Reflection 4 August 2019 (C) 18th Sunday of Year

From heaven the risen Christ continues to preach his Gospel.

Two principles in the interpretation of the scriptures in the Church are: “distanciation” and immediacy. “Distanciation” is recognition of the distance in time, full two thousand years, between the New Testament texts and our own day. They were composed in and for different social circumstances and mindsets, not necessarily compatible with those of our own day. Humanists will regard them just as historical documents. Some believers advance the view that the original texts are so removed from us that the New Testament has no message for our own day. The position of the Catholic Church, and of Christians in general, is quite different. God and Christ speak to us in and through the New Testament. With regard to the ongoing relevance and use of these texts in the Church we should distinguish at least two matters. In doctrinal matters the Church has used the New Testament documents as central and essential in the developing theology on Christ and the blessed Trinity. Fidelity to the contents and implications of the New Testament texts directed Council definitions and Church teaching. In other matters one has to ask whether a given New Testament position represents teaching valid for all times or is historically conditioned, arising from the social conditions and mindset, such as slavery and the role of women. The question whether this is the case will determine discussion on matters of sexual morality.

            These are doctrinal matters, having to do with the mind. Together with these there is an immediacy involved with regard to the place on the Bible and the New Testament in the life of the Church. It is a matter attended to in the Vatican Council in its Constitution on the sacred liturgy (paragraph 7). Just as Christ was sent by the Father so also he sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This he did so that they might preach the Gospel to every creature and proclaim that the Son of God by his death and resurrection has freed us from the power of Satan (paragraph 6). To accomplish so great a work Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. Among other ways “he is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church”.

            Today’s second reading serves as an excellent background to this Church teaching. The risen Christ, seated at God’s right hand, has from the beginning through the apostles (Paul and others) reminded his followers that their life on earth should show forth the new nature, in keeping with his teaching and that of the Church. Paul instances practices to be avoided, and others to be followed. The Church has continued to do so. Christ is preaching his Gospel at every reading of the Scriptures in the liturgy. Christ can also have his Gospel message activated in various other ways, by charismatic figures such as Saint Francis and poverty, the Pope by calling on all ministers of the Church to avoid career seeking and practice simplicity of life, by making clear that certain points of New Testament teaching and practice called into doubt are not historically conditioned but still valid, and even “definitive”, not open to discussion. The Church’s teaching is not just some human invention. It is a reassertion and continuation of Christ’s message. The centrality of Christ in Christian life should be constantly stressed.

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