By Regis Martin, S.T.D.,
Monday in Passion Week
Having read the enclosed materials by Suzanne Golas, as part of the so-called "Renew 2000 Program" now underway in a number of dioceses in this country, here are my reflections on the material contained in Book 2 of the Leader's Manual which you asked me to critique.
A close reading of the text reveals a number of critical areas in which the spirit and content of the teaching are less than convincingly Catholic.
First of all, there is virtually no mention whatsoever of the Fatherhood of God. Indeed, flight from an understanding of God as Father would appear to be characteristic of the text. (See pgs.2, 39, 110 which zealously avoid mention of God as Father.) Instead, there are scattered references to God as Creator or Maker, which invite a fairly Gnostic reading of the Godhead. (Gnosticism - rationalistic philosophy which believes that rational knowledge, not faith in God, holds the key to the mysteries of life, i.e. knowledge saves men, not belief in a loving God.) The danger of omitting the Fatherhood of God is that you then leave out the whole reality of the indwelling presence of the Blessed Trinity in the world. It likewise eliminates the special roles and the interior life of the Three Divine Persons in One Divine Being. By eliminating how the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, interrelate to each other, the Eternal Godhead is reduced to sheer functionality, that is, how God relates to the world and not as He relates to Himself as Father, Son and Spirit.
God can communicate Himself and His blessings only if His own life is an Absolute "Being-For-Himself." The Three Persons of the Trinity do not stand against each other, but are themselves a divine, eternal communication, the fruit of their own interior life. There is no recognition of this essential dogmatic belief anywhere in the text. The text is also silent concerning the Son, God's Word, whom the Father speaks for all eternity, thus spirating the Holy Spirit. Embarrassment about the Father will necessarily diminish the Son. To remain silent concerning so central a truth of faith, the very hinge on which our salvation turns, is simply inexplicable in a text which otherwise claims to be faithfully Catholic.
Secondly, there is an unfortunate and persisting tendency throughout the text to remove the meaning of Christ (Messiah, Anointed One of God, Savior), from the historical figure named Jesus. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is thus stripped of His being and identity as God's anointed who has come to redeem the world. This pivotal fact seems repeatedly to have been overlooked in the Text.
A third problem arises from the absence of any mention of Original Sin. For example, a reading of pages 12-15 concerning the Sacrament of Baptism, might leave one with the impression that human beings are more or less conceived without sin. This is unacceptable. In fact, it dangerously diminishes the threat of sin and eternal damnation for which Christ offered His life on Calvary that we might be saved. It further does away with the need for a Redeemer, thereby leading the faithful into the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagian denied that Adam's sin deprived Adam's descendents of those gifts which God intended to pass on to the human race. He argued that the strength of our human will alone could work out our eternal destiny, thus denying the need for Christ's sacrifice to redeem us and conform us to the will of God. If, as the text leads us to conclude, there is no Original Sin, there is no need for Baptism. The text thereby undermines the Church's rich understanding of this sacrament of Christian initiation.
In fact, the whole discussion of sin is woefully inadequate. The emphasis appears to be on sin merely as a breach of faith with the community, rather than an offense against Almighty God. There is literally no mention at all of sins against purityÖ see pg. 32 where a list is drawn which strangely omits sins against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments. This seriously compromises the relationship of one's soul to God, which brings us to point 4.
The interior life of the soul is given scarcely given any attention at all. (Strange for a renewal program which is supposedly designed to enhance and revitalize the interior life of the faithful in preparation of the Great Jubilee Year 2000!) Is there to be no communication between the Father and His children? No spousal relation to the Son in and through the Spirit? Indeed, the whole life of prayer is dreadfully underdeveloped in terms of any Catholic tradition of piety. Where are the great prayers and devotions of the past? The Our Father is first mentioned on pg.43, then disappears altogether. As for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Sign of the Cross, prayers to Our Lady like the rosary - these are never cited as ways of honoring God or growing in virtue.
[Contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did NOT eliminate traditional popular devotions. See 'Sacrosanctum Concilium', Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. #13: "Popular devotions of the Christian People are warmly commended, provided they are in accord with the laws and norms of the Church. Such is especially the case with devotions called for by the Apostolic See.
Öthese devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead people to it, since the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them." The accompanying footnote #19 further comments, "While liturgy is not the whole of the Christian life and does not supplant personal prayer, all devotions must harmonize with its spirit."
