O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.
Providentially, the theme of divine Wisdom seems particularly appropriate as we pick up where we left off with the Pope Apostolic Exhortation; namely, with a section entitled: “A Mission embodied within human limits.” We are a people constantly in seek of Wisdom, both as individuals and as a People of faith. This is actually the pope’s starting point. In paragraph #40, the pope refers to the entire Church as a missionary disciple, a disciple who “needs to grow in her interpretation of the revealed word and in her understanding of truth.” It is interesting to think of the entire People of God in this way: as a singular disciple on mission. Just as I, as an individual Christian disciple, need constantly to grow in understanding, so too does the entire Church. The Pope reminds those of us who serve in the ministry of theology: “It is the task of exegetes and theologians to help ‘the judgment of the Church to mature.'” This is a quote taken directly from the Second Vatican Council’s monumental Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, #12).
Without specifying particular examples, the pope continues:
Within the Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of the help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.
This call for a broad and diverse search for wisdom, as we shall see in a moment, once again calls upon the wisdom of the whole Tradition of the Church, with this particular section supported by an extensive reference to St. Thomas Aquinas; shortly, Pope Francis will call to mind the example of St. John XXIII who says essentially the same thing! Wisdom, in short, is not “monolithic”, nor is it a hoard of theological propositions known in fullness and waiting only to be transmitted verbatim and intact to succeeding generations, cultures and peoples. The pope writes, in #41: “Today’s vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language which brings out their abiding newness. ‘The deposit of the faith is one thing, the way it is expressed is another.'” That is the voice of St. John XXIII, exhorting the world’s bishops at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis cautions that when some people “hold fast to a formulation [which] fails to convey its substance,” we can — with every good intention — “sometimes give them a false god or a human ideal which is not really Christian.” He then cites St. John Paul II, who wrote that “the expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning.”
This quest for expressing eternal truth in various ways in order to communicate, not only the words but the meaning of truth, continues when considering the various customs and practices of the Church, as a missionary disciple.
In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. . . . St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion of form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that should be free.” This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one f the criteria to be taken into account in considering a reform of the Church her preaching would would enable it to reach everyone.
We have already seen in earlier sections of the document that the pope is committed to helping the Church recover her missionary purpose, and that this mission is not only to reach everyone in a general way, but in very concrete ways which are understandable to all people today, regardless of culture or history or age. Past ages found beautiful and creative ways of expressing eternal truths in their own day and time; we must not do the same for our own, and not merely try to repeat the brilliant work of the past which may no longer be capable of communicating truth as it once did.
As we move more intently into our final preparations for celebrating the coming of Christ anew into our lives, how well do I express my faith to others in ways that are full of meaning, promise and hope? What about our parish: What customs do we continue to hold onto which — if we were truly honest with each other — no long seem to be capable of expressing the truth of our relationship with Christ and our responsibility to the world around us. Honestly review our lives as individuals and as parish, and then reflect: Do we unduly “burden” those around us? Do we have the courage to let go and to let God inspire us with Divine Wisdom in finding new ways to proclaim the Christ to the world. For those of us who serve as deacons, do we continue to grow, not only as disciples, but in our ministerial competence? Are we open to new ideas, even when those ideas may be challenging to our former ways of thought? “O Wisdom” is a title given to Christ today; may our own relationship with Wisdom give us the freedom and courage to find new ways of sharing God’s truth.