As the People of God journey through history, they encounter all sorts of challenges. Not least among them is the question of how to speak to their God.
In recent weeks some commentators focused on a story about the use of inclusive language in a Catholic school setting.
When I read such commentary, I always ask myself whether the author possesses a truly ‘Catholic imagination’.
That is, are they capturing the genius of Catholicism, which is always ‘both/and’ and only rarely ‘either/or’?
Or are they ‘culture warriors’ trying to ‘argue’ with others rather than ‘accompany’ them on the journey of love, faith and hope?
For the context of many such so called ‘controversial’ issues, centre around the relationship between faith and culture.
It is true, that there are times when prophetic voices need to speak out and denounce injustice and mistakes within and without the church.
But prophets do not just denounce, they also energise and affirm the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere. And the Holy Spirit speaks not just in the church, but in the authentic yearnings and desires of all women and men of good will.
And very clearly, the Holy Spirit is telling us loudly, that we urgently need to better include the lived experience of women into the daily life and structures of our church.
Our language about God is one of those issues of faith and culture where we can particularly learn from the voices of women.
For after all, women constitute the majority of the people in our church communities, who actually turn up and do the work of the Gospel!
They have important insights which deserve serious respect and dialogue.
And as Dr Fritz Bauerschmidt rightly points out: “Advocates of inclusive/expansive language are clearly correct in claiming that God has no gender, and that all people are in the image of God and therefore we can use a variety of gendered images of God”.
At the same time, I find the current guidelines of the Bishops of Australia on inclusive language still very relevant for the ongoing balance in our conversations. View here.
In all these pastoral matters of faith intersecting culture, let’s often refer to ‘Good’ Pope John – St. John XXIII.
He was a fine historian and trenchant observer of human nature, who wryly observed on 11 October 1962, in his Opening Speech of the Second Vatican Council: “In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life … We feel we must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.”
We are living through a crisis of culture. But it is not, at its deepest level, a ‘crisis of faith’ at all. Often ideas and theories are simply used to hide agendas that have more to do with people’s personality structure, wounds and deeper resentments than anything to do with Gospel truth.
When we Catholics speak, let’s make sure that we first communicate hope. That is the real ‘language’ issue for our times.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.