January 17, 2012

Gnosis Against Diagnosis

Less and less do I feel as though I have any contribution to the discussion and debates that surround me in my religious life. Is our charism best defined as this or that? By what criteria do we take on or give up ministerial commitments? What is the nature of the spiritual malaise that seems to afflict us? Where did it come from? What is the remedy? Is it better to tend toward 'liberal' or 'conservative'? 'Traditional' or 'progressive'? 'Hermeneutic of continuity' or the so-called 'spirit of Vatican II'?

I feel less and less secure staking a claim in any of these dilemmas. The same goes, with even more force, for secular politics. As I was telling an old friend the other day, I feel like I understand so little about the nature and purpose of government, economics, and the origin and constitution of 'human rights' that I don't even know how to say that I would support some politician over another.

Of course I know certain things. I know that I'm supposed to adhere to the ordinary precepts of Catholic Christian life. I know that I'm supposed to observe the Rule as I have promised, as it is interpreted for me in St. Francis's Testament and the Constitutions of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. I know that I'm supposed to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments with the greatest care I can find, according to the pattern the Church presents.

Thinking about all this, God sends me the feast of St. Anthony today. His life by St. Athanasius is one of my favorite spiritual books. When a Franciscan reads it, he is bound to see the similarities with the material we have about Francis's vocation and conversions. The historical-critical liberator of minds (and sense and devotion) will say that this is because these are tropes in the hagiographical tradition and proof that they can't be taken as historical fact. But I say that we come to sanctity precisely in a communion of saints, and that they are family resemblances to be celebrated:

Hearing the gospel proclaimed and putting it into immediate practice simply and without gloss. Pushing again and again outside the boundaries of society, convention, and civilization in search of the God who had given a burning desire for himself alone. Leaving everything for that experience, wanting nothing but God. Nothing to protect, no comfort, security, allegiance, or slogan that mattered in the face of that grace of prayer and devotion.

So maybe that's my answer right now. If I ever manage to consent and surrender to God's gentle desire to have me overcome my lukewarmness and laziness and make a beginning of living a spiritual life, I want to push outside everything that keeps me from praying to him with all of my heart and my tears and my joy before I even dare to talk about what he might want me or my community to do or think next.


Greg said...

Just as I was about to stand tall, with chest puffed out a bit, head held high, perhaps with a soapbox nearby to help me gain a little height for my oratory... you yell, FALL TO YOUR KNEES!

Always a pleasure to read your reflections, Br. Charles.

Sarah said...

I love it and couldn't agree more. Thank you for this!!

Judy Kallmeyer said...

You lukewarm, lazy? I wouldn't think so. I have known you to be passionate and even driven. I, on the other hand, can be lukewarm and lazy. Oh, my heart is in the right place, but I cannot always get the rest of me into line. But you are absolutely right about prayer. It is absolutely essential to your consecrated priesthood, and to any spiritual life in general. You cannot give what you do not have. So prayer is of the first order for anyone in a ministerial position. Maybe you just feel lukewarm. The "old boy" can use those feelings to make us discouraged enough to give up. That's what he wants! Never give up!!!! Press forward with greater resolve, greater fidelity, greater verve. He loves you! What have you got to lose!