Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.



12 Days on Pilgrimage in August
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” Jn 14:6.

In my first entry, I ended with Kierkegaard’s story of the clown who shouted that the circus was on fire. The more he shouted, the harder everyone laughed until the circus and village were destroyed. As a Franciscan priest for fifty-one years, I have taught Catholic truth claims. At times I felt like the clown shouting to warn but to no avail. For thirteen years my Franciscan formators prepared me with the Marian integrating element in St. Francis’ life. They did not use the term post-Christian culture but perceived it on the horizon. Without apology, they insisted that the Franciscan way of life means that I can know truth and I am to teach truth because philosophy links with Revelation. The key is Christ as the way, the truth and the life.[1]

I join the generations who are growing up in post-Christian culture. E.g. At Notre Dame an open minded, inclusive  and critically engaged senior asked her philosophy and theology professor: “If I approach others who think differently than I do as a Catholic by saying, I have my truth and you have your truth, do I align with Fides et Ratio?” [2] In reply, the professor qualified that  the words my truth and your truth are consequences of language. To say my truth is no longer a truth claim. He explained that the implication is that truth is collegial which results in a “slippage.” If your truth is as valuable as my truth, are we not subverting truth?

Fides et Ratio pivots on the claim in John 14:6. Only if the Christian faith is truth does it concern everyone. If Christian faith is a cultural variant of the religious experiences of mankind that one tracks through history, with symbols that can never be deciphered or interpreted, then Christian faith has to come clean. It has to remain within its own culture and leave others to theirs. Fides et Ratio aims to rehabilitate the question of truth in a world that carries the weight of post-Christian culture. For me, that means to recognize many external factors, the temporization of authority, and inviting in ideas without the competence to regulate Christianly.

Catholic thought (doctrine) develops. Without giving anyone a pass, Catholics failed to act in a timely manner or made decisions that were incredibly poor in any given age.[3] Without denying the truth, Fides et Ratio opens the windows to the fresh air that faith breathes. The encyclical is a diagnostic of why faith is rational and scientific. One gains reflective courage for the adventure of truth in a post-Christian culture. Fides et Ratio is speaking beyond the sphere of faith and into the heart of faith which strengthens all Catholics who investigate, i.e. faith seeking understanding. In this context, to investigate is different from to seek. The latter starts with reason seeking faith. Take it or leave it. The former starts with faith seeking to know truth.

Spe Salvi facti sumus – in hope we were saved (Rom 8:24).[4] Deep thinking about Fides et Ratio by engaged students at Notre Dame unfolds the belief of others and enables them to hold on to their Catholic faith. By getting philosophy right, they discover Christian faith’s struggles with a certain type of modern culture as only one variety. They learn to diagnose well what presumes to be culture and how it can despise the human person. John Paul II’s call for fresh examination and discussion includes qualifying lawgiving in any society. To favor the convictions of the majority, to separate private conscience from public order,[5] shuts out any society from the truth. What is accidental and arbitrary threatens to be set up in place of being open to truth. The very capacity to know and to recognize truth needs science and scholarship. Nothing is left out when philosophy asks about the person, way towards life and death, God and eternity. We seek truth, to find the common dignity beyond the bounds of cultural settings.

Truth and tolerance need a starting point and a return, philosophy. Theology necessarily touches upon this starting point and return. In life, a person changes and becomes righteous.  In the modern debate about Christianity and world religions, the question about being saved and eternal salvation has a view that one attains salvation through all religions, a view  that corresponds to the idea of tolerance and of respect for others. A modern idea of God is that because persons know nothing of Christianity and happen to have grown up in other religions, God will accept their worship and religion as he does ours. The problem is contradicting things leading to the same goal. The theory of universal salvation is extended. Truth is replaced by good intentions for one cannot know what is objectively good and true.

Pope Emeritus Benedict diagnoses the problem of what is not being thought about. First, he sees the mistake that all religions (including agnosticism and atheism) are of the same kind, which is delusional for all religions. Second, he senses the complex error that the significance of religion for salvation and eternal life is being neutralized i.e., whatever heaven is, it begins on earth. Salvation does not lie in religions as such; religions need to be criticized. Third, the modern concept of conscience emphasizes autonomy and makes the claim that it is “impossible” to establish common moral and religious standards. Proof is in “pagan saints” who show a turn toward each other and towards God. He sees such proof as salvation by another means. Benedict critiques these errors with true recognition of God’s voice in conscience.

Without wavering, Benedict is resolute that none of us is God and how any person approaches God is God’s secret. Truth and tolerance call on a methodological suggestion: the idea of circularity. The relationship between philosophy and theology, faith and reason and their renewal benefit from a dynamic circular movement which means that theology must always start with the word of God. It is set in relation to the search for truth with the struggle of reason for the truth and in dialogue with philosophy. Our 12 day pilgrimage built upon this unifying intention.

Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv. Univ of Notre Dame,


[1] St. Bonaventure, Sermon, Christus Unus Omnium Magister, Christ is the One Teacher of All.
[2] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 1998. Does faith really need philosophy? If philosophy is just an academic discipline among others, faith is independent of it. The Pope understands philosophy in a broader sense and puts the question of whether a human person can know truth which is his worry.
[3] One example of many by Pope John Paul II stands out, Tertio Millennio Adveniente. Moreover, he was determined to canonize St. Edith Stein without harm to her Jewish origins.
[4] Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Spe Salvi, 30 November 2007, opens with these words.
[5] Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 69 and 70.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
Holy Name of Mary – September 12, 2022


You may like the following ...