“The Church is a messy reality.” The Church: Continuing the Pilgrimage of Hope

In introducing Fr Richard Lennan at the Raymond Terrace seminar on Monday, Adult Faith Formation Officer, Vivien Williams, said, "The prodigal son has returned." She was right in terms of the prodigality of Richard’s scholarship, wisdom and generosity. Richard is Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College and a priest of our diocese.

A feature of the celebration of the diocese’s 150 years, Richard’s seminars in various locations are premised on ten thoughts (see below). His presentation is simple but profound, based on sound theology and as one Anglican participant noted, highly scriptural without needing to cite chapter and verse.

Richard quoted theologian Yves Congar, “Catholic self-criticism is frank, sometimes even harsh. It does not arise from a lack of confidence or from a lack of love for the church, but, on the contrary, from a deep attachment and a desire to be able to trust.

Participants’ sharing and questions echoed this sentiment. While some desire change, sometimes profound change, they gathered to converse, to engage and to deepen their understanding.

While acknowledging that “the Church is a messy reality”, Richard also quoted the theologian on whom his doctoral dissertation is based, Karl Rahner, “But grace is here. It is present wherever we are.”

Hope is a precious commodity, and is needed in Maitland-Newcastle more than ever. What gives Richard hope?

“God doesn't give up, and the way we take responsibility for how we are Church on the world is transforming the world…..Darkness, to ‘win’, needs complete darkness. Light, to ‘win’, only needs a single flickering candle.”

The ten thoughts…

  1. Everyone comes to discussions about “the church” with ideas/experiences
  2. Everyone wants the church to be better than it is
  3. Everyone is unhappy with something about the church
  4. Nobody gets the church they’d design for themselves
  5. The church will never be perfect
  6. The church will always need to change, and be able to change
  7. The church is always a project and its members are always pilgrims
  8. As church, we don’t exist primarily for ourselves, but for mission
  9. Hope enables us to remain engaged with both pilgrimage and mission
  10. Our responsibility is faithfulness, not success.

And to think about, talk about…

  • What nourishes YOUR hope in the church at present?
  • What change in the church would strengthen YOUR hope?
  • How would YOU live as a member of the church if such change happened?

Sometimes in silence, sometimes in more articulate agony or Job-like anger, Christian hope expresses itself less in assertion than request: its form is prayer.

- Nicholas Lash, The Beginning and End of ‘Religion’, 229

But grace is here. It is present wherever we are.

- Karl Rahner, “Priest and Poet,” Theological Investigations (vol. 3), 313.

Richard Lennan, Boston College—School of Theology and Ministry

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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