For months the trial of two priests, one accused of sexual abuse and the other the former Secretary for the Clergy, has dominated Philadelphia newscasts. Last month The New York Times along with most national Catholic publications laid bare the heavy-handedness with which the Vatican has treated American women religious. The opening of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland has a lot of empty seats. Most anywhere in the Western world when one gathers for Sunday Eucharist, one gathers with a smaller and older congregation. Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church is a “house in need of repair.”
To this task, Michael Crosby brings a rich assortment of materials. He draws on classic and contemporary theologians, social scientists, Eastern thinkers, proponents of the “new cosmology”, popular authors, as well as quite frequently, Pope Benedict XVI. Though generally quoting Pope Benedict in a very positive manner, Crosby introduces his text with an opposing view. Crosby notes that Pope Benedict perceives a “crisis of faith” in modern culture that accounts for diminished commitment to the church. The author, I believe quite correctly, suggests the greater issue lies in a “crisis of structures,” the real problems of the church’s governance.
To what he identifies as the irrelevance of ecclesiastical patterns, he seeks to offer an exploration of a mysticism of the Trinity correlated with the human and even the cosmos as an organism. Crosby proposes that an experience of the Trinitarian God, mysticism, ought lead the believer to new relationships with others as well as the cosmos. This he entitles the “dao” of the Kingdom.
The author organizes the book into three parts first addressing the current situation and the need for “a new Catholic myth.” In Part Two he outlines the way of the dao as made known in the preaching of Jesus and the mystery of God. The remainder of the book explores seven “sacramentals” for living the Kingdom, and reforming the Church.
A genuine strength of the text is that, as Crosby makes clear, he used a number of retreat talks, and other presentations, to pull together the various ways he had addressed aspects of his topic over several years. The reader can well imagine the preacher addressing a well-engaged audience. The style allows for, and commands, the integration of a wide range of sources. In light of this, one should probably read the text as a series of talks, not as a finely tuned systematic text. One could make a decent individual retreat with a careful reading and meditation on each of the seven “ways” of living the Kingdom today.
As with many other texts, a genuine strength can be a true weakness. Some sections of the text appear needlessly repetitive – especially if read in a shorter period of time. The author expresses some surprise and disappointment when he received just four sentences from a curial official in reply to his letter to Pope Benedict about the state of the church. When I imagine Crosby giving a talk, I hear his surprise as “tongue in cheek.” As written text, it can seem pretentious.
Similarly, I find Crosby’s divide between Culture I and Culture II Catholics a bit too facile. He suggests that the only real theological division between the two groups (at least his only issues) consist of a disagreement over birth control and the ordination of women. From a theological perspective, the more fundamental division over the question of the development of dogma (a real issue prior to, during, and after the Council) lies at the heart of resolving the two contemporary issues he identifies. The text would make a better contribution to resolving some of the lived differences within the church if the author appreciated Culture I and Culture II Catholics as individuals or groups starting at or giving particular accent to differing perspectives. Toward the end of the text, with regard to the creation of alternate “remnant” communities, a tone of “us vs. them” emerges.
Drawing on his doctoral studies, the author engages in an exploration of the relationship between faith and science. He shows great creativity in first exploring, and keeping at the heart of his text, the relationship between faith and the social science of economics. He describes economics as the “ordering of the house” and expands the notion of house to include the human family and the cosmos. As in other sections, he draws on well-known, and lesser known, experts to explain in a very intelligible way some of the insights of modern science. With this understanding of the world, he sees faith finding support and faith contributing to the creation of a more just world.
Michael Crosby did not set out to write a text that would give quick and easy answers to the many crises facing the Catholic Church today. People who heard a dynamic word in his speaking asked him to pull his thoughts together. This he has done. The careful reader might apply too much critical analysis to the text. However, even the critical reader can gain a sense of hope and encouragement while engaged in the major renovation of a house in need of much repair.