Thursday, February 22, 2007

Doctors of the Church

Here is an interesting resource for the Doctors of the Church. I can't say that I have sympathy with the perspective of the essays about each doctor, but the links at the bottom of each page are rich.

For instance, the author seems to think that St. Albert the Great was an innovator in bringing pagan thought into the Church and that the Church resisted Aristotle because he was pagan. The truth is, though, that the Church had allowed a very rich dialogue with Platonism for centuries. What they had doubts about was Aristotle thought itself, not his paganism. Also, I cringed at this on the St. Jerome page: "Please exchange He to She, God, Lord, Jesus or whatever you feel comfortable using as you pray."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Insights from a day of recollection

By Bishop Straling, bishop emeritus of Reno, Nevada.

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning." (Joel 2:12)

"At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy, but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it." (Heb. 12:11)

God never tells a lie. If he promises something, he will do it. He is totally, completely trustworthy. Satan, on the other hand, will do anything to get you to turn from God, including lying to your face. For instance, in the garden Satan tells Eve that if she will eat the fruit she will be like God. The lie is (a very subtle one) that she is already made in God's likeness and image. St. Ignatius says things like desolation and discouragement come from trusting the lies of the devil more than the truths and promises of God. Discouragement is never from God because it weakens faith and hope.

Moses said, "Okay, Lord, I've got them in the desert. What's the plan?" God's answer--"Trust in my presence." When Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus he doesn't tell him of all the plans he has in store for him. He only tells him to go to the city and wait to be told what to do next. When God tells us to do something we need to do it, not ask about the payoff or the long view. This starts with things like the ten commandments, but, as St. Ignatius points out, continues with particular movements of the heart that we can discern by the rules of desolation and consolation (under the wise direction of a spiritual guide).

Harden not your heart

The theme for me for Lent this year is "harden not your heart." I have been reflecting on the meaning of hardness of heart for a while now and it seems that this would be a good time to closely inspect my heart to find out those areas that I have hardened so that the Lord cannot penetrate.

The strange translateion of Psalm 95 in the English liturgy of the hours does us a disservice by translating the phrase, "Do not grow stubbern." How unpoetic and detached from the traditional reflection upon the "heart" is that? I don't know the Hebrew, but the Latin says, "Nolite obdurare corda vestra." I don't see why "harden not your hearts" was considered by the translators too distant from the plain understanding of the people of God. I think most people, in the west at least, have an intuitive sense what hardness of heart is and how it feels.

There is a nice, poetic book I read in my youth called Hinds Feet in High Places. It is by Hannah Hunnard. In it a deer named Much-Afraid learns to overcome her hardness of heart. The climactic scene, which I won't spoil for you, shows both why it is necessary to let your heart be vulnerable before God and why it is scary--no one likes pain and suffering.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More wisdom from Ashley and O'Rourke

“A work ethic by which life is simply striving for a far-off, ever-receding
goal is a bad ethic” (p. 204).

This would be a contradiction of Christian joy. Pleasure is a natural secondary consequence of the pursuit of authentic human goods, even spiritual ones. If we are pursuing those goods we will experience authentic happiness on some level (even if at the same time as experience suffering and pain).


A nice definition of hope taken from Ashley and O'Rourke's Health Care Ethics, 4th ed. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1997).
“Christian faith sees in every earthly event (even if the event is a crucifixion) a promise, an opportunity to be used, an invitation by the God of the future to help build that future.”

Of course, you have to understand what the word "future" means in Christianity. It doesn't simply mean the temporal future, although there is some kind of relationship between the temporal and eschatological future.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Testing the spirit

Oswald Sobrino rightly points to the important principle in Church life--"do not stifle the Spirit!" God doesn't always work in the old ways and the new ways may seem suspect. Some people resist anything that doesn't appear like what they've known up to this time. They are closed to new movements of the Spirit in their own lives and in the Church. He rightly suggests that we not overreact to enthusiastic movements simply because they do not do things the way we think they ought to be done or have been done in the past.

On the other hand, I would not be too quick to be critical of the Church's important task of testing the spirit so as to retain that which is good, nor the role of the people of God "in the pew" in assisting in that discerment. The Church's testing is essential for keeping the movements from spinning out of control or going off the deep end. The devotees of a movement will always experience the Church's testing as a persecution. And sometimes the enthusiastic resistence of the faithful will be unspiritual persecution. Yet, in order to remain in communion with the Church members of a movement has to remain patient, trusting and interiorly docile to the legitimate pastoral guidance of the Church. One only needs to read Ronald Knox's Enthusiasm to see why the testing is so important. The history of the Church is littered with movements that have put their own understanding of the Gospel and its particular demands ahead of the Church's, thus stressing or splitting the Church. Anyone familiar with the history of even the approved movements in the Church, such as Franciscanism or the Charismatic Renewal, knows that not everything that happened in those movements was "from God," and that some members of the movement were presumptuously unable to submit to the guidance of the Church, except perhaps externally, or accept the legitimate questioning and criticism from outside the movement by other members of the Church, thus causing great spiritual harm to individuals in the movements. For more in this see Adrian J. Reimer's Charismatic Covenant Communities: A Failed Promise.

I have not been involved in things charismatic for decades, so I can't evaluate its current state of the movement. I certainly am not trying to deny the legitimacy or value of Sobrino's experience or the goodness of his particular group or the overall importance of his reminders to the Church of the value of the Charismatic Renewal. Awareness of the charismatic seems to have been eclipsed in the Church the past couple of decades. But I can assure you that when I was involved not all was sweetness and light and not all the leaders were willing to interiorly correspond their thinking to the mind of the Church even if they conformed exeriorly.

The Church has had 2000 years of checkered experience with charismatic movements. We can certainly be patient while the Church discerns whether this crop of movements are really bearing fruit for the kingdom. And we can be open to the perhaps sometimes too strongly worded questioning of other members of the Church who want communion to be retained but are not sure whether a given idea or practice of a movement is consistent with communion. A community that will not allow exterior critique are bound to stray from the true path. Unfortunately some charismatic groups, both in the CR and other types of movements, have succombed to such a temptation. Also, many church members and leaders have been "stung" by participation in unhealthy charismatic movements. They are right to be cautious.