The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Plus ça change...

In its 2,000-year history among men, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church has suffered much for the sins of its members. There's no reason to believe this will change.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464)  -- scholar, scientist, bishop, cardinal, and one of those brilliant Renaissance men of the 15th century -- when praying over the Church of his day, wrote: 
"O, God, if in this time that is ours we can raise our head and see that our redemption approaches, it is because we see that the Church has never fallen so low as she is now."
St. Basil the Great (329-379) might have disagreed with Nicholas as he watched the 4th-century Church seemingly self-destruct. Basil wrote repeatedly and often to his colleagues, especially to St. Athanasius, lamenting the devastation he saw within the Church of his day. Here are a few samples of Basil's comments:
"The ambition of the unprincipled seizes upon places of authority; and the chief seat is now openly proposed as a reward for impiety; so that he whose blasphemies are the more shocking, is more eligible for the oversight of the people. Priestly gravity has perished; there are none left to feed the Lord's flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever spending, in purposes of  self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poor.  The accurate observation of the canons (the traditions of the fathers) are no more; there is no restraint upon sin. Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak are unsettled; faith is doubtful, ignorance is poured over their souls, because the adulterators of the word in wickedness imitate the truth.  Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship, as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven." [Letter to Athanasius, written in 371] 
"Has the Lord completely abandoned His Church? Has the hour then come and is the fall beginning in this way so that now the man of sin is clearly revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and is lifted up above all that is called God or that is worshiped?" [Letter to Athanasius, written in 373]
"Our distresses are notorious, even though we leave them untold, for now their sound has gone out into all the world. The doctrines of the Fathers are despised; apostolic traditions are set at nought; the devices of innovators are in vogue in the Churches; now men are rather contrivers of cunning systems than theologians; the wisdom of this world is given the place of honor and they have rejected the glorying of the cross. Shepherds are banished, and in their places are introduced grievous wolves hurrying the flock of Christ. Houses of prayer have none to assemble in them; desert places are full of lamenting crowds. The elders lament when they compare the present with the past. The younger are yet more to be compassionated, for they do not know of what they have been deprived." [Letter 90 to the bishops of the West]
"We live in days when the overthrow of the Churches seems imminent; of this I have long been cognizant. There is no edification of the Church; no correction of error; no sympathy for the weak; no single defense of sound brethren; no remedy is found either to heal the disease which has already seized us, or as a preventive against that which we expect." [Letter 113 to the priests of Tarsus]
From these isolated quotes, Basil might sound as if he were in the depths of despair, but he wasn't. He had tremendous faith in the Holy Spirit. No, Basil was reporting only what he saw.

We too must avoid the temptation to despair, for temptation it is, and have faith in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We expect Him to come to the Church's aid like a roaring lion or at the head of some heavenly host armed for battle. But that's not how He works. He invariably comes in a whisper, like the soft breeze barely felt by the Prophet as he awaits God's Word [I Kgs 19:12]. It is there, in the calm movement of the Spirit, that God acts through those he chooses. And He acts continuously, sometimes chastising, sometimes encouraging, sometimes leading, but always healing, always forgiving.

We all believe we have the solution and can't understand why God and the world won't listen to us. We should instead be listening to the Spirit for "when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." [Jn 16:13] Through our failure to listen, our desire to lead rather than be led, we run the risk of grieving the Holy Spirit. As Paul instructed the Ephesians: 
"And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" [Eph 4:30-32].
We should listen, too, to the words of the Church's first deacon, St. Stephen, as he chastised those who, just moments later, would make him also the Church's first martyr: "You stiff-necked people...you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors" [Acts 7:51]. Tough words from a tough guy, but followed by a plea for forgiveness: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" [Acts 7:60].

Pray for the Church that it may always follow the urgings of the Spirit, even when He leads it, as He led Jesus, into the wilderness [Lk 4:1].

Laudetur Iesus Christus...


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