The Stability of the Cross

New Jesuit General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., and St. John Paul II

The movements of Holy Week and Eastertide are enacted to bring the Christian people to the stability of a pierced love that cannot be shaken. Year after year, the Cross beckons and asks if we are faithful in our love, if we can stand with our Mother and the disciples in allowing Christ to rule from a bloodied throne that no earthly potentate could ever understand. The bells of Holy Thursday give way to the tears of Good Friday, and then to the silence of Holy Saturday. But come the Vigil, the joyful strain of Christ’s flock resounds, and all is well yet once again. Alleluia!

This is the point of all good liturgy: to serve as the conduit of meeting that one man who is able to provide meaning to lives that would otherwise drift aimlessly. For in that one man, the world can see its own value and dignity. On the Cross, perhaps more than anywhere else, we are enabled to see that he, too, has become what we are. We can finally understand that we are loved, not despite our infidelities and denials, but precisely because of them.

In his encyclical on knowing the truth of things, St. John Paul II bemoaned the loss of the modern world’s ability to make sense of the mystery of life because the ancient heresy of skepticism had crept back into the modern mind under various so-called “academic positions.” Scholars have become so erudite, it seems, that they really can’t know anything:

Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism. Recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today’s most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth” (Fides et Ratio §8).

It is part of the postmodern project to do away with anything eternal or lasting. All is now in a state of flux. The true meaning of things is lost to opinion, and public policy is handed over to those with the loudest voices, or to those who can produce the most distressing tears. In such a world, meaning has to be imposed because there is, ultimately, nothing else apart from my own belief system, however wonky. Such politicization of truth was even mandated a generation ago by a 1992 Supreme Court opinion that: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey).

It seems that, today, anything that is not novel, or in vogue, is held in suspicion, not because it is wrong, but simply because it has always been the case. One sees it in the current attempts to define marriage, to define what constitutes a man or a woman, or how we understand human flourishing. There is no longer debate over what might be “true” or “false,” but instead who is the victim, who has been offended the most, who feels “threatened” by a truth older than themselves. The Wood of the Cross, now redeemed and resurrected, teaches otherwise: that one’s truest understanding of self, the dignity and recognition for which every soul thirsts, can be found only in a Love that cannot die, that refuses to be manipulated and mangled beyond recognition. The Cross stands at the center of a God-given world that defines who we will forever be, for at Calvary, we all relinquish the illusion that we have the luxury of judging the world. The world judges us.

A recent interview with the new Jesuit General of my beloved Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, only reinforces what John Paul feared. It saddened me to read, but it has prompted me to comment. For when asked about the words of Jesus Christ regarding the insolubility of holy matrimony, and all the hubbub recently surrounding Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, Father Sosa responded with an answer right out of a 1970s standard theological training guide.

To the question of whether Jesus’ words, recorded at Matthew 19, on the nature of marriage, ​are binding or not, Sosa answered that:

What is known is that the words of Jesus must be contextualized, they are expressed in a language, in a specific setting, they are addressed to someone in particular.

Yes, this saddened me until I realized that if we are to take at face value what Fr. Sosa said concerning Jesus’ words on marriage, really putting into practice what Sosa recommends here, then his words, too, are to be contextualized. They are to be relegated and kept only in a specific setting, addressed to this individual reporter for only that designated hour interview and, therefore, to no one else! We create a hermeneutic which ensures that no words have any real binding power, that “context” replaces “content.”

The interview went on with more of the same, but it only points to one of the greatest sorrows of the modern mind: If we cannot trust the Church to convey faithfully and fruitfully what happened in a time, and in a place very different than our own, we are left only with our own self-declared doctrines, and self-imposed itineraries. Why are we so afraid of doctrine today? Why do we find truths, unaltered by fads and opinion, so threatening? When will we wake up and realize that it is better to trust in the law of a lavish Lover who invites our conversion, than in the opinions of selfish sinners who insist on our conformity.

