03 October 2009

Childlike Wisdom

26th Week OT (S): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

What's so difficult about believing and teaching that Christ is our only means of salvation? Why do some Catholics flinch when the Church authoritatively asserts: “. . .it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' the full revelation of divine truth is given. . .Only the revelation of Jesus Christ, therefore, 'introduces into our history a universal and ultimate truth which stirs the human mind to ceaseless effort'. . .It must therefore be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God”? This passage is from Dominus Iesus (2000), a document of the CDF written by Cardinal Ratzinger, a document that we were assured in seminary would be found “on the trash heap of history in ten years.” Why would any Catholic think that the reassertion of the Church's 2,000 year old teaching on Christ's unique and final sacrifice for our salvation would be trash in just ten years? Jesus says, “. . .although you have hidden these [truths] from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” For us, the difference between being “wise and learned” and being “childlike” is the willingness to be taught wisdom.

Do we need to belabor the obvious point that being “childlike” is not the same as being “childish”? No? Good. Do we need to hash out the idea that avoiding the traps of being “wise and learned” does not mean we must be “foolish and stupid”? No? Good. We do need to spend a little time noting why Jesus distinguishes the wise and learned from the childlike? And why this difference matters to the contemporary Catholic when confronted by those who would have us reject the truths reasserted by Dominus Iesus. Essentially, Jesus is distinguishing for us the difference between “knowing that” and “trusting that,” the difference between knowledge and faith. In the contemporary sense of the word, “knowledge” is understood to be truth derived from publicly available evidence—facts, information, self-evident principles. Trust, on the other hand, is all about the strength of one's confidence in another to fulfill expectations; the reliance on another person's ability and willingness to deliver on his promises. We know mathematical and scientific truths as facts; we trust family and friends as reliable keepers of our hopes. The wise and learned of Jesus' day trusted in their knowledge, making them fools in matters in faith. Christians are vowed to believe in and act on the movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, the fierce wind of Divine Love who plays our foolishness like a toy. Trusting perfectly in God, we know Him as the only way, the only truth, the only life for us and for everyone else as well.

As Dominus Iesus makes clear, it is the “everyone else as well” that causes the wise and learned in the Church to reject the unique and final role Christ in our salvation. The claim that Jesus is the way to salvation is arrogant, imperialistic, exclusive, and ultimately dangerous in a multicultural world. How dare we say that Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. will be excluded from heaven! Fortunately, Dominus Iesus says no such thing. What Jesus teaches and this document reasserts is that if Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. find themselves in heaven, it is the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ that brings them there. Not the Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Krishna. But Christ and him alone. Christ's sacrifice has universal effect. His offer of salvation is fully and truly catholic. No one is excluded. For any reason. But to be invited to the feast is not the same as accepting the invitation. What the wise and learned who would reject today's gospel teaching would have us teach instead is that everyone, anyone can be brought to the feast whether they want to be brought or not. That is not the freedom Christ paid for on the cross.

The only reliable teacher of Christian wisdom is faith—the unfailing, unbending trust that a child invests in his parents. We trust, we hope that all to whom Christ has revealed the Father will come into His Kingdom. Jesus says to his childlike disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” What they see is the Word Made Flesh for the salvation of the whole world.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Father Philip,

    Thank you for this.

    I recently had an unpleasant experience with this.

    There is only one Latin Mass available around where I live which doesn't involve tolls. As I am impoverished at the moment, this is important.

    The Mass and the church were lovely, even though it was a Low Mass. The problem was the "alpha male" of the congregation. It's a small congregation, and he instantly zeroed in on me as a newcomer.

    Well, he trash-talked both JP2 and BXVI, then he gave me a pamphlet from the "Slaves of the Immaculate" in New Hampshire, and I found out -- yep, he's a Feeneyite. The kind who believes that "Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc." are ipso facto damned, and that Christ's sacrifice has no effect on them whatever, because "outside the Church there is no salvation." Recall that the Feeneyite doctrine has been condemned by the Church.

    So I'm not going there any more. I want to have the TLM everywhere, but when this kind of person becomes the face of the TLM, it does the cause immeasurable harm.