Another Great Picnic. Last Sunday’s parish picnic was another great success, with one of the largest crowds I’ve seen at our annual shindig. Thanks be to God for another perfect day, especially weather-wise. And thanks to all who worked so hard to make it such a wonderful time, especially the Knights of Columbus and the parish staff, particularly Kirsti Tyson. And thanks to all of you who came out; I hope you had as good a time as I did.
Sad News. One of my proudest achievements in life was to earn the academic degree of Sacred Theology Licentiate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family. Ever since it was personally established by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982, the Institute has been one of the Church’s foremost schools of theology, and the leader in its field, and has grown to have flourishing campuses in various countries around the world, including the one in Washington, which I attended.
Imagine my grief when yesterday I read that Pope Francis was officially closing this thriving Institute, and replacing it with a new Institute with a similar but different name: Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. For the time being, the faculty of the old Institute will move over to the new Institute, but I think that will change soon, as the mission will be subtly but importantly different. The old Institute was established by St. John Paul to clarify and re-present the Church’s philosophy, theology and doctrine on Marriage and Family to the modern world, according to the very clear guidance he laid out in his letter Familiaris Consortio. The new Institute founded by Pope Francis seems to seek to present the Church’s teaching with an increased influence of secular science and the guidance of Pope Francis’ letter Amoris Laetitia.
Unfortunately, while Familiaris Consortio was clearly an affirmation and clarification of the Church’s constant teaching, certain passages of Amoris Laetitia have caused widespread confusion and division, as some theologians, bishops and cardinals have tried to argue that AL changes unchangeable Church teaching. This confusion has led to hundreds of distinguished theologians to plead with Pope Francis for clarification. You may recall that four superlatively distinguished Cardinal-theologians, including Cardinal Burke and the recently deceased Cardinals Meisner and Caffarra, publicly submitted the famous “Five Dubia” to Pope Francis also asking for this clarification. Moreover, the founding leader of the new Institute sometimes seems confused about unchangeable doctrine, in contrast to the founding leader of the old Institute, Cardinal Caffarra.
In all this, I intend no criticism, whatsoever, of His Holiness—I am an obedient and loving son of the Church and the Pope. But I do wonder, as any Catholic is free to, if this was the best direction to go in. As such, I worry that it may not bode well for the Church. And I grieve the passing of such an outstanding Institute of studies established by the Great Saint John Paul II. My revered alma mater is no more. May Christ bless the new Institute that replaces it. And let us pray for St. John Paul’s continuing intercession for God’s blessing on Pope Francis.
Reflections on “Theology.” It seems to me that over the last 100 years there has been a growing trend among theologians to move away from reflecting on the Church’s treasury of doctrine and theology as handed down to them by the great and saintly theologians of the past to more and more emphasis on reflecting on what other more recent and even contemporary theologians are saying. So that many modern theologians wind up citing and reflecting on the writings of their teachers or peers more than they cite the Early Fathers of the Church, the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the great theologian saints (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Alphonsus Liguori, etc.) and 19 centuries of Papal magisterium. They especially do this when studying or citing Scripture, citing the mere theories of modern writers and ignoring the profound commentaries of the great saints of centuries past—especially the Early Fathers who were so close in time to the Apostles themselves.
All this leads, I think, to what Pope Benedict XVI used to call the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” (“hermeneutic” is an interpretive “key,” or guiding principle or perspective). Clearly, not everything these great writers/theologians from the past wrote is “infallible,” but they do represent the handing down of Church teaching from the Apostles to us, as well as (to some extent) the Divinely inspired treasury of guidance of the Church. Neglecting this treasury not only impoverishes modern theology, but creates ruptures and discontinuity with the Church founded by Christ, which leads at best to confusion and at worst to heresy.
I see this at the heart of the problem of the many errors made by so many in the Church over the last 50 years or so, and especially today. This seems the case, for example, with those who are trying to change or “reinterpret” Church teaching on divorce and remarriage: they constantly cite (or simply incorporate without citing) the theology of other modern theologians, but either ignore the theological and doctrinal “treasury” of the Church, or cite it out of context or incorrectly to support their dissent from it.
This problem really goes back to two related/interdependent concepts that permeate the documents of the Second Vatican Council: “ressourcement” (meaning “going back to the sources,” i.e., the Early Fathers, Councils, etc.), and “aggiornamento” (meaning “updating,” i.e., presenting ancient things to the modern age). Sadly, “updating” became the dominant concept for many theologians immediately after the Council, but without being integrated with “going back to the sources,” so that “theologizing” became dependent on the whims of current theologians and philosophers—Catholic and not.
Fortunately, in time, the great theologians St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI (who were both actually prominent theologians at the Council) insisted on the proper integration of aggiornamento and ressourcement, and for 37 years helped guide theologians on the path leading from the Church of Apostolic times to today. Unfortunately, with their passing from the scene, the aggiornamento-only crowd seems to be making a comeback. Pray that Pope Francis will be able to help them back to the right path.
Life Chain. Next Sunday October 1, “Respect Life Sunday,” our parishioners will join thousands of Americans in the “Life Chain.” Please join over 100 of your fellow St. Raymond parishioners and other local pro-lifers in front of Key Middle School to peacefully and quietly pray, as a public witness to the dignity of human life. See the Respect Life corner below for more information.
“Ad Orientem” at 10:30.” Next Sunday, October 1, the 10:30 Mass will be celebrated “Ad Orientem,” (as we do at 8:45 Mass). Please see my columns from last month on this, and approach it with an open heart and mind. Remember, we will do this at the 10:30 Mass on the 1st Sunday of every Month.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles