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Friday, October 06, 2006

James Alison and "Belonging"

I've just been reading one of the articles published at Fr. James Alison's site - Discipleship and the Shape of Belonging. It tells something of the identity of the self and the way it's received through the eyes of others , what belonging means to this identity, and beyond that, the way Jesus so upsets this balanced system of reciprocity. The article is long, so I've just quoted the beginning part in which Fr. Alsson gives himself as an example ... the example of a priest and theologian outside the "normal" rewalm of belonging. The article goes on to describe the kind of belonging discipleship can create when one is called into being by the regard of God.


I dare to call my work that of preacher, and teacher. My major undertaking over the last few years has been to try and come up with an adult introduction to the Catholic faith, an inductive, twelve-session course, following the thought of René Girard. I have been attempting to gave an account of our faith in such a way as makes it both attractive and easier to pass on, one that is entirely orthodox, and yet fresh. In fact I have given this course, still in the process of development, in a number of different settings, and hope to do so again before long. And naturally, there would be no point to such preaching and teaching if it did not lead to some sort of discipleship in those who hear it. Discipleship not of yours truly, but of the One at the heart of the preaching ....

Now anyone who takes some responsibility for this business of pointing another towards the way of Christ has to become aware that he or she can get in the way of the imitation, can get in the way of the discipleship, can become a scandal, a source of stumbling to the one who would follow Christ. And learning to avoid giving scandal to such potential followers is a great deal of what discipleship is about ....

I am a priest, but, as far as I can tell, am of no juridical standing. Which is an anomaly, since one is supposed to have juridical standing in order to function as a priest, some line of accountability. I wish I did have, but I don’t. And I don’t know where to start in finding a proper line of accountability. Then, I aspire to be a theologian, but effectively work as a freelancer. This too is an anomaly, since theology is an ecclesial discipline, presupposing structure, collegiality and oversight, so to be a “freelance theologian” sounds to me very much like a contradiction in terms. However, that is my reality: I inhabit not one, but two non-places. And I would be loath to think that I am trying to persuade any one to imitate me in this. I am well aware that I am treading on what might turn out to be quicksand, and I don’t want to encourage anyone to follow me onto it until it’s pretty clear that it is part of the safe space, the rock on which to build, offered to us by the Gospel.

My reason for inhabiting these non-places, for beginning tentatively to build on what may be a dangerously firm-seeming crust rather than the rock I hope it will turn out to be, is fairly simple: I have come, after a long time of search, study and struggle, to believe that the current characterisation of gay people held by the Roman Congregations is not true. Although this is not in itself a very important matter, it is one which does go to the heart of the way the clerical set-up runs in our Church. In my case, it means that I have discovered that, since my vows and promise of celibacy were taken at a time when I was bound by a false conscience, I have no valid vows or promises, but am nevertheless validly ordained, and indeed, love being a priest, a preacher and a teacher. I’m not sure that I can properly make such promises or vows within the juridical context offered by the Church while it continues to insist on what I regard as a false characterization of the one making the vow or promise. Which is why I think that the Vatican was probably right to say the Church should no longer try to induce gay men into priestly life, since it cannot at this time offer an honest gay man a limpid context for vows or promises. I agree with them that we should not lead people into double-binds.

And the same is true with relation to being a theologian. I take very seriously that becoming a theologian, and especially a priestly theologian, is an ecclesial vocation, and indeed hope that I show signs of being ecclesial in my writing and teaching. I don’t want to make a living by being a theologian in a secular faculty, where being a priest would mean nothing, and where the mode of production and system of rewards is determined by the regard of the Academy, itself just as full of rules, anathemas, rivalry and ambition as any ecclesiastical set-up. Others less suggestible than I have shown themselves able to avoid these temptations, but I fear that in my vanity I would be unable to avoid the temptation to “make a career” and to “become someone” in the eyes of my secular employers and colleagues, making of them, effectively, my “Church”. And that would be the death of my vocation as a Catholic theologian.

On the other hand, since I am open in my disagreement with what I take to be a third-order teaching in the Magisterium’s current hierarchy of truths, it seems to me fair enough that until, and unless, there is a sufficient clarity that my opinion is one which can legitimately be held by Catholic theologians without causing scandal to the faithful, or until I can be disabused of my opinion by evidence that it is not true, I not be invited to teach in a Catholic theological faculty, even though that is what I aspire to. So, I find myself hoping that my ecclesial vocation as a theologian will bear fruit through my accepting being a non-person in the regard of the Church for the moment, rather than aspiring to become a “someone” through the regard of those outside it. But that is my hope, nothing firmer than that .....


Read more of Fr. Alison's writing at his website


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