Why quote the Fathers of the Church, or the saints? Sometimes you will hear me do this in a homily. First of all, it might make sense to say who a “Father of the Church” is. The period of the Church from the time of the death of the last Apostle, up until about the seventh or eighth century is called the “Patristic Age” of the Church. We call the most significant writers and teachers of that time the “Fathers” of the Church. They are the ones who first received the Faith (writings which eventually became the Bible as we know it, oral tradition, written tradition, early doctrine and morality, the form of the sacraments, etc., etc.) from the Apostles.
Because they first received and digested everything from the Apostles, the Fathers became normative for the Faith. It is not the case that we have to do everything exactly as the Fathers did. In fact, the Tradition is always reforming and developing throughout the centuries. That is a principle: ecclesia semper reformanda. Nevertheless, the Fathers still provide a certain type of rule, a style, and a norm which should regularly be consulted. This is certainly the case regarding the interpretation of Scripture.
In one of his addresses to a group United States bishops who were visiting, Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “There has never been a genuine renewal in the Church without a re-reading of the Fathers.” The Fathers are that significant! So a healthy spiritual diet should include some access to the Fathers of the Church. Therefore, a priest trying to maintain the Faith and pastor a parish is regularly reading something of the Fathers as part of his academic/spiritual work. Inevitably, a priest will pass on some of the Fathers’ understanding, even some quotes, to his congregation. If a goal is renewal in the Faith–which it is–then it will somehow include a look at the Fathers.
A pastor wants his congregation to “breathe with” St. Ireneus of Lyons, St. Polycarp, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, etc. You will notice if you read the Vatican II documents (1960’s), or if you read the universal Catechism of the Church (1997), there are constant references to the Fathers of the Church. Hearing quotes from the Fathers eventually ought to make a Catholic feel more grounded in the Tradition, more solid in the Faith.
Of course there are many male and female saints in the Church even beyond the Patristic Age. They also provide a norm for us, in this sense: by their holiness, they exemplified for us full human freedom, full love. Because the Scriptures are holy, written by the Holy Spirit, you can imagine that it is holy saints who overall are the best readers, the best interpreters, of Sacred Scripture. Not every saint has interpreted Scripture perfectly. But, in general, it is the saints who will provide amazingly wise and profound interpretations of passages from Scripture. So, once again, you can imagine that a quote from a saint in a homily could be a treasure for personal meditation, a gem.
A few practical items: By the time of your reading this letter (I had to write it a couple weeks in advance, because of my retreat), I am assuming a significant portion of the air-conditioning project at our Paulding campus has been completed by Kneuve & Sons. Many thanks to those who helped with all the demolition of the old system and pouring of a new platform for the outside cooling units, saving us literally thousands of dollars. Also, we are working on our next fiscal year budget, due in to the Diocese by May 1st. Please pray for wisdom for us. My own experience is that it can take several years for a new team to hone in on a budget that really fits the institution. There is always a learning curve.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae