Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hard-line bishops, "Nien-sayers," Inquisitive Eunuchs and the Socratic Method

I have been surprised by the intensity of interest in and reaction to the selection of Bishop John C. Nienstedt as our new Archbishop here in St. Paul/ Minneapolis.

The "party-line" displayed by the print media was not a surprise. They called him a hard line bishop, much as I expected. More interesting to me is to digest the 130+ comments on the article, which run 20 to 1 in favor of this conservative swing. Almost uniformly the appointment is applauded, with auslanders often commenting, "I hope we get a bishop like this in our own diocese."

What is even more surprising to me is the level of anxiety among my own friends and fellow parishoners about this appointment (Uh-oh. perhaps that says something about the theological orientation of the people I hang with).

There is worry out there, among what I call the party of the "nien-sayers." They are concerned lest the hard-fought gains of Vatican II be diluted or reversed by this German from nearby New Ulm.

There is no denying that Bishop Nienstedt is very conservative. However, this sounds to me a lot like the buzz which arose at the elevation of the so-called "Panzercardinal" to the Papacy in 2005. And we've all seen how that turned out. Controversy-wise, it's a big yawn; pastoral-wise, it's been a breath of fresh and loving air.

After Father Charlie Lachowitzer prayed for our new bishop this morning at Mass, a pew-ly neighbor turned to me and commented on the local press reaction. He remarked something like this: "what's the big deal? Sounds to me like he's a Catholic bishop."

About right. But wait, there's more.

I have often wondered why the media seem to get Catholic teaching so very wrong so often. I am just not willing to roll over and concede, like some, that this dis-information feed is totally due to some inbred anti-Catholic bias.

After reading what they wrote about our new Archbishop, I've about decided that it is almost useless to try and absorb the answers which the Faith provides without also understanding the questions which these answers address.

The best re-presentations of the Faith almost always involve questions and answers on all sides. Like Socrates, the Lord Jesus taught this way, by means of question and answer. Another good example of this dialogical method is today's First Reading, the story of Philip the Deacon and the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The entire exchange between these two is a volley of question and answer, inquiry and explication. Respectful and loving, the end result is the much-to-be-desired conversion of a soul.

Somehow I believe that this type of respectful dialogue is one way forward to clear and consistent communication of objective Catholic truth. I think our new Bishop is quite capable of and willing to engage in such such dialogue. And the endpoint will be the same, I believe.... the salvation of all our souls.

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