Kingdom Values? Print
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 22 April 2012

“Political moralism, as we have lived it and are still living it, does not open the way to regeneration, and even. . .blocks it. The same is true, consequently, also for a Christianity and a theology that reduces the heart of Jesus' message, the ‘kingdom of God,’ to the ‘values of the kingdom,’ identifying these values with the great key words of political moralism, and proclaiming them, at the same time, as a synthesis of the religions.”

In an earlier column, I pointed out some of the qualities of Joseph Ratzinger’s 2005 speech from which the above is taken. But so much more lies in this historic insight. It is historic because it highlights the quality of the time in which we live and it does so while we are still in it, rather than becoming evident only when we look back from a vantage point of, say, fifty years. I believe that he has captured the essence of our period.

Our period is also a transitional period from the certainties of the fifties. Who knows how long it will last? The current transition is similar to what happened to the Church under Napoleon. Most of the Church was in his pocket. Similarly in China right now the Communist Party wants the Church in its pocket.

And of course it is similar to what is happening with the Church in the United States where more than half of the members of the Church puts the teachings of the party above the teachings of the Church. As odious as these trends are, some of the other implications still remain to be explored.

In the Kingdom, truth is key. Remember: “whoever breaks one of least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Yet in his homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict had to ask about some Austrian priests proposing a movement of disobedience: “Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? . . .Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?”

Because opposing authority (the various “Occupy’ movements come to mind) has become the mark of “standing up” in secular society, it apparently had to become – for some – the sign of standing up in the Church. The value of the secular kingdom is supposed to become the value of the sacred Kingdom, not the other way round.

If we pursue this a bit, it looks as if for those formed by secularism anything from outside of our situation, like revelation and what can be drawn from revelation, is to be covered over or completely denied. This strand of thinking goes all the way back to Spinoza and during the radical Enlightenment Voltaire himself advocated that man simply work things out with his own (very truncated form of) reason in a kind of “top-down deist reformism” (Jonathan Israel).

But evidently at the same time Voltaire foresaw a residual elite because: “Enlightenment is not for the majority.” The elite had replaced revelation. In contemporary terms, the elite identify the kingdom values that they judge suitable for the people.

Now, coming back to disobedience itself: the word “obedience” comes from “going to meet.” This involves an existential decision – one is going to meet Christ and follow Him. Hence the pope posed a question in the same Holy Thursday homily, which was of course addressed to the clergy:

Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?

The Church only offers the truth of Christ so why oppose it? As a sign of what? As a sign of the precedence of secular culture perhaps? Which was Voltaire’s ultimate aim as he worked against the role of religion in society (at least amongst the elite).

Other secular values have also slipped right into the nascent Kingdom: “The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery.” (Vatican II) Obedience is being replaced by a secular kind of self-assertion. Sacrifice is being replaced with its secular counterpart, convenience. Gospel poverty is being replaced by the secular idea of becoming middle class.

If this is following Christ then any cup will just have to be passed, my will will be done, and the Son of Man will have a comfortable place to lay his head! Then too the public presence of the Church becomes more and more a mush of ideas from the culture, somehow still wreathed in incense and pious phrases. But we – the enlightened elite -- know where the real values lie, nudge, nudge.

“It is not a matter of preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers.”

That’s Benedict XVI’s idea – a quite radical one – of what “standing up” for what’s true and right really means.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.
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