April 18, 2011


A significant proportion of conversations in my life center around diagnosis. They focus on claims about what's wrong with the Universal Church, the local Church, our province of the Order, or our formation program. The tone of conversations can range from the rigorously scientific or the devoutly spiritual to the silly and lighthearted, but the mode of conversation is the same: 'This is what's wrong.'

This framework rests on certain assumptions:

1. There is something (or some set of things) wrong, and it is serious or critical enough to command a lot of our attention.
2. It is, however, apparently difficult to name or define, as evidenced by the almost overwhelming diversity of opinions. In other words, there does not seem to be much consensus.
3. Describing what's wrong is the starting point for discerning the remedies to be applied.
4. Our ministerial and missionary decisions and commitments ought to derive from the remedies thus discerned.

Now I'm not posting in order to say that this is a wrong or bad way to proceed. If I should say, 'our problem is that we are committed to a discourse of diagnosis,' I would only make myself an example of my own assertion without saying anything further. I will, however, say that on this model, in which decisions about ministries and mission are supposed to derive from diagnosis, such decisions become almost impossible to make given the lack of diagnostic consensus.

All I wish to say in this post is that my theological and ecclesial conscience has been pushing me to notice this structure to many of the conversations I encounter and participate in, and to become willing to expose it to critique for myself. I'm not sure where that will go, if anywhere, but for a starting point from my own prayer on this today I just recall one of my favorite prayers from the Mass:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus, et de munere temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given us in time, may be our healing [remedium] for eternity. (new translation)


Lee Gilbert said...

Other than Pentecost itself I have never heard of a group of Christians getting together in the face of serious problems and praying and fasting together for ten days for the light of Divine wisdom on their situation. Yet that scriptural model "worked."

We will have novenas, of course, but this is a matter of minutes over a period of nine days, and it does not necessarily include fasting.

We will have chapter meetings or even ecumenical councils over extended periods, but this involves praying, fasting, talking and arguing. Yet arguing always gets in the way of the "being of one heart and one mind" that characterized the early disciples and is a condition of divine blessing.

Just once I would like to hear of an experiment in grace that is as close to the Pentecost model as possible. What would happen?

Yet we are so immersed in the argument culture that no sooner is this suggested than the arguments against it are sure to begin multiplying, like bacteria in a petri dish.

Nevertheless, just out of curiosity I wonder what would happen in a parish, for example, or a religious congregation, if people took their vacations at the same time, and prayed and fasted together for ten days modelling themselves as much as possible on the disciples and Our Lady gathered together in the upper room. No arguments, little conversation, just incessant praise, worship and petition for Divine intervention. Something would happen, of that I am pretty confident.

Tell me, since Pentecost has this ever been done?

Greg said...

Br. Charles, you have hit upon a common problem — the narrative stage of "what happened" becomes an endless loop and the group does not move from the past into the future with a consensual solution.

In Taming the Wolf I take up this problems — there is too much to detail in the way of solutions here, but they do exist.

This is a common problem mediators and facilitators face and part of their responsibility is to "keep it moving" so the group can achieve a consensual outcome. After working this way the group then becomes accustomed to moving past the barriers on their own.

Lee, there is a process that begins to speak to your idea. It has been piloted by the Rev. Brian (Anglican), my mentor in faith-based diplomacy.

He works in hot spots around the globe bringing parties together with "reconciliation seminars." The idea is to bring the resources of faith to bear on resolving conflict, even extreme conflict. (You can find more at International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.)

Brian will join me to teach a segment of my course The Ministry of Conflict Resolution offered through the LA Archdiocese this coming summer.

Judy Kallmeyer said...

Might it not be more fruitful to discuss what is positive in these areas and seek ways of increasing, and expanding, those things! What are we doing right and is it possible to do it even better? What seems to be bringing us closer together and how can we continue it? How do we see ourselves becoming holier and how can we augment the process? What things are getting positive reaction from others and how can we use them to better advantage?

Greg said...

That should have been the Rev. Brian Cox. Wrote that post in too much of a hurry.

Quem somos ? said...