What with the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate released at the beginning of the week and the Pope receiving President Obama at week’s end, there is much to write about regarding both events. But, I do not want to overlook another important event in the life of the Church in America and indeed in the universal Church which will happen on Saturday when Father J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. will receive the fullness of the priesthood as he is ordained the titular archbishop of Oregon City at the National Shrine here in Washington, D.C. Father DiNoia will return to Rome to assume his duties as the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
It is startling how many Americans hold prominent positions in the Vatican curia, the most prominent of whom, Cardinal William Levada, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will be the principal consecrator at Saturday’s ordination. DiNoia goes to a Congregation of particular concern for the American Church as we near completion of the re-translation of the Roman Missal. The facts that he worked for years with the Bishops’ Conference and served as the official theologian to both Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick demonstrate that he has the relationships necessary to ensure that the American bishops do not feel excluded from Rome’s decision-making processes.
As his Episcopal motto, DiNoia has chosen the phrase "In Oboedientia Veritatis." The invitation to the ordination includes a quote from a sermon given by Pope Benedict XVI at the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace: "A beautiful phrase from the First Letter of St. Peter springs to my mind. It is from verse 22 of the first chapter. The Latin goes like this: ‘Castificantes animas nostras in oboedentia veritatis.’ Obedience to truth must ‘purify’ our souls and thus guide us to upright speech and upright action. In other words, speaking in hope of being applauded, governed by what people want to hear out of obedience to the dictatorship of current opinion, is considered to be a sort of prostitution: of words and of the soul. The ‘purity’ to which the Apostle Peter is referring means not submitting to these standards, not seeking applause, but, rather, seeking obedience to the truth…This is the fundamental virtue for the theologian, this discipline of obedience to the truth; it makes us, although it may be hard, collaborators of the truth, mouthpieces of the truth. For it is not we who speak in today’s river of words, but it is the truth which speaks in us, who are really purified and made chaste by obedience to the truth. So it is that we can truly be harbingers of the truth."
As always, with Pope Benedict, there is a lot to unpack there. And, as a blogger, I confess my eyebrows raised when I encountered the phrase "river of words" – LOL! But, it is undoubtedly true that while everything in the current zeitgeist suggests that obedience merely closes off avenues of intellectual exploration, it is one of the key insights of Catholicism that such obedience also opens avenues of exploration, intellectual and otherwise. Indeed, this fidelity to the truth is one of the central themes in Benedict’s recent encyclical, and not to just any truth, but to the total truth about the human person which we believe was revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. (Cf. Gaudium et Spes #22 – "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.")
When my mother was dying, my father leaned over her and said, "I am going to give you fifty-four kisses, one for each of the fifty-four wonderful years we had together." The depth of the love in that moment could only be achieved by obedience to their vowed love, no matter the inevitable ups and downs of married life, growing stronger each year and reaching new levels of devotion. There was a wisdom in those fifty-four kisses that I can’t prove in a laboratory but which I can no more deny than I can deny the sun rises in the east.
As we Catholics reflect on the Pope’s new social encyclical, which as most observers agree has something to challenge everybody, we should all think about how we can not only be obedient to the truth but how we can discover the truth that is found in obedience, reading and trying to understand the parts of the text we find problematic rather than just highlighting the parts we like. This is especially incumbent on Americans for it was our own Cardinal Gibbons and his defense of the Knights of Labor that had such a profound influence on the first papal encyclical on social justice, Rerum Novarum.
The Church in America continues to influence the Church universal, and this Saturday’s ordination will be yet another example of that. It is a thing to rejoice in. But, let’s remember that we Americans don’t have all the answers and that we are called not only to contribute to the universal Church but to learn from her.