said is worth listening to. Biology has nothing to learn from creationists. Astronomy has nothing to learn from astrologists. Geologists do not waste their time listening to people who believe the earth is flat. And respectable jurisprudence has no use for the "Malleus Maleficarum."

In the first half of "Civitas Dei" (the half that isn't usually read in school) St. Augustine shows considerable respect for the doctrines of the Neoplatonics, but nothing but scorn for the popular paganism still extant in his day. I rather suspect the Reverend Moon's theology is more like the second of those, along with voodoo, Raëlianism and the ravings of David Koresh.

Joseph Smith may be marginally less unserious, and i wish Professor Clooney luck with him. Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon "chloroform in print." He said ""If all the 'and it came to pass' phrases were removed, there would be nothing left to come to pass."
ed gleason | 9/3/2012 - 3:36pm
I watched as the monoply Bell System was moving through the 60s and 70s, trying not to change one iota. Just bully competition, bully regulators, just keep on trucking.
Finally the outsiders on the board asked to get 'outside' help... mainly from IBM execs.
The outsiders met fierce resistence from the Bell Shaped heads who ran the bureaucracy. The US Gov.stepped in and broke up the mess before in sank into the rabbitt hole. Mother Bell was saved by outside intervention but Mother Church will not have outside human help.. Prayers are the only help I see coming.
JIM MCCREA | 9/3/2012 - 4:48pm
Luisa:  you can bluster all you want.  Many many MANY members of the Unification and LDS churches were once members of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and I assume had at least an inkling of her Teachings. 

Catholics have this strange idea that people leave for nefarious reasons, are lazy, sexually promiscuous, etc.  However, if you talk with people who have left and joined such groups as the "Moonies" and the "Mormons" you find many sincere good people who found what they couldn't find in the HRCC.

Why?  What did they find?

Don't be so quick to pooh-pooh what you may not know anything about.
David Smith | 9/3/2012 - 3:53am
It is possible, after all, to remain true to our vision of God’s gifts to us, without being blind to God’s gifts to others, and to us through them.
Amen.
ed gleason | 9/3/2012 - 3:32pm
I watched as the monoply Bell System was moving through the 60s and 70s, trying not to change one iota. Just bully competition, bully regulators, just keep on trucking.
Finally the outsiders on the board asked to get 'outside' help... mainly from IBM execs.
The outsiders met fierce resistence from the Bell Shaped heads who ran the bureaucracy. The US Gov.stepped in and broke up the mess before in sank into the rabbitt hole. Mother Bell was saved by outside intervention but Mother Church will not have outside human help.. Prayers are the only help I see coming.
Luisa Navarro | 9/3/2012 - 1:33am
Really pathetic. Very 'American'. OK, you just go ahead & take seriously Moon & Joe Smith, go ahead. What an offence to the Catholic Church, what multi-culti rubbish! Are there no limits to this ridiculous nonsense?
david power | 9/3/2012 - 11:54am
Luisa,

We  can learn from everybody even people I deem to be crooks like the reverend Moon and Joe Smith.
Fr Clooney is capable of looking at a foreign text without losing his faith in Jesus Christ ,if yours is a weaker faith that gets nervous at the approach of another claim to truth then keep that to yourself.
What would you have said to St Paul quoting Greek philosophers and Ovid or Jesus quoting Jewish scriptures or St Augustine quoting at length Plato ?
Forget about "America" and go to the Vatican which is overflowing with pagan works of Art robbed at various junctures in history.Naked bodies abound (close your eyes!) but you get the drift.
It might surprise you to know it was in fact Jesus Christ who said "Be Not Afraid".
I am looking forward to learning about the great journey of Joseph Smith and seeing  what side of the Lord Jesus we can learn.

   
Patricia Bergeron | 9/5/2012 - 7:58am
Thank you, Fr. Clooney, for a very thoughtful piece. To the people who commented on the blog: let's be careful to maintain respect for everyone's right to his/her own ideas on religion, and be reminded that is a right specified in our Constitution.

I'm recalling the venom and rumors swirling around John F. Kennedy's religion during his campaign for President. (Would an army of Jesuits come to take over Washington, D.C.?) I really don't know much about Mormonism, and look forward to reading Fr. Clooney's future posts on the subjects. However, I do know that it is distasteful and just plain wrong to trash Mormonism and mistrust Mr. Romney for being a Mormon.
T BLACKBURN | 9/3/2012 - 10:20am
Easy now, Louisa. If the Church had never taken heretics seriously, most of our defined dogmas would have remained matters of opinion. They also serve who only bullheadly defend errors.
LARRY | 9/4/2012 - 4:22pm
"Scriptures, n.   The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based."

                   -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), The Devil's Dictionary    

Yes, Fr. Clooney, with a smile and with thanks to Ambrose Bierce, and without losing our faith in Jesus, there is much wisdom in the "false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based..."
Luisa Navarro | 9/3/2012 - 4:07am
Really? Being faithful to the Holy Roman Catholic Church and its Teaching, and being able to defend Catholics being exterminated in China, Syria, etc. means not remaining "true to our vision of God"s gift to us"?
Kang Dole | 9/3/2012 - 7:59pm
I wonder if he'd say the same thing about the Gospel of Mark...