Facing the challenge of learning your faith Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

The week of Labor Day now having come and gone, schools everywhere are kicking into “high gear,” and thus it’s important that we remember to pray for all of our students. It’s also a good time for Catholic parents to remember to reapply themselves to educating and forming their children in the faith, and for all of us to support them! It is a large task, but one which will bear fruit for all of eternity.

Next week I’ll be blessed to celebrate two Masses with students, one with students at the UW-Madison, and another which will gather together students from all of the Catholic schools in our diocese. I can’t wait to be with all of these young, energetic young people. Next week’s issue of the Catholic Herald will also focus on the 32 men who I call “my sons” in a particular way. In recent weeks I’ve also seen almost all of the seminarians head back to school — and I can certainly identify with those parents who are missing students, who are back in the dorms!

It’s timely that I should have come across this week a pastoral letter from Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, to his seminarians heading back for their studies. The letter, which is titled Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Faith Seeking Understanding in the Life of the Seminarian, can be found linked on our own diocesan Web site: www.madisondiocese.org

I also plan to send a copy of it not only to our seminarians, but also to our priests and other parish leaders, and I think it’s a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in truly learning their faith. First, the foundational maxim “faith seeking understanding” should be a starting point from which all of us should seek to know more of the faith that has been handed on by our Church. As such the Cardinal’s words to his seminarians should really ring true for each of us.

Second, His Eminence gets to the heart of some of the challenges facing our seminarians and priests today, stemming not only from differences in the secular culture, but also from a few generations being formed in what our Holy Father has referred to as a hermeneutic of rupture. Cardinal Wuerl challenges his seminarians, upon their ordination, to be a “voice of invitation,” to so many who do not know the true teachings of the Church. This acting as a “voice of invitation,” is something also in which every Catholic woman and man must be involved, as we undertake the new evangelization — but we first need to be aware of the problem.

Third, the letter provides a glimpse into how seminarians should understand their formation in preparation for ordination, and, thus, how all of us might better understand the role of the priest in the Church. His Eminence deftly touches upon the universal call to holiness of all believers, but discusses too the distinguishing factors of the priestly vocation, and the way in which the Spirit divides labor in the Church. He also discusses the various documents important for understanding priestly formation and the four pillars of priestly formation: human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation and pastoral formation. He explains why, in this letter, he is focusing specifically upon the intellectual formation.

I’ll offer a few quotations here, but again, I’d encourage you to read the letter in its entirety.

In this letter, I have stressed how important is your intellectual formation and academic preparation precisely in terms of its authenticity through its connectedness to the Church’s teaching office. Only the branches connected to the vine can bear good fruit.

You face this task today in the context of the more recent assertion by some theologians that there are actually two teachings in the Church, that of the bishops and that of theologians. This long since discredited theory of the two Magisteria has resurfaced today in a new form. There are theological writers who present teachings contradictory to that of the Church’s Magisterium, but who justify their writings on the grounds that it is the pope and bishops who do not understand the nature of theology. In this view some writers present positions that clearly contradict the faith as expressed by the bishops who as successors to the apostles have the responsibility not only to present the faith and oversee its teaching, but to correct when the faith is incorrectly presented…

There is also a pastoral reason for your initiation into and appreciation of the received teaching of the Church. You will, God willing your ordination, be ministering to many who have, unfortunately, been instructed in their college/university experience to accept what can be described as Catholic teaching/theology done within the “hermeneutic of discontinuity.”

. . .

Essentially the hermeneutic of discontinuity is a defective lens through which Catholic teaching is seen. This perspective tends to accept as a starting point a rupture between the Church’s teaching prior to the Second Vatican Council and anything that follows on the Council. Our Holy Father pointed out the disruptive and harmful qualities of the acceptance of discontinuity in the life of the Church. Teachings that were never accepted as a part of Christ’s Gospel are announced now as new teaching in the “spirit” of the Council. He also noted that the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture has “frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology.”

This mentality that evaluates Church teaching through the perspective of discontinuity permeated the teaching faculties of a number of Catholic schools. Thus, there are many who do not know well the Church’s intellectual tradition and the reasons for her teaching, especially her moral and social justice teaching. To them you will need to be a voice of invitation, reproposing Christ, his Church and his teaching.

. . .

As you continue your studies be assured of a number of facts. The pope and those bishops who work most closely with him and bishops throughout the world in communion with him and the apostolic tradition are not ignorant of theology and in what it consists. This charge becomes totally unsustainable when directed to Pope Benedict XVI whom serious theologians, both within and outside the household of the faith, recognize as a superlative theologian of our age.

The assertion that the pope and bishops do not understand the nature of theology does not, in fact, negate the authentic role of the bishops and their authoritative mission to declare what is and what is not in conformity with the faith of the Church.

Another assertion that you should be aware of and discount is the claim that somehow theology exists in a realm separate and apart from the task of passing on the faith. The Church has always understood theology as fides quaerens intellectum. Today when you hear that theology is disconnected from, even contradictory to, passing on the received tradition, know that you have entered into an area that has as its source of inspiration something other than the faith and apostolic tradition of the Catholic Church.

You need not be bewildered by any of what is being presented today by some writers, organizations and institutions in what is increasingly being described as “the other Church.” We are all aware of the effort of some to discredit the teaching office of the bishops, to minimize their leadership role in the Church and to substitute the voice of others claiming to set forth a whole new Church order and teaching. They label their positions with the name “Catholic” and announce their alternative teachings in publications, some of which are sponsored by Catholic groups. These proponents of “the other Church” usually support ideas that are greatly popular in the secular world such as abortion, sterilization, same-sex marriage and all types of sexual activity outside of marriage. It is easy to see why they can quickly gain a popular following. The teaching of “the other Church” holds out the illusion that you can act out in almost any way you want and claim to be a good, practicing Catholic.

As you can see, I’ve used a good bit of ink here, and only quoted parts of Cardinal Wuerl’s excellent letter. Thank you for taking the time to read this column and for looking further into the letter online. May God bless each one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!