Letters from the Synod—2023: Special Edition 4


Published November 11, 2023

First Things

BETWEEN SYNODAL ASSEMBLIES: THE DECONSTRUCTION PROJECT CONTINUES

by George Weigel

The second assembly of the “Synod on Synodality: For a Synodal Church—Communion, Participation, Mission” is now only forty-seven weeks away: a thought that will not fill some of the participants in Synod-2023 with Pentecostal joy. For notwithstanding the happy-talk propaganda barrage that followed Synod-2023’s solemn closing on October 29, more than a few Synod members experienced October 2023 as a trial. 

Why?

Because some of the Church’s most accomplished and evangelically effective bishops were deeply frustrated by the dumbing-down inherent in the “Conversation in the Spirit” method imposed on the Synod’s small-group discussions, as they were unhappy with being muzzled by the Synod general secretariat’s manipulation of the roster of speakers at the Synod’s general congregations. 

Because serious Catholic thinkers and communicators were compelled to listen to nonsense from ill-catechized and woke fellow-participants. 

Because tall tales were told to the Synod and never corrected. 

Because synodal members lobbied for various causes and were neither rebuked nor restrained by the Synod’s leadership. 

Because the Mass in St. Peter’s beginning the Synod’s final “module” of work featured ditties by the St. Louis Jesuits—thus confirming in some minds the sense that this was not a bold synodal journey into the future, but rather a Long March back to the 1970s. 

And because the voting procedures at the end of the Synod were flawed. Requests for disaggregated vote-counts that would allow the Church to know how the bishops had voted in a Synod of Bishops were rejected. The Synod members were only given the text of the final “synthesis report” at 10 a.m. on the Synod’s last working day; the text was then read aloud in Italian (with simultaneous and unofficial translations), over such a length of time that one Synod member admitted he thought he had died and gone to Purgatory (to which a more acerbic soul replied, “At least Purgatory is about sanctification . . .”). So the majority of the Synod members who were not Italian-speakers voted on an unofficial text they had heard, not read. 

The League of Women Voters would not have been approved. 

From the beginning, this entire 2021–2024 synodal process has been justified by a false premise: that there are voices in the Church that have not been “heard” and deserve to be heard. This is poppycock. The loudest voices in the local, national, and continental synodal phases leading up to October’s planetary phase were, by and large, the same loud voices that had been promoting the failed Catholic Lite project during the thirty-five years when John Paul II and Benedict XVI were giving Vatican II its authoritative interpretation. To suggest that the voices calling for the ordination of women as deacons, or for the rewriting of the Catechism’s texts on homosexuality, or for the reception of Holy Communion by those in canonically irregular marriages have not been heard is to confess that one has not been paying attention—or that one needs hearing aids. 

And why should the Church’s leadership have tacitly suggested that these settled questions are in fact unsettled, thus raising the hopes of the Catholic Lite Brigade over the two years of preparation for Synod-2023? That was both a dereliction of duty in the exercise of the Church’s teaching authority and a cruel disservice to progressive Catholic activists. 

For as it happened, the Catholic Lite Brigade got virtually nothing of what it eagerly anticipated coming from Synod-2023: Although in the pope’s answer to five cardinals’ dubium on the possible blessing of same-sex unions—released publicly two days before the Synod opened and immediately spun in the most progressive imaginable direction by the world media—the advocates of what called itself at the Synod the “LGBTQ+” agenda got something of what they wanted. Ironically, though, the reporting on that issue by a sex-obsessed global media sucked most of the air out of the Synod as a news event, such that Synod-2023 was generally ignored for the next month—and then got mere squibs of (more sex-obsessed) coverage when it concluded. 

But as I indicated on October 27 in “LETTERS FROM THE SYNOD – 2023: #12,” it became clear as the Synod ground on that the so-called “hot-button” issues were not really of primary interest to the Synod’s leadership. What was afoot was a deeper game, which can be described at least provisionally (for the game is still a work-in-progress) as the deconstruction of the classic authority structure of the Church, in aid of a radical and, if you will, populist change in the Church’s doctrinal and moral self-understanding and in Catholic pastoral practice.

That game came into sharper focus in Synod-2023’s final Synthesis Report, in a motu proprio issued by Pope Francis shortly after the Synod, and in a putative plan to change the character and practice of the next papal conclave.

