Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Fuellenbach Focus: a solution to the polarisations within the Church?

I went to hear Fr Fuellenbach (see here for an example of his work) last night at the Cardinal Knox Centre. He has been visiting Australia in recent days and is due to speak at the Geelong Ecumenical Conference next week (while I am at the JCMA conference—otherwise I would be in Geelong myself).

His message was simple and evangelical. It was about focusing on God’s love for us, his forgiveness and his constant presence with us. Very Trinitarian as well.

But I was particularly struck by this idea of “focus”. He didn’t elaborate on it, but his basic approach was to acknowledge the broad spectrum and sheer catholicity of the Church’s theology, tradition and practice, and then to say that we can’t take it all in at the same time, or communicate it at the same time. We need to “focus”.

Now of course, the focus that he presented was the focus on God’s love and forgiveness. He opposed this to the very common focus on personal sinfulness and the wrath of God. Not to deny the latter, he pointed out, but to get the focus that is most healthy for the mission of the Church.

This has led me to reflect on whether there might not be a solution here (quite and amazingly simple one when you think about it) to the perennial “Left/Right”, “Liberal/Conservative”, “Kingdom/Communion” (to use Radcliffe’s categories) split in the Catholic Church.

We have generally approached these divisions as a case of denying the interpretation of the faith held by the “other side”. We say this, but they say that. We have spoken of a “cafeteria” approach to Catholic doctrine, where we take what we like.

Let’s change the paradigm. (Warning: This will pose a challenge for some, because some really do want a selective approach to the teachings of the faith.) We need to acknowledge that it is inevitable and in fact quite natural for each individual Catholic to have their particular “focus”. It might be liturgy for some, social justice for others. It might be (to use Radcliffe’s terminology again) a focus on the Kingdom of God, it might be a focus on the Communion of the Church.

Such focuses (I am authoritatively told that we can use “focuses” for the plural of “focus” although the more correct Latin would be “foci”) are perfectly legitimate. In fact, it is impossible to take in the whole Catholic Tradition in one glance in any case. Focus becomes a necessity for comprehending the faith and putting it into practice in our lives. But this rule must be observed: our individually chosen focus can not deny any particular aspect of the whole Catholic Faith upon which another may have chosen to focus.

Within these parameters there need be no conflict within the Church.

As a footnote: Last night, Fr Fuellenbach suggested the main focus of Catholic theology and faith should be on Christ. Amen to that—Lutherans would agree! But I wonder if in fact, Christ is not the “spotlight” which we use to focus on whatever particular aspect of the Catholic faith most touches our hearts. Christ after all is the Light that illuminates our whole faith, and not a particular item or point amongst others in our faith.

1 Comments:

At Monday, July 03, 2006 1:08:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

There may not be much promising material for discussion in saying so, but would it amaze you to discover that I completely agree with what you have written here?

A church which aspires to be universal has to be diverse. This is not just practically necessary, but I think theologically fitting also. God reveals himself not to me alone, but to all humanity. The reality of God is so much greater than any of us can possibly comprehend that it is inevitable that we will respond to it in different ways, discern or appreciate different aspects of it or, as you put it, focus on those parts of it which seem particularly to speak to us.

At the same time, we have to hold enough in common to be united in faith, to call ourselves a single church, to live, work and worship together as a body – the Body of Christ - and not merely as a group of disparate individuals.

This tension between diversity and communion is essential to the life of the church. I don’t believe that God’s plan embraces a church without diversity, or a church without communion. But we have to hold the two in balance. History shows that we don’t always do that well. To be honest, we’re not doing it particularly well at the moment. But we have to try.

 

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