The unfaithfulness of the current Robert P. Imbelli

IIt did not take much astuteness to foresee some of the feverish negative reactions to the recent declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declaring the blessing of same-sex unions illegal. One only had to remember the worn out adage of the scholastics: “Quidquid Recipitur ad Modum Receiveris Recipitur” – “Whatever is received is received according to the ability of the recipient.”

The currently prevailing “type of reception” was outlined in the middle of the culture-changing 1960s by the late Philip Rieff in his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, a book that is both recapitulatory and prophetic. We live in a culture of subjectivity and emotional confrontation, whose daily bread is the solemn proclamation of “my story”, “my truth”, “my comfort zone”. The fact that a predominant reaction to the CDF’s declaration was the complaint of being “injured” only confirms Rieff’s thesis.

In such a culture, when the CDF uses terms such as “the truth of the liturgical rite”, “the nature of the sacrament” and “objectively ordered”, they must represent stumbling blocks. And for the statement to venture to end with the blatant assertion that God “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrims in this world. . . he cannot and cannot bless sin ”only seals the scandal in the minds of many.

It is important to recognize that the CDF’s response recognizes the real pastoral concern of many who advocate such blessings. It values ​​their desire to “greet and accompany” people as they grow in faith. But in contrast to some who easily speak of “accompaniment”, the statement has the aim of this accompaniment and the content of this faith clearly in view: the holiness to which all the baptized are called – a holiness embodied and made possible in the Lord Jesus becomes Christ. And although not specifically quoted, Paul’s admonition to the Romans could well have been used as an inscription to the statement: “Brothers and sisters, present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not be adapted to this world, but transform yourself through the renewal of your spirit ”- Romans 12: 1–2.

The CDF Declaration, while apparently focusing on the issue of the blessing of same-sex unions, has a much bigger meaning. It confronts the crisis that has plagued Catholicism since the Council was concluded. The crisis goes far deeper than the opposing “styles” of a particular papacy or the appropriate balance between “institutional” and “charismatic” or “legal” and “pastoral”. It is about the sacramental substance of faith, the particular form of the body of Christ.

The immediate cause for the intervention of the CDF seems to be the situation of the church in Germany, in which the blessing of such unions is promoted and engaged, with the encouragement of some bishops, tacitly or openly. The wider context, however, is the so-called “Synodal Path” that is underway there. Preliminary documents on the Synodal Path have raised widespread concern that it is not about the development of doctrine, but about the relativization and undermining of doctrine. And this fits all too closely with the therapeutic ethos that characterizes much of Western Catholicism.

Our present crisis was foreseen 150 years ago by Saint John Henry Newman. In an opening address at the St. Bernard Seminary, Newman acknowledged that all times have particular dangers and that the Church will always be in turmoil because of the wrongdoing and failure of its members, as well as the attacks of its enemies. But he deliberately warned that “Christianity has never seen a world that is simply irreligious” – a world, one might say, of “Nones”. And so Newman titled his address “The Infidelity of the Future”.

For Newman, of course, an important sign of this impending crisis was what he called the “spirit of liberalism in religion”. According to this spirit, “revealed religion is not a truth but a feeling and a taste; no objective belief. “This leads to the belief that“ it is everyone’s right to say what they like. ”Although Newman admits that this way of thinking can take different forms in different countries,“ the general character of this apostasy is the same everywhere . “

“Apostasy” has a strange ring to it, but it has a deadly consequence. Sixty years after Newman’s speech, H. Richard Niebuhr wrote his obituary for the sad impasse of liberal Protestantism: “A God without anger brought people without sin through the services of a Christ without a cross into a kingdom without judgment.” During this Lent Newman and Niebuhr offer a salutary test of conscience for all Catholics.

Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is the author of Rekindling the Christic Imagination.

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