Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them. (John 17:25-26)
“You know them Catholics – they have all kinds of secrets – in fact, did you know that there is a Secret Library at the Vatican and it’s filled with all kinds of things they don’t want us to know.” That was from a conversation from almost 40 years ago. It was just one card in a more complete catalog of conspiracy theories held by this individual.
As an “oh-by-the-way”, the Vatican Apostolic Archive, known until October 2019 as the Vatican Secret Archive, is real. The use of the word “secret” in the former title does not denote the modern meaning of confidentiality. A fuller and perhaps better translation of the Latin may be the “private Vatican Apostolic archive”, indicating that its holdings are the Pope’s personal property, not those of any particular department of the Roman Curia or the Holy See. The underlying Latin word also gives us the modern word “secretary.”
All interesting, true, but what does that have to do with today’s readings and the Memorial of St. Irenaeus of Lyon? Simply this: it is not a secret that Christianity is not a society of esoteric and exotic knowledge available to the chosen few for whom salvation is possible.
Irenaeus a bishop in the area now known as Lyon in Southern France, was taught by Polycarp who was taught by St. John the Evangelist. He was steeped in the mission of the Church to proclaim salvation via Jesus Christ – as Irenaeus said – vere Deus, vere homo – truly God and truly man. Nothing secret about it.
His most noted work was “Against Heresies” – most notably, the Gnostic heresy, whose hallmark was the ascent to the higher realms of knowledge and enlightenment, especially through access to secret knowledge. In our time, Irenaeus would certainly see the Church of Scientology as gnostic to its core. Just a case of what’s new is just the old come around again.
So… if it’s my assertion that there is nothing secret about the foundational beliefs and creed of the Catholic Church, what’s the problem? Problem is that what fulfills our mission is an infantry of believers gossiping the gospel over backyard fences. Too many people want to be in the Secret Service.
We know the One sent by our Heavenly Father – it’s all right there in the Gospels.
We know the love Jesus has for us is not a secret. That love pours from Father to Son to us.
Our job is to let the love flow from us into the waiting world – and not keep it in our private archive.