reform

“It is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ”

‘And today we again repeat with all the insistency We can command: it is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ, one needs to be a living member, in spirit and in truth, i.e., living in the state of grace and in the presence of God, either in innocence or in sincere repentance. If the Apostle of the nations, the vase of election, chastised his body and brought it into subjection: lest perhaps, when he had preached to others, he himself should become a castaway (1 Cor. ix. 27), could anybody responsible for the extension of the Kingdom of God claim any other method but personal sanctification? Only thus can we show to the present generation, and to the critics of the Church that “the salt of the earth,” the leaven of Christianity has not decayed, but is ready to give the men of today – prisoners of doubt and error, victims of indifference, tired of their Faith and straying from God – the spiritual renewal they so much need. A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination.

‘Every true and lasting reform has ultimately sprung from the sanctity of men who were driven by the love of God and of men. Generous, ready to stand to attention to any call from God, yet confident in themselves because confident in their vocation, they grew to the size of beacons and reformers. On the other hand, any reformatory zeal, which instead of springing from personal purity, flashes out of passion, has produced unrest instead of light, destruction instead of construction, and more than once set up evils worse than those it was out to remedy. No doubt “the Spirit breatheth where he will” (John iii. 8): “of stones He is able to raise men to prepare the way to his designs” (Matt. iii. 9). He chooses the instruments of His will according to His own plans, not those of men. But the Founder of the Church, who breathed her into existence at Pentecost, cannot disown the foundations as He laid them. Whoever is moved by the spirit of God, spontaneously adopts both outwardly and inwardly, the true attitude toward the Church, this sacred fruit from the tree of the cross, this gift from the Spirit of God, bestowed on Pentecost day to an erratic world.’

– Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, On The Church and the German Reich, n.19-20, published 1937

I recommend reading the whole encyclical. It’s fascinating historically, but it also contains a number of remarkably relevant passages for our own times and circumstances.

God bless!

Revolt, Renew, Reform

I just read an article on habits, which basically noted that as we gain expertise and more advanced skills and practices, we will often end up actually regressing, because we’ve lost the “fundamentals”. The advanced stuff becomes easy, but the basic (and far more important) stuff is quietly withering.

This is something I have noticed in my prayer life. I tend to develop a set of relatively fixed prayers for regular activities, such as exercising, eating meals, reading the Bible, and going to bed. I like it this way, because I want to make sure that I always say everything that needs saying. As it goes on, these prayers naturally develop, being expanded and refined, and reworked again and again, aiming for a sense of completeness and symmetry, so that my prayer may be “perfect”. I also develop rules for what prayers to say each day, and when, and these too grow nuanced over time, including various technicalities. [I’m the kind of person who actually sort of loves rules, routines, and waking up early, and though Past-Me might have disdained that, I don’t care. The difficult thing is marrying this to my love for chaos and late nights… I oscillate in life.]

But after a while, these prayers grow old. I can say them easily, even in my head, while I’m actually thinking about God-knows-what. My prescribed and required prayers can become a duty and a burden, and get in the way of practices that might do me more good. I grow “pious”.

For this reason, every so often, I revolt against my system, seriously simplifying my prayer life. I return to the basics –just me and my God– and let everything reform from there. Many elements of the previous system are gradually reintroduced, and new ones too, and the complexity, beauty, and rigidity return, step by step, but with their centre restored to them.

 

vaticanii-image

I think this may be a near perfect analogy for what the Church was doing at Vatican II. The Church wanted to rediscover Herself, and return to Her first love. Her practices had grown elaborate and majestic and beautiful, but perhaps also comfortable and stifling. On the one hand, the religion was thoroughly encapsulated, but on the other, it was somewhat captured and contained. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given…

The Council set in motion a process of renewal, rediscovery, and reformation that’s ongoing. As Pope Francis stresses, ‘Time is greater than space.’ I think we can see this process at work both in the emergence of new practices and the re-emergence of old. The new wave of traditionalism should be seen as a fruit of the Council, to be celebrated with all the others.

On that note, I feel the need to briefly defend V2 against those who would claim it has borne bad fruit. There are those who have misinterpreted it, as being essentially a liberalising or dilution of the faith. But that would be as shallow as interpreting my personal cycles of reform and simplification, to my faith weakening, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Externally, many things were temporarily shed, but only so that we could reconnect with what is truly essential.

 

But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? God bless!