Rorate Caeli

The Church is not just another religion, but the Covenant of God with mankind in the Person of Jesus Christ

Fr. Richard Cipolla's sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (the epistle for the Sunday and ferias in the week is II Cor iii, 4-9, the Gospel is the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

From the epistle: He also it is who has made us fit ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit, for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life…. For if there is glory in the ministration that condemned, much more does the ministration that justifies abound in glory.

St Paul here once again wrestles with the problem of the Law and the new dispensation of grace in Jesus Christ. Two Sundays ago, St Paul wrestled with the relationship between justification and good works. And he arrives at the conclusion that is part of our faith: that we are justified by our faith in the cross of Jesus Christ and not by good works. But that a faith that is real, that is alive, must manifest itself in good works, and that these good works that come from our faith are pleasing in the sight of God and are a proof, so to speak, to God that our faith is real and living.

But Paul the Jew, the educated Pharisee, understands the central role of the Law in the faith of the Israelites. The Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is an integral part of the covenant God has made with his people. The Law is given by God to show explicitly how his chosen people are to live their lives, and this in contradistinction to the pagans surrounding them. The Law was given to Moses in glory on that mountain, with Moses talking to God face to face, and when Moses came down the mountain his face shone with an intense light, so intense that he had to wear a veil when speaking to the people. But St Paul the Jew understands so clearly that the Law cannot save anyone. In fact, the Law condemns, the Law as the ministration that condemns in St Paul’s words, for all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Thus the Law is a two edged sword: it lays down the basic moral code by which Christians still live. But it also shows the futility of thinking that one can follow the Law in its entirety, that the fact of human rebellion against the moral law, the fact of our own real sinfulness, does not point to glory in any way but in reality points to condemnation and death.

Now this does not mean that faith in Christ as Lord and Savior somehow eliminates the need for the Law, the moral Law of God. It is certainly not the case that faith in the cross of Christ as the only means of freedom from sin and death frees us obeying the moral Law. But what St Paul tells us today in the epistle is that the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ is in-formed, literally in-formed by the Spirit of God whose sanctifying grace works within all those with faith in Christ, those who call themselves and are truly followers of Christ, those who by baptism, by water and the Spirit, have been called out of darkness into a great light. The ministry of the Church is a ministry of glory not founded upon the Law but founded upon the infinite mercy of a God who gave his only begotten Son to die for those imprisoned by the letter of the Law and so to free them to be partakers of the spirit of mercy, compassion and love, and to do this in that new covenant not made on a mountain, not made by the blood of bulls and goats sacrificed every day for the sins of the people: but that covenant made by the one and only Great High Priest who alone could enter the Holy of Holies and offer himself as a victim to his Father.

Now when one understands the radicality of this new covenant, then one sees that the Catholic faith, or Christianity itself, can never be reduced to or thought of in terms of just another religious system. To do this is to negate the new covenant and to return to the futility of thinking that the Law can save. But this has always been the temptation of Catholicism: to become a religious blue-print for salvation by following a prescribed path, dictated by the laws of the Church, a path to a sure salvation. The Church has often forgotten that Christ founded his Church as the locus of his saving presence in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the extension of the Incarnation in time and space, and not as a religious system that is different from other religious systems only in what she professes in her creeds. When Catholicism becomes one religion among many, then the Sacraments become either merely ritual acts that have their counterpart in other religions or talismans that border on magic. The root of the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves today vis a vis the Church in herself and in her relationship with the disbelieving world is at least partly, and I would say a great part, due to the forgetting of who the Church is, what her essence is, and a reversion to just another religion among Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism and a host of world religions. This is a reversion to a religion that is wedded to the letter of the law and not the spirit, a religion that has forgotten the radical nature of the new covenant forged by God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Dostoevsky’s most famous image is that of the Grand Inquisitor, the one in the Church in charge of seeing to it that heresy is stamped out and that the faith is kept pure. In Dostoevsky’s parable Christ returns to earth and performs some miracles of healing. The Grand Inquisitor hears of this and orders him to be arrested and taken to him for questioning. He recognizes Christ, for after all he is the super Catholic in charge of seeing that the Christian faith is not distorted. He recognizes Christ and asks: why did you return? You are a threat to everything we have built up for so many centuries. We have finally forgotten who you really are and what you really mean and we have settled down to become a religious system with the law at its heart. You deserve to die again.

