De Lubac’s Key

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-11

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 65:10-14

Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:18-23

Gospel: According to St. Matthew 13:1-23

One of the great things about my graduate school experience at John Carroll University was the exposure to a wide range of theologians that I had heard of, but had never had the chance to actually read. I had a good working knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas from my undergraduate days, but I studied them more from the perspective of philosophy than theology, and as far as ‘modern’ theologians were concerned I had a list of names without much content.

One such modern theologian was Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. This French Jesuit (1896-1991) was first drawn to my attention when he was made a cardinal in 1983 by his good friend Pope St. John Paul II, with whom he had worked at Vatican II where de Lubac was one of the periti or ‘experts’ appointed by Pope St. John XXIII to assist the bishops in their tasks. His work in ecclesiology, the study of the Church, made him an invaluable source of insight during the writing of two of the most important documents of the Council, Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

I soon came to discover that de Lubac’s work ranged beyond ecclesiology, and focused on a number of areas, including biblical theology.  As someone whose academic concentration was medieval philosophy, I was drawn to his almost-1,700 page work on the four senses of Sacred Scripture, Medieval Exegesis. These three volumes center on the history of biblical interpretation in the Middle Ages, and the blossoming of the tradition of viewing the Bible as more than just the words on the page. This tradition of seeing the hidden meaning of the text finds its inspiration in what Jesus had to say in this weekend’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew.

When Jesus explains His ‘Parable of the Sower’ to the Apostles He is giving the Church a pattern of interpretation that will be used by his followers from that point on. Once Jesus uses His interpretive key to unlock the meaning of this parable He is making that key available to His disciples as they work their way through His other parables and then through all of the stories in both the Old and New Testaments.

When reading the parables in Luke 15, who does not see Jesus as the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep? Who does not see God the Father in the father who welcomes back the lost and prodigal son? Jesus never explains these parables, as He does with the Parable of the Sower, but He doesn’t need to. Once given the key, the average Christian can use it to unlock the personal meaning of every parable and any biblical story.

And that ability certainly applies to this weekend’s parable. Each Christian must ask: Where did the seed land in my life? Am I one who hears, but does not understand?   Have I fallen away from Jesus and His Church because I have no deep roots? Have I chosen the riches of this world and give only lip-service to the Gospel? Or have I taken the Good News to heart and produced good fruit?

Saintly theologians like Henri Cardinal de Lubac are a great gift to the Church, for they give the historical and theological foundation upon which all thoughtful Catholics can stand, a foundation that goes all the way back the Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus built His Church. But for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to read their works it is important to at least know that there are such people for whom the seed has burrowed deep into rich soil and produced such a bountiful harvest of influential theological works. It is also important to know that as faithful followers of Jesus we have been given the exact same key, the key that unlocks the Words of Everlasting Life.

A.M.D.G.