The “signs of the times” part one

I wish to write a few posts on the seminal Catholic idea of the “signs of the times” and the Vatican Council as a “signs of the times” council. This appears fortuitous as the daily lectionary reading of yesterday April 15:

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:7,8

The  Wind (the pneuma, ruah) the breath of God blows wherever it pleases. And you have to be sensitive to this blowing.

In the synoptics Matthew 16:4, Jesus is quoted —“You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times.”

The idea is simple.God is active in history and often among people who have never heard of Jesus or the gospel. Or at present, the Vatican, the institutional centre of Roman Catholicism.

Institutions of course are often the last to catch up to “the signs”.They are too cumbersome, too invested in power and authority. The “signs” are always spotted on the edges, the margins.Note Jesus on the fringes of institutional Judaism, Francis and Clare, Merton,Dorothy Day etc on the margins of Catholicism. Schopenhauer has something to add here: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

The prophetic of course first grasps the meaning of “the signs”, it first sees a historical manifestation of God in action. Pope John XXlll in his encyclical Pacem In Terris (April 11, 1963), right in the middle of the great Council, named three areas in particular which pointed to God’s summons : workers rights first

Working men all over the world are loud in their demands that they shall in no circumstances be subjected to arbitrary treatment, as though devoid of intelligence and freedom. They insist on being treated as human beings, with a share in every sector of human society.

Pope John names the new awareness of the absolute dignity of each human being.This “of God”

and this prescient observation:

Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.

In this historical awakening, we have a theological reading: God is present in a new and insistent way.

Simply, women are demanding an inherent right, absolute equality with men.Move over Betty Friedan who wrote The Feminine Mystique the same year.Theologian Margit Eckholt (b 1960)

To take not seriously the theological work of women and feminist-theological approaches will push the Catholic Church more and more into the offside; also that is why one is to listen to the voice of women and why their “empowerment” in church and society is further a necessary “sign of the times”.

Masses of women have left the Catholic Church, which almost 50 years after this encyclical, has not found ways to incorporate daughters and wives, mothers and grandmothers as fully participatory beings active in decision-making capacities.

This gender injustice is simply a scandal, a sin, and a shocking failure to embrace an authentic  “sign of the time.”

The institutional identity of the Catholic Church is still characterized by clericalism, hierarchy and patrairchy.It is a deep wound which needs immediate attention.


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