B16: No to fossilization of traditions!

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Life at the friary here in Syracuse does have some interesting perks. One of these perks is getting the New York Times every day. A few days ago I was reading the Time’s coverage of the Pope’s Chrism Mass homily (April 5, 2012). It presented the homily as a shockingly direct rebuke to some priests in Austria who were daring to challenge the authority and teaching of the Church. Here is how the NYT characterized B16’s homily:

Striking a characteristically inquisitive yet uncompromising stance, he asked whether such moves were aimed at “true renewal,” or “do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?”

I have to admit that if I was one of the priests who had started this movement and heard the Pope directly speak about me at the Chrism Mass I would probably be soiling my pants about now. And yes, it was a rather direct message. If you’ve never actually read any of B16’s (or Joseph Ratzinger’s) writings you would not know that he often does write in a very simple and direct fashion. He can be quite surprising in his questioning and reflection.

But the problem I have is this. I did not only read the NYT that day. As is my custom, I begin every day with an online review of much of the news: Reuters, CBC, CTV, LaPresse, Toronto Star, Twitter, New.va, Whispers in the Loggia,  and I had already read the Pope’s entire homily online.  I was shocked by how biased a presentation the news reports were making of the homily.  Yes B16 was quite direct about the intentions of people challenging the Church.  Here’s the main passage about this:

Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this?

BUT… that’s not all he said. Read some of the rest:

But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice.

Let us ask again: do not such reflections serve simply to defend inertia, the fossilization of traditions? No. Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. And if we look at the people from whom these fresh currents of life burst forth and continue to burst forth, then we see that this new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.


The Church is not about inertia or the fossilization of traditions! Wow. Really, Pope Benedict said that? Yes, he’s a much more complicated person than most imagine and not easily stuffed into a neat little box. He makes me nuts when he wears his fiddle-back vestments and lace of the Tridentine liturgy but he equally makes the extreme traditionalist crazy by refusing to turn back the clock on the vision of Vatican II.

So, a word of caution. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Read many sources and find out the truth for yourself!