The Final Synthesis Report

My former pastor, an amiable Irishman, used to tell the story of Paddy’s funeral in a small village on the Emerald Isle. Paddy was comprehensively and deeply disliked. At the end of his funeral Mass (well-attended, presumably by those who came not to mourn, but to make sure), the local pastor asked someone to come up and say a good word about Paddy before his mortal remains were consigned to the village graveyard. No one moved. The priest asked again: dead silence. The priest then threatened to lock the church door until someone finally came up to say a good word about the deceased. After a few more moments of recalcitrant Irish muteness, an old man got out of his pew, walked to the Communion rail, put his hand on the casket, turned to the congregation and said, “I think his brother was even worse.” 

Which is about all that can be said for Synod-2023’s “Synthesis Report”: forty-some pages of leaden prose, heavy on sociology and woke-speak (“Weaving Bonds”), light on theology, and reminding no one of the clarity of Ernest Hemingway’s prose or the lyricism of Willa Cather’s. 

It could have been worse, and it was something of an improvement over a draft that resulted in over one thousand proposed amendments. “LGBTQ+” language was eliminated—either because the drafting committee finally conceded that the Catholic Church does not describe people by their sexual desires or gender confusions, or, perhaps more likely, because the Synod general secretariat feared a large “No” vote on that section of the Synthesis Report. The notion of making the Synod a permanent body was scotched. A proposal for further fiddlings with the concept of “synodality” was dropped, leaving that term in its current, gelatinous state, but drawing attention to the 2018 work of the International Theological Commission on the subject. 

Other changes between draft and final text were more ambiguous, and some were troubling. 

The word “magisterium” appeared ten times in the final text as opposed to four times in the draft; but did this reflect a sudden respect for settled doctrine or the new progressive ultramontanism that considers Pope Francis’s every utterance to be “magisterium”? 

The notion of conceding doctrinal teaching authority to national conferences of bishops reared its ugly head again, raising the possibility of a fragmentation of Catholic self-understanding and pastoral practice such that what is a serious sin in Poland (receiving Holy Communion unworthily because of an irregular marriage) is a source of grace ten miles away across the Polish-German border. 

A bone was thrown to feminist activists (whose call for women deacons never got serious traction) by the final text claiming that it is “urgent that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry”—an injunction that a) ignores what is already going on in what the pope and his nuncio to Washington seem to regard as the benighted Church in the United States and b) confirms that many of these feminist agitations are about power, understood in the thoroughly unevangelical sense of “I can tell you what to do.” 

The final text’s proposal that “the possibility be considered of re-inserting priests who have left the ministry in pastoral services that recognize their formation and experience” got a deservedly large negative vote and is a sure prescription for mischief. 

As just noted, the Synod did little to clarify just what “synodality” means, and the Synthesis Report reflects that. At one point, the text says that synodality “in its broadest sense” is oriented “towards mission”—but the “mission” is not defined in that term’s most basic Christian sense: the offer of friendship with the incarnate Son of God through the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nor does the Synthesis Report acknowledge that the living parts of the world Church are precisely those living that idea of mission through the New Evangelization. 

The text concedes that the “Conversation in the Spirit” method forced upon the Synod’s small groups has “limitations,” but then gushes that “its practice elicited joy, awe, and gratitude.” From whom? Primarily, I suggest, by those whose putatively “unheard” voices were being heard, with others compelled to listen to their sundry dissatisfactions for the umpteenth time. As for “awe,” the only cognate sentiment I heard expressed came from Synod participants who were aghast at the biblical and theological ignorance being expressed by their synodal colleagues—including, alas, bishops. 

The final text’s proposal that each local church “equip itself with suitable people trained to facilitate and accompany processes of ecclesial discernment” will be a cause for serious concern among those who experienced the whip-hand of some facilitators at Synod-2023 (not to mention those who survived the “facilitator” mania of the seventies). 

Finally, it might be noted that the Synthesis Report seems to reflect the view that post-conciliar “magisterium” in the Catholic Church begins with Pope Francis. Two great teaching pontificates—stretching over three and a half decades within living memory—are virtually ignored in Synod-2023’s final report. Something is seriously awry here, especially since “communion, participation, and mission” were key themes in the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  

So: It could have been worse, that final document. But its many flaws (and capacity to induce narcolepsy) do not recommend it as a template for serious discussion of the challenges of being a Church of “communion, participation, and mission” between now and Synod-2024. 

