A banner hanging on the side of a church in New England prompted me to ask some questions about “continuing revelation.” Is God still speaking in the sense that He is giving new revelation? Is God changing what His Word and the Tradition of His Church has maintained for 2000 years and even longer when you consider the ancient writings of the Old Testament? Are there “surprises” that we are just discovering that updates God and His revelation to our 21st century practices and new normal?
That’s an important question and one that seems to be the theme of the current Youth Synod and the Synod on the Family before it. Just last week one of the sub groups led by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich asserted that we need to be prepared for new definitions of the family going forward. This seems to fit into the idea that God is rethinking what He has given us as timeless truth and the Church better get “woke” and optimized to version 21.0!
This summer our local book group read Pope Francis’s latest encyclical “Rejoice and Be Glad” that was a follow up to Amoris Laetitia and the Synod on the Family. In three separate paragraphs the Holy Father refers to “surprises.” If this had been written in 2013 I probably would not have thought much about it, but now, in the light of what led up to the encyclical it seems to infer that God is still speaking and our traditional ways (the last twenty centuries) will not serve today’s church.
41. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.
138. We are inspired to act by the example of all those priests, religious, and laity who devote themselves to proclamation and to serving others with great fidelity, often at the risk of their lives and certainly at the cost of their comfort. Their testimony reminds us that, more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity.
139. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.
Robert Royal of The Catholic Thing wrote this morning:
In the Synod, many participants, even bishops, often speak of the Church as if it were almost superfluous. We’re hearing it said, again and again, that the role of the Church is to facilitate an “encounter with Jesus”; that our faith is not in the Church – let alone in sinful Church members, including priests and bishops – all, of course, true up to a point.
More radically, it’s sometimes hinted that the current crisis might be viewed (in the words of Newark’s Cardinal Tobin, chosen for the Synod by Pope Francis but absent, owing to the abuse crisis in his diocese) as God “smashing old structures” to prepare the way for reform.
It’s a hazardous thing to pronounce on what God is or is not doing in your day, especially in terms of smashing things that he has already used for 2000 years, unless you are a prophet whose lips have been purified in advance with a burning coal – preferably by an angel.
I end this morning by stating that God has called the Church to be the instrument of salvation to all, not by being forced into the image of fallen humanity, but by calling fallen and sinful humanity to the person of Jesus Christ our Savior and the transformation that He brings. Jesus is the ultimate revelation. He is God’s final word. The only surprise remaining is that full surrender to Him is what makes us fully human!