I want to raise my voice in defense of dogma. Since the Vatican Council dogma has been neglected, downplayed and even reviled by some theologians. This has been the result of the emphasis on Holy Scripture, because the Council urged preaching at all Masses—mainly with preaching on the readings in the form of a homily. So in a short period of time the scriptural homily replaced the sermon which, before the Council, was primarily an explanation of the Catechism—Creed, sacraments, commandments, with explanations of the Mass and prayer.
Articles from the Creed were common topics, as also were explanations of how to go to confession and the need to do penance. In those days often Catholics went to confession before they would dare to receive Holy Communion. Basically, priests preached material from the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Scripture was used to prove points, but it was not the main focus of most Catholic preaching.
What has happened is that, for many theologians and priests, the Bible has replaced the Catechism as the center of concern for both theology and preaching. Recently I heard a Catholic theologian say at a public meeting that theology is interpreting Scripture. There was no mention of the Magisterium of the Church or Tradition.
Before Vatican II dogma was Ace, moral theology was King, canon law was Queen, and Scripture study was Jack. That certainly was the case at Innsbruck, Austria, where I studied and where both Rahners taught and also the famous liturgist, Josef Jungmann. In the USA before the Council in some theologates moral theology was Ace because priests were being prepared to hear confessions, while preaching was a secondary goal.
As a result of the emphasis in the seminary on the importance of dogma and morals, priests were well-schooled in those subjects and were prepared to preach on them. There was emphasis on dogma, and also morals, because of the certitude connected with them. Each thesis had a “note” of doctrinal certainty, with the authority of the Church behind it from defined definitions in the previous twenty ecumenical councils.
Catholic dogma gives the student certitude about what the Church holds and also offers different levels of certitude, for example: a defined dogma, a matter of Catholic faith (de fide catholica), theologically certain, common opinion and so forth.
Scripture study, on the other hand, does not offer the certitude that dogma does. Yes, the text of the Bible is without error, but every text has to be interpreted and that is where the problem is. As you know, there are thousands of different interpretations of the meaning of passages in the Bible. The “sola scriptura” of the Protestants has resulted in thousands of different Protestant groups. Books on the Bible offer the opinions of the author, but they do not give you certitude. And the famous scholars often disagree with each other about the meaning. Only the Magisterium of the Church can give you certitude and the Church has defined the meaning of only a few passages of the Bible, such as Rom. 5:12-21 and James 5:13-15. Perhaps the problem here is that too many Protestant opinions have crept into the Catholic Church and too many Catholic scholars are seeking approval from Protestants.
Dogma is not anti-scriptural—it is based on the word of God and is an authoritative declaration of the meaning of Holy Scripture. The procedure in a dogmatic treatise is to state a thesis, such as “God is immutable.” The proof is given first from the Magisterium, then from the Bible, then from Tradition, then from reason. Here is material that a priest can use to develop a good sermon on the nature of God and the difference between temporal and eternal things.
Before Vatican II most Catholics knew the basics of their faith; more than 70 percent went to Mass every Sunday. They learned their faith because it was taught in the schools and preached to them every Sunday at Mass. Now most Catholics do not know their faith well; about 30 percent go to Mass regularly on Sunday, few go to confession, and almost all receive Holy Communion, including public sinners. There is more than one reason for this, but certainly the dethroning of dogma and its absence from many pulpits in the USA is a contributing factor. Therefore, we need more homilies that include an explanation of Catholic dogma.
Fr. Abbot, my dear brothers of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, family members of Br. José Maria Lagos – especially your dear mother and father and your brother Ignacio, my dear friends in Christ.
On this day, the Lord’s Day, a day in which we remember in a particular way St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, a saint who is so close to this Abbey, we thank God, our heavenly Father, for the vocation of Br. Lagos and the gift of Holy Orders, the gift of the Diaconate just conferred upon him.
Unlike those who were invited to the wedding banquet in today’s gospel, but refused to answer that call, you, Br. Lagos have answered Adsum -- here I am, Lord. You have said yes to this “divine call” to serve the Lord and His Church in the Order of Deacon.
In the exhortation before I laid hands on you, I spoke these words: “Dearly beloved son, you are about to be promoted to the Levitical order, consider well to how great a height in the Church you are rising. For it is the duty of the Deacon to minister at the altar, to baptize and to preach.”
