I equate holiday time with a good read. I start with a light book to clear the head. An Andrew Greeley novel is perfect for this. Greeley’s characters, dialogue, and plots offer an entertaining romp through the humanness of church life. His mischievous approach to romance and sexuality has won him many critics who wonder how a priest can know so much about human love. Somehow, I always come away from a Greeley mystery loving my Catholic faith a wee bit more.
I also wanted to catch up on some more serious reading, and opened up Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful by Louis DeThomasis, FSC. I found it to be as much of a page turner as the Greeley novel. DeThomasis is a De LaSalle Brother, a Christian educator and investment manager. Now in his early 70’s, he addresses the need for transformation in our church.
In answer to the question, “Is the institutional church dying?” he responds with a firm Yes! He is careful to clarify the difference between the institutional, structural church and the church which is the Body of Christ, the People of God. He believes “the super-structure of the church, the one that makes the institutional rules and has made the institutional mistakes that have gotten us into our present situation…it is the institutional church that is dying, not the church we Catholics belong to.” And, it needs to die in order for the real transformation to take place.
DeThomasis believes that religious ideologues in all faith traditions, “do nothing but stifle the human imagination in its quest to embrace the faith mystery. It reduces the religion to neat, ideological formulae under the guise of ‘truth’, ‘orthodoxy,’ ‘rules,’ and ‘doctrine.’ Is this not what Jesus fought against his entire life?”
He asks us to look more closely at the role of tradition and reason in our church. Tradition is not a strict adherence to the past. It is “a way for the People of God, which is the church, to read the signs of the times and invent the future. It is a liberating force, not an inhibiting one.” We need “to embrace tradition, understand what it really means, and begin to really exercise it.”
The political leanings of a writer are easily identified in the lexicon they embrace. DeThomasis yearns for the dynamics of subsidiarity, collaboration, dialogue, shared responsibility, acceptance of diversity, inclusivity, gender equality, and globalization. He yearns for the model of church proposed by Vatican II. He also fearlessly plunges into the forbidden waters of female ordination; refusing to accept that the issue is no longer open to discussion.
Louis DeThomasis affirms that a questioning Catholic is not a bad Catholic. He writes not to tear down and condemn. He writes from a deep hope for the church that he loves; the church that is the People of God. Flying in the Face of Tradition is not a dense, theological treatise. It is an easily accessible read for those of us who are not theologians, and this adds to its richness. It is a valuable resource for individual pondering and group dialogue.