Cardinal Czerny: Theology must be founded on pastoral experience

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Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, called for theological schools to be “providential cultural laboratories” in a recent speech in Toronto. But the cardinal warned that theologians have too often ignored this challenge since at least 1979.

The cardinal made the remarks during the chancellor’s conference at Regis College before receiving an honorary doctorate in theology from the college. Cardinal Czerny – a trusted advisor to Pope Francis who is also Undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section at the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development – delivered a lecture on “The Renewal of Theology as a Dialogue of ‘inside’.

Providential Cultural Laboratories

For Cardinal Czerny, renewing theology as a dialogue from within means recognizing that “the pastoral experience is what serves in a crucial way to refocus and refound ecclesiastical studies”.

Pastoral experience, more than any conciliar or magisterial document, must be the material for theological reflection, because it has “tested and enriched … in the field” the rich heritage of the Second Vatican Council and of Catholic social doctrine.

The cardin The Spirit enriches the People of God in many ways, from sensus fidei fidelium to the magisterium of bishops, and from the charism of the prophets to that of doctors and theologians.

Citing the call of Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” for all ecclesial activities to be placed in a “missionary key”, Cardinal Czerny urged Regis College to put himself “at the service of the path of a Church which puts more in addition to evangelization at the center. “

The challenge of Vatican II

The cardinal argued that this understanding of the role of theologians and ecclesiastical faculties stems from the vision of Vatican II, in particular “Gaudium et Spes” and its insistence on an open and rich dialogue between the Church and the world. “Dialogue certainly aims to make the proclamation of the Gospel more effective,” said Cardinal Czerny, “but it is even more necessary to grasp the signs of the presence of Christ that emerge from history.

For Cardinal Czerny, this dialogue is a question for the Church to constantly rediscover “her true ecclesial identity”. It is in this identity that the theologian must find himself. But the theologian, like the Church, must continually go beyond himself. Offering the image of the tent of meeting outside the Israelite camp (Ex 33: 7), the cardinal exhorted the theologians to “an indomitable passion for the kingdom which takes them out of their zones of comfort, safety, without limits “.

The theologian, like the Church, must continually go beyond himself, said Cardinal Czerny.

So it’s a problem that this revival has not happened in theological schools, he said. The cardinal noted that two landmark documents on the theme – “Sapientia Christiana”of Pope John Paul II and “Veritatis Gaudium”of Pope Francis – were remarkably similar. In other words, Pope Francis had to “remind the ecclesial faculty of what John Paul II had exposed, but which the theological faculties had largely ignored”.

Gerard Ryan, SJ, professor of political theology at Regis College, characterized the cardinal’s challenge to America: “The invitation is to develop ways of theologizing within academia – whether teaching or learning – that prioritize a contextual theology that listens to the experience of God’s people and enables the people of God to speak within their ecclesial community about the knowledge and understanding of God today. “

Attention and courage

Cardinal Czerny noted that “Veritatis Gaudium” offers two valuable traits to the context of the church today: care and courage. According to Cardinal Czerny, attention must lead to compassion and courage must support discernment and dialogue.

Attention is how the dialogue becomes “submissive”, allowing itself to be touched by the oppression suffered by others, and sensitive to the authority of their experiences. He contrasts this attitude with Pope Francis’ description of Babel, a story that is not limited to the misunderstanding of others. “When I don’t listen to what the other person is saying and think I know what the other is thinking and is about to say, it is the scourge,” the Pope said in Naples.

[Related: Cardinal Czerny on ‘Fratelli Tutti’: Pope Francis addresses a world ‘on the brink’]

Courageous action requires a big heart, one that motivates and maintains “the encounter between faith and science, between proclamation and culture, between cultures and religions, even if these sometimes risk confrontations or conflicts. friction ”.

It is precisely through such care and courage that theologians can truly embrace the catholicity of the Church in its complexity, choosing realities over ideals, said the cardinal. Moreover, these attributes lead to quite a habit of being for theologians. Mindful courage and courageous attention mean that “dialogue and discernment are not just techniques or even strategies, but costly commitments which keep placing the most intrusive demands on us.”

The path to follow

How realistic is Cardinal Czerny’s vision? A number of factors complicate its updating, he said. First and foremost, academic theology must overcome the individualism that influences its functioning. The cardinal admitted he was speaking “heavy words” in urging theologians to adopt a more collaborative model.

Academic theology should not be afraid to engage realities as much as ideas. “What is the distance between your school and the parish? The local bishop? asked Cardinal Czerny.

Academic theology should also not be afraid to engage realities as much as ideas: “How far is your school from the parish?” The local bishop?

Theologians must also allow themselves to be challenged by globalization, as the center of the church continues to shift to the global South. Cardinal Czerny noted that the irregular borders of globalization mean that in the North American Church there are many non-Western Catholics who must every day “translate” the cultural forms of North American Catholicism into something that has more sense to them. The dialogue it calls for, in other words, does not require a passport. It can happen on its own street.

Cardinal Czerny further noted that theology must take seriously the relationship between faith and justice, a topic that has been important for decades but continues to elude resolution. He noted that the two are inseparable:

Faith without the struggle for justice risks the abstraction of reality, insignificance, limitation to simple worship and ritual. At the same time, however, the commitment to justice must be nurtured by a living, thoughtful and educated faith, otherwise it descends into ideology.

A cardinal on the sidelines

While the cardinal cited extensively from pontifical and conciliar documents, his personal testimony shone throughout the interview. Cardinal Czerny has dedicated his life to fostering dialogue between the Church and the world and to showing how the Church can be at the service of those in need.

His work began in Toronto, where he founded the Jesuit Center for Social Faith and Justice in 1979. He then went to the University of Central America in San Salvador after the death of the UCA martyrs. Subsequently, he traveled to Rome to work at the Jesuit central office for social justice before moving again to work at the African Jesuit AIDS Network. Finally, he returned to Rome, this time to work in the Vatican at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He took up his current post at the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in 2016. His ecclesial ministry exemplifies the traits he seeks to foster in theology: an attentive concern and a courageous determination to serve others.

Indeed, Thomas Worcester, SJ, president of Regis College, said that Regis chose to award a doctorate to Cardinal Czerny for “the very reasons Pope Francis made him cardinal”: “We wished to honor the very many ways in which he dedicated his life with great generosity to the poor, the oppressed, the AIDS patients, the marginalized, migrants and refugees.

This love was most evident when Cardinal Czerny shared his delighted surprise that much of the magisterium on the role of theological faculties stems from the social teaching of the Church, noting the influence of many social encyclicals on Pope Francis’ “Veritatis Gaudium”. nothing from “Evangelii Gaudium”, “Laudato Si ‘” and “Fratelli Tutti” by François. Cardinal Czerny said this shows that the social magisterium is “at the heart of the matter”, not a curiosity for the few who care.

In other words, Cardinal Czerny models the courage and attention to which Pope Francis calls us in “Veritatis Gaudium”, and does so in the service of the charity offered to us in the Gospel. He shows the docility to the Spirit that Pope Francis never ceases to call.

Perhaps what ultimately theology needs to bring about the kind of renewal that Cardinal Czerny seeks, then, is to emulate Cardinal Czerny himself: to be humble and committed Christians whose example attractive attracts others to the business, and especially the community of those who would like to undertake and share a theological reflection for the life and ministry of the Church.

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