“The story is told of a priest who, shortly after apostatizing, said to a visitor who was about to congratulate him:
‘From now onward I am no more than a philosopher – in other words, a man alone.’
It must have been a bitter reflection, but it was true. He had left the home outside which there will never be anything save exile and solitude. Many people aren’t aware of it, because they live in the passing moment, alienated from themselves, “rooted in this world like seaweed on the rocks.” The preoccupations of daily life absorb them; “the golden mist of appearances” forms a veil of illusion around them. Sometimes they look in a hundred and one different places for some substitute for the Church, as if to deceive their own longings. Yet the man who hears in the depths of his being the call which has stimulated his thirst for communion – indeed, the man who does no more than sense it – grasps that neither friendship nor love, let alone any of the social groupings that underlie his own life, can satisfy it.”
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger summarized something written by the French mystic and Jewish writer Simone Weil…
“People recognize the good only when they themselves do it. They recognize the evil only when they do not do it.”
Henri de Lubac
“The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost, when all her members could be contained in a small room, as she was when the Arian waves seemed on the point of swamping her; she would still be Catholic if tomorrow apostasy on a vast scale deprived her of almost all the faithful. For fundamentally Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics.” – Henri de Lubac
Christians the world over entered the liturgical season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Many Catholic Christians were notified by their priests and bishops of the specific rules to be followed during these penitential 40 days leading into Holy Week and Easter. At my parish the list of Lenten Disciplines took up a whole page in the bulletin. This included the details of what comprised ‘fasting’ and ‘abstinence from meat’ and to whom it applied. Most people know that Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, and alms giving where self-sacrifice is called for. But in our individualistic age it rankles to read the rules laid out so unambiguously. The notion of discipline itself has a negative sound to modern ears. However, if we listen to the word carefully, we may be able to hear the cognate word ‘disciple’ – a word, at least to Christian ears, that is perceived more positively. In the Latin root the words refer to what is taught (disciplina), a teaching; and to one who is taught (discipulus), a student. This was pointed out to me many years ago by a monk I had visited seeking spiritual direction. He understood my desire to be a disciple of Our Lord. And as a Benedictine he surely knew about discipline. As we spoke and prayed for guidance as to my particular calling as a disciple, he said that there is always a discipline that is present and available to each person that is suited for his particular gifts and work. No doubt he saw that I had a greater desire to be a disciple than I had for discipline – for I went away disappointed in my hope that I would find in him a director for my spiritual longings.
Over the years since I have come to see that I did find spiritual direction in this encounter. I have carried with me this understanding of the ever-present discipline that is always available, so that whenever I hear the word ‘discipline’ I perceive an opportunity to become a disciple, to be taught and to learn.
Gil Bailie introduced me to Fr. Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B. in the early 1990’s and posted the following note when Dunstan passed from this life:
Here is the obituary of this most extraordinary man:
Fr. Dunstan Morrissey, O.S.B., died on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at the age of 85. He was the son of Robert and Joy Buchanan Morrissey and graduated magna cum laude from University of Notre Dame. He also attended L’Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales, Geneva, and Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Bombay. He served as a U.S. Vice Consul at Alexandria, Egypt before entering monastic life at St. Bede Abbey, Peru, Illinois where he taught and was ordained a priest. Fr. Dunstan devoted the rest of his life to his vocation as a hermit monk, in silence, solitude, and solidarity with the world.
His was a life of solitude, silence and prayer lived with such integrity that the lives of those fortunate enough to discover it were changed by his witness.
My remarks take their point of departure and borrow their resolve from the following quotation from Hans Urs von Balthasar:
To the layman God has not given the help of sacramental power and ecclesial office, so he will not be able to entrench himself behind these as tactical cover; nor has God given the layman the yoke of ecclesial obedience: such obedience would dispense the layman of his specific responsibility in having to make judgments and take bold steps in the world, and freedom from ecclesial obedience in fact enables the layman to be a Christian in the world who dares all and is exposed to all. (from Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence)
….As von Balthasar has reminded us, we lay members of the Church will be required to “make judgments and take bold steps in the world,” inasmuch as our “freedom from ecclesial obedience” … both enables and compels us to perform a service for our beloved Church which those under the yoke of ecclesial obedience may be either unqualified, unable, or reluctant to perform. Let us step up, remembering the possibility – nay the likelihood – that in every hostile crowd there may be at least one Saul whom the Church desperately needs and whose conversion may depend on how we behave in the face of worldly opposition.
“What [the catalogue] offers as social theory in 2017 is clearly a representative collection. It indeed represents something, even simply presents it: the utopian impulse of Marxism that can always be rejuvenated towards a finally realized socialism, liquification of the past in a constantly faster-moving present, post-meta-post ideologies, inciting youth with an invitation to transgress the threshold into a brave new world loosened from restricting norms, a relentless insisting on the Enlightenment values of autonomy and freedom to safeguard our liberal democracy. This is indeed a catalogue; a sort of war damage report of the most serious problems that plague our times. What we need is not a brand new social theory, as any step forward from here would just exacerbate the situation. We simply cannot go on like this. What we need is a proper stock-taking of this cul de sac, and a reassertion of what went lost along the road.”