If the Church cannot teach definitively, if she is unable to really re-present the words and deeds of Jesus Christ as he intends, then there is ultimately nothing trustworthy about the Bible, about the Magisterium, or even about the collected People of God who are the Church. Now, everyone is left to his or her own devices: you have what you think Jesus said, and I have what I think Jesus said. The “continual development,” Fr. Sosa says, is inherent in the way one approaches doctrine which simply cannot stand. He is right that doctrine can never replace discernment, and it is good for us all to remember that the way, the truth, and the life is not a proposition but a Person. Yet, in the perfect love this pierced Person has for wayward humanity, Jesus Christ founded and sustains his Church on earth, so that all people may know what is true, and what it is God desires for us all. The Cross under which we have all just stood, and the Empty Tomb where we were all invited to meet, are the ultimate lessons in love. They stand clear and unmoved, in need of no scholarly “contextualization” because the Sacred Triduum and the Paschaltide we now enjoy lack nothing, because Easter is what gives the entire cosmos its only true meaning.

May the Risen Lord rule in your hearts, and in your homes!
-Fr. David Meconi, S.J.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

Comments

  1. AMEN! Thank you Fr. Dave…keep going!

  2. Kathleen says:

    In and out of season, Truth is beautiful… well said Padre!

  3. Martin B. Drew says:

    A truthful presentation of the Papal magisterium and the extraordinary episcopal magisterium where Jesus and the Holy Spirit are alive . as expressed in the Nicene creed

  4. Joe G. says:

    Phenomenal article, Father, and truly prophetic words. This part especially rings true: “It seems that, today, anything that is not novel, or in vogue, is held in suspicion, not because it is wrong, but simply because it has always been the case. There is no longer debate over what might be “true” or “false,” but instead who is the victim, who has been offended the most, who feels “threatened” by a truth older than themselves.”

  5. Thank you, Father, for being a good shepherd of souls.

  6. ANGEL HUGO GUERRIERO says:

    Dear Fr. Meconi:
    In a few words, Fr. Sosa said: ” What is known is that the words of Jesus must be contextualized, they are expressed in a language, in a specific setting, they are addressed to someone in particular”. And you concluded: “We create a hermeneutic which ensures that no words have any real binding power, that “context” replaces “content.”
    1) I bealive that we have to remember what is said – in Spanish because I’ haven’t its text in English – by “Pontiticia Comisión Bíblica” on his document “La interpretación de la Biblia en la Iglesia (II, B, 1): “El sentido literal de la Escritura es el que ha sido expresado directamente por los autores humanos inspirados. Siendo el fruto de la inspiración, este sentido es también querido por Dios, autor principal. Se lo puede discernir gracias a un análisis preciso del texto, situado en su contexto literario e histórico. La tarea principal del exegeta es llevar a buen término este análisis, utilizando todas las posibilidades de investigación literaria e histórica, para definir el sentidio literal de los textos con la mayor exactitud posible (cfr. Divino afflante Spiritu, Enchiridium Biblicum, 550).” Y en el III: “La exégesis…utiliza sin segundas intenciones, los métodos y acercamientos científicos que permiten captar mejor el sentido de los textos en su contexto lingüístico, literario, socio cultural, religioso e histórico, ilumninándolos también por el estudio de sus fuentes y teniendo en cuenta la personalidad de cada autor (cfr. Divino afflante Spiritu, Enchiridium Biblicum 557).
    2) The Gospel forms a unity. We can’t separate one text from the mesage’s totality. For instance: Thees texts can’t be interpreted with no relation with all the life and teaching of Jesus: “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have com to bring not peace but sword” (Mat. 10/24). “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers an sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luc.14/26). “So, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat.5/48).
    3) The same Jesus said that the basis of the interpretation is the faith and mercy, and that we have to pay attention to the times and its signals: “You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the wightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity” (Mat.223/23). “You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times” (Mat. 16/4) “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luk, 13/56)
    CONCLUSION: In my opi9nion, the context does not replace the text. The text must be interpreted acording to all the context and in the light of generals principles of Jesus’ teaching: Justice, mercy and faith.

  7. Hurrah!

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