Fr Michael Morwood MSC continues to be in great demand in a number of Australian dioceses as a provider of regular 'up-datings' of the Catholic Faith. His presentations have been given the fullest support by local Church authorities - most recently in the Ballarat Diocese. However, according to Dr Frank Mobbs, who formerly taught philosophy and theology at the Ballarat Campus of Australian Catholic University, there is much in Fr Morwood's latest book, 'Tomorrow's Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium' (Spectrum Books, 1997, 146pp RRP $19.95) that needs to be seriously challenged.
Fr Morwood is very clear about what he aims to achieve by his latest book, Tomorrow's Catholics: a revolution in the beliefs of Catholics (p. 81).
The book is addressed to Catholics but, except incidentally, it does not deal with Catholic religious practices or with moral matters. The focus is on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity - indeed, the articles of the Creed. Fr Morwood sets out to persuade Catholics to believe his Creed (Revised Version, 1997).
The book is sure to enjoy success amongst those who describe themselves as Catholics and who like to consider themselves as possessing a superior state of consciousness which puts them in touch with large things, such as the cosmos.
Completely absent from the book is the notion that God (Christ) authorised the Catholic Church to determine what counts as the beliefs of a Christian. Indeed that notion is expressly rejected. The teachings of the early Ecumenical Councils, the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, and of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are all cited as instances of false teachings.
Yesterday's Catholic is caricatured as a theological dinosaur, giving blind obedience to everything the Church teaches and commands, whilst tomorrow's Catholic is that most adaptable of species, the one who will believe anything that sounds new.
* We believe in God - Creator of heaven and earth: Catholics are here asked to re-image God.
At once Fr Morwood is in a mess of contradictions, e.g., God is distinct from and independent of the universe (p. 9); God is not distinct from the universe - he is "incarnated" in it (p. 16, p. 37). This latter theme runs the length of the book. How does Morwood explain "incarnated"? Just as mind is present in all matter (! ), so God is present in all things (p. 39). This gives a "scientific model" of God - but it is known by faith (p. 39), not by science!
That does not strike me as an explanation.
Whatever God is, he did not start the creation at will, he is not distinct from us (p. 10), does not require praise and sacrifice, and does not reward and punish after death (p. 18, p. 103), he is not in heaven, he does not love one person more than another (p. 99), he speaks when I speak and composes poetry when I do (p. 99), he is limited by the universe (p. 48, p. 101), is not to be feared (p. 103), he permeates everyone equally, including Jesus (p. 104), and he reveals contradictory doctrines (pp. 47-49) - which Morwood describes as "a radically different view of revelation" (p. 48).
Fortunately Fr Morwood has insured himself against any charge of uttering nonsense by adding, "We can never claim that we are actually imaging or describing who or what God is" (p. 48).
It turns out that everything is divine. So we are divine - just as the New Agers have been telling us. We are distinct in that we can become aware that we are divine. Becoming thus aware is Fr Morwood's goal for a new spirituality.
This insight has, no doubt, led Fr Morwood to a new appreciation of racists, exploiters of the poor, destroyers of the environment, oppressors of women, paedophiles, and others of his pet hates. One supposes that upon meeting them he will exclaim, "Oh, how divine!"
* And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord: This brings us to Jesus.
Morwood devotes a lot of writing to persuading us to change our ideas about Jesus. Orthodox to the core, he holds that Jesus is "divine." Meaning? That Jesus is a "human person who embodies the Wisdom of God and gives witness to that divine Wisdom in the way he lived" (p. 63). This Wisdom is not God (p. 62). Jesus acquired it - "Jesus was not always God" (p. 62); nor is he the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity (p. 63, p. 124). The Wisdom he incorporated is not unique, for "Divinity is a reality which we all share" (p. 63); "Whatever you say about Jesus in his lifetime sharing the Spirit of God, say about yourself" (p. 105); and "Jesus shared in the fullness of God's life, that we, too, share" (p. 119).
"Meet me mate, Jesus" could summarise Fr Morwood's view.
* We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: Well, not in the authority of the bishops (magisterium).
"Never again," says Morwood, "would we allow authority to ‘lord it over us'," a view "firmly grounded in the message of Jesus" (p. 86). The Church is not the one authentic bearer of the divine presence in the world (p. 45). Fr Morwood does not say, he only strongly suggests that it is time for Catholics to reject the claim to be "in an exclusive way, the authoritative presence and voice of God working in the world" (p. 122).
Argument is not Fr Morwood's strong point. His book could serve the useful purpose of a text for first-year philosophy students. They could be exercised by being required to spot all the contradictions in the text. As examples: (1) (a) "God is beyond whatever images we have of God" yet (b) "God is life-giving, loving, unbelievably compassionate" (p. 114); (2) "Let us ... focus on the man Jesus and what we know of his life" (p. 76 - my emphasis) yet (b) "But we need to speculate" on his life (p. 77); that is, on what we do not know.
Given the rest of his book, the reader will be struck by these words, "If we cannot educate both children and adults into the basis of our Christian/ Catholic tradition we can hardly call ourselves Christian/Catholic educators" (p. 131).
Indeed we can be grateful for these words which bishops, Catholic Education Offices, school principals and parish priests might like to ponder on as they continue to permit and invite Fr Morwood to persuade Catholics to adopt "tomorrow's" Creed.