Repinski: A turning point in the church?

Published 10:19 am Friday, October 4, 2013

A conversation on values of personal faith and religious matters, that find their home in institutions which encourage belief and practice, is in order.  Especially needed, is a discussion of our spiritual concerns, both individual and corporate, a timely pursuit.  An adventure in religious evaluation has been given a current vigorous focus that can be attributed to the Pope, a leader of one of the largest worldwide communities of persons seeking a relationship to the Divine.  Pope Francis is the current leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Please think with me of the date, Thursday, Sept.19, 2013, as a possible turning point in this most populous Christian community.  The present Pope Francis, quite new in his position, but with years of reflection and dutiful obedient commitment to a religious life in service to the Roman Catholic Church, dug deeply in a challenging interview.  We have received a view of spirituality of which I believe, may be seen as risk-taking.  There is the possibility that some profound changes are on the horizon.  That horizon will, no doubt, maintain key themes of sacred dogma, but with a contemporary application.  Look for and distinguish in Pope Francis, the nuances of content, style, and interpretation.

Pope Francis is an acutely “modern” person (not that modernity is the orientation that gives us heaven on earth), who reflects a grand love of God.  Meanwhile, we sense his prayerful struggling with how, in these times, a traditional faith, theologies and doctrine embedded in the past, can be translated to the present world.  My response is to take the long view based on a humbled appreciation of what has been said, felt, shared, and thought in the past.

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It is in the environment of thought and behavior of which a reminder may guide a discussion on religious matters.  A person born in South Africa in 1918, President of that country, 1994-1999, Nelson Mandela, is viewed as a giant among persons with a vision.  Could we, after years of imprisonment, speak his words?  He wrote:  “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating, was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

You are invited to consider the topic of change under a heading:  “The product and the packaging.”  When you think of “packaging” (a way of considering required or mandated beliefs and practice), religious persons are very inventive in the manner that doctrine, confessions, organizational structures, and personal beliefs are expressed.  A reminder: currently in the United States, there are, in Protestantism, over 200 different, often competing, organized church groups!

The so-called freedom of religion and a kind of democratic manner of getting our bearings in our lives, allows for an amazing diversity.  The “packaging” evolving from tradition, taste, location, subjective cultural trends, and objective “reading of the world,” ordering one’s life, are among the many prompters of our loyalties.

There are fundamentals and a bedrock of religious lore which, related to the Bible, is termed “The Gospel.” Pope Francis, in the printed interview that had a worldwide circulation, urges the followers of Jesus Christ to not “major in the minors” (my translation) and redirect the energies of compassion and healing to matters of each person’s conscience and affirmation.

To the perspective I offer, I encourage readers of the “Herald” to also contribute with views, memories, loyalties, convictions, and hopes for the future.  Your reflections about contemporary matters of faith may encourage, enrich, and expand the search of others.

In a future essay, I shall write about the actual, the setting of the Pope’s interview; the background, the manner of transmission, and the participants in this document, which is controversial, uniting, healing, and a source of our personal growth.

The setting that I suggest in my open-ended reflection, is given an insight by a former theologian, Bishop Pike, who speaks out of the Anglican, Church of England tradition.  In our Austin area, that tradition is embodied in Christ Episcopal Church.  Bishop Pike states an approach that, for me, flavors our conversation.  “When I was a boy I had a particular fondness for “Log Cabin Syrup.”  I was attracted first by the facsimile cabin which formed its container; but I came to love the syrup as well.  For years I hadn’t seen any syrup of that particular brand until a few weeks ago when I saw on the table at home, a container of quite undistinguished shape, but with the same brand name on the label.  I tried it and found that the same familiar flavor was there—though, for reasons best known to the processor, a much simplified container had been adopted.”

As a Christian in Protestant affiliation, I was a student, over a three year period, at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota (a Roman Catholic institution).   While doing graduate work at Yale University, I was in constant conversation with a Yale chaplain, a priest.  I gratefully live with having received many expanding gifts.