Holiness, the Lapis Angularis of the Conspiratio of the Sensus Fidelium

Holiness, the Lapis Angularis of the Conspiratio of the Sensus Fidelium:

A Response to Dr. Finucane’s paper Reading Lumen Gentium through Evangelii Gaudium

On the occasion of the 5th Annual Newman Convocation in St. Louis,Missouri

     In calling for the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, called for a “new Pentecost.”[1] Fifty-two years later Pope Francis encouraged the Christian faithful in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”[2] Pope Francis, like Pope John XXIII before him, called for a new springtime in the Church; one in which the Sensus Fidelium is lived out in the world. At the heart of Pope Francis’ call to live the Joy of the Gospel there is a call to live lives of heroic holiness.

     The key to living out the exhortation of the Holy Father, to live lives that reflect the Joy of the Gospel, that is to say to live lives of holiness, is the Sacrament of Baptism. The International Theological Commission’s document Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, referencing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, teaches that “as a result (of Baptism) the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel which enables them to recognize and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false.”[3] Through the grace of baptism, the Christian is given a gift of discernment, a gift to sniff out what is holy and good as well as what is sinful and dangerous. The Sensus Fidelium is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is given in baptism, which disposes a person to exercise his priestly, prophetic and kingly offices in accordance with his state in life.

     Lumen Gentium teaches that this instinct for the truth of the Gospel is rooted in one’s baptism whereby all the baptized in their own way share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ.[4] Lumen Gentium also teaches that from the Sacrament of Baptism flows a universal call for holiness. The teachings of the Sensus Fidelium and the universal call to holiness are rooted in the understanding that the Sacrament of Baptism configures the Christian to Christ, through whom he is brought into communion with the Blessed Trinity.

     In baptism, charity is infused into the soul. If one lacks charity he will lack the presence of the Holy Spirit who is first given in baptism, the same Spirit who is the primary agent at work in the Sensus Fidelium. When one falls away from holiness, he loses the gift of charity and communion with the Blessed Trinity. When he removes himself from the state of grace, he looses the ability to properly participate in the Sensus Fidelium. After all, one who has separated himself from full union with the body of Christ, the Church, through mortal sin has “dead faith”and thus is unable to exercise the sense of the faithful.[5] The Council of Trent dogmatically teaches,

consequently, in the process of justification, together with the forgiveness of sins a person receives, through Jesus Christ into whom he is grafted, all these infused at the same time: faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope is added to it and charity too, neither unites him perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of his body. Hence it is very truly said that faith without works is dead and barren.[6]

For the Sensus Fidelium to bring a new springtime in the Church, all Christians must remain in the state of grace; they must live lives of holiness.

     In its teaching on the Sensus Fidelium, Lumen Gentium teaches that Christ continues to preach the kingdom of the Father through both the hierarchy and through the laity, “whom he constitutes his witnesses and equips with an understanding of the faith and a grace of speech precisely so that the power of the gospel may shine forth in the daily life of family and society.”[7] Yet, one must realize that the work of evangelization is not one’s own. One does not choose Church doctrine, but rather he must be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is both the guardian and the guide of the deposit of faith. “In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his spirit.”[8]

     Dr. Finucan is correct, “the sensus fidelium is an active reality. It is the result of each believer accepting the roles of priest, prophet, and king – to bring the gospel into the world.”[9] To accept the role, however, one must share in the intertrinitarian life of the Blessed Trinity, that is to say one must be holy. Pope Francis insists that to live out the Sensus Fidelium, to be an evangelizer, one must live a holy Christian life, his actions must be in conformity to his preaching. “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teachers way of life, which awakes the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.”[10]