Concerning Eucharistic devotions, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1378 states, "The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful and carrying them in procession." (So, whatever became of Forty Hours devotion, Eucharistic processions and regular Benediction? If we are really going to renew the Church, let's return to the real Source of Spiritual Nourishment.)]
Indeed - to sound a final note of alarm on the subject - an extremely dubious spirituality is put forward near the end of the text (pgs. 115 -150). While having earlier neglected authentic Christian 'tried and true' paths of prayer, the writers now promote a collection of Buddhist, Feminist, Native American and Eastern Centering Prayers (as opposed to Christian centering prayer). These cannot be a Catholic way of holiness precisely insofar as they circumvent the Incarnate Christ who remains the boundary within which everything we do, say, think, and feel take place.
Another point to consider is the marked tendency to oppose one period of Church history with another. For example the medieval, Tridentine Church is depicted as less hospitable to reform and renewal than the modern, post-conciliar Church. Besides being historically inaccurate, it insinuates a kind of "chronological snobbery" (C. S. Lewis) which is as unfounded and intolerant as it is ignorant. What becomes of a Church whose thread of continuity is so easily snapped? Why so little respect paid to the angels and saints, indeed, the whole company of the blessed?
And finally, (point 6), there is the disheartening treatment of the sacraments, Marriage and Holy Orders in particular. On pg. 43, for example, we are told that the Church's developing understanding of marriage "has been influenced by society and culture." Is that a theological fact? Is it even sociologically true? I'd have thought the reverse: that thanks to the Christian influence of grace into nature, human love found itself raised to the dignity of a sacrament, a relationship configured to that of Christ wedded to His Bride the Church. [Indeed this very aspect is affirmed in the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World: #49, "Authentic conjugal love will be more highly praised, and wholesome public opinion created regarding it, if Christian couples give outstanding witness to faithfulness and harmony in that same love, and to their concern for the education of their children; also if they do their part in bringing about needed cultural, psychological, and social renewal on behalf of marriage and the family."]
It is just this failure to accent the distinctively Christian that is infuriatingly characteristic of the text. For example, on pg. 48, we are told that Vatican II shifted the theology of marriage away from a strict emphasis on primary and secondary ends, therefore, the need to beget children can no longer usurp the importance of conjugal love between husband and wife. Meanwhile, there is no mention of the post-conciliar document Humanae Vitae which is precisely the place where the profound meaning of the conjugal act, i.e., that it is at once both unitive and procreative, was first broached back in 1968 by Pope Paul VI. In other words, the text gives the impression of marginalizing the procreative aspect of marriage by appealing to Vatican II (which had no intention of rescinding the traditional teaching). It ignores the real development of the understanding of conjugal love which is presented in Humanae Vitae, a much maligned post-Vatican II Papal encyclical which in fact sought to deepen and clarify the traditional (and Vatican II) understanding of the force of conjugal intimacy by insisting that it unites the to inseparable meanings, that is: complete openness to love and to life. Surely a text commenting on Christian marriage ought to mention something about the beauty and prophetic power of that document.
[Part II, Chapter I, 'Gaudium Et Spes', The Church in the Modern World: #51, the conclusion states, "therefore, when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any procedure (i.e. birth control) does not depend solely on a sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of divine law."]
Meanwhile, the treatment of Holy Orders is scarcely an improvement. On page 53, for instance, it is implied that the exclusive preoccupation of the priesthood is service to the community and the proclamation of the gospel. One is left wondering why anyone need be ordained to do it. Whatever became of the sense of the priest as an alter-Christus, one who acts "in persona Christi", in the very person of Christ, to offer an unblemished sacrifice to the Father through the power of the Spirit? Where is the sense that the priest re-presents Christ before the world? Certainly this includes service and proclamation, but is hardly exhausted by these functions. Indeed, the supreme calling of the priest, the one ministry which no laity may substitute for, is the Sacrifice of the Alter in which "God is offering God to God" (Cure of Ars). There is no awareness of this exalted and sacred perspective of the priesthood, no sense that to act in the very person of Christ, at the Altar, in the Confessional etc., is really the most servant oriented ministry of all.
In conclusion, my judgment of the text is very simply this: it is seriously impaired in its content, and in its tone or spirit, alien to the ancient and Catholic faith we profess in the Creed. My recommendation would be that that it not be used under Catholic auspices, that it be jettisoned in favor of materials truly consonant to the faith as set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which incidentally is never referred to in the text).
Yours faithfully in Christ,
Regis Martin, S.T.D.
Professor of Theology