Yesterday was the great feast of St. Lawrence, the deacon of Rome, who understood what faith in Christ meant and what the richness of the Church meant. And he was tortured for his faith, he was tortured on that famous grid-iron described in Prudentius’ hymn and he was killed not for his faith understood as a body of beliefs. He offered himself as a sacrifice in imitation of his Lord and Savior who can never be reduced to a religious figure or symbol. Our new bishop, Bishop Caggiano, in an interview in Ireland discussing the collapse of faith in that country, said that no one could ever get excited by or give himself over to a watered down and mediocre presentation of the Catholic faith. And no one would ever die for such a faith. And why would anyone die for a faith where everyone goes to heaven as a matter of course if you follow the rules of that Catholic train company guaranteed to get you there, a faith that has little to do with the great intellectual questions and problems that must engage the human spirit. Why would anyone die for a faith that reduces worship to a banal and earthbound reflection of the surrounding culture that can never manifest the Sacrifice that lies at the heart of the God we worship. Why would anyone die for a faith that relies merely on pronouncements from Rome to define what this faith is and then conversely trashes those pronouncements in an existential sense since they appear to be just more arbitrary decisions by those in charge of the law machine of the Church, a faith that sees itself as just one possible reality among many?

The questions are rhetorical and need no answer. Today let us ask the intercession of St. Lawrence who understood so deeply the radical and real nature of the Christian faith and the necessary willingness to die for that faith, that the Church may cleanse Herself of all temptation to reduce faith to laws, that She may refuse reduce the Apostolic faith a world religion, that She may heed St Paul’s words about the law and the spirit, and that her ministers may have the courage to preach the gospel of Christ in all of its radicality and wonder and love to a world that is starving itself spiritually to death.


Ma Tucker said...

Thank you Bishop Caggiano. His summary concerning Ireland is sadly accurate.

It is so true when St. Paul talks about the Law bringing death. If we were to be judged under justice alone we would all deserve to be condemned to death by the Law. Jesus Christ took upon himself that sentence of death that rightly belongs to us so that He could have the right to judge us in mercy. Thank you Jesus.

Thoughts At My Back Door said...

What a wonderful sermon!

It is a struggle for every Christian, to have faith in Jesus, hope in Jesus, and love for Jesus.

This sermon is of the Gospel, and you can tell because it challenges everyone-- humanist and traditionalist. We must have faith in our beloved Jesus, not merely in human reason, social systems, and philanthropy, not merely in our traditions and laws.

The Jesus who challenged the Grand Inquisitor was probably the Lord who gave us the parable of the Samaritan, wherein our neighbor is the one with mercy and not of our 'religion'.

Supertradmum said...

Thank you for posting this.

Cameron Smith said...

Howdy all, I read the blog everyday but I dont think I've ever posted on here before. I wanted to share an observation of what I saw on my recent trip to Europe, and something I've come to realize lately about where the U.S. might eventually be. Please let me know if you agree.

I traveled to several countries and attended the Latin Mass everywhere I went, but also attended the OF as well, so that I could try out my experiemnt.

What I found: The Latin Mass parishes I attended were all filled up, and full of young people, this was across every country I went to.
The OF parishes I attended were almost completely aged with few to any young families and children. There were maybe 2 exceptions to this.

My question: And this is kind of what I think. That in many places across Europe, in a decade or 2, the Latin Mass will be the only Mass where there are actually people in attendance, all the other places will have died out. The Latin Mass will eventually be the "ordinary Mass", even if it is not the official ordinary Mass as put forth by the Church (the OF right now), hope I worded that correctly. I'm not sure how fast the Latin Mass is growing across Europe, but this was glaringly evident everywhere that I went. Do you think that the U.S is headed in that direction?
I think of the northeast, I havent been there very many times, but I noticed the same thing when I traveled through the northeastern states. Here in Texas it is not as apparent.


P.S love the blog, keep up the awesome work. Sometimes I feel like the only traditional college student and Rorate helps out a lot!

Cameron Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cordelio said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with the title of this article - which seems to encapsulate the conclusion of the homily presented, I don’t really understand the homily itself.

