October 2014

On creativity, destruction and mercy

Walter Kasper, in his book Mercy, gives us a clue about what we Christians need to cultivate in our lives, in the Church and in civil society, if anything is to change for the better, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

At a recent Sydney Symphony Orchestra concert here in Sydney, I was reminded again of the capacity that we humans possess in reaching great heights of creativity that both inspire and touch the creative spirit within each of us.

Under the baton of Thomas Sendergard, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The musical journey took us through many contrasting emotions, from deep melancholy to grand exaltation. We travelled through various themes of doubt, struggle, resignation, faith, and finally, the triumph of the human endeavour. The experience revitalised my inner being.

At the other end of the spectrum, in recent weeks we have been bombarded by the media about terrorism and the evil that is dominating much of the world community’s discourse. There have been reports of hate language, angry outbursts and the call for greater punitive responses to these evils. It almost feels like each world leader is trying to outdo the other in the use of vile, fearful and destructive language to speak about the fate of innocent people targeted and slaughtered by terrorist organisations.

It seems there is only one response left – revenge and further violence. My mind and spirit has been battered and numbed by this constant bombardment of evil on all fronts.

These evils need to be overcome and it seems that military force is the only response in a world oversupplied with lethal weapons, hate and fear. But many questions remain for me.

How does the human spirit become so depraved and so ugly? Are there other ways and means of seeking peace through the United Nations and through dialogue? What has radicalised the young people of ISIS? What has caused them to turn away in hatred and become intent on murderous action against Western societies? When and where has the creative capacity and the spirit of joy been driven from them? Do we not all carry some responsibility for the world that is being created? Disaffection can take many forms. This is an example of severe and extreme disaffection.

I have found myself making a tenuous but curious connection between these world events and what has been taking place in the Vatican at this same time – a Synod on the Family. It is certainly a well overdue gathering that has been championed by Pope Francis.

The world media has focussed on this Synod, for it represents an opportunity to respond to the increasing numbers of disaffected members of the Catholic Church. Gathered at the Vatican is a hierarchy of celibate clergy with a few carefully chosen lay advisers discussing the challenges of family life in this twenty-first century.

The rules and regulations as they now exist in the Catholic Church about marriage and family have disaffected many faithful Catholics; many have stopped participating actively in their local Church. The harsh nature of the rules and regulations, which on the whole seem to have little congruency with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are damaging faith at so many levels. There is need for radical re-thinking for our times.

Disaffected Catholics have not resorted to violence. They have just disengaged from the official Church and found other ways to express their faith. The Church is poorer because of their absence.

Pope Francis has pleaded with the Synod participants to listen to one another, and as they return home, to listen as pastors to their people. ‘Their people’ also include those who have disengaged, and those, who for a variety of reasons, have not been able to live up to the ideal or according to the Church’s rules.

We need to remember that the Church is not a club with a set of rules. It is the gathering of communities called to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In recent months I have read Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book, Mercy. Just as my experience of the symphony concert renewed my spirit last week, so too has this book. It has been a catalyst to challenge the status quo of the dogmatic theology which underlies many of the rules and regulations for family life.

Walter Kasper’s scholarly thesis begins from a different perspective than the traditional stance. He starts from the position that the defining characteristic of the God proclaimed by Jesus Christ is a God of Mercy. Such mercy and compassion is not a soft call. True mercy and God’s justice are as one. These values call for strong character and integrity at the personal level as well as the communal and leadership levels.

Walter Kasper gives us a clue about what we Christians need to cultivate in our lives, in the Church and in civil society, if anything is to change for the better. He says:

“It is important to recall anew the potential of our own tradition of Christian mercy, whose potential is yet to be exhausted. It has shaped Western culture, and, in addition, the culture of humankind in a decisive way. Such reflection is urgently needed today. There is scarcely a more important topic than this.” (p.40)

Perhaps Western society needs to recapture this tradition of Christian mercy in new and creative ways. Such mercy and compassion also lie at the core of all the major religions of the world. He also challenges all peoples with these words:

“The fact that compassion and mercy are universal human virtues can encourage us to engage in dialogue with other cultures and religions and to work together with them for understanding and peace in the world.” (p.39)

Perhaps these somewhat disparate musings of mine about creativity and mercy, and the opposites of hate and destruction in society and Church are simply a call for a new paradigm, where the best in our humanity might prevail in seeking peace and justice in our global community.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence.

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