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Christmas 2019

President's Message - Advent/Christmas 2019: The Humility of Uncertainty

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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
 
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
 
President's Message - Advent/Christmas 2019
The Humility of Uncertainty
 
 
 
 
 
A short time ago, I was called by an individual who was concerned about an annulment process for a friend. Most of the call was spent wading through the rather legalistic language associated with marriage, annulments, and all the rules. It was an interesting conversation, to say the least. After the call, I reflected on what had just taken place. The caller was quite surprised to learn that there are few solid answers to these kinds of questions. We were engaged in careful interpretations of words in scripture, along with the formal processes used by the church to resolve such things. Sometimes, I think we are all determined to get firm answers to things that don't avail themselves to such clarity.

A couple of weeks later, I was presenting a class on collaboration. One of the videos that I use in that class is a TED talk about how we can learn to disagree productively by Julia Dhar. She used a phrase in her presentation that really struck me as important - "humility of uncertainty." Her point was that skilled debaters should be willing to rely on this characteristic. That phrase stuck with me for the next few weeks. I wonder about ourselves in terms of our church and even our values and politics. We seem to engage in our disagreements as if we are certain of the truths behind them. My question is: "how can we be so sure of our positions?" We are dealing with issues beyond human knowing. More to the point is how we disagree with one another so unproductively. Whether one is a traditionalist, conservative, liberal, or radical, we argue our points by assaulting the character of those with whom we disagree. Dhar makes a very valid point when she explains that this is not the way to carry on a debate. 

In the readings from the Second Sunday of Advent, we learn about John the Baptist. At one point, he addresses the Sadducees and the Pharisees as a "brood of vipers." (Matthew 3:7) In the homily delivered by my pastor, he describes these two groups as the conservatives and the liberals of that time. Yet, John makes no distinction between them. Perhaps, this is because both groups claim a level of certainty about what is truth. In our own time, we mostly do the same as these groups. We make claims about what others should or should not do based on our convictions of what is preferred by God. I have received letters, emails, and even phone calls from those who disagree with us. These are not particularly cordial messages. Mostly, they are rather ad hominem attacks. 

Looking back on my conversation with my caller who was concerned about the merits of an annulment case, I realized that she was looking for those clear answers, for certainty, in matters that are not always clear. In the process, there was a great deal of parsing of language in scripture to justify a position. The result of the conversation was that she said I left her with a lot to think about. I believe that we can ask for nothing more. In the bigger picture, perhaps we need much more of the "humility of uncertainty." 
I finished a book recently that was a brief history of the papacy. In general, I have to say it did not paint a pretty picture. However, I came away with something of a different perspective. In spite of all the broods of vipers involved in this history, we still have a church. If we take an honest look at our history, we must come away with a stronger faith in the Holy Spirit. We have seemingly done everything we can to screw it up. Yet, we still have a faith tradition that passes on the wisdom of the gospels. 

As we have begun another liturgical year, perhaps it is most fruitful to consider the power of the Holy Spirit and to let go of our need to be right. We have serious disagreements. Christianity itself is now confronting a huge identity crisis. There may even be need for a new reformation. At the same time, we need a "humility of uncertainty" more than ever. As such, the reason for the existence of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church is to preserve the right for each person to seek the truth and to develop their primacy of conscience. There is a good reason not to impose our beliefs on to another person. We walk by faith, not by certainty. The Holy Spirit remains in charge. Our mission "to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and condition" is more vital than ever. 

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I know that you get a ton of requests for financial support from many causes. If you cannot give to us this month, will you consider giving next month? Please support us in whatever way you can. 

I am confident that 2020 will be a productive year for us. So, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.


Patrick B. Sullivan, DPA
 
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