Sense or Sensibility?
In their "From the Depths of Our Hearts" Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah express their shared anxiety for the ease with which certain leaders in the church have lost sight of the sole rationale for the Church's existence: the person and mission of Christ who is Truth.
The notion "cooperatores veritatis" was so central to Pope Benedict's vision that he adopted it as his episcopal motto. This provides an important context for this work. It is borne of a shared discernment: an inability to remain silent: "silere non possum". They observe:
"Although ideology divides, truth unites hearts. Scrutinising the doctrine of salvation can only unite the Church around her Divine Master."
To be together, around the Divine Master is, after all, our individual and shared vocation. But the use of the definite article is not only informative but critical. Truth, like pregnancy, does not admit of gradations. Something is either true or not. Equally, truth is not an idea. It is a person. In the words of Jesus himself, the Gospel affirms Jesus as "The Way, The Truth and The life" (Jn 14:6).
For most, if not all Catholics, this text-central to our creed, will be familiar. One is therefore entitled to express more than a little surprise when leaders within the Church act in a manner which is irreconcilable with this truth and/or suggest that its significance has been overlooked.
The latest example comes in the form of a parish priest in the Republic of Ireland. If the reports are to be received as accurate (see Church Militant 3 April 2020), the priest took it upon himself to invite the Imam to recite a Muslim prayer from the pulpit in the church during the course of the celebration of the Mass. This gesture of social fraternity may, in other circumstances, be both laudable and appropriate. However the error which occurred as a consequence was as predictable as it was inevitable. The reports indicate that the prayer recited by the Imam was in fact the Adhan (i.e the call to prayer). Informed commentators have immediately pointed out that this incorporates a declaration containing sentiments which proclaim supremacy over both the Christian and Jewish faiths.
This incident may be perceived by some as the latest evidence of a social ideology which trades under the banner of "ecumenism". This ideology promotes inter-religious dialogue provided that such dialogue does not extend to speaking of the matters upon which there is profound disagreement. This being so, it is not and cannot be considered an authentic platform for the search for truth. Some may form the view that it has the quality of a discussion between clinicians concerning illness without any wish to turn to the issue of cure. It might be said that, in reality and substance, it represents a form of vanity which does little by way of affirmation of the dignity or respect required to be shown to its participants or the faiths they represent.
As the recent example demonstrates, this ideology proceeds upon the basis of an exchange of platitudes worthy of the Edwardian drawing-room depicted in Downton Abbey. It is this same mentality which obscures from plain sight the Truth with which the Church has been entrusted. It is reported that the priest in question was formally responsible for priestly formation in a national seminary. If correct, it demonstrates how extensive the reach of this ideology has become within the life of the Church.
In the interests of balance, it should be noted that any self-respecting Christian would not expect to be granted permission to enter in a local synagogue (Shul) and replacing the Cantor (Chazan), begin the prayers with "Crown Him With Many Crowns". Nor would one expect to be granted permission to behave in a similar fashion within a local mosque.
The reason for this is as simple as it is obvious. These venues have been consecrated (i.e. set-aside) for the rites of the Faith which they represent. They are not intended (and would not be used as) a location for general social gathering alone. This is equally true of a Catholic Church. Any doubt in this respect is removed by a cursory examination of the Code of Canon Law.
For those driven to participate in interreligious dialogue, there is seemingly the condition of drawing upon the lexicon of homogeneity. So too, there is the obligation to conduct such dialogue on "neutral ground". That is to say ground which is consistent with the discourse and dialogue of the meeting itself. Whatever the form or detail of such 'dialogue' there is not, and cannot be, any place within the Catholic Church for prayers which deny the person of Christ and the victory of His passion, death and resurrection. This is true irrespective of the form of the prayers in question, or the Faith, creed or belief system from which they are drawn.
For those who consider this basic statement to be contrary to their own ideologies, perhaps they might reflect upon this fundamental and irreplaceable component of the Catholic Creed: the hypostatic union. If the Creed of the Church is not sufficiently persuasive for their purposes, human experience ought to leave them in no doubt of the reality that lasting friendships are founded upon respect and honesty. The absence of either is often terminal to any relationship worthy of the name.
In the words of Pope Benedict:
"The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they may be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God."
For those in positions of leadership who consider this statement to be inaccurate, the liturgical season provides more than adequate opportunity for further reflection. After all, respect for other faiths ought not to extend to the abandonment of one's own; especially in the case of one who is charged with the transmission of that faith for the good of souls. As the events recounted between Palm Sunday and Good Friday make clear, our faith is not reducible to notions of popularity. However, it does depend upon an encounter with and acceptance of Jesus who is Truth.
Our Lady, seat of wisdom - pray for us