Richard Lennan delivers inaugural Cathedral Lecture

It was entirely fitting that the inaugural Cathedral Lecture, initiated by Dean of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Rev Andrew Doohan, should be delivered by Rev Dr Richard Lennan, Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College, and a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Fr Richard spent a week among us as his significant contribution to the celebration of 150 years of the diocese.

As well as the Cathedral Lecture, he led seminars at Raymond Terrace, Aberdeen, Taree, Lochinvar and Hamilton and also participated in a ‘conversation with leaders’ at the diocesan offices.

The title of the Cathedral Lecture, “Tradition: God’s Future, Our Past and the Challenge of the Present”, was rich with possibilities and Richard did not disappoint. If you happen to be an aficionado of order and predictability, best to stop reading now, as Richard’s understanding of the Church that best reflects the God in whom we believe is intrinsically messy:

What is unambiguously clear is that our willingness to respond to what may be Spirit-generated dynamic unrest makes for a church that is more messy than neat. Such messiness…was evident in the debates at the synods of bishops in 2014 and 2015 over marriage and divorce, access to the Eucharist, and the status of gay people in the church…

…While living in a messy church may not seem too desirable, such a church accords well with what it means to be a pilgrim, to commit ourselves to all that happens on the journey of faith. The alternative can often be that we ignore questions, pretend that we have all the answers, or act as if our tradition has evolved seamlessly from certainty to certainty.

Further, the notion put forward of a truly ‘catholic church’ was one that is antithetical to uniformity, predictability or stasis.

Since it is the Spirit alone who can produce a genuinely catholic church, one that is, simultaneously, also united, holy, and apostolic, authentic reception of the tradition requires of all of us an ongoing openness to conversion.

Such thoughts complement Richard's continual mantra in his seminars across the week: We do not have a blueprint to live as God's people; rather, we are pilgrims who make the path by walking.

Perhaps 100 people gathered in Sacred Heart Cathedral on a wintry night to learn. That in itself is a source of hope and encouragement.

Richard Lennan’s most recent book is Hope: Promise, Possibility, and Fulfillment (co-editor with Nancy Pineda-Madrid), Mahwah NJ: Paulist 2013.

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is a member of the Raymond Terrace Parish and a freelance writer with a particular interest in church matters.