(This is the second in a series of posts that will be an attempt to articulate how the experience of parish ministry has changed me as a theological reflector. Here is the introductory post.)
I really like the church two parishes to the south. It's dark and quiet during the day, and it reminds me a little bit of the parish church in the neighborhood where I grew up. As Thomas Merton put it, "Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which men can take refuge. Places where they can kneel in silence. Houses of God, filled with His silent presence." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 83) One day I was sitting in this church in the late morning of a day off. I had offered my Midday Prayer and was just contemplating the Lord's sanctuary in peace. There were a couple of others there, and though I was only dimly aware of their presence, I prayed for them too.
Suddenly a phone rang behind me. A man's voice answered and a speakerphone conversation began. English and Spanish flowed into each other complete with foul language and vulgarities in both. A violent retaliation was being planned for an act of disrespect. Both voices were indignant and frustrated.
Needless to say, I was shocked by both the conversation itself and the sacrilege it represented. As I heard of the violence being planned for the enemy of these men, I was even frightened myself. I left. As I walked down the street to my favorite taco stand, I began to reflect on how it could be possible for someone to not only be so committed to foulness and violence, but to be indifferent to profaning the Lord's sanctuary.
That's when I had a realization. The sins of our culture, such as the tolerance of abortion, the proliferation of human trafficking, the normalization of pornography, abuse, neglect, gang violence, the tacit acceptance of the poverty and hunger of others, as well as the analogous sins and crimes particular to the Church, such as clerical abuse of power and sexual abuse by clergy and religious, and even the general lack of reverence toward the sacraments, sacramentals, and the holy in general, all proceed from a lack of due reverence for persons.
I have thus become convinced that one of our critical and primary troubles as people of our time is a lack of a metaphysical sense of who we are as persons. Though we are all aware that we have hearts and minds that reach beyond space and time in thought and love, I don't think people are aware of themselves as mysteries, spiritual realities worthy of wonder. Without any sense of transcendent personhood, people become subject to commodification, as in pornography, and ultimately even disposable, as in abortion.
Since our transcendent or spiritual personhood is our primary, analogical access to divine Mystery and the Person of deity, without it we start to lose God as well. We may still practice religion in a merely natural or even consumerist way, but we do not have real reverence and 'fear of the Lord' before the Mystery of His Person. In some ways we ministers of the Church have not helped this situation, e.g. if we plan and offer liturgy in such a way as to remove reverence and mystery, we are contributing to the problem. The faith and its celebration in liturgy starts to be about us rather than God. Hymns, postures, and lack of ceremonial reverence all illustrate the shift.
Therefore, I have begun to feel the pressure of theological anthropology. The people of our time seem to need a compelling and intelligible articulation of what it means to find oneself as this mysterious, spiritual subjectivity that we call the human person. As I have mentioned, our spiritual nature is obvious to anyone who has transcended space and time by thought or love. But we seem to have forgotten how to notice that this means that the human person is a mystery worthy of reverence.