Saturday, July 30, 2011

Semper Reformanda--A Church Always in Need of Reform

Bernini's famous statue of Saint Teresa in ecstasy
Santa Marria della Vittoria in Rome  
In my last post I mentioned the Church’s loss of membership as one of the reasons that we need a Reformation.  I really only spoke of North America, or actually the United States, though Anglophone Canada suffers the same and Francophone Canada much worse as a once devoutly Catholic people simply slide in secularism.  The Church is growing rapidly in much of sub-Sahara Africa and in parts of Asia and there is great vitality but Europe is in lamentable shape.  Indeed Pope Benedict has made the revival of Catholicism in Europe a chief priority of his pontificate.  Unfortunately , tragically, to date he has completely failed in this mission.  My opinion is that he has not known how to go about it and thinks that all it requires is a somewhat effete renaissance of he thinks to be “Catholic Culture” focusing on music and art rather than a vibrant and authentic “new Evangelization.”  I too love Mozart and Michelangelo, but neither the Freemason composer nor the gay artist can bear the weight of the Gospel.  A genuine Evangelization needs a Saint Francis and a Catherine of Siena and an Ignatius Loyola and a Teresa of Avila.  We need men and women who are on fire with the Gospel and who exude a love for God and the Love of God for us.  The art and the music come later.  I mean, Bernini’s skill needed Teresa’s passion to create his masterpiece, and first came Ignatius and then the marvelous Gesu.  The religious situation in Europe is terrible.  When I attend Mass in France, for example,  I have found—in Paris, Avignon, Bourges, Nantes, Angers—wonderful vibrant congregations that are warm and welcoming and in which the liturgy is well celebrated with beautiful music and deep reverence, but I have also seen that only a fraction of the population is at Mass. (In Rome, on the other hand, while only a fraction of the people are at Mass, I find the Masses hurried, uninspiring, minimal participation, empty homilies.)   This tells me that it is not a liturgical renewal that is needed—though I appreciate good liturgy—but a genuine evangelization.  Even where the liturgy is good we, as a Church, are not speaking to the hungers of the human heart.  I don’t think that the problem is that people aren’t interested in what the Church has to offer, but rather the Church is not offering in what the Holy Spirit is leading the hearts of people to desire. We are too confident in our own convictions to listen attentively to what God is calling us to become.  We think that our own “tried and true” approach to the faith is THE approach.  I am not sure what hungers the Holy Spirit is putting in the hearts of people today, but it obviously isn’t for the externals of religion that we are too often offering them.  I do think that there is a deep desire for an inner life, a spiritual life.  I think people long for paths to wisdom and compassion—paths our Catholic Tradition knows well (John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, The Ignatian Exercises) but too rarely draws on.  I think people are looking for integrity, honesty, transparency which are signs of genuine holiness but we offer a rather palid piety and superficial devotion.  To bring that down to earth—the need today is not for May Crownings and Holy Hours (though there is nothing wrong with either, other than that they are no more than frosting on the Catholic Cake) but a Church that practices the ideals that it preaches, a humble Church, a Church that delivers on its promise to bring good news to the poor, healing to the sick, freedom to the oppressed and announce a time of God’s Favor to ALL.  I think that people are looking for a Church that empowers them to be of service to others—both to individuals and to society.  They are not looking for a Church that will think for them or tell them what to do or how to make specific decisions, but will give them the tools to be self-actualizing and responsible disciples.  There are people, of course, who will look only towards their own good or their own hedonistic satisfaction, just as there are people who have no awareness of any religious hunger within their heart, but I honestly believe that most people, especially most people who were raised in Christian families, or even families that were only vaguely religious, have values that make them want to move beyond themselves and self-interest to the good of others.  They don’t need, or want, to be told that they have to oppose same-sex marriage or contraception or even abortion.  When it comes to concrete issues, they can make their own decisions but they want an opportunity to discuss and reason out the sound moral principles that will empower them to make those decisions.  Frankly, they are often just as intelligent, or sometimes even more so, than their priest or bishop and they resent being told how they should think.  They want a faith that engages them, that lets them bring their own experience and insights into dialogue with the moral heritage of the Church—not because they reject that heritage but precisely because they want to make that heritage their own, to contribute to its development, to bring heritage into a shaping dialogue with contemporary experience.  They day of telling the faithful what to think or how to believe is over.  The earthquake has begun, the tomb is rumbling, the stone starting to roll back and the Consensus Fidelium is being raised from its deathly slumber of a millennium and a half.  This will be the beginning of the New Evangelization, not a Mostly Mozart evening in the Nervi Hall.     

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