Sunday, January 6, 2019

It's Clericalism, Stupid!

If there weren't many boasting media platforms who deny our Catholic patrimony, spiritual or ascetic, and intellectual, I think much of today's disarray among Catholics, clergy and laity, could quickly be set aside. If only we could see that we today in the Church are and must be on the same page as the great saints and spiritual authors of every day and time! Why? Because we have no place else to be. It is as simple as that. Nothing changes all that much in the world or in the Church; we have a history, which is our ultimate point of reference. 

We need look no further than the present crisis of authority in the Church. Abuse of power by clergy (including sexual abuse and solicitation/seduction) or dereliction of duty by hierarchy have never been acceptable. What was once wrong or contrary to nature remains so today. Always in the past, disordered behavior was reckoned sinful and in many cases as criminal and deserving of punishment. It was easier to plead possession by the devil than insanity or diminished responsibility for reasons of health or poor upbringing.

St. Peter Damian might have recommended imprisonment, torture and even capital punishment to root out certain evils tracing the fame back to Sodom, destroyed by God's wrath because of its impenitence. That we are uncomfortable with Peter Damian's recommendations to the pope to correct, control and root out such behavior by priests and religious takes nothing away from his objective assessment of the sins or crimes committed. Nothing has changed in the world; pederasty for example is no less foul today. Some authors, such as John Climacus speaking out against sin and counseling toward perfection, might trouble me immensely, but since he and countless others are the approved authors, I guess the conclusion should be that I am the one who needs to do some catching up. We don't cast aside our patrimony, we let the authors of centuries past speak to us over and again. The presumption would be that my heart must change to come in line with the tradition.

I had a superior once, who had no time for St. Francis de Sales, because of issues he had with the saint's botanical imagery, with his cosmology somewhat, and with what seemed to be the saint's ignorance of the birds and the bees. What St. Francis had to say about the spiritual life held no stock because he couldn't get cross pollination right. No doubt, it was the likes of my boss who were responsible for purging references to unicorns from the breviary as part of the post-conciliar reform. Obviously, the 60's and 70's had their issues with continuity; things had to be relevant to the times. The protagonists of the times were generally bent on rupture with our rich past, as if they knew better than saints who hadn't figured out caterpillars and butterflies. I remember, back in the 20th Century, encountering religious women especially who unashamedly disavowed St. Paul as a misogynist and had no time for St. Augustine, for what they believed were obvious failures on the part of the great Doctor of the Church that discredited his message all together. As I say, we need to reinstate the tradition as normative and give the approved authors priority. We need to question ourselves first and our generally unfounded reasons for departure from our blessed patrimony. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church are no less relevant for our day and time. We need to give more space for emulation to the greats of all times and places. We need to read them and ponder their message. 

Among these a favorite of mine is Pope St. Gregory the Great. He suffered dearly for having to leave monastic life behind upon his election as pope. He yearned for silence and solitude, but prayed the Lord would deal with him mercifully in the unavoidable excesses of the public life he was called to lead for the good of the Church. His biography of St. Benedict is not only a monument to the Father of Western Monasticism, but is testimony to what Gregory would no doubt consider (à la Martha and Mary at Bethany) to Benedict's having chosen the better part.

In that life of St. Benedict by St. Gregory, I often return to the incident of the jealous secular priest who sought to destroy Benedict and failing at that attempted to corrupt the younger brethren of the nearby monastery. For the sake of his monks, Benedict withdrew from the neighborhood in the direction of Monte Casino, and as he was processing away with some of the brethren chosen for the new foundation got word that the wicked priest was killed in the collapse of his home together with partners in crime and courtesans. As with cases of the wonders worked through monastic obedience, what shines through in Gregory's portrayal of the life of Benedict is the Divine Will, the Lord's own power and presence at work in the lives of those who die to this world and all its vanities in order to live for Christ.

No doubt, in that sense, I suppose I could side with those today who label the Church's Achilles heel to be clericalism. I won't however do that for as long as people deny that certain thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions are gravely disordered and objectively sinful. Who am I to abandon the standard of what has always and everywhere been judged by God, as taught by Mother Church, to be gravely disordered? In his book, "Enlightened Monks: The German Benedictines, 1740-1803", Ulrich Lehner does a masterful job of intimating just how unenlightened these upstart monks were and the havoc their pretense worked on Western Monasticism, contributing to its near demise at the hands of the likes of Joseph II or Napoleon. Modernism or Neo-modernism, all of it smacks of a refusal to look on the Lord for Who He is in His universe.

In another little book I read over Christmas, reflecting the mendicant Dominican tradition as lived out by St. Vincent Ferrer, Treatise on the Spiritual Life (Ravenio Books. Kindle Edition), it was made just as clear to me that renouncing self is the high road to true happiness with God in Christ.

If there is an urgency about in these days, it would be to humble ourselves and reconnect with our betters from the past... before it is too late.


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