Opening the Truth
Opening the Truth

Opening the Truth

Twenty-first Sunday of the Year. Fr Luke Doherty preaches on the role of synods in leading us deeper into the truth of the Gospel.

Catholics reading today’s Gospel will recognise Peter as the first Pope, with Jesus explaining that he will give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This was a response to the faith of Peter who knew Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

There are those who may accept the words being used describing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, but do not share the faith of Peter; and some philosophers of our own time would be examples of those critical of religion, or indeed critical of anything which claims absolute authority or claims to completely understand absolute truths. The postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard viewed Christianity as a ‘master narrative’ or ‘meta-narrative’ of love, but this is for him a negative feature of Christianity. And why is this? Lyotard views Christianity as having been successful in expanding at various moments in history, largely due to its ‘closed narrative’ of love. But this is a narrative which creates victims along the way, just like the victims created by the meta-narratives of imperialism, capitalism, communism, or even liberalism. The victims are those who have a different narrative which is excluded by a Christian master narrative of love. For Lyotard, Christians think they know everything about love and, as a result, victims are created. Those who are the ‘other’ or different are considered bad Christians or heretics.

A closed narrative of love can arguably become an open narrative, or at least there can be an interruption which can open closed narratives. If we consider last Sunday’s Gospel, there is an example where Jesus broke the closed narratives of religious authorities in his time. This was a profound moment in Matthew 15:27 where a Canaanite woman interrupts Jesus’ own closed narrative. She asked for help, but being a Canaanite, we know she was not Jewish. This woman recognised Jesus was the Lord, the son of David. In this passage, the response of Jesus to her request was initially silence. Then Jesus told his disciples and the Canaanite woman that he is only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (the Jews). The woman asks for help as her daughter is possessed by a demon and is suffering – Jesus initially responded telling her it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs. Then a remarkable thing happened, where the Canaanite woman responds back to Jesus ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table’. As a result, Jesus said to her ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted’. And Jesus healed the woman’s daughter. Is it the case that Jesus has listened to the Canaanite woman and seems to have changed his original position? There is an interpretation that Jesus learned something that was revealed from dialogue, due to an interruption of a closed narrative.

In the case of Pope Francis, being entrusted with the ‘keys’ means challenging the contemporary philosophical thinking on who people think Jesus is. And yet at the same time, those in the magisterium with the proverbial keys to the kingdom are also challenged by postmodern philosophy. Engaging with the pluralistic and secularised society in which we live can involve interruptions to the master narratives, potentially bringing revelation of the truth in our times. Revelation was arguably brought through the Canaanite woman, which is to say salvation was revealed as not being limited to the Jewish people. When we have revelation through narratives being interrupted, this brings a discontinuity of tradition. This is not to say the core components of the Catholic faith and sacred doctrine are being repealed with dialogue. Rather, theological truths are revealed when truth reveals itself in our tradition.

The Church holds to truths as a beacon of light in a world which does not recognise Jesus as the Son of Man, or where there is no faith in what it means to say Jesus is the Christ. In asking who people think the Son of Man is, those with the keys to the kingdom discerned that a system was needed in response to the perspective of thinkers such as Lyotard. The synodal process is part of this. We at least need to recognise that we have forgotten those who have become victims of a closed Christian narrative of love. Doctrines rely on language where we express truth, but just as with the Canaanite woman, Pope Francis recognises the importance of discourse in finding new ways to reveal theological truths. And having the keys to the kingdom means using them and their authority to convey truth in our own time in the context in which the Church lives.

The synodal way of the Church is meant to be part of an opening of closed narratives. The hope is that theological truths that are being revealed to us can be discerned, as part of tradition which develops when history interrupts the master narrative. The hope is that in the life of the Church and with the faithful going to Mass and hearing the word of God, there might be a development of tradition. Then again, there might be no development in some areas. Either way, the hope is that dialogue will bring a response as part of an interruption, which can lead to a development of tradition under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our own time.

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23 | Romans 11:33-36 | Matthew 16:13-20


Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester

Comments (8)

  • Andrew Foster

    Fr Luke, I find your homily immensely inspiring. Thank you!

  • Catherine

    I’m left wondering what kind of revelation(s) you might have in mind Father Luke. How far from original ideas or traditions can we go? I’m intrigued by this idea, but find it also hard to really understand what one era finds wrong or bad or unacceptable, and another find quite acceptable. How elastic can these things be? When I was young and had my first communion, I was not allowed to receive it in my hands nor was I to chew the host as it is the body of Christ. Now I can do these things. Once people received communion only occasionally, as they were thought not to be worthy of it. Now we know we need the graces offered. I find it a bit odd and strange then that other religions cannot receive communion in our church if they genuinly are devout in their intention. I don’t understand why devorced people can’t receive communion either. Surely we sinners (I’m not divorced myself but have family who are) need the graces of communion. Have I got all this completely wrong?

  • Kenneth Bromage

    Thank you Fr. Luke,
    The Truth seems to have evolved without change over the 70 plus years since I left school.

  • L. Cavendish

    Dear Fr Luke, thank you for this inspiring homily. I agree that we must be open to looking at things from a fresh perspective, only by glimpsing another possible point of view can we get a fuller picture of what we have and what we are doing. This is true in the theological and personal spheres. When younger I was quite hedonistic and it was only through a health scare that i suddenly realised how precious life was and what truly made it worth living. If I hadn’t made mistakes I wouldn’t have learned the preciousness of life- so I apologise for nothing- one has to be open to stumbling if one wants to climb out of the dungeon to the top of the mountain.

  • Michael

    Thank you Luke, this work of yours is a great help for me in my old age and certainly revives my spirits with new hope and excitement even about being church in 2023.

    Peter’s reply seemed like just as big a shock to Jesus as the Canaanite woman’s. And not in keeping with what everyone else was saying.

    And knowing that it is Jesus’s church/body to which I belong as church helps me absorb the impact of synodality with hope for our future.

  • Anthony Phillips

    Fascinating and insightful, thank you. Thr Spirit is indeed moving in our times, both interrupting the master narrative and, if we listen, framing a refreshed narrative. We are blessed that we have been invited to go forward together in hope and joy.

  • Athanasius

    “A Canaanite woman interrupts Jesus’ own closed narrative”? This won’t do. We are talking about the eternal Logos here, no matter what M. Lyotard thinks.

    • Margareta

      But also about Jesus as a real human, having to face temptation and agony, even asking for a disruption of the narrative in the face of death, although accepting it in trust and obedience. Why should Jesus’ understanding about his mission and who he was not have evolved over time?


Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.