A Voice of Their Own
Authority in the Church is vested primarily in the local parish community, said Fr. William A. Clark, S.J., Assistant Professor of Religious studies at Holy Cross College, and guest speaker at a public conference organized by FutureChurch and held at John Carroll University in February in Cleveland, Ohio. Clark is the author of the book, A Voice of Their Own: The Authority of the Local Parish.
Based on the thesis that, “…local Church is where it happens—‘around the Table’—to quote Karl Rahner, the local Church possesses the proper type of authority essential to the life of the whole Church,” said Clark. The institutional structure is needed and so is the “living tradition” but they become exclusively hierarchical if input from the laity is weak or without the intimacy of face-to-face discussion of the lived experience.
According to Clark, pastoral ministry and theology must work together, a reflection which led to his paradigm on how authority of the people is sanctioned. First, the Church is the family of God as well as the house of God. It’s where we are nurtured and where we nurture each other. Second, Church is a Communion. It is a blend of the accepted and the marginalized. Third, Church is the People of God, where different ecclesiologies are accepted as far as they assist in the sanctity of all. Finally, Church is a sacrament wherein we are blest with the presence of each other around the Eucharistic Table.
“Look at the face of the Church, “ said Clark, “and you will see the Face of God.” Out of this mix the Spirit will speak. “You don’t look for a leader many miles away,” he added. Local communities are the authorizers of universal structures. The truly authentic community is in dialogue with authoritative foundations despite manifold tensions that will occur. It is aware of and nurturing of relationships and it watches for the movement of the Spirit. This community embodies Christ’s Presence in ritual and tradition and teaches the whole community what genuine authority is.
By Mary Ann Flannery, SC