Reprinted from The Providence Journal (May 2, 2005), pg. A.09
I found it interesting that both David Carlin (“Breaking liberal Catholic hearts,” Commentary, April 22) and the Rev. Raymond Suriani (April 22, “Innovator’s curse,” letter, April 22) base their conclusions on a similar premise.
In Mr. Carlin’s case, “Catholicism is a backward-looking religion, not a forward-looking one, since its legitimacy rests on its claim to be the custodian of the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles.”
For Father Suriani, “He [the pope] is commissioned by Jesus Christ to guard the rich deposit of Faith that has been faithfully handed down to him from the Apostles themselves.”
The implied assumption is that the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and the rich deposit of faith have been handed down to the church as a block of truth unchanged since the apostolic age. But change has been intrinsic to understanding the truths of the faith from the beginning. The words and actions of Jesus were the basis of an oral tradition that led to the written word that led to reflection by the church that continues today.
According to a scripture scholar, the Rev. Raymond Brown, the truth of the Gospels is a living message constantly shaped by the community. This the paradigm for understanding the truth revealed in the Gospels. What do we make of the words spoken by Bishop Angelo Roncalli, later known as Pope John XXIII, upon learning of the death of Pope Pius XII: “We are not on earth to guard a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life”?
Is there any truth in the claim of scholar Elizabeth Schuzler Fiorenza when she writes, “Tradition is not a block of content to be carefully guarded by authorized hierarchies but a dynamic action of God’s love which is to be passed on to others of all sexes and races”?
The church is not made up of conservatives and liberals so much as it is made up of ordinary people seeking to live the will of God as best they can, and trying to understand the Mysteries of the Faith, as taught by the church. In this human and humble action the hungry are fed, the imprisoned visited and the poor have the Good News revealed to them. The living message continues to be shaped by the community.