Arts and Culture

Being a Member of Christ’s Body To Improve the Faith

I have been so impressed by Father Robert Imbelli’s essay in the November, 2021 issue of Commonweal, that I have been discussing it with friends, both priests and lay people. Imbelli’s essay is a response to Peter Steinfels’ excellent essay on the Eucharist in the October 2021 issue of Commonweal. The two essays are so good that they make me glad that I am in the same Church as Steinfels and Imbelli!

I am hoping to send in some suggestions for the upcoming Synod called by Pope Francis and I am encouraged to do so by the essays by Steinfels and Imbelli. It is easy to be critical about what is wrong with the Catholic Church. Many people have opinions about what is wrong but when the opportunity comes to make some suggestions about what can be done to improve the Church I think it is important that all of us respond.

This Synod is close to Pope Francis’ heart. It ought to be close to our hrearts. He believes great things can come from it. Through the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence and our graced responses the Synod may be the occasion for a Second Spring for the Church. Just that Pope Francis is excited about the Synod is reason enough for me to be excited. The Holy Father believes that the Synod can be an event leading to genuine renewal in the Church.

I agree completely with him and I plan to take part by offering suggestions to Father Joseph Gibino, pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Whitestone. Joe is in charge of the Brooklyn Diocese’s participation in the Synod. Whatever suggestions I make my plan is to somehow incorporate some of Steinfels’ and Imbelli’s insights.

Father Imbelli writes the following:

“I would however, strongly recommend as required chapter three of Pope Francis encyclical, Laudato si: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis’. Here the pope severely criticizes the reductive anthropology of secular modernity. Its rampant individualism, which wreaks havoc on both the human community and the natural environment, manifests itself in a ‘disordered desire to consume’, resulting in what the pope calls ‘a throwaway culture.’ He argues there can be ‘no ecology without an adequate  anthropology .’ Such an anthropology would insist on humanity’s relational nature. As Francis puts it: ‘It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected.’”

I confess that I find Imbelli’s reflections on the Holy Father’s insights both profoundly true and even encouraging. I have spent most of my adult years teaching seminarians and other university students what I consider an adequate anthropology, an anthropology that seems to be exactly what the Holy Father says is needed. I have never questioned the importance of teaching philosophy but I confess that being on the same page as Francis is encouraging.

I have written two books about Francis’ vision of the human person. One of the reasons I wrote them was my discovery that many Catholics do not read papal Encyclicals. In writing the books I was hoping to make Francis’ insights available to those who might not have read them in Francis encyclicals.

In every philosophy class I teach at St. John’s University I begin by presenting the philosophy of secular humanism which is very much like what Francis refers to as “the “reductive anthropology of secular modernity”. I do that for at least two reasons: one reason is that traces of this vision surrounds us in our culture in contemporary theatre, films, television shows, novels and perhaps even in some high school and college science courses, and the second reason is to use it as a contrast to the philosophy of the human person that I will present in the course I am teaching.

Often in class in exploring the mystery of person I stress the relational nature of the human person. In fact the relational nature of the human person is the central insight on which I base the anthropology I present to the students. More and more since I have become interested in eculogy and since reading Francis L”Laudato si” and theologian Elizabeth Johnson’s terrific book  “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” I find myself saying “Everything is connected”.

Reflecting on the relational nature of the human person I believe that Pope Francis is underlining this profound truth by calling the Synod. All of us are a part of the Mystical Body of Christ.

What we do as followers of Christ is very important. The Body can be stronger or weaker because of us. Believing that deeply, I am determined to somehow contribute to the Synod. I think all the members of Christ’s Body should. Responding will be like offering our special gift. I believe the Holy Spirit will bless those gifts and use them. All the members of Christ’s Body should.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.