In a post from late last year the question Jesus poses in Luke 18:8 regarding the Son of Man’s return and what he might expect to find was left for us to ponder. The steady receding of many of the cultural bulwarks of traditional manifestations of Christian faith in the West along with the implosion of previously highly regarded Christian institutions have led some to a diminished confidence in what the Lord may find on his return.
But the spectacle of waning faith in the lands of plenty may be offset by the evidence of a living faith not susceptible to the media displays of the technologically advanced world to be found in poor villages of lands to which we give little or no notice. It is with profound gratitude that we should then glimpse this world that Martin Mosebach has provided in his The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs. First Things has published an essay adapted from Mosebach’s book. A martyr is etymologically a witness, someone who gives personal testimony to the truth of what they have seen and heard. Of that testimony we become witnesses in turn. Something like this is recounted in the related stories of the martyrdom of St. Stephen and the conversion of St. Paul. And so, the Church throughout the world is descended from such witnesses
In February 2015 a propaganda arm of the Islamic State (ISIS) posted on the internet a well-produced video of the ritual beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians entitled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross”. The civilized world looked away in horror from this barbaric depiction of the slaughter of 21 men who would not deny their Christian faith even to save their lives. In the First Things essay Mosebach writes:
Not long after the Twenty-One were beheaded, I met with a German cardinal. I asked him why the Catholic Church did not formally recognize the testimony of these men of faith, as the old Church generally had in cases of martyrdom. “But they’re Copts!” he answered…. then and there I decided I had to learn more about the Copts, and the Twenty-One in particular.
Mosebach asks us to not look away but rather to look directly into the faces and lives of these martyrs. By doing so we of the lands of plenty and waning faith may find something that we have lost and may yet regain…but not without cost.
Gil Bailie will be one of the featured speakers at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley at the 10th annual convocation of the College of Fellows held on Friday and Saturday February 1st and 2nd. (click on the image above for details)
If you are in the area and would like to attend please register through the DSPT website. Those out of the area may attend remotely from a web browser via live stream. (Details HERE).
Posted inBlog|TaggedDSPT, Gil Bailie, laity|Comments Off on Feb 1st & 2nd at DSPT: The Role of the Laity in the Church
Here is something Joseph Ratzinger told an interviewer in 1996, before he became pope:
“ . . . the church lives not only synchronically but diachronically, as well. This means that it is always all—even the dead—who live and are the whole church, that it is always all who must be considered in any majority in the church. In the state, for example, one day we have the Reagan administration, and the next day the Clinton administration, and whoever comes next always throws out what his predecessor did and said; we always begin again from scratch. That’s not the way it is in the church. The church lives her life precisely from the identity of all the generations, from their identity that overarches time, and her real majority is made up of the saints.”
This is an immensely important work which has the potential of enriching and deepening the ecumenical conversation. The scholarly density of the text is regularly interrupted by almost breathtaking moments of originality and luminosity.
In the preface to his translation of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, William C. Creasy sketched the historical circumstances in which the book was written:
“When Thomas wrote The Imitation, he saw a world in deep conflict, a world whose foundations seemed to be cracking and crumbling. The death of Pope Gregory XI on March 27, 1378, set the stage for the Great Schism, that rending of Western Christendom that shattered the Church for two generations. … It was the start of a scandal that sapped the moral and spiritual strength of Christendom like an open, infected wound for nearly forty years.”
Mercifully, we are not now in the midst of a Great Schism, but neither is such a thing any longer unthinkable, for reference is regularly made today to the existence in the Catholic Church of an undeclared or incipient schism, and from such cracks gaping chasms can open. This was not lost on the translator, who thought it worth mentioning that in 1978, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the century in which Thomas wrote the Imitation entitled: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.
Of course, the Imitation of Christ is a timeless spiritual classic, of pertinence to every age. It begins with these words, in Creasy’s translation:
“’Anyone who follows me shall not walk in darkness,’ says the Lord. These are the words of Christ, and by them we are reminded that we must imitate his life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened and set free from the darkness of our own hearts. Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ. . . . Anyone who wishes to understand Christ’s words and to savor them fully should strive to become like him in every way.”
Whether under its surface our moment in history bears any resemblance to the turmoil of the fourteenth century may be debated, but those words of Christ will not pass away, nor will we ever plumb their deepest depths. The question remains, however, whether our historical circumstances, and the theological and anthropological resources now at our disposal, might make it possible to provide substantiating evidence for the central claim of Thomas’ masterpiece? In the months ahead, I will be devoting much of my time to trying to answer that question in the affirmative.