Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Obedience of Faith

I'm going to briefly jump out of the predestination/reprobation discussion to comment on another ongoing topic: women's ordination.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal recently provocatively raised the issue in light of Paul's comments in Galatians that in Christ we are neither "male nor female". A number of bloggers have taken up Father's challenge.

One blogger for whom the issue is of personal importance is Peter Nixon, host/author of Sursum Corda. Peter is familiar with most of the standard arguments against priestesses, and yet remains unconvinced as to their validity. The angst this causes him as a Catholic who seeks to remain true both to his Church and his conscience is clear in his recent comments on the topic.

For me, issues like this -- in which the arguments made in defense of a particular doctrine do not convince -- highlight the place of what St. Paul and Vatican II's Dei Verbum (among others) term the obedience of faith.

As Catholics, we are called to form our intellect and will according to what God reveals about Himself and His plan of salvation through His Church; in the language of Dei Verbum 5, we as believers are called to freely assent to the truth revealed by God, revelation which occurs within the community of believers... the Church. This does not mean that the arguments made to explain a particular teaching will necessarily be convincing; the Holy Spirit's protection over the Church acts to protect the Church from teaching error... it doesn't mean that the arguments used will always convince.

But that is why revelation requires faith on our part; while revelation never contradicts reason, reason is not always able to elucidate revelation, at least not immediately. That is the ongoing task of theology, the famous definition of which is "faith seeking [as opposed to "already possessing"] understanding". That the arguments used today to explain the Church's inability to ordain women may or may not convince us is beside the point (interestingly, in his masterful biography of John Paul II, Weigel is mildly critical of the Holy Father's approach to the issue in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, wishing that the Pope might have providing more substantial argumentation in favor of the doctrine); as members of the Church, we are called to give assent to all of the Church's teachings, even those for which we do not perceive the rationality.

I am reminded here of some wonderfully profound thoughts expressed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his outstanding work, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church. Speaking of Mary's Yes to God (via Gabriel), her fiat, her great faith in God which we are called to imitate, Balthasar writes the following:

What is basic to the infinite elasticity of the Marian Yes is that it again and again stretches beyond understanding and must consent to what is not within the domain of the humanly possible, foreseeable, bearable, or fitting. [...] Mary shows herself to be "truly blessed" because she has believed. [...] the Marian principle is thus the exact opposite of any "partial identification" where discipleship depends on the measure of one's personal comprehension or "responsible" evaluation. But it is equally the opposite of the passive indifference of a mere instrument that can be manipulated at will.

It is precisely in those moments when we do not comprehend that God calls and challenges us to assent with the obedience of faith, just as He did with Mary.

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