Theology Traduced

A pontificate putatively dedicated to consultation and reformed ecclesiastical process has in fact been characterized by an extraordinary use of the motu proprio—a papal form of presidential executive order—of which almost sixty have been issued in ten years (John Paul II issued thirty in twenty-six and a half years). This pattern continued a few days after Synod-2023 ended, when Pope Francis issued Ad Theologiam Promovendam (To Promote Theology), on the alleged need for a “paradigm shift” in Catholic theology. An early and able assessment of this troubling—no, seriously wrong-headed—document was published in The Catholic Thing, to which readers are referred. A few parallel points may be made here.

First, it cannot be said often enough that the Catholic Church does not do “paradigm shifts.” Anyone who claims that the Church does either misunderstands the term “paradigm shift” or misunderstands the nature of the Church. A “paradigm shift” is the fundamental reorientation of a body of thought: as, for example, when the Ptolemaic (Earth-centered) concept of a stationary universe gave way, under the pressure of irrefutable scientific evidence, to the Copernican concept of the earth orbiting the sun. The replacement of Galen’s “miasma theory” of disease (diseases are caused by bad air) by the “germ theory” of disease (diseases are caused by infectious pathogens) is another example. 

“Paradigm shifts” are not how Catholic self-understanding develops. (Please repeat that three times, placing your right hand over your heart and holding Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine in your left.) Catholic doctrine develops, deepens its understanding of ancient truths, and finds new ways of expressing them, but always (as John XXIII put it in his opening address to Vatican II) with the “same meaning and the same judgment.” It is unsettling, to say the least, to find a text of the papal magisterium misusing the term “paradigm shift”—and in such a way as to suggest that there is nothing settled in the Deposit of Faith. But there is: The Deposit of Faith is rooted in divine revelation, and the God of the Bible does not and cannot say one thing yesterday and another (different) thing tomorrow. Once again, in referring to “paradigm shifts,” this pontificate seems disconnected from the teaching of Vatican II in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, which robustly and unambiguously declares that divine revelation is real and binding over time. (For more on this, see the homily appended below.)

Second, Pope Francis’s tendency to set up straw men and then incinerate them rhetorically is becoming very tiresome. Thus in Ad Theologiam Promovendam, following the pattern of his warnings to the media to avoid “caprophilia” and his broadsides against “doctors of the law,” clerical “narcissists,” and “backward-looking” priests and seminarians, the pope deplores “desk theology” and writes that theology “cannot be limited to abstractly re-proposing formulas and schemes from the past.” But who is doing that? Is the pope wholly unaware of the many important developments in Catholic theology—including dogmatic theology and moral theology—since the 1930s? Can the pope or his presumed amanuensis in this document, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, cite a single prominent theologian today or over the past several decades who “abstractly” re-proposed “formulas and schemes from the past”? Is that what John Paul II and Benedict XVI were doing in their papal magisterium? Is that what Joseph Ratzinger was doing in over a half-century of luminous and wide-ranging theological reflection and writing? Is that what Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jean Danielou, and Hans Urs von Balthasar were doing in the decades before Vatican II? Is that what Avery Dulles and Servais Pinckaers were doing in the years immediately following the Council? Is that what Thomas Joseph White, Tracey Rowland, Michael Sherwin, Matthew Levering, Anthony Akinwale, Melanie Barrett, Aidan Nichols, Erik Varden, Joseph Carola, and Robert Barron are doing today?

Ad Theologiam Promovendam also insists that the theological “paradigm shift” it (wrongly) endorses must be undertaken because of great changes in modern and contemporary culture. No doubt the disenchantment of the world and the rise of secularist nihilism and relativism demand a fresh formulation of ancient Christian truths. But those truths remain true, and their truth-content cannot be sacrificed on the altar of modern relevance. Contemporary culture desperately needs challenge and conversion from the Church, not supine surrender to its shibboleths—the toxic effects of which have been manifest on elite campuses throughout the world over the past month, as pampered moral cretins chant “Death to the Jews!”

