During a pontificate that is often confusing and even self-contradictory, we are fortunate to have two outstanding cardinals in charge of two key congregations. The Guinean Robert Sarah leads the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the German Gerhard Müller has charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We are also fortunate that Ignatius Press has published book-length interviews with both men, in which they each respond to a long series of significant questions.
For someone who covers the news every day, it’s frustrating to read a story and know that important information has been left out. In such cases, when I have no good way to dig out the missing details for myself, I’m left with the uneasy feeling that I don’t know the real truth; I only know that I haven’t seen it yet.
One wonders where Pope Francis finds the people who provide articles to L’Osservatore Romano which attack those who raise questions about his leadership. The latest is Father Salvador Pié-Ninot, who has criticized what he calls “dissent in the form of public criticism” of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Of course, I do not know that the Pope actively recruited Fr. Pié-Ninot. As evidenced by the broadside released by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, there are plenty of churchmen who are happy to preach tradition and orthodoxy when those who can promote them are traditional and orthodox, and to condemn those who value tradition and orthodoxy when those who can promote them are not.
Though Clement and Origen were by far the most important members of the School of Alexandria, a number of other associated figures from the third and early fourth centuries are worth mentioning. Their writings are only extant in fragments, if at all.
Earlier this week, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus stressed the need to “discern” the meaning of Christ’s teachings rather than simply accept the way Catholic doctrine states these truths. This triggered an email from an obviously same-sex attracted reader who ecstatically thanked God that someone “besides the Pope” was finally willing to express the truth about the teachings of the Church: “They must be discerned!”
How many times have you fallen into the traps set by the very strengths of your own personality? This is one of the great paradoxes of the spiritual life. As we come to grips with divergent personalities within the Church, it is worth thinking about.
Cultural change, as we all know, has a profound impact on our convictions. Very large numbers of people cheerfully form their values according to the signals received from the dominant culture in which they live. Since human cultures undergo continuous change, so do human values. It seems not to trouble the great majority of people that they now embrace as good some things that they formerly opposed as evil—or vice versa.
La Civilta Cattolica has published an essay by its deputy editor, Father Giancarlo Pani, which seeks to reopen the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. This journal, published by the Jesuits but vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State, has long been a means of communicating lines of thought which reigning popes consider important. Therefore, the kindest way to describe this particular article is “peculiar”. It is, in fact, peculiar in at least three serious ways: politically, administratively, and theologically.
I find myself wondering whether Pope Francis does not sometimes undermine his own favorite themes, such as Divine mercy and Christian unity, by his obvious reluctance to articulate their significant moral character. I consider this an important question because the Pope’s key themes are strikingly beautiful, yet without adverting clearly to the moral demands of new life in Christ, Catholic solidarity can be reduced to lip service.
Throughout history there has been an interplay between human culture and Divine Revelation. Different patterns emerge in the proclamation and reception of the truths of our faith in Jesus Christ. In each culture Christianity generates a different set of tensions, as the gospel builds on, purifies and perfects what is good, while opposing and rejecting what is bad. This is why successful evangelization depends on finding points in common with the perceptions and values of those who are receiving Christ for the first time. Such reference points enable them to relate positively to the Good News, rather than perceiving it as hostile, as an attack, a denunciation or a rebuke.
There has been much talk of “gradualism” over the past generation or two, and most of it has been rather foolish. Whenever the term is used to describe the normal process by which a person grows in spiritual understanding, in the love of God, and in virtue, gradualism is a descriptive term which essentially states the obvious. Good spiritual counselors will take careful note of a person’s spiritual maturity, and tailor their advice so it is suitable to that person’s understanding and commitment, seeking to prompt growth without breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smoldering wick (Is 42:3).
You would be hard-pressed to find a Catholic today who would dare to denounce or condemn anyone for their failure to accept the Gospel and live accordingly. Such harsh speech is part of the larger secular culture, but it has generally faded from what we might consider Catholic culture. Most often we encounter this sort of frankness only when our cultural elites are intent on chastising Christians for acting as if Christianity is true.