     To be contributing members of the active reality that is the Sensus Fidelium, one must remain in unity with the Church and actively be growing in holiness. Both the sensus fidei fidelis, the “personal aptitude of the believer to make an accurate discernment in matters of faith,”[11] and the sensus fidei fidelium, “the Church’s own instinct of faith,”[12] requires a Church of people living in the state of grace and actively seeking to live lives of heroic holiness. Living out both the sensus fidei fidelis and the sensus fidei fidelium is nothing more than actively living out one’s Catholic faith. Faith, which is expressed and nourished in prayer and worship requires repentance and brings knowledge which leads to confession but entails responsibility especially to charity and service.[13]

     Both Lumen Gentium and Evangelii Gaudium warn against seeing the Sensus Fidelium as simply a majority vote. The International Theological Commission expressed this most clearly saying, “the sensus fidei does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. It is the task of the Church’s pastors to promote the sense of faith in all the faithful, examine and authoritatively judge the genuineness of its expressions and educate the faithful in an ever more mature evangelical discernment.”[14] The fact that many people disagree with Church teaching on many dogmatically defined issues like contraception, the reservation of the priesthood to males, etc. does not demonstrate that the Church needs to change her teaching, but rather demonstrates a need for both education and conversion in the life of the Church. As the lay and ordained members of the Church grow in holiness, the Church will become more unified in her living out of the authentic teaching of the Church.

     To live a life of Holiness one must live a sacramental life. One must root his life in the frequent reception of Holy Communion, wherein he receives Charity Himself, and he must make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, whereby he is reconciled with God, given graces to strengthen him in living a life of holiness, and he is assured that charity is alive in his soul and thus he is capable of participating in the Sensus Fidelium.

     Pope Francis, in calling the Church to live out the Sensus Fidelium, has called the Church to orient Herself to the poor.[15] He understands that it is the poor who will call the members of the Church to holiness. Cardinal Ratzinger summarized beautifully the need to turn to the poor saying, “Christian holiness is simply the obedience that makes us available where God calls us to be, the obedience that does not rely on our own greatness but allows our God to bestow his greatness upon us and knows that only in service and self-surrender can we truly find ourselves.”[16] If we want to actively participate in the Sensus Fidelium, we must turn to the poor because in ministering to the poor we grow in charity and in being with the poor we learn the humility required for the growth in holiness.

     The Sensus Fidelium is a powerful gift that God has given the Church, which can assist the Church as she continues her mission of the new evangelization. Essential to the Sensus Fidelium are lives of heroic holiness. To renew the Church, Pope Francis has encouraged the faithful to turn to the poor, who are both teachers of humility and provoke us to grow in charity. If the Sensus Fidelium is to be truly lived out in the Church, all members of Christ’s body, the Church, must strive to live holy lives rooted in the sacraments of the Church and in service to those in need.

[1] Pope John XXIII, Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis, (25 December 1961), at The Holy See, http://www.vatican.va.

[2] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on the Church’s Primary Mission of Evangelization in the Modern World Evangelii Guadium (24 November 2013), §1, Origins 43, no. 28 (2013).

[3] International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church ( 3 July 2014), §2, Origins , 44 no. 9 (2014), 134.

[4] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (21 December 1964), §31, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils Vol. II, ed. Norman P. Tanner (London: Sheed and Ward, 1990), 875.

[5] Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church §99.

[6] Council of Trent, Decree on Justification Decretum de Jusitificatione (13 January 1547), Chapter 7, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils Vol. II, ed. Norman P. Tanner (London: Sheed and Ward, 1990), 674 – 675.

[7] Lumen Gentium § 35.

[8] Evangelium Guadii, §12.

[9] Daniel Finucane, Reading Lumen Gentium through Evangelii Gaudium (St Louis, MO: 5th Annual Newman Convocation 15 October 2014). 9.

[10] Evangelium Guadii, §42.

[11] Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church §3.

[12] Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church §3.

[13] Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church §12.

[14] Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church §47.

[15] “O How I Wish For A Church That Is Poor and For the Poor. Official Vatican Network, March 16, 2013. http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-oh-how-i-wish-for-a-church-that-is-poor

[16] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 367.

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