Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's All Been Done Before


At this point I would like to address the…question of dialogue and proclamation. Let us speak firstly of dialogue. For the Church in our day I see three principal areas of dialogue, in which she must be present in the struggle for man and his humanity: dialogue with states, dialogue with society – which includes dialogue with cultures and with science – and finally dialogue with religions.

In all these dialogues the Church speaks on the basis of the light given her by faith. But at the same time she incorporates the memory of mankind, which is a memory of man’s experiences and sufferings from the beginnings and down the centuries, in which she has learned about the human condition, she has experienced its boundaries and its grandeur, its opportunities and its limitations.

Human culture, of which she is a guarantee, has developed from the encounter between divine revelation and human existence.

The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria. Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity.

Address to Roman Curia, December 21, 2012

Reflection – ‘I knew you before the fall of Rome…’ The lyrics from that really catchy Barenaked Ladies song waft into my mind this morning, pondering the Pope’s words here.

What is mere lyrical cleverness in a pop song with a catchy beat is a sober claim of fact for the Catholic Church.

And this is, or at least it really should be, something even non-believers can acknowledge as valuable. There is in the Church  a continuity of thought, an inherited experience, an accumulated wisdom of 2000 years (3000, if you consider the Church to have inherited the wisdom of Israel at its foundation).

We call it tradition. Not the Sacred Tradition that in our Catholic understanding makes up with Sacred Scripture the deposit of faith given us by Christ. But, simply, tradition—human beings passing along from one to another, across generations and centuries, what we know of life. There is a continuity, a historical memory in the Church, that we bring to bear on every question of the day.

We were there before the fall of Rome (and when the West was won… and yes, we will be there still on a 30th century night, God allowing us that time). So we have seen empires rise and empires die. We have seen the results of too much authority in religion (inquisitions and the like) and too little (heresy, schism). We have seen what happens when Church and State become too closely allied (caesaro-papism, generally to the great detriment of the Church’s autonomy) and what happens when the state is inimical to the Church (hint: lions are involved). We have seen violence being used in the service of religion, and have forsaken that path.

The Church in its human leadership and membership has made just about every mistake human beings can make, in its saints has ascended to the heights of what humanity is capable of, and in general has seen just about everything there is to see about human life in this world. And we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, you know, even leaving aside the deposit of faith and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit to preserve and animate that faith in the heart of the Church..

Meanwhile, the modern world is, as the Pope says, “a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria.” And so the dialogue of the Church with the world must include a strong element of reminding, of bringing the fruit of millennia of shared lived experience to the attention of our modern world. In a sense we can say that modernity and post-modernity were born from a conscious turning away from the past, a deliberate choice to sunder humanity from its historical communal roots towards a renewed future (modernity) or towards atomized individualism (post-modernity).
 
The Church does, in that sense, stand against the ‘modern’ world. But not to condemn it or reject it, but to correct it. Looking upon the experiments and agendae, the secular utopias and bold new ideas of our time, it says, you know “It’s all been done before.” And so the Church will continue to say its piece; many if not most will ignore it with various levels of hostility or indifference; the world will continue to stagger along the path of folly. But we will continue to say our piece.