Timothy Radcliffe, Modern Prophet

There's something about the British Dominicans that never fails to attract me to their thought, and to their general style; there's a lack of fear, and an overall style of presentation that always seems to be in line with a Gospel sense of humility.

And of the many British Dominicans running about, one of my favorites is Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master-General of the Order. I'd recommend almost any of his books (his newest, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, his reflections on the Seven Last Words, and I Call You Friends) for Lenten, Holy Week, or Easter reading.

Last week, John Allen of NCR had some extensive quotations from a talk Radcliffe gave in L.A. in his column; they're a good way of someone from outside of the American situation reminding us of how we are called to be in relation to each other, despite our intense ideological divides:

On Saturday morning in Los Angeles, Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, master general of the worldwide Dominican order from 1992 to 2001, delivered a keynote lecture on "The Church as Sign of Hope and Freedom."

On the subject of the church and homosexuality, Radcliffe called for the church to "stand with" gay people.

"We must accompany them as they discern what this means, letting our images be stretched open," he said. "This means watching 'Brokeback Mountain,' reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord."

Even when we feel that gay people are moving in the wrong direction, he said, we must "walk with them."

Radcliffe, an Englishman, later addressed what he called the "ideological divisions in the church in the United States," saying they struck him as deeper "than anywhere else in the world."

"We are not a sign of God's freedom until we can dare to belong to each other across every theological boundary," Radcliffe said, drawing sustained applause from the crowd in the Anaheim arena.

Radcliffe called for compassion for various constituencies, including sexually abusing priests, whom he described as "the lepers of the modern church, the unclean whom we fear to touch."

Radcliffe then contrasted the spirit of the gospels with a political approach he called "expediency," meaning a willingness to treat people as means rather than ends -- the supreme instance, he said, being the attitude of "better one man should die than a risk of unrest" which led to Jesus' death on the Cross.

Radcliffe described the Allied firebombing of Dresden during the Second World War, the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, and the practice of "special renditions," in effect meaning torture, now in use as part of the War on Terror, as examples of the logic of "expediency."

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