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What Is It to Think with the Church? Dr. Marga Vega
Is to think “with the Church” just to think “in agreement” with the Church? This sounds like this other question “Is to live a Christian live to lead our lives in conformity with the Ten Commandments? The commandments -I once heard- are a limit to our human stupidity. The “you shall not…” of some the commandments is built in the pursuit of the Christian life of virtue, but the yes, “you shall” that is behind them needs to sound louder. Christian life certainly includes compliance with the law of God, but our Christian vocation is called to supersede mere compliance. It is called to display the ever growing life of virtue that, in a personal and unique way, realizes that individual call and love of God for each one of us. We are not called to survive but to flourish, and to flourish in different ways.
In the same way, to think with the Church is not just to think in agreement but to think ahead, to think to solve. Because of the unfortunate episode of the apple, we started having headaches and back pains. Because of the light of reason and the love for truth that God has granted us, we invented analgesics and unaffordable Tempurpedic mattresses. Is this problem-solving attitude too pragmatic? Too optimistic? Too forgetful of the mystery of the Cross? Maybe not completely - let me explain.
In thinking with the Church we think with Christ and the body of Christ, and we contemplate His passion and acceptance of evil. We know that the ugliness and evil that we encounter and are called to accept as well, are not the last word. Christ’s ultimate gesture was not just His death but His resurrection. Christ accepted the reality of sin and evil but only so he could end it. Knowing that the reality of evil will accompany us until the end of time is not a reason for inaction. In thinking with the Church we are not only called to preserve the deposit of faith, to agree with it, but to show the antiquity of the Gospel in the novelty of circumstances and in the novelty of people.
People are the one thing that is always new: with each person that is born a fresh universe is created. And those people bring new problems and solutions. To think with the Church requires attention to the variety of people. The more people, the more diversity of needs. Home makers, chefs, restaurants, etc… avoid giving the same Mac and Cheese for dinner every day if possible. In my household we have had recently low sodium diet for grandma, wheat and milk allergy, egg and shelfish, and nuts. The picky eater gets secretly exposed to delicacies that her palate does not tolerate, and to familiar flavors that her capricious taste will accept. The baby requires smashed food. Sometimes it is cold turkey for everybody: “no salt, no cheese, no bread, no, no, no, no…” But if someone asked “What is for dinner tonight?” I don’t think we would say, “well no salt, no milk, no wheat, no egg, no shelfish, no… ”. We have Mac and Cheese for dinner, no “no-no”. If we did the “no-no” we would probably be sending the message of being paralyzed by the fear of a heart attack or anaphylactic shock, instead of the enjoyment of a (hopefully) tasty meal.
Having a variety of people and needs does not mean that we have to become entrenched in our “nos”. It calls for a more engaged and thoughtful consideration of the goodness of the revelation in the light of our contemporary situation, of the diversity of people and the variety in which each one will be able to be part of that Church.
The Church feeds us with intellectual goods that require nutritional variety and that require thinking. Thinking with the Church, should definitely take us beyond the “limit to human stupidity” to engage in creativity. Thinking is not only of the theoretical reason, of the grandiose ideas, but of the practical reason, of cultivating the virtue of prudence by which we are able to see the reality that surrounds us and to offer what that reality needs. Fighting poverty requires more than sending donations, ramping atheism more than reproach, abortion more than protest, defection from the Church more than despise, abuse more than shame. For every “you shan’t” there are so many “we can figure out ways…”.
When we think with the Church, we think ahead of all this issues. We do not pact with them just because that is human nature, and because after this life will come a better one. We won’t be able to bring utopia to earth, but as part of the Church we are engaged in the adventure of making real “thy Kingdom come”.
Last, to think with the Church is to think with the whole of the Church. Traditionally, thinking was reserved to a few that were able to get an education and training. Nowadays, access to information is available to a greater audience. And even if information does not equal thinking, information can make thinking available to more and more people. Thinking with the Church then requires now that the think-tanks that lived in the high snow mountains need to melt and reach more people. If the snow melts, then it inundates the valley with water, and the valley flourishes. In this regard, DSPT’s mission is crucial.
Lastly, to think with the Church also includes thinking with that part of the Church that is not “officially” part of the Church right now, but that one day we will find in heaven because it will have been redeemed by Christ too. When I told my mother-in-law who is visiting that we were having this event at DSPT, she told me: “I´ll tell you what you have to say.” Beyond her duties as mother-in-law she felt she needed to transmit something from her point of view as non-Catholic and non-believer. She said to me: “words matter”. Three months ago her husband, long time non-practicing Catholic and best friend for over fifty years, passed away. She made the decision for him to receive the Anointing of the Sick since he was unable to speak. As her husband received the Sacrament, he started mouthing the responses to the priest at the appropriate times. There was no doubt in the family´s mind that that is what he wanted. Her family had to opportunity to experience the beauty of faith in the midst of the sorrow and the hope for being reunited in heaven with God. Words mattered because the words they heard were transmitting the beauty of the faith, not the condemnation of the “no-no”. If our thinking with the Church is expressed in our words, then our words should be the ones that adequately convey the beauty of faith.
Dr. Marga Vega is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at DSPT. She teaches classes on Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, Theory of Knowledge, Philosophy of Society and more. More information about Dr. Vega's classes, research interests and publications can be found on her faculty page.