Then there is the motu proprio’s claim that theology must begin from people’s many images of God, which must be “privileged first of all.” That may describe religious studies, but it does not describe theology. Theology, if it be Christian theology, begins with the revealed Word of God, which, as Vatican II taught, is the soul of theology. As for people’s many images of God, some of them are quite false and dangerous, and to suggest that the traditional deference paid to the sensus fidei of the people of the Church is equivalent to giving everyone’s concept of God, however bizarre, some sort of privileged status as a locus theologicus, a source of theological reflection, is populism run riot. 

Theology is perhaps not quite as important as theologians imagine it to be: Between 1946 and 1990, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine survived over four decades of underground existence without an in-country theological faculty; the Gospel was planted in eighteenth-century Korea and sustained for decades in the nineteenth century by lay catechists who were not theologians. But theologians helped save the Deposit of Faith during the Arian crisis, the Reformation upheavals of the sixteenth century, and the assault of rationalist modernity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, just as theologians prepared the intellectual ground for the Second Vatican Council. To misrepresent how theology is being done today is to insult men and women who have dedicated their lives to the mastery of Christian thought in service to Christ and to the proclamation of the gospel. 

The traducing of theology in Ad Theologiam Provenandem is not constructive. On the contrary: It is deconstructive and damaging to the deepening of Christian self-understanding that is essential to being a Church of “communion, participation, and mission.” 

Conclave Games

In the conclave of 1903, Cardinal Jan Puzyna, the bishop of Kraków, pronounced the veto of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph against the papal candidacy of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, who was leading the balloting at the time. The cardinal-electors were outraged, but the Habsburg exercise of the ius exclusivae (right of exclusion) traditionally granted to certain Catholic monarchs finished Rampolla as papabile, and the conclave turned to Giuseppe Sarto of Venice as successor to Leo XIII. The newly-elected Pius X immediately revoked the ius exclusivae and banned its exercise from future conclaves under penalty of excommunication. 

The “right of exclusion” was exercised openly or tacitly throughout the nineteenth-century because the Papal States were enmeshed in European power politics and Catholic monarchs played the game accordingly. The demise of the Papal States should have rendered the ius exclusivae moot, but as that evidently wasn’t going to be the case, Pius X banned it. In doing so, he was doing more than ensuring that future conclaves would not be manipulated by European monarchs; he was, by implication, protecting the integrity of the conclave and the process of choosing the Successor of Peter from all forms of worldly power. That protection and the integrity of the next conclave could now be in jeopardy.

I say “could be” because, during Synod-2023, well-placed sources in Rome suggested to me and others that Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J., Pope Francis’s favorite canon lawyer, had met with the pope three times in September, allegedly to discuss a document “reforming” conclave procedure along “synodal” lines. When this story broke cover in the week after Synod-2023, Cardinal Ghirlanda denied the accuracy of the reports; he did, however, meet with Pope Francis in a private audience on November 8. Thus two points remain worth making.

First, a “reform” of conclave procedures that would eliminate non-voting cardinals (i.e., those over eighty) from any role during a papal interregnum would be very ill-advised, as it would deprive the cardinal-electors of the wisdom and counsel of some of the Church’s most venerable leaders. How would the process of choosing a new Bishop of Rome be enhanced by stifling the voices of Francis Arinze, Dominik Duka, Wilfred Fox Napier, Antonio María Rouco Varela, Camillo Ruini, and Joseph Zen? And what would it suggest if such a proscription were instituted by an 86-year-old pope? 

Second, any reform of the pre-conclave procedures that would admit laity and religious women into the pre-voting discussions of the cardinal-electors (presumably on the manipulative “Conversation in the Spirit” model used during Synod-2023) raises the specter of a papal election process in which worldly powers would once again exercise a form of veto: not through the assertion of the ius exclusivae by Catholic monarchs, but by pressures brought to bear on a hybrid gaggle of discussants by the world media; or by governments hostile to the Church (China, for example), with whom some cardinal-electors already seem to have cordial relations; or by international philanthropists who promote and support the Catholic Lite agenda.  

Pope Francis may or may not have much affection for Pope St. Pius X, a complex figure. Whatever that case may be, the incumbent would do well by the Church, and his own historical reputation, by paying close attention to the achievement of his ninth predecessor in protecting the integrity of the conclave.   

