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Issue Date:  September 8, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

A pioneer of holy disquiet

It is entirely coincidental but not inconsequential that a week after the story of one woman’s wrenching decision to seek membership and ordination in a different Christian denomination, we should celebrate the life of another who stayed in the Catholic church to the end.

I am convinced that ultimately the church’s story will be of both -- of the Deborah Halters who, having reached an ecclesiastical glass ceiling, move on, and of the Sr. Mary Luke Tobins, the pioneers who will not be removed, who stay to question and prod and cause holy disquiet.

I am convinced because I think in the long arc of the Christian story, God is not bound by denominations, catechisms, or one age’s comprehension of God’s understanding of any host of issues. All of those things -- denominations, catechisms, liturgies and the rest -- are essential in each age to our understanding and expression of faith, but they hardly make the whole story. If they did, we might well be stuck in a time when women were considered subhuman, when heretics -- who today might be welcomed in our midst -- were beheaded, when popes forced Jews in Rome to live in a ghetto and when church teaching required everyone to believe that the earth was the center of the universe.

We can be grateful that, however slowly, our insights into what it means to be human and to be Christian develop and change over time.

~ ~ ~

I’ll risk the presumption that Sr. Tobin believed that Christianity was not a static matter of rules and proscriptions. She was too full of life and energy to accept such an ecclesiology. That’s why, I would guess, she jumped on the boat to Rome before she even had an invitation to be part of the Second Vatican Council; why she joined with women from other denominations to advance the cause of women in church; why she developed a friendship with Trappist monk Thomas Merton; why she engaged in acts of civil disobedience; why she danced.

Hers was one of those lives that itself is the best explanation of what Christianity can mean to the world, of what the community called Catholic has to offer. See Patricia Lefevere’s appreciation of Sr. Tobin. (See story)

~ ~ ~

I live in Kansas, just west of the Missouri state line, so I know too well the nuttiness of the “evolution debate” that goes on every few years when the conservative-liberal balance of the state school board is in play (it most recently tilted to the liberal end of the things). Words are inadequate. This isn’t really a debate, it’s a sound bite shouting match; it isn’t as much about evolution as it is about the imposition of a narrow religious view; and it isn’t conservatives in the classic sense, but religious extremists; nor is it really a liberal argument in that classic sense, either, but an embarrassed reaction across the spectrum that at the beginning of the 21st century an elected board would argue against teaching evolution as part of the science curriculum.

But, as John L. Allen Jr.’s report makes clear, there are deeper questions about evolution, about what its acceptance as a “first philosophy” portends for religion, about contemporary assumptions that might emanate from an unquestioning acceptance of the view that only that which can be subjected to scientific scrutiny is worth believing. (See story)

Allen digs deep into the writings of the then-Joseph Ratzinger to determine what Pope Benedict XVI might ultimately say about evolution. The topic arises as a point of interest because the subject of discussion when the pope meets this month with former doctoral students is “Creation and Evolution.” As is clear from Allen’s report, this is not a treatment that yields to sound bites or simplistic formulations, nor does it attempt to override science’s province.

A longer and more detailed treatment is available online in Allen’s All Things Catholic column. I encourage you to take the time to read through it. It will make you proud to be Catholic amid the clangor of talking heads and political/religious extremists.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2006

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