Sunday, May 13, 2018

For a Prosperous Church and the Spread of the Gospel

The lovely and very familiar Second Reading from the Office for Saturday of the 6th Week of Easter, taken from St Augustine's homilies on St John's gospel and entitled "The two lives", got me thinking about the topics of vocational discernment and integral Catholic living:

"There are two ways of life that God has commended to the Church. One is through faith, the other is through vision. One is in pilgrimage through a foreign land, the other is in our eternal home; one in labour, the other in repose; one in a journey to our homeland, the other in that land itself; one in action, the other in the fruits of contemplation.
  The first life, the life of action, is personified by the Apostle Peter; the contemplative life, by John. The first life is passed here on earth until the end of time, when it reaches its completion; the second is not fulfilled until the end of the world, but in the world to come it lasts for ever. For this reason Peter is told “Follow me”, but Jesus adds, “If I want John to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me”.
  You are to follow me by imitating me in enduring suffering; he is to remain till I come to restore the blessings that last for ever. To put it more clearly: let action, which is complete in itself, follow me and follow the example of my passion; but let contemplation, which has only begun, remain until I come, wait until the moment of its completion.
  It is the fullness of patience to follow Christ loyally even to death; the fullness of knowledge lies in wait until Christ comes again, when it will be revealed and made manifest. The ills of this world are endured in the land of the dying; the good gifts of God will be revealed in the land of the living.
  We should not understand “I want him to stay behind until I come” as meaning to remain permanently but rather to wait: what is signified by John will not be fulfilled now, but it will be fulfilled, when Christ comes. On the other hand, what is signified by Peter, to whom Jesus says “follow me”, must be realised now or it will never be fulfilled.
  But we should not separate these great apostles. They were both part of the present life symbolized by Peter and they were both part of the future life symbolized by John. Considered as symbols, Peter followed Christ and John remained; but in their living faith both endured the evils of the present life and both looked forward to the future blessings of the coming life of joy.
  It is not they alone that do this but the whole of the holy Church, the bride of Christ, who needs to be rescued from the trials of the present and to be brought to safety in the joys of the future. Individually, Peter and John represent these two lives, the present and the future; but both journeyed in faith through this temporal life and both will enjoy the second life by vision, eternally.
  All the faithful form an integral part of the body of Christ, and therefore, so that they may be steered through the perilous seas of this present life, Peter, first among the Apostles, has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and loose from sin. And also for the sake of the faithful, so that they may keep the still and secret heart of his mode of life, John the evangelist rested on Christ’s breast.
  It is not Peter alone who binds and looses sins, but the whole Church. It is not John alone who has drunk at the fountain of the Lord’s breast and pours forth what he had drunk in his teaching of the Word being God in the beginning, God with God, of the Trinity and Unity of God — of all those things which we shall see face to face in his kingdom but now, before the Lord comes, we see only in images and reflections — not John alone, for the Lord himself spreads John’s gospel throughout the world, giving everyone to drink as much as he is capable of absorbing."

Whether you are Peter or you are John, your attachment to the Lord Jesus has to be ineluctable. It just kind of dawned on me the other day that many pious young Catholics seem to think they have permission to be standoffish or choosy. Although protracted adolescence may be a social component, it is not really the central problem, nor does it excuse one from responding with a wholehearted "Here am I, Lord, send me". The problem is spiritual blindness rooted in pride. We have so few vocations and so few young people at Mass every Sunday because they have the false impression that they do not need to pray in church, yes, they do not need to be there before the Heavenly Throne. Part of the problem is the Church's halfhearted presentation of itself, especially in divine worship, the Church as the Body of Christ, sent into the world to reconcile us with the Father. Part of the problem is a false irenicism or denominational indifferentism, which sees the Church's calling as something less than sublime and utterly essential for the life of the world unto eternity.

I have come to understand that my own analysis of the problem and its solution to date was at best partial. I thought that the key was good and holy hierarchy. For too long I was distracted by the leadership component in my analysis of this problem and ended up offering an apology to young people straddling the fence of commitment, simply put off by ambiguous or lukewarm bishops and their sad presbyterates. What I have to say about a vocation to celibate priesthood goes as well for the vocation to holy matrimony. Although you cannot expect a young man to throw himself into the fray where everything in his home diocese works against regular Catholic life (no regular offering of auricular Confession anywhere, difficulty in finding a proper celebration of Sunday Mass anyplace, ...), this does not excuse him from giving seminary a try or presenting himself to a bishop, just because he has the impression that the priests in a given diocese or region he encounters are less than perfect, slack, unhappy, less than on fire with the Holy Spirit. 

My fundamental mistake in analyzing the vocations crisis was that for too long I have been keying the thing to the importance of good bishops. As right as it is to say that Saint Charles Borromeo made the Tridentine Reform possible in the Archdiocese of Milan and throughout his ecclesiastical province, not having a Saint Charles today excuses no one from embracing the call. Granted, God's calling of the prophet Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife is not the ordinary route to a happy and successful marriage, even so, not every diocese is so terribly messed up as to excuse a young man from coming knocking on his bishop's door for help in discerning what may be a call to Holy Orders.

At the risk of taking St. Paul out of context:
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (I Cor. 1: 25-29) 

Perhaps then there is a certain justification or excuse for my impatience with some of those who hesitate to jump into the fray? I don't know. At any rate, I have been looking back at my own youth where I cannot see the process so conflicted because of the faults or shortcomings of others. I am sure that as a youth I saw the shortcomings of some of the members of the presbyterate I was called by my bishop to join. I think I persevered despite my own frailty because I learned to love and respect my brother priests for who they were in their own struggle to serve and because I recognized my calling no less than theirs as coming from Christ Himself through His Church. 

Bishops must be standard bearers leading the forces forth into battle against Satan. There may be hiccups along the way, but the whole enterprise is anything but earthbound. We are terribly right to pray for vocations and as adults, as those who have gone before, to clean up our act as best possible. My latest insight, then, would be to place a double portion for the vocations crisis where it belongs, namely on the shoulders of those called. The Lord will not leave His flock untended. We are not far from wrong in being sad, as was Jesus Himself, when the rich young man turned and walked away.

"The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Matt. 19: 20-22)


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