I believe that the time is now for resolute and inspired action in the Church. The Cardinals gathered in Rome need to take seriously the presence of the Holy Spirit among the community of believers as well as among themselves. They need to let go once and for all of an outdated understanding of revelation as something fixed in dogmas, rigidly cast in the aspic of timeless eternities.
In his 1926 Lowell Lectures the great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said:
Religions commit suicide when they find their inspirations in their dogmas. The inspiration of religion lies in the history of religion. By this I mean that it is to be found in the primary expressions of the intuitions of the finest types of religious lives. The sources of religious belief are always growing, though some supreme expressions may lie in the past.
Niebuhr, in his book The Meaning of Revelation, has argued that religion and religious beliefs arise within the lived history of people. Neither metaphysics nor science have given us religious beliefs. Quoting Luke’s Gospel (1:1) Niebuhr points out that the origin of Christian faith are “those things which happened among us and to us”. What we believe as Christians is as much about the conclusions we reach on the basis of a shared reflection on our stories as believers as it is on what is set down in the catechism. Whitehead, by the way, in his Lowell Lectures was at pains to point out that there is a role for dogmas in the shaping of religious beliefs.
So, back to the Cardinals, it is my own personal hope that the Cardinals will give time to discernment, reflection and talking. They should not be limited to whatever is presented by way of ‘official guidance’, whether this should come in the form of an official sermon or by any rigidity in the interpretation of their task as electors.
Let us hope that they will give all the necessary time required to reflect on what the times are saying, what the people of God are saying, and what recent events are saying. It is only in this way that they can possibly understand what is ‘revealed’ to them.