Concluding Unscientific Postscript

Synod-2023 demonstrated just how fragile many Catholics’ grasp on the foundational truths of Christian faith is. This came as something of a shock to more than a few bishops, including those who had been too busy doing the actual work of the Church to pay close attention to the seemingly endless pre-synodal meetings and consultations that took place in 2021–2023. Similarly disconcerting, it seemed, was the relentless chorus of discontent that dominated many synodal discussions. 

Bishops who take seriously the charge to be bold defenders of the truths of Catholic faith that they accepted at their episcopal ordination will necessarily pay close attention to any synodal discussions in their dioceses between now and October 2024. They will also, I suggest, want to address, individually and perhaps as national conferences, the diminution of episcopal authority implied by the current synodal method. As for that chorus of discontent, the advice of one senior churchman at the end of Synod-2023—that Synod-2024 and whatever meetings lead up to it focus on what’s right with the Catholic Church and include far more people who are happy in their Catholicism—is surely worth considering.

Jesus Christ is Lord, and he will see his Church through this synodal air turbulence. That conviction is reassuring. It does not, however, absolve those with formal responsibility for steering the Barque of Peter from doing whatever they can to address, and redress, the confusions (and worse) that the synodal process to date has thus far let loose. The New Evangelization demands it.

THE GIFT OF REVELATION

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday of the Year

by Jay Scott Newman

If Christianity is not a revealed religion, then it is a false religion. And if Judaism is not a revealed religion, then both Judaism and Christianity are false religions. To make sense of these claims, we need to look more closely at the meaning of two words: revealed and religion.

Most universities, including secular ones, have a department or at least a program of religious studies in which the phenomenon of religion is studied by means of several academic disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, and psychology. The basis of such studies is the simple fact that religion of some kind is a universal human experience, and academic reflection on religious beliefs and practices can yield an understanding of some commonalities across all religions. 

Such common elements include a creation myth, a moral code, and rituals of worship, especially connected to the cycles of nature like planting and harvesting and key moments in human life such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. In most religions there is also a vision of how the universe will end and a wisdom tradition which seeks to address questions such as: why do we exist, why does evil exist, why do we suffer, and what happens to us after death?

This way of thinking about religion arose during the Enlightenment and reached its peak in universities, especially in Germany, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And this approach also had a profound influence on many Christian intellectuals who began to think of Christianity as simply a variation on the theme of man’s universal religious experience, which arises from the search for meaning in the face of suffering and death. In that case, Christianity would be merely the result of the natural human desire for transcendence rather than the gift of divine revelation given by the true God first to Israel and then finally and fully given in Jesus Christ.

Last week we pondered the introductory verses of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians about the preaching of the Gospel, and today we continue in chapter two where the Apostle writes: “We proclaimed to you the Gospel of God. And . . . we . . . thank God constantly . . . that when you received the Word of God . . . you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Friends, this goes to the very heart of what Christianity is and is not. There are many systems of belief and codes of conduct which we think of as religions, and the best of these are expressed in and enriched by rituals of prayer, sacred writings, music, art, architecture, and disciplines of self-denial. Such traditions can be ennobling to their followers and provide great comfort and inspiration to people seeking an encounter with the mysterious and numinous presence of the divine. Think, for example, of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, and Islam. 

But despite the many surface similarities of these traditions to Judaism and Christianity, there is one essential difference, and it makes all the difference. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and all the rest are philosophies or wisdom traditions based on human experience and on man’s search to understand the cosmos and our place in it. But Judaism and Christianity are something different in kind from these other traditions. 

You see, Judaism and Christianity are not the fruit of man’s search for God; they are instead the result of God’s search for man. This means that Judaism and Christianity come not from human invention but from the free and loving self-disclosure of God to his creatures, in human language and history, so that we may know, love, and serve him. And in coming to know, love, and serve the living God through this divine unveiling or revelation, we then find our true dignity and destiny as persons created in the image and likeness of God, persons who exist to share his glory forever and to live in perfect communion with all other persons who have been gathered by God’s grace to his eternal kingdom.

And the difference between religion revealed by God and wisdom traditions created by human invention means that Judaism and Christianity are radically unlike everything else that people think of as religion. In the Christian understanding, all the other wisdom traditions that seek the Face of God are merely the product of human creativity, while they also contain seeds of the Word of God planted directly by the Creator that will assist their adherents to hear and heed the gospel when finally it is proclaimed to them. Moreover, God reveals himself indirectly in all things good, true, and beautiful, so by the arts of right reason, man can learn some things about God through reflection on goodness, truth, and beauty.

