Friday, October 26, 2007

Father John on Karl Rahner and Being the Church

Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984)

Last Saturday morning I was late getting to the Men's Group meeting at my parish. In fact, I missed the whole thing. One of our common practices is to read and reflect upon some of the homilies of our late and beloved long-time pastor, Father John P. Although I missed the meeting, I did have a copy of this particular homily, and I thought I'd share it...


Karl Rahner gave some important interviews, and they are recorded in a book entitled Faith in a Wintry Season. Karl died in March of 1984. He was a Jesuit, a priest, an internationally respected theologian, and a totally dedicated Christian. What he had to say about life and church and faith needs to be read and re-read by us as we live our faith in a wintry season, a season of disillusion and disappointment.

I loved what he had to say about presenting the Christian way of life in a newer, more attractive way. We could preach the real heart of the Christian message in a much more lively, joyous, and courageous way. We should not abandon or pass over moral imperatives in silence, but should place them in proper perspective. He said that we could preach in a lighter fashion than we often do in our sourpuss pastoral ministry. Priests should exemplify that absurd optimism that claims that this awful world is going to have a happy ending. They should be able to laugh despite all, to hope despite all, to know despite all their own misery that they are loved by a God who is eternal and holy.

As for people leaving the church, just keep in mind what happens in life all the time, are there not families in which parents are marvelous human beings who properly raise their children and yet experience terrible setbacks in raising them? So a good number of withdrawals from the church are practically unavoidable. That is not to say that the church is sinless and is not without fault. But we are the Body of Christ; and do we not need to be better, more holy, less critical, more truly Christian? The church is what we are. The church gives us what we need -- the Eucharist, the gospel, the sacraments, a believing, a hoping, a loving community of God's people. If we want a better and a holier church, then we might need to look closer to home.

The story is told of a Catholic family that moved to a new city, and they decided to attend all the Catholic churches in town and then make a choice about which one they would join. They found that the music was good in one, the preaching better in another, that some congregations were more friendly, etc. They even found an urban parish that was free of kids--but, it soon dawned on them after their second visit, it was totally free of kids; and that was not good. They would hear of a hot parish to the east or the west, and off they would go. They soon found that all they were doing every Sunday was critiquing the homily, the presider's style, the music, the lighting, the sound system.

As they tell the story, finally one Sunday, after attending Mass, they were silent on the way home, both of them almost simultaneously said, "Let's go home." It had dawned on the two of them that they were not parish shopping but parish hopping! They began to realize that they were perilously close to looking to be entertained! After they went back to what in the old days was called the parish church, they looked at it with new eyes. Yes, the same problems were there; but none was catastrophic. They could choose to ignore them, or at least not let them distract. But the parish seemed to meet the needs of a lot of people. Therefore, if they only provided their presence and their financial support, they were helping others in their needs. Up until they came back, they had been interested only in their own needs and interests and had paid no attention to what they might bring to the rest of the community. Maybe what they realized and what all of us have to look at is that we need to plant ourselves in a place that you sense you can grow. Maybe then you will.

I think that all of us have to be somewhat cautious about personal infallibility; that is, of knowing and proclaiming what the church needs to do and how it needs to change with absolute assurance that we are right and any other opinion is wrong. A certain modesty is a becoming virtue in the face of the many problems of the day.

A few years ago, there was a popular saying that the people of America always knew that they knew everything that needed to be known on two subjects: religion and education. I don't know what we know about religion, but time has shown that we certainly did not know too much about education. Maybe we had better make sure that we are branches on the true vine before we do too much talking. The gospel tells us that Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Before we speak to others, we must be sure that we first have had an inner personal experience of God, that we have a heart and a life that has had a personal love of God as central.

Some final words of wisdom from Karl Rahner: "If a Tyrolian farm boy loves a girl, I can probably give him an existential philosophical lecture on love, about which he will understand absolutely nothing. Nonetheless, he has had the experience of love, about which I am speaking, and perhaps has experienced love in a much more profound, honest, radical, pure, selfless way than I have, even though I can rattle on brilliantly about it as though I were a lover.

My brothers and sisters, we have come here this morning to be together and to ask the Living God to speak to us in whatever way that we need to listen to Him in our lives and to ask Him to give us the grace to live according to His will. This is a sacred time in the story of our lives. We have come to praise, to thank, to reverence God, who is the center of our life. This is the first and the greatest commandment: "I am the Lord your God and you shall not put false gods before Me!"


crystal said...


What is a Men's Group? I don't remember that from church.

Thanks for the link to the Rahner interview. I've been reading about him lately - about whar he had to say about the Eucharist. If I understand correctly, he did not believe in the real presence, but in "transfiguration". But I'm having trouble finding info about it on the web ... just mostly people calling him a heretic.

Hey - Liam's getting married tomorrow :-)

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Today is Liam's big day? That's great! No wonder it has been so quiet. I hope they are having better weather down in NYC than we are having up here. It's raining here today.

Our Men's Group is nothing official. One Saturday morning a month, a bunch of guys meet down in the basement of the Church with the deacon, and we talk about matters related to faith, which is not something men get a chance to do with each other very often.

I'm not sure what "transfiguration" means vis-a-vis "transubstantiation", but I'd be shocked if Rahner didn't believe in the Real Presence. Father John never would have looked to him for anything if that was the case. For him, the Eucharist was everything.

I have a hard time believing that Rahner would question the Real Presence. It's the whole cornerstone of the faith. I think he's been branded by some as a heretic for other reasons, but it is true that you can't really be Catholic without believing in the Real Presence. Last year, I started to read Hans Kung's autobiography (a very tedious affair.. what an ego on the man), and he described an incident where Rahner really took him to the woodshed, basically calling him out on being a Protestant in his views.