Saturday, September 4, 2010

Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility

A theology of fallibility lies at the very heart of Jesus' life and teaching and is, I believe, deliberately ignored by the Catholic church because it threatens the hierarchy's claim to absolute authority. That theology was a major part of Jesus' message at the last supper as recounted in the gospel according to John. This theology has enormous implications for the structure of authority in a Church that claims to be based on the revelation of God's will made by Jesus and the prophets. In my next three blogs I will deal with that theology and its implications. (The theme of this series of blogs is dealt with in a much fuller way in my book: Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else. That book, with a new preface by Rebecca Mertz, was recently re-issued by Lethe press.)

What constitutes Maturity?

A healthy maturing process is the psychological process by means of which we separate off from our dependence on parents, family and external religious authorities and become autonomous adults, making our own choices and taking responsibility for them. Maturity can be defined as the ability to live one's life according to one's own insights and feelings and no longer live in a continuous effort to meet the expectation of others. Theologian Sebastian Moore goes so far as to write "living your life to meet the expectation of others" is a form of sin. On both the psychological and the spiritual levels maturity means the ability to discern what is the true self and to find the courage to act out that true self.

What is the role of fallibility of authority in that process? Thank God for blessing us with finite, fallible parents! It was precisely when we knew that our parents were wrong that we found the courage to separate off from them. Had they been infallible, it would have been close to impossible for us to mature into autonomous and responsible adults.

In his book of liberation theology on the spiritual journey of the poor in the base communities of Central and South America, Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian, expressed the same understanding of spiritual maturity. The title of his book: We Drink From Our Own Wells, derives from a famous saying of the medieval monk, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: "Everyone has to drink from his (or her) own well!" "Spirituality", Gustavo writes, "is like living waters that spring up from the very depths of our own personal spiritual experience." The basic teaching of base communities was a personal capacity for discernment of spirits to understand how Gospel values could be implemented in the lives of the poor.

This understanding of spiritual life based on personal experience the Hierarchy perceived as a threat to its external authority and leading to a democratization of the Church. Comsequently, the Vatican went on an all out political attack against Bishops who embraced liberation theology, replacing them with conservative Opus Dei bishops who proclaimed the absolute authority of the hierarcy and renounced the preferential option for the poor supported by the Jesuits and liberation theologians in favor of a preferential option for the rich. This decision was recently identified as the underlying cause of the impotence of the Church in Mexico to have any influence in stopping the violence in the drug wars. After all, the leaders of the drug cartels are the rich! The Opus Dei Church is almost totally out of touch with the ordinary people of central and south America and cannot get back in touch, I believe, without restoring the base communities founded by liberation theologians!

D. W. Winnicott, the famous English specialist in child psychology, wrote: "Every child knows in its bones that in its wickedness lies hope; in its conformity and false socialization lies despair!" Winnicott meant that most chilren remain hopeful that they will continue to be loved and respected even when they do not conform to parental expectations. But if a child believes that the only way it will be loved is by conforming to the expectations of others and hiding the real self in a closet, it has already dispaired of life.

The central message of Jesus in the New Testament is that we are unconditionally loved by God, our father. "While you were yet sinners, I loved you!" God's unconditional love frees us to play all our lives in the presence of an unconditionally loving God.

Maturity for a gay person must include coming out of the closet; just as spiritual maturity must include coming out of the closet with God. We must risk that we are loved by God just as we are. We must "take a chance on God"!

(Part 11 of Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility will explore the understanding of spiritual maturity proclaimed by Jesus at the last supper.)

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