I am recalling my encounter with my Dominican brother Albert Nolan on the occasion of my dismissal from the Order under pressure from Cardinal Ratzinger, a story I tell in my autobiography, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest.
In our one conversation together, he told me that the Vatican’s intention was to isolate me, that I should do whatever it takes to stay with a larger community. The Episcopal decision made all the sense in the world. Indeed, he was excited about that possibility!
This very much confirmed my own convictions, and at the same time it reminded me of a statement to me from Cardinal Arns when I had a private 45 minute meeting with him in Brazil and he said to me: “the future of the church is in ecumenism” 275f Cardinal Arns was a holy and intelligent man who stood up against the military dictatorship of Brazil for years. He also supported liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff for years against Vatican attacks.
Albert Nolan was deeply involved in ecumenical work among churches and other religions in his activism and in his writings.
Albert Nolan also taught me another and very blunt lesson born no doubt from his experience fighting apartheid and powers that be in South Africa for years. He said that the reason for my marginalization by the American Dominicans was that “North Americans don’t know a goddamn thing about solidarity.”
This was a lesson that is very much worth meditating on in the current crisis of fascism vs. democracy in America. How schooled are we in solidarity? (as opposed to power-over and patriarchal dynamics whether in religion or economics or politics?) Is Individualism a more important value in America than solidarity?
Are we more schooled in competition and envy than in compassion?
Albert Nolan’s witness and actions as well as his writings tell us a lot of how we might be behaving at this perilous time for democracy in the United States.
Among his teachings are these:
Jesus set out to liberate Israel from Rome by persuading Israel to change. Without a change of heart within Israel itself, liberation from imperialism of any kind would be impossible…. As Jesus saw it, the only way to be liberated from your enemies was to love your enemies, to do good to those who hate you, to pray for those who treat you badly (6:27-28).
This is not a matter of resigning oneself to Roman oppression; nor is it a matter of trying to kill them with kindness. It is a matter of reaching down to the root cause of all oppression and domination: man’s lack of compassion….If the Jews continued to live off the world values of money, prestige, group solidarity and power, would the Roman oppression not be replaced by an equally loveless Jewish oppression?
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 275f., 438f.
See also, Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion
See Albert Nolan, Jesus before Christianity, pp. 92-95.
To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
Is it your experience that Americans are very weak when it comes to solidarity? And that individualism reigns supreme for many? And that “man’s lack of compassion” lies at the root cause of all oppression and domination?
Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)
Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self
A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice
In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register