And then I concluded the exhortation with these beautiful words: “Take care that those to whom you announce the gospel with your lips, you present it also by living deeds, so that it may be said of you ‘Blessed are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things.’ Have your feet shod with the example of the saints with the preparation of the gospel of peace; which may the Lord grant you by His grace.”
What sweet and beautiful words these are! These words are the call to holiness; the call to be a saint. This is the call to totally configure yourself to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the High Priest and Victim, ‘Sacerdos et Hostia, in perfect unity. This call to holiness and configurement to Christ is beautifully illustrated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the section on the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The Catechism begins this section with: “The divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called; bishops, priests and deacons” (CCC #1554).
Recognizing the distinction of the three degrees of Holy Orders, the Catechism of the Catholic Church then quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch. The catechism begins: “Yet Catholic doctrine teaches that the degrees of priestly participation (episcopate & presbyterate) and the degree of service (diaconate) are all three conferred by a sacramental act called ordination, that is, by the sacrament of Holy Orders.” And then the catechism quotes these words of St. Ignatius from the second century: “Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church.” (Ad Trall. 3.I, CCC #1554).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the deacon shares in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way, in persona Christi servi. “The sacrament of Holy Orders marks [the deacon] with an imprint (‘character’) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made Himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (CCC #1570).
Every story of a vocation is a beautiful story of grace. Each one of us has our own story. And each one of us can identify graced moments in our life when, through God’s free act of grace, he revealed a path for us, a light for our way.
Br. Lagos was kind enough to share with me his story, his vocation narrative, in a beautifully written letter. It is good for each one of us, from time to time, to look back over our lives and recall the wonders of God’s providence in our lives; the people, the events, the obstacles, and the consolations which all play a part in weaving the tapestry of our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches very clearly that God’s providence extends to the particular; i.e. his providence is not just a general, abstract Deistic providence, but a concrete and particular providence.
In Br. Lagos’ vocation, certainly his good and loving parents, very conscientious about handing on the Catholic faith to their seven children, including an older brother, Fr. Julio, recently ordained a priest in Rome for the Prelature of Opus Dei; the formation Br. Lagos received from Opus Dei priests and lay numeraries, his many years of studies, philosophy, theology, even advanced degrees in physics and electrical engineering(!), his return to Argentina and the formation he received with the new religious order Miles Christi with its challenges and its insights – all of this, in God’s good providence, was a preparation for this day and this community of poor monks, to “learn a more excellent way.” a humble house of holiness and liturgical prayer along the banks of Clear Creek, Clarorivi -- in the heart of Oklahoma.
In a very famous sermon entitled “Divine Calls,” Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great 19th century Anglican convert to the Catholic Church and recently raised to the altars and beatified by Pope Benedict the XVI on September 19, traces the vocations of great figures in Sacred Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament: the call of Abraham, our father in faith, the vocation of the prophet Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, the call of Samuel, and in the New Testament the call of the apostles and St. Paul and, of course, our Blessed Mother.
Then he recalls those who hesitated and who were reluctant to obey: 1) the rich young man in the gospel who had many possessions and walked away sad; 2) the man who wanted to go back to bury his father first; 3) the one who wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family, and 4) those invited to the wedding banquet in today’s gospel who just failed to show up.
Faith and obedience are necessary to answer a divine call. Newman writes “Such are the instances of divine calls in scripture, and their characteristic is this: to require instant obedience, and next, to call us we know not to what; to call us on in the darkness. Faith alone can obey them.”
But then Newman points out that we are not just called once, but we are called continually by God over and over again. Newman writes: “For in truth, we are not called once only, but many times; all through our life Christ is calling us. He calls us on from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness… on and on, from one thing to another, having no resting place, but mounting toward our eternal rest, and obeying one command, only to have another put upon us. He calls again and again, in order to justify us again and again, and again and again, and more and more to sanctify and glorify us.”
Adsum – here I am Lord, your servant is listening. Again, we thank God for your fiat, Br. Lagos, and we promise our prayers that you may continue to say yes to the Lord each day as He calls you to Himself. That you might always be attentive to His voice, to His divine calls as you accept this wonderful gift and mysterious burden, the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Allow me to conclude this homily once again with the words of Blessed John Henry Newman from his sermon on “Divine Calls”:
Let us beg and pray Him day by day to reveal Himself to our souls more fully, to quicken our senses, to give us sight and hearing, taste and touch of the world to come, so to work within us that we might sincerely say, “thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and after that receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee; my flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart; my portion forever.