February 7, 2007

Nemo Ostendebat Mihi

The Testament of St. Francis has always spoken very deeply to my experience. Here's one my favorite parts:
And after the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I was supposed to do, but the Most Hight himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy Gospel.

The first part of the sentence is the most often quoted, to express the Franciscan insight that our spiritual brothers and sisters are a gift from God. The final part is cited frequently as well, the great insight of the mendicant, evangelical life. But what speaks to me is the middle part, "no one showed me what I was supposed to do."

I guess it's because I've experienced a crisis of spiritual guidance at many stages of my own life, and because I perceive such a crisis in the world around me. I feel it when I see old people struggling to use our new-fangled subway cards and turnstiles here in Boston. I see it every time I go out and see young people, floating through the world in identities and thought-worlds created for them by greedy advertisers.

I even see a crisis of spiritual guidance in Church. We have such beautiful mysteries in Christianity: the Cross and Resurrection, the cleansing death of Baptism, the spiritual food of the Eucharist. And yet sometimes I feel like people in Church look upon the Cross and Resurrection, for instance, as discrete events that are outside of them, like something on the news. Where is the spiritual guidance to help everyone realize that, because of the humanity of Christ, the mystery of Cross and Resurrection, Baptism and Eucharist, are first of all about them and their experience in all its glorious and unglamorous particularity?


Anonymous said...

I have not read the Testament of St. Francis in several years. My Franciscan reading of late has been from the Seraphic Doctor Bonaventure.

I think you have a great insight here. I too have had a similar experience. When entered into full communion with the Church in 1997 I did so with almost no spiritual guidance from anybody I knew (I found my real spiritual guidance in the writings of Pope John Paul). Sure the priests who taught the RCIA classes were helpful, but they did not provided any personal spiritual direction. Nor was my sponsor very helpful. When I was informed in RCIA class a couple of months before Easter that I would need to find a Confirmed Catholic to act as my sponsor at confirmation, I was in a bit of a panic. The few Catholics I knew were not very good ones, and had not been very encouraging when I told them I was joining the Church. The friend I finally selected ended up leaving the Church altogether by 1999, when he refused to be the Godfather to the first child produced by my marriage because he just "didn't believe any of it anymore."

This lack of spiritual guidance from earthly organs of the Church (I get all kinds of help from the saints) has more or less continued to today, with the notable exception of one priest in our parish who has just helped my prayer-life in incredible ways and brought me to a much closer relationship with the Blessed Mother. But this assistance has only come in the last few years.

Last night I had the privilege of hearing a lecture from Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things magazine at the seminary in Denver. He spoke about the current condition of Catholic culture in the US. He mentioned a certain hardness and intolerance in the best young Catholics he has come to know. He talked about the intolerance they have for dissent from doctrine on both the left and the right. He mentioned how for most young committed Catholics their devotion to the Church is a matter of choice, and not a tradition passed on or handed down, and he lamented that such young Catholics are not engaged in parish life and homeshcool their children. I recognized myself in his remarks; although I have finally settled down to a parish (but I drive past 5 others on my way there). As I drove home last night, I realized a large part of the problem is that in many ways I don’t know how to be Catholic. It seems, in areas other than doctrine, I have too many choices. In too many ways I’m not sure how a Catholic moves through the world. I know intellectually what it means to be Catholic: I know what I believe—but I don’t know as well what to do in terms of structuring family life, neighborhood, volunteer activities, politics, leisure, entertainment, and most especially… I HAVE NO CLUE WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CATHOLIC AT WORK.

I think a lot of the issues that Dr. Bottum talked about last night are related to Francis’ experience--“no one showed me what I was supposed to do.”

I guess we had just better listen more clearly to the voice of the Most High. He will tell us.

--the same anonymous

Brother Charles said...

Thanks so much for your comments, anonymous. It reflects a lot of my own conversion experience too; I was totally unprepared for the marketplace of opinions and factions that showed themselves to me upon entrance into the church some fifteen years ago.

Religious life has only intensified the condition. I thank God that I discovered some of the classics; I remember the first time I read John of the Cross and Cassian on community life and prayer, and thinking, finally I had found someone I felt I could trust, and whose experience spoke to my own.