But in all the world there are only two truly revealed religions, Judaism and Christianity. And if they are not revealed religions, then they are false religions. In fact, we might even say that by comparison to all other religions in the world, Judaism and Christianity are not really religions at all as our universities understand them. Rather, the Word of God first brought into being a People among the children of Israel and then brought forth the Church in which the Gentiles are grafted as a wild shoot onto the olive tree of Israel to become the seed and beginning of the universal Kingdom of God.

That is the claim that we must wrestle with if we are to understand the full implications of Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians that the gospel is not the word of men; it is, rather, the Word of God, which awakens saving faith in those who receive it with the obedience of faith. Paul taught the Christians in Rome this same truth when he wrote that “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’” (Rom. 1:16–17).

But the recently concluded Synod on Synodality in Rome and the earlier meeting in Germany called the Synodal Way both offered numerous examples of baptized and ordained Christians who apparently no longer believe in the supernatural gift of divine revelation. Instead, they think of Christianity simply as the fruit of the human search for the divine, and therefore they argue that the Church can and must adapt her teachings to our time in order to remain credible to people whose experience of life today differs so profoundly from that of people in previous ages of history.

The doctrinal changes sought by such revisionists usually cluster around the claims of the sexual revolution, which are incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. These two understandings of human nature, meaning Christian anthropology and post-modern anthropology, offer competing and even contradictory claims about what a human person is and how each person finds interior freedom and fulfillment, and for us to think clearly about such questions, every Christian must understand these disagreements and their consequences for how we live our faith.

Each disciple of Jesus Christ must choose between the way of life proposed by the Savior and the contrary ways proposed by the world, but to accept and live by the Christian understanding of the human person, one must first repent of one’s sins and believe in the gospel as the supernatural gift of divine revelation and not the product of human experience. But that is precisely what the revisionists in the recent synods often will not accept, and while they stay in the Church and may even hold offices of authority, they nonetheless frequently work to undermine biblical teaching and replace it with the errant vision of human liberation proposed by the sexual revolution. 

Such ecclesiastical revolutionaries are usually charming, witty, and urbane. You can find them holding forth warmly on television, writing winsome books about compassion and discernment, offering bromides against the dangers of being culture warriors, and giving interviews to assure people, with a wink and a nudge, that the Catholic Church doesn’t really mean what she teaches about human sexuality, and so for that reason, change must and will come to old and outmoded ways of thinking about gender, sex, the identity of the human body, the nature of marriage, and its relationship to the other sacraments, most especially Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist.

But, friends, that is not Christianity understood as a revealed religion. Forty-one years ago today, I stood before the altar and spoke aloud the same words spoken by every Christian who was baptized outside the Catholic Church and is later received into full communion with the Church: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” 

And that is the heart of Christianity as a revealed religion: our complete confidence and life-changing conviction that the Savior has revealed to his Church a sacred deposit of faith which she is commanded to transmit without addition or subtraction until Christ returns in glory. And that deposit of faith is the supernatural gift of divine revelation that we call the gospel, which is contained in the God-breathed Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and in the Apostolic Tradition that faithfully hands on all that Christ taught the Twelve and commanded them and their successors to teach others until his return in glory at the End of Days.

Now please note that in the first reading today from the Prophet Malachi and in the Gospel from St. Matthew, the hereditary priests of the Old Covenant and the scribes and Pharisees who opposed the Lord Jesus are sharply warned about the consequences of leading others astray by teaching falsehoods and giving bad example by living in contradiction to the revealed Word of God. And those who lead the Church today and who seek to lead her astray would do very well to heed those warnings.

All Christians are called by our baptism to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ as the inspired and infallible Word of God, and those who teach in the Church by virtue of offices entrusted to them have a sacred duty to believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. So let us pray for those who have forsaken revealed religion for human wisdom and now follow a blind path into the darkness of indifferentism and unbelief.

St. Paul taught young Bishop Timothy that the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, and in the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church we can be certain of hearing the liberating truth of divine revelation, the faith delivered once for all to the saints, because the gospel is not the word of men; it is, rather, the Word of God, which is now at work in you who believe—you who believe in your hearts and confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[Fr. Newman is the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and the chancellor of the Diocese of Charleston.]


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