Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, one of the core debates which has roiled global Catholicism is the question of the relationship between the Church and the world.
At the heart of this debate are the differences between two great spiritual traditions, one Augustinian and the other Thomistic. The Augustinian tradition places the Church and the world in the position of rivals. It is keenly aware of human sinfulness and the imperfectability of human society. It sees the Church as an island of grace in a sea of sin.
The Thomistic school is far more concerned with the openness of the Church towards the world. It views human history as the arena of divine action. It tends to deny any bifurcation of the world into the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’ and sees grace as active and apparent in secular human activity. It bears a positive relationship with modern philosophy and the social sciences.
The prayer of the Pharisee in this weekend’s gospel evokes the Augustinian approach to Church-world relations. It is an idea of the Church that is dear to many Catholics. The Church is the community of grace that is unsullied, unbroken and which floats above the sea of depravity and sin: “I thank you…that I am not grasping, unjust and adulterous like the rest of mankind…”
Even as she basks in her own holiness, she conceals a decidedly negative appraisal of humanity.
The prayer of the tax collector offers another idea of Church, one that is perhaps unsettling to many Catholics. This is the notion of a Church ‘on her knees’ in repentance.
It is a Church that admits her mistakes, shortcomings and imperfections. This Church is often dirty and bloodied because she takes risks in the name of the gospel. She is not consumed with saving herself or her own reputation.
Like our country itself, the Catholic News and staff are also caught up in the drama of the two spiritual pathways.
In recent times the paper has entered a process of self-examination and reflection as it seeks to assess the relevance and effectiveness of its efforts to welcome and proclaim the Kingdom of God here in Trinidad and Tobago. As she takes the path of self-reflection, she is led naturally to repentance.
Like the tax collector, she is moved by the Spirit to say, ‘have mercy on me a sinner!’ Mercy for what? Perhaps for being obsessed in the past with being safe and correct in all her pronouncements, perhaps for sticking to ‘safe’ internal Church issues such as appropriate dress at Mass, choice of hymns and content of sermons, all the while paying insufficient attention to telling the REAL stories of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
If as Catholics, we can accept the position that there really is no ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ because all of history belongs to God, then as a paper and as a religious community we have to accept that somehow, our reality here in Trinidad and Tobago today is a bearer of divine grace: the world of CPL cricket and the TKR, of controversies over the sale of oil refineries, the world of K2K Alliance, the world of UNC, PNM and MSJ, the world of the TTPS and its swashbuckling police commissioner, the world of Venezuelan migrants and piracy on the high seas, the multi-religious world of Phagwa, Hosay, Eid, Christmas and Divali.
This wondrous painful, beautiful reality bears the divine trace. As we celebrate this thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, let us not be afraid to take the pathway leading ‘downwards’ to repentance, the pathway that leads us to identify with the world.
If we can accept that there is no real difference between sacred and profane because the whole of history belongs to God, then it may be possible to argue that the Catholic News in her search to become a more effective agent of the Good News, needs to become MORE ‘secular’, not less.