28 October 2023

Apostolic foundation

Ss. Simon and Jude

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Knowing what they know about Jesus' soon-to-be bloody end in Jerusalem and his promise that all who follow him will end in a similar way, I wonder what the Twelve are thinking and feeling when the Lord chooses them and sends them out. Are they excited? Afraid? Confused? Maybe all of the above and more. Remember: since the Lord is still with them in the flesh, the Holy Spirit has yet to be sent. Meaning they have not yet been infused with the living fire of the Spirit and empowered to preach and teach Gospel in many tongues. IOW, they are – at the moment of their choosing – merely students who've witnessed the Lord ministering while he teaches them the truth of the Father's mercy to sinners. There must've been a palpable sense of anticipation among the Twelve, a vigorous wanting to-get-on-with-it that fires up the start of any monumental adventure. But they could not have known the results of their work. Millions of followers of Christ spread across the globe, working out their salvation in fear and trembling. At the moment of their choosing, whatever else they were thinking, they must've thought, “What will we do w/o the Lord?”

After the coming of the HS at Pentecost, that question is answered: “We will never be w/o the Lord!” One becomes Twelve and Twelve becomes 1.6 billion. And that 1.6 billion continues to grow by the hour. On the foundation of the faith of the Apostles, the Lord's Body grows and matures. The Church finds herself failing in one part of the world and thriving in another. Under attack here and compromising there. When the ordained hierarchy is flirting with the world, the laity are picking up the slack. At any particular moment, somewhere on the globe, the Lord's mercy is being witnessed to even if our witness as a whole is less than muscular. This is what it is to preach and teach the Good News to sinners, ourselves first and foremost. The testimony of a witness is only as good as the integrity of the witness. Being chosen and sent doesn't guarantee that integrity. To wit: Judas Iscariot. What does guarantee the integrity of the witness and his/her testimony is fidelity to the apostolic deposit of faith. The Church is established and built on the witness of the Twelve chosen and sent by Christ. W/o them we would've been little more than a book club in fancy liturgical dress.

We avoid being just a book club in fancy liturgical dress by holding firmly to the faith handed-on once for all. The Son of God became Man – fully human, fully divine – died on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins; rose again, ascended, sent the HS; and established his Church, his Body as the living, breathing corporate witness to the Father's freely offered mercy to repentant sinners. How we understand all this can vary. How we apply it can vary. But the truth of it all is our foundation, our cornerstone. A book club in fancy liturgical dress will abandon the foundation and welcome the ever-shifting, always trendy nonsense that passes for wisdom in the world. Such a club will come to believe that truth is created by those we are vowed to seek it; that truth – that the HS – takes a poll and changes policies when the cultural winds blow in a different direction. That's not the apostolic faith. Our Lord chose and sent Twelve men, including Simon and Jude, to bear witness to all that he had taught them, to all that they had seen. Their testimony is fundamental to our salvation. It cannot change anymore than the choosing and sending of the Apostles 2,000 yrs ago can change. If you will be a witness, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.      

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23 October 2023

Liberalism fails the Church

10/23/23: I found this post from 2009. It is deeply relevant to our on-going crisis in the Church.

In 1966, the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, read a paper at a conference held at Johns Hopkins titled, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences."  Thus was the American academy introduced to the corrosive influence of deconstuction's radical skepticism about the ability of language to convey truth.  The history of the liberal arts in the U.S. since 1966 has been a long, sad story of decline into relativistic chaos and left-wing political manipulation.  Deconstruction is essentially (no pun) a machine of critique.  It is conceptually incapable of building anything.  It can only destroy.

In 1998, Francis Cardinal George stunned a congregation at Old St. Patrick's with this line delivered in his homily:  "Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project."  Later, he was asked to elaborate and did so at a Commmonweal forum held at Loyola University in 1999.

An except from his elaboration:

"We are at a turning point in the life of the church in this country. Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. Essentially a critique, even a necessary critique at one point in our history, it is now parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. It has shown itself unable to pass on the faith in its integrity and inadequate, therefore, in fostering the joyful self-surrender called for in Christian marriage, in consecrated life, in ordained priesthood. It no longer gives life."

What started as a much-needed critical review of Church doctrine and practice in the late 19th century, peaked in the documents of Vatican Two, and found its most strident voices in the 70's and 80's has become the sterilizing practice of postmodern dissent and heresy.  The "necessary critique" of manual Thomism and semi-Janenist moral practice in the Church is indeed now "parasitical."

Just as deconstruction demolished the absurd pretenses of liberal western culture and literature with its relentless attack on language, and now sits like a bloated toad on the university quad poisoning everything in its reach, the Spirit of Vatican Two refreshed a moribund institutional Church only to find itself haunting a decimated and demoralized body of believers.

Lest we think the cure is nostalgia, Cardinal George quickly adds:

"The answer, however, is not to be found in a type of conservative Catholicism obsessed with particular practices and so sectarian in its outlook that it cannot serve as a sign of unity of all peoples in Christ."

We cannot rebuild the Church if the only vision of the Church we can see and communicate is the Church as it was in the 1800's.  The liberal project (exemplified by Newman) pushed the Church to engage the world in terms foreign to its basic philosophical foundations.  In taking on this challenge, the Church gained an incredibly fruitful means of evangelization that saw amazing results in the decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council.

Then, like most good things, one good thing was taken to be the only thing and aggressive, unrelenting critique became the mark of being a Catholic intellectual.  Left aside were the pesky admonitions of tradition, ecclesial authority, reason, and just plain good sense.  The only thing that came to matter was opposition to alleged oppression and the failure to be radical enough in one's take-down of the Church.  This is the intellectual equivalent of deciding to renovate your kitchen by demolishing your house and killing your family.

What both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been trying to communicate to the Church and the world is this:  the time for critical demolition is over.  That project is done.  It is time to retire the dynamite, return the bulldozer, fire the demolition crews, and start to rebuild on the foundation left for us by the apostles.  At the very least, this means a return to the documents of Vatican Two, read and implemented through their continuity with the tradition and reason.  They are not calling us back to an uncritical embrace of Baroque Thomism and manual moralism.  Nor are they asking us to live in the illusions of a warmed-over 1950's nostalgia.  All they are asking the Church to do is start in the present, look back to where we came from and forward to where we are going without getting lost in the bitterness and cynicism that a life of complaint and opposition engenders.

Is that so hard?

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