Of Many Things

My theme is memory,” writes the protagonist of Brideshead Revisited, “that winged host that soared above me one grey morning in wartime.” It is a curious coincidence that the most famous “Catholic” novel of the 20th century, “the sacred and profane memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder,” agnostic-cum-believer, should invoke such an image. In the traditional understanding, the memory of the church is the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the descending dove, the one, Jesus tells us, “that the Father will send in my name.” This same Holy Spirit, the Lord says, “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

This revelation of the Holy Spirit as the church’s memory helps us to account for the church’s unique relationship with time. Recall the words of the Nicene Creed: The Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, is “born of the Father before all ages.” In other words, God in Christ is the Lord of time, the creator of time. The faith, then, is not simply a record of things past. In the Eucharist, for example, we are not re-enacting some event from long ago, akin to the way in which some people might re-enact a Civil War battle. We’re not simply remembering our history; we are making history—or rather, we are participating in history in the making. In the Eucharist, the triune God transforms the past into the present, while at the same time affording us a glimpse of the future.

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All of this is simply to say that to “think with the church” is to inhabit her memory, to live in the spirit so as “to enter into the mind of the church,” in the words of the late Avery Dulles, S.J., “and by this means to interpret the Christian faith in fullest conformity with the intentions of the Lord himself.” Our theme for this issue, therefore, is memory, the living memory of the church of Jesus Christ. That last part is important, for the memory of the church, expressed in her teachings, is not an archive of propositions, it is an ongoing encounter with the One who is “both the mediator and the sum total of revelation,” in the words of the fathers at Vatican II. When church teaching is separated from its Christocentric origins, then it usually takes the form of merely functional law, rather than personal, loving revelation. Yet as Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., reminds us in this issue, God desires more than our obedience: “He wants us to be fed, strengthened and inspired by God’s own holy word.”

Also in this issue, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl examines the relationship between the church’s magisterium and the work of theologians. The magisterium is the guardian and authentic interpreter of the church’s memory, as expressed in Scripture and tradition. At the same time, His Eminence invites theologians to embrace “a vibrant vision of their role as responsible collaborators in the teaching of the church.” The historian John W. O’Malley, S.J., sets forth some principles for interpreting the Second Vatican Council, surely a memorable event in the church’s history. Lastly, America inaugurates in this issue a new feature we’re calling Vantage Point. From time to time, we will re-print some article from our past that might help you make sense of the present. This week’s entry is an article from 1997 by Avery Dulles, S.J., in which he examines how the Ignatian charism helped form some of the 20th century’s greatest theological minds.

If you don’t mind my saying so, it all makes for really interesting reading. It’s also a chance, perhaps, to inhabit anew the church’s beautiful, life-giving memory; an opportunity, in the words of Charles Ryder, to find “that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.”

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Bruce Snowden
5 years 10 months ago

There’s much soul-food in Editor Matt Malone’s “Many Things” on why it’s essential to “think with the Church.” The essay could supply long-time meditations on the centrality of Jesus Christ as it relates to understanding better materiality and spirituality. Or as St. Paul said, “that which is and that which is to come.” I chose to reflect on the Eucharist in the light of the just quoted words of St. Paul’s, greatly assisted by Fr. Malone’s inspirational insights.

Editor Malone said, “In the Eucharist the triune God transforms the past into the present, while at the same time affording us a glimpse of the future.” I have never read a better explanation on what happened on the night before he died when Jesus said, “Take and eat/drink this is My Body/Blood. Do this in memory of Me.” See how Eucharist links into Paul’s mysterious words spoken as though they are one and the same, “that which is and that which is to come,” that which is, identical to that which is to come! Here’s the example that comes to mind, one of others I am sure.

The Church (THINKS) teaches that Eucharist confected in liturgy is the reenactment of the Sacrifice of the Cross in an un-bloody way. This means that on the night before he died, BEFORE the Sacrifice of the Cross happened, it happened somehow at the Last Super, or as I prefer, the First Eucharist, Jesus giving us Mystery that had not yet happened, yet at his word did happen, bringing focus one again to Paul’s words, “that which is and that which is to come” somehow one and the same.

This is enough to occupy one’s mind forever as we make every effort to always “THINK with the Church” obviously not just in Eucharist but in all things, involving the intellect. Concluding may I please add what St. Augustine also said namely, “We must always FEEL with the Church” which involves the heart. This means we become wrapped in the Holy Spirit, which Pope Pius XII once called “the SOUL of the Church.” So there it is, Body, Mind, Soul in service to Christ. Thank you Fr. Malone for stirring-up this prayerful discovery!

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