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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Deformation of the Mystery

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A good friend of mine, Fr. Mark Withoos, and a fellow postgraduate student at Durham who is writing on the 'Theology of the Body' has a homily that was published on Catholic Exchange that may interest you. I copy it here for your reading and possible comments.

I’m currently in Inferno — not literally — but in the cantos of Dante’s poem dealing with hell. There, with Dante, I discovered Francesca amongst the lustful. Francesca tells us the story of her life and particularly of the end of her life.

In This Article...
Deformation of the Mystery
Putting Our Salvation at Risk
Be Wise and Convert

Deformation of the Mystery

Love quick to kindle in the gentle heart,
seized this one [Paolo] next to me,
for the beauty of my body torn from me.

How it happens still offends me,
Love that excuses no one love from loving,
seized me so strongly with delight in him,

That as you see,
he never leaves my side.
Love led us straight to sudden death together.

Hearing this account from one side, how can one not feel torn by this story and feel that perhaps this Francesca, now cast in hell, has been terribly hard done by? Francesca tells us about Paulo with whom she is entwined amidst the lustful in an area in hell where they are being punished. As the lustful on earth are out of control and blown about by every wind, so here the lustful are thrown together, tossed and turned by every breeze like starlings in the skies of Italy.

There is only one problem. Francesca leaves out as much as she puts in. Dante based this account on a true story that would have made the pages of the National Enquirer had it occurred in our own time. You see, she is married — but not to Paolo. Secondly, Paolo is the brother of her husband. That is, she is there in this barren embrace in the Inferno, being whirled around out of control, as the result of an act of adultery with her brother-in-law. These details help us to understand who Francesca is, but interestingly she leaves them out. You see, "love" is to blame.

Another detail she leaves out is that the two of them were caught in the act by her husband, who killed them on the spot — which gets them to where they are.

Why do I relate this story? Because many times, particularly in this world of mass media, we are left at the mercy of information providers. We are given information, and moved by compassion we think how "terribly” this or that person has been treated. Then one day we learn the whole story and our opinion is altered.

We could apply the same analysis to our recent Gospel reading. Taking the statements of the Pharisees and Scribes alone, we too, might have quarreled with the Lord: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” We could, with them, have found such a statement offensive. But now, in the light of the Passion, death and Resurrection of our Lord, and the knowledge we have that He is the Son of God, we see that perhaps those opposed to our Lord were not so much searching for the truth, as searching for a way to be rid of this trouble-maker. The Son of God stood before them. From the miracles He performed, from His disposition, from His words, indeed from His presence, they should have known it. But they were blind. When our Lord said “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” we should see, as His faithful disciples did, as we alone in the Catholic Church do now, that He was speaking literally. But even today, like His first listeners, we have a choice to believe this is true or to be doubters.

In our own time, unlike in our Lord’s time, we have an additional help that guides us to faith — the Church. Yet the voice of our Mother the Church is gradually being weakened. So often anyone who listens to her is considered to be a fool, but without her, we are left only to the vagaries of the world's Francescas or the New York Times: We can never be sure that what is being represented to us is the truth.

Recently an instruction has been published in Spain which will make its way around the world, composed under the supervision of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Addressed to the Spanish bishops — equally applicable to our own bishops in the US or in Australia — this instruction indicates for the Church in Spain (and in the world) both the sickness and the cure.

The sickness, the instruction said, is "secularization within the Church" — a widespread loss of faith caused in part by 'theological propositions that have in common a deformed presentation of the mystery of Christ.’”

Putting Our Salvation at Risk

The cure is precisely that of restoring life to the profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This profession needs to be restored in the four areas where it is most seriously undermined today:

• the interpretation of Scripture;

• Jesus Christ as the only Savior of all men;

• the Church as the body of Christ;

• moral life.

If there are problems in these four areas, can you see how important it is to know what to believe, and indeed how easy it is for many to set themselves up as interpreters of what the Church believes or "should" believe?

There are many who now feel free to dissent from the Church’s teaching. Of course, there are many who love the Church, and do not dissent, but there are a great many who think that the Church gets it wrong, for example, on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, the Eucharist, and yes, even on Christ Himself. Moreover, they think that such dissent is not a grave sin, though indeed it is, and something that causes great damage in our Church and in the world, and indeed puts our own salvation at risk.