Much as I admire him in general and Brothers Karamazov in particular, Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor was a hostile and untrue caricature of the Roman Catholic Church – and not even of the Church of today, but the Church of Blessed Pius IX and Leo XIII (Brothers Karamazov was completed in 1880 – Dostoevsky’s literary career was almost coextensive with the reign of Pius IX (1846-1878)). It’s unclear to what aspect of today’s Catholic Church Dostoevsky’s caricature is being applied – especially since the end of the homily seems to be a (very laudable) call for the Church to more clearly distinguish Her beliefs from those of the religions around Her (i.e., a call for the Church to be, at least in the historically accurate sense, more inquisitorial, not less).

The “a faith where everyone goes to heaven as a matter of course if you follow the rules of the Catholic train company guaranteed to get you there” line is another stock non-Catholic caricature of the Catholic Church – all the more puzzling in its application since never have churchmen been less exacting in their insistence that Catholics actually need to obey the moral law, or even that non-Catholics need to be members of “the Catholic train company” to be saved.

Certainly the Catholic faith should never be thought of a “just another religious system” - but not because it is not a religious system; rather because it is the only real religious system - the only sure path to salvation.

Claude said...

“To do this is to negate the new covenant and to return to the futility of thinking that the Law can save. But this has always been the temptation of Catholicism: to become a religious blue-print for salvation by following a prescribed path, dictated by the laws of the Church, a path to a sure salvation. The Church has often forgotten that Christ founded his Church as the locus of his saving presence in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the extension of the Incarnation in time and space, and not as a religious system that is different from other religious systems only in what she professes in her creeds.”

Where does those statements come from? And the whole jest of this homily, accusing Rome, the “law machine of the Church”? It is not because affluent modernity is in an unheard of state of apostasy that the Church has ever forgotten who she was! The Church (and Israel) has always been sailing on very rough seas since Abraham himself! The Church founded by Christ has always known what her purpose was: to save souls, to bring them to Christ; and she has always known how to do it. Nobody dies for a faith … but for the love of Christ, in imitation of Christ, yes. What will bishop Caggiano to about the Irish situation? Is he ready to become a martyr? Claude

Adfero said...

Sola scriptura Steve, really?

Richard Cipolla said...

Dear Cordelio: Thanks for your comments. I am fully aware of Dostoevsky's intense dislike of Catholicism as it seemed to manifest itself in the 19th century. He saw the Catholic Church as an all too worldly enterprise, a worldly system, that had forgotten its spiritual essence and calling. Without accepting D's misunderstanding of the Catholic Church in its entirety, one can still pause before the figure of the Grand Inquisitor and ask oneself whether the Catholic Church has sometimes acted as a worldly religious system. One cannot address all issues in a Sunday sermon. So a sermon is always incomplete. There are two issues underlying what I said that need addressing: first, the question of the increasing centralization of power and authority in Rome and specifically in the Pope; and secondly, the relationship of the Church to the all-changing event of the Incarnation that was like the knife of Godly eternity slicing into the warp and woof of time and space, sin and death. Conversation is vital among friends who love the Church especially at this time. May that conversation go on and deepen in the love of Christ for His Church. Fr Cipolla

Cordelio said...

Dear Father Cipolla: Thank you very much for the kind reply, and I keenly appreciate that any homily (or any other statement, for that matter) should not be regarded as a comprehensive treatment of every issue upon which its words might possibly touch. How many disputes – especially in matters religious – arise from doing just that? Hence my former indication of a lack of understanding was completely sincere, as is my gratitude for your willingness to address it.

I always like to hear the profundity of the Incarnation and the absolutely unprecedented audacity of the claims of the Catholic Church regarding itself emphasized, as you have done very eloquently. This same theme strikes me as the central one in Chesterton’s Everlasting Man. We are burdened with a familiarity with Christianity (which term I use as objectively synonymous with Catholicism) that we must make a mental effort to shed in order to regain the proper sense of wonder – to see our religion as a thing far stranger and more exotic than the pseudo-spiritual mumblings of some Eastern mystic.

Regarding the underlying issues you mentioned that need addressing, was that an expression of interest in hearing more what I (or others) might have to say about them in this forum (at the indulgence of its moderators, of course)?

Pisacane said...

"A Faith that is real and alive must manifest itself in good works..." This is my daily struggle as a Catholic so as to not be a hypocrite after leaving Mass or praying daily Lauds and Vespers.

A radical conversion of the heart in Christ that is aided (supported) by the Church. If there is no radical conversion of the heart in Christ, what is the point in all the rubrics?

Thank you Father Cipolla for a homily that increases my realization of where my journey needs to lead...