Evidenced by particular political efforts by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and public efforts by some religious orders, parishes and lay ministries, it is amazingly clear that we have lost focus on what the Church essential is.
One misshapen venture into the haze that attempts the blend the sacramental life of Church with social/civic activity is on display in the Pastoral Plan of Action produced by the National Black Catholic Congress XII in which there is contained just one mention of the Holy Eucharist and two mentions of daily-mass, but several mentions of something called social-justice, social injustice, and social-teaching. How is that a Pastoral Plan of Action that was developed by delegates who were appointe9d by bishops from every diocese in the United States reads like a document produced by the NAACP, Urban League, or Blacks Lives Matter? There is no distinction between what 99% of what that document recommends how Catholic parishes should engage society, versus what my college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, recommends its local chapters do in their communities.
This idea that we need to water down or miscommunicate the life the life of the Church in hopes to reach more people isn’t something owned solely by the NBCC in the least. On the contrary, it is everywhere and is becoming more and more commonplace in our religious education programs.
This counterfeiting of how the Church expresses her life is as hollow as a piano without keys and strings. This imagining of the Catholic Church to be a civic organization or as an extension of political parleying betrays the mission that Christ Jesus gave the Church to administer the sacraments, proclaim the Gospel, and to perform works of Charity that area in union with the sacraments and the Gospel.
At least when Protestants decide to re-imagine the Church, they always attempt to draw from the book of Acts, the Epistles, and the Letters to develop their standards. While they always miss the mark, because they avoid sacred Tradition, their effort is, nonetheless, admirable. Yet, when Catholics errantly try to re-imagine the Church, as if they are Protestants, their standard is drawn from the standards of secular society, rather than from the divine, and the fruit of that flawed development is a Church that resembles the world and has been conformed to the world. In this way, they become a hollow relic of an empty museum that people enter freely and say, ‘There’s nothing to see here that is different. We can find better elsewhere if we pay.’
An important essay that correctly challenges Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández’s Chapter VIII of the Amoris Laetitia, What is Left After the Storm is Jose Granados’ From Flesh to Flesh: On the Sacramental Meaning of Tradition (Communio International Catholic Review, Winter 2017, 643-666). Fernandez’s argument is that Amoris Laetitia not a change, but, rather, an evolution in the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that is in continuity with Sacred Tradition. He argues the latter point by comparing it to other non-dogmatic teachings that the Church has changed over the centuries. The clear error here is that Fernandez is using false comparisons to argue for equal comparison – this is a non-starter and collapses his whole treatment of the issue.
In response to Fernandez’s very liberal usage of the term ‘sacred Tradition’, Granados builds upon Irenaeus and Ratzinger to argue for the necessary and intimate relationship between the sacraments and tradition; that is, “the sacraments (with their source in the Eucharist) are the form of tradition; and that tradition is the content of the sacraments, since through them we can participate in the Gospel, which is the life of Jesus in the flesh” (p. 657). In other words, it is through the sacraments, which unites us into the Body of Christ, that the Church communicates the sacred Tradition, and it is through the sacraments that the Church hands down (paradidomi), passes down (paralambamo), and handed down or passed down (paradosis), the deposit of faith.
Granados also rightly states that “the family is the place where life and culture are transmitted” (p. 644), and in my book The Divine Symphony: An Exordium to the Theology of the Catholic Mass I detail how and why the memorial sacrifice, which has always been a family celebration, contains the essence of the Church by passing down and handing down the memory of salvation history from Adam until today and by uniting us with the eternal saving flesh of Christ our Lord.
Whenever we lose sight of the fact that we were created to be a family of Eucharistic People, we simultaneously lose sight of that fact that we were created for the Mass, because it is there that the Eucharist is consecrated and where we are united with Christ Jesus by consuming Him there. The Mass is our calling, the spring of our hope, and the fruition of our faith. Therefore, as a People of God, there is nothing greater we have to offer society than the sacrifice of the Mass, and once we truly realize what the essence of the Church is, we never want to offer the world something less than that. For, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish?” (Mt. 7:9-10).
As the People of God, we truly need to embrace our essence and who we truly are and offer that! Do not offer the world less than what God has given you, and “do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).