This attitude is precisely the problem, the problem of Francesca, the inability to see things other than my way. The Church’s teaching, on the other hand, is be a challenge to us, calling us to see things beyond our selfish inclination to justify our sin. An attack on the Church’s teaching must generate in us a desire to rise to our Mother’s defence. A shrugging acceptance of attacks on Church teaching — “Hey, maybe the Church has got it wrong” — may be a temptation when the moral teaching of the Church is grating against our own concupiscence.

We know of famous cases such as Hans Küng, Leonardo Boff, and others who regularly attack the Church, or indeed have left it, and in the cases of Küng and Boff left the priesthood, because they no longer accepted Church teaching. Contrast this with the case of Fr. Henri de Lubac in the 1950s. A theologian with seemingly radical ideas, he was refused a licence to teach for two years, while the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith investigated his theology. What did he do? Hold a news conference to protest? Write articles in journals about his treatment? No. He went away and prayed and thought and wrote. After he was found to be of orthodox faith, the ban was lifted and he was permitted to teach again. Did he decide to sue? Did he rant and rave? No. He wrote a book entitled The Splendor of the Church.

Recently the papers have been filled with the news that Jane Via here in San Diego is now celebrating “Mass” at a congregation she formed downtown. Via was “ordained” recently on a boat in Pittsburgh. Were we to take Via's claims on her terms, who would not be in sympathy? She was denied ordination even though she felt this was her right and her Church didn’t recognize it. Ordination was only open to men. How ridiculous was all of this in the 21st century! A recent article in the Chicago Tribune said that polls (from somewhere) showed a majority of American Catholics favor women’s ordination. Is this what the issue is all about? Equality? Affirmative action? A voice for women? My “rights”?

The real problem is that many in our Catholic Church are not only confused, they don’t even realize that they are confused. Many once faithful Catholic Christians are slipping out of belief, even contrary to their own best intentions. And the cause is secularization, a widespread theological process that has undermined and continues to undermine our faith.

Be Wise and Convert

Let’s take women’s ordination as an example. The Church has declared in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that ordination is not possible for women. The reasoning is clear in the document, but the bottom line for faithful Catholics, the final reasoning, is that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, teaches us so. The Second Vatican Council tells us we are called to give a “humble submission of will and intellect” to the Church’s teaching. I hear the Church teaching and if I disagree I pray and think, and then I humbly submit my intellect and will, saying something like, “Well, the Church has spoken; I must have it wrong.”

Jane Via has not done this, and nor have many others. Perhaps you do not agree with some Church teaching. Get angry, talk about it, but in the name of the Lord Jesus, please reconsider all of your positions when you set yourself up against the Church. The stakes are enormously high. The Church will survive no matter what — we have Christ’s own assurance of that — what is in question is whether I find myself inside or outside of the Church.

This is how the Spanish document described the condition of those who wish to hang on to their beliefs in dissent:

[T]here exists a silent form of dissent that promotes and defends disaffection with the Church, considering this a legitimate critical attitude with respect to the hierarchy and its Magisterium, justifying dissent within the Church itself as if a Christian could not be an adult without establishing a certain distance from the teachings of the Magisterium. Behind this attitude there frequently lurks the idea that the Church at present is not obeying the Gospel, and that a struggle “from within” is necessary to arrive at a future, authentically evangelical Church. In reality, what is sought is not the conversion of the Church’s members, its constant purification, penance and renewal, but the transformation of the very constitution of the Church, to adapt it to the opinions and perspectives of the world.


In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” We have recently read in Proverbs that “Wisdom has built herself a house.” Where is that house? It is not of this world, for Scripture says that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” The house Wisdom has built is the Church, and if we are wise, we will find our home there, being instructed by her and conforming our minds to the Church's teaching. Secularism is the attempt to bring the foolish and false wisdom of the world into the Church. Ultimately this is an attempt that will fail, but sadly it is one that, in these evil days, has claimed many spiritual victims.

So be careful; be challenged and change if you have to, but love the Church who is our Mother and still nourishes us and is the only one who keeps us truly close to our Lord. Let us break this nasty habit of thinking that the Church needs to change, but I don’t. Following her, despite all temptations, we won’t find ourselves like Francesca, justifying our mistakes, but rather, we will find ourselves in peace and tranquility, living the life that Christ intended for us to live, in the house that Wisdom built.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Mother of the Church and our Mother, pray for us.

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