To Avoid Being A Pelagian

To Avoid Being A Pelagian November 6, 2013
He’s a Cardinal, not a Pelagian

Father Dwight Longenecker has been noodling a speech on the New Evangelization that was given recently by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. The speech can be read in full over at Whispers in the Loggia.

Cardinal Maradiaga, whom John Allen once described as being a good candidate to become  “Missionary-in-Chief,” said a number of great things in his speech. Things like,

There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus. The Church only has a future and can only consider herself great by humbly trying to follow Jesus. To discern what constitutes abuse or infidelity within the Church we have no other measure but the Gospel. Many of the traditions established in the Church could lead her to a veritable self-imprisonment. The truth will set us free, humility will give us wings and will open new horizons for us.

If the Church seeks to follow Jesus, all she has to do is to continue telling the world what happened to Jesus, proclaiming His teachings and His life. Jesus was not a sovereign of this world, He was not rich, but instead He lived as a poor villager, He proclaimed his program –the Kingdom of God—and the great of this world (Roman Empire and Synagogue together) persecuted and eliminated Him. His sentence to die on the cross, outside the city, is the clearest evidence yet that He did not want to ingratiate himself with the powers of this world. Shattered by their power, He is the Suffering Servant, an image of innumerable other servants, defeated by the ones who rule and call themselves “lords;” but it was He, poor, silenced, and humiliated, who was designated by his Father as His Beloved Child and whom God Himself resurrected on the third day.

He said a number of things that also worried a lot of folks, too. Such as,

And there the Church, in humble company, helps making life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals, without castes or classes; without rich or poor; without impositions or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth –so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.

For this task of mission and testimony, the Church should always come equipped with faith and a spirit of service to humanity. Too many times she gives the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue. No more excommunicating the world, then, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.

Pope Francis leading us by example

So which is it? Are we Church, or are we an NGO? Well, Pope Francis has answered that question by reminding folks that we are the former and not the latter. Recently, Pope Francis is inviting the world to a party, as yesterday’s reading was the parable of the Great Feast. All are invited, and all are welcome.

But wait! That’s because we’re all sinners, right?

Right. And the thing is, just like Pope Francis identified himself as a sinner in the bombshell interview that America Magazine published, the partying is really only hearty when you realize you’re a sinner too. One who by all rights shouldn’t even be at the feast.

For the sake of argument, though, let’s pretend that everyone is well aware of the fact that they understand the kerygma, the proclamation of the essential gospel message. That they know the answer to the question “why did Jesus come?” You’d have to know the answer to that in order for Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech, and the messages of Pope Francis, to make any sense. Right?

I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

Fr. Dwight reminds us of this in his post today. Therein, he also reminds folks of a heresy that they may have never heard of. The heresy of Pelagius. Have a look,

As faith without works is dead, so works without faith is dead. Works without faith is never more than an ideology. It’s the false religion of trying to make this world a better place rather than trying to make our way to a Better Place. When religion is reduced to an ideology it is actually worse than a secular or atheistic ideology. At least the secular ideologues know that they are following an ideology. Religious ideologues believe they are doing God’s will in the world, and that is truly a frightening thought. Good morning Taliban–like Caliban–another monster who inhabited a primitive and brutal place a naive girl thought was a brave new world.

An idea for next Halloween!

The Pelagian mistakes the fruit of faith for faith. Because the truly sanctified person of faith serves the poor, loves his neighbor, eschews riches and lives a radiant life of witness the Pelagian thinks that faith consists of doing those things. He thinks that if he does those things then that is the faith and that people will be drawn to the faith through his example of doing those things. Wrong answer. Those actions are the result of faith. They are empowered by faith. The person of faith truly wants to do those things because they have been transformed by the saving action of God.This is why the core ministry of the church is not social action. The core ministry of the church is to save and sanctify souls. As a consequence of this first ministry the saved and sanctified souls will naturally and of their own transformed desire love their neighbor, feed the poor, minister to the needy and transform the world. The FIRST commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second commandment is like–namely this–you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The second commandment hangs on the first. You cannot truly love your neighbor unless first you have learned to love God, and likewise you cannot truly love God unless you love your neighbor, but there is a priority. Loving God comes first, and that brings the transformation which empowers the proof in that you soon learn to love your neighbor.

Read the rest.

Consider this unvarnished fact about speaking, writing, blogging, or preaching about the Catholic Faith: not one single person has all of Catholicism distilled and wrapped up in one tidy package. No, not even one.  If St. Thomas Aquinas thought everything he ever wrote was as valuable as so much straw, then perhaps we shouldn’t get too worked up about Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech.

That said, I understand the concerns. But who believes everyone will completely forget the disasters of the past 50 years? Totally overlook them? Learn absolutely nothing from them? Is our faith really that small?

Keep slogging. Keep praying. Keep living the faith.


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