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Foto Jaeger David-M.A. , Ad lectores, in Antonianum, 82/2 (2007) p. 205-207 .

It was a right-wing U.S. Senator of the Catholic persuasion who, a few years ago, brought to the fore, in a characteristically blunt manner, a question we are surely no longer at liberty to ignore, a question of huge significance: What is the proper relationship between the Church’s identity and mission and the very many works of social welfare that, in one way or another, she sponsors, undertakes, carries out, supports or favours? In other words, is it not wrong when the Church, in respect of such works, becomes little more than just one other large humanitarian organisation? Is it not instead integral to her very “identity” that these always be and remain true works of  (supernatural) “charity,” missionary works having for their ultimate purpose, indeed their proper purpose, the proclamation of the Gospel and the propagation of the Faith (rather than simply the passing alleviation of the temporal suffering, or a precarious amelioration of the temporal condition, of a necessarily limited number of people, without particular regard to the salvation of their immortal souls)? The Senator, a personable young man (whom I was privileged to meet in person), has since been voted out of office, but the challenge he threw out cannot be disposed off so simply. Rather, it comes back at us, as it were, repeatedly. More recently, the question has surfaced again and again, in all sorts of contexts. The effective secularisation of educational, health-care and welfare establishments founded by Catholic religious (and other ecclesiastical agencies) has been proceeding apace – especially in the United States – for some decades now. In part it was accomplished deliberately, as a matter of ideology, in the early post-Conciliar period. Yet other powerful influences too have been at work. “Doing good” has become increasingly bureaucratised and “professionalised” overall – even overseas “humanitarian outreach” has become a specialised industry, as it were, and not only at its “macro” level. It is certainly no longer considered possible by “right-thinking people,” in the developed countries, for charitable sisters simply to open their home to abandoned children, to baptise any who have not yet received this sacrament that is necessary to salvation, and then to feed them and to teach them their prayers and the catechism in equal measure; or for an enterprising priest-educator simply to gather in poor, rootless youths under his roof at his rectory, to teach them the fundamentals of literacy and place them with master artisans to learn their crafts, while making sure they complete their sacramental initiation and acquire the rudiments of the devout life. Then, of course, there is the irresistible lure of Government funding. There is surely so much more good that can be done with all that abundance of funding that is made available by a Government looking for reliable agents for its social welfare undertakings! So much more than could be accomplished by relying only on the alms and donations of the faithful and other private benefactors! And yet Government funding, in a régime of separation of Church and State, necessarily (and perhaps rightly so) comes with a modest requirement, namely that it not be used for “proselytism,” for “unfair advantage” in the advancement of the religion that is itself “sponsoring” all of those same good works. Generally, Catholic good-doers have found it too hard to resist this constraining gift to their humanitarian purposes, and have consequently accepted severe restrictions on their ability to make their good works vehicles for the proclamation of the Gospel. Of course, in time, ideological justifications have been added too, almost spontaneously, such as that it would be wrong to “take advantage” of persons’ neediness to foist the Gospel upon them, surely. The debate, which I have admittedly presented here in a highly caricatured form, is on-going and multifaceted, with far more serious arguments to be made on rather more than two sides of it. It does, however, also have this particular facet, this particular manifestation as it were: The specific influence of the increasingly “secularised” or “professionalised” character of their “works of charity” on Institutes of Religious Life as they are in themselves, in their own lives, organisations, self-perceptions – impacting their own religious identity, and their future prospects too. This is the subject of the near-monumental study (in terms of Antonianum) carried out by our Confrère and academic colleague, Father Giuseppe Buffon OFM, together with M. Antonietta Pozzebon, who have chosen for their sample, as it were, the American Province of a Franciscan missionary congregation of women religious. Because of the intrinsic importance of the subject, among other things, this issue of Antonianum dedicates to this painstaking yet absorbing study a far larger share of its pages than should normally have been the case. And this is only the first part! Following the (summer) break, the second and final one will be published in our third issue of this year. Veteran contributor, Ezio Albrile, on the other hand, delights us once more in this issue with another of his elegantly erudite studies of relevant esoterica, this time to do with the rich magical tradition centring on the magnificent figure cut by the Biblical King Solomon. Biblical scholars will assess (very highly, I trust) the precise scholarly merits of the fascinating insight into St. Mark’s Gospel offered here by our Confrère and colleague, Father Jorge Humberto Morales Rios OFM, while all of us his readers will no doubt derive enhanced paschal joy from his exposition of the relationship between Mark’s accounts of Jesus’s Transfiguration and Resurrection appearances as leading to the culmination of the Gospel according to Mark already in its very first verse! “The Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God” is, after all, the only true news, the only news that matters – even in our own day’s ceaseless 24/7 news cycles. In his article, Morales shows too how the most exacting Biblical scholarship can yet bring out the life-giving and faith-inspiring message of the Scriptures, rather than having the deadening effect that its detractors sometimes ascribe to it. Simultaneously exacting and vivifying likewise is the quality of the mature scholarship that another of our resident friar-professors, Father Fernando Uribe OFM, brings to bear on the parable of the “Woman of the Desert” that certain mid-thirteenth century Franciscan sources variously present as having exercised some influence favourable to Papal approval for St. Francis’s first “Rule” or propositum. The mastery and depth of Uribe’s study make for totally absorbing reading, leading the reader almost breathlessly on till all is laid out before him at the conclusion. Whoever said perusing scholarly articles had to be a chore? With writers such as Morales and Uribe, it is as attractively thrilling as any piece of writing has a right to be. At least to this reader. Having reported in last issue’s Chronica on the Honorary Doctorate conferred at this Pontifical University “Antonianum” on Father Cesare Cenci OFM, we now publish the texts of the four distinct addresses that made for an occasion as thoughtfully informative as it was joyous and decorously entertaining (in the noblest sense of the term). Each, in its own way, is a gem, and deserves the reader’s careful attention. In the aggregate, they are a potent mix of enlightening instruction and good-natured edification. The great amount of other written material that had taken over our more recent issues left our Recensiones section somewhat short-changed, and we are partly making up for it with a more ample batch of book reviews in this issue. All in all, somehow the team that is putting out Antonianum is once more quite pleased with the product that we are now delivering to our readers. And if you know anyone who lives in Rome, or is passing through Rome, and is not yet among our subscribers, do let them know that the current issue of Antonianum is nowadays also regularly on sale at our University’s own bookshop: Just come by! With every wish for a refreshing and yet productive summer vacation (for all in the northern hemisphere),

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