October 23, 2008

Building The Tombs

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. John of Capistrano, one of the "pillars" of the Observant reform of the Franciscan Order. Yesterday we celebrated St. Peter of Alcántara, a colleague of St. Teresa of Avila, whom we celebrated earlier this month. I love these memorials of the saints who were the great reformers in the history of religious life; I find them inspiring.

But to celebrate these saints, to offer the beautiful prayers of their Masses and Offices frightens me a little too. For if I myself am doing nothing to reform and renew religious life, to shake it out of its obvious (to me) state of lassitude and decadence, then I am fulfilling Jesus' own condemnation of the hypocrites:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding their blood." Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! (Matthew 23:29-32)

Sometimes I have an honest fear that mainstream religious life--as least as it is here in North America--is falling into this trap. We are very good at celebrating the courageous reformers of the past, but not so good at aiming their reforming vision at ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do not fret. There are many courageous reformers in the US church. How about Mother Angelica? or Fr. Benedict Groeshel? (sorry, I know this is a sensitive issue for east coast Capuchins, but the tree is known by its fruit) or the men who started that new strict benedictine monastery in Clear Creek, Oklahoma? What about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which is just now 20 years old and already a world-wide congregation? Or Communion and Liberation, or Opus Dei, or the Neocatechumenal Way?

Outside of America we see the same things. St. Josemaria Escriva was very much a contemporary reformer, as was Bl. Theresa of Calcutta. For that matter Pope John Paul II was a great reformer.

So all is not lost. There are many men and women today acting to reform religious life. Now, I don't know of anybody as zealous as St. Peter of Alcantara, but he almost makes St. Francis look mild.

I can see your reform impulse all the way from Denver, even though we have never met face to face. Why would anybody even think of wearing a black stole to a committal if it wasn't to do more to encourage people to offer prayers and sacrifices for the deceased, and to remind them to amend their own lives. Nothing says memento mori like black vestments