A friend asked me an important question yesterday. How does one form men in a monastery into a common cause, if a vocation is addressed uniquely to an individual? We might be tempted to a short cut in answering such a question. Obviously, one might say, God calls the individual to a community, and it is the individual’s responsibility to make the goals of the community his or her own. This is true, but such a simple and direct answer papers over a number of challenges.
Articles under Discernment
A less-than-favorable review of Dr. Peterson’s recent book Twelve Rules for Life called it a “self-help book from a culture warrior.” Were this an accurate summary, I doubt that I would have finished chapter one, much less the entire book. This description is inaccurate in two ways, both of which expose the corrosive cultural narrative (one that, I think, the Right and Left hold, for the most part, in common) that distorts what Peterson is saying. Let me deal with the idea of a “culture war” first. I propose to do this by comparing Dr. Peterson to one of the West’s most influential authors whom you’ve (probably) never read, Peter Lombard. This comparison will illuminate the reasons why I consider Dr. Peterson’s appearance on the scene to be mainly a hopeful development.
St. Ignatius of Loyola died on this date 561 years ago. He did not set out at first to be a saint, but a soldier. Then Providence intervened. A cannonball shattered his leg, and as he was recovering from this terrible compound fracture, he underwent this remarkable experience:
He asked for some of these books [of knight-errantry] to pass the time. But no book of that sort could be found in the house; instead they gave him a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of the saints written in Spanish….When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy.
Ignatius’s circumstances didn’t change. His joy and sadness did not depend on the healing of his leg, or on his future prospects as a soldier and a dandy. In other words, our contentment in life, or lack thereof, is not, primarily, a function of the external circumstances of our lives. What determines the emotional shape of our lives (and therefore, that aspect of our lives that really matters!) is our thinking.
This profound insight of Saint Ignatius comports with ancient monastic wisdom, both in Christian and Buddhist forms. The difference between Christianity and Buddhism, in this regard at least, is that traditional Christianity does not aim at avoidance of suffering by the elimination of the ego. Rather, the Gospel allows the newly, intentionally reborn self [in the image of Christ] to embrace joyfully the suffering that comes from standing out to the full, which is to say, the suffering that comes with sainthood. Our suffering is embraced “for the sake of the joy that was set before” us [Hebrews 12: 2]. We do this by changing the way we think, by the “renewal of our minds [Romans 12: 2].” How is this done? By, among other things, faith in God’s promises.
This future-oriented, eschatological thinking finds yet another interesting corroboration in the insights of Jewish psychotherapists Viktor Frankl and Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Both men asked this question: “Why is it that, under experiences of extreme stress, some persons not only continue to function but even thrive?” It’s good to note that Frankl himself was a Holocaust survivor. Both men experienced quasi-Ignatian moments of insight. Frankl’s very language echoes the experience of Ignatius [my emphases in bold]:
Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the [prisoner] marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
Frankl and Friedman both challenge us to change our thoughts, to substitute thoughts of love, hope, purpose, and meaning for thoughts of hatred, anxiety, frustration, and resentment. I will be returning to Friedman, whose overall insights are especially counter-intuitive in our present world (which, from the perspective I’m adopting here makes them actually more persuasive). For today’s feast of Saint Ignatius, let me offer one more example of a change of thinking, this time a literary one. As Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins trudge their way through the soul-killing terror of Mordor, Sam experiences this moment of insight. It changes nothing of the external horror to which he and Frodo have been consigned. But it does something quieter, yet more radical. It changes Sam’s heart, and, in Tolkien’s story, this small, hidden change of heart changes the world.
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
The doctrinal heart of the Rule of Saint Benedict is found in chapters 4-7: The tools of good works, obedience, taciturnity (often significantly mistranslated as “silence”), and humility.
Can anyone doubt the average modern Westerner is tempted to view the combination of obedience, silence and humility as a way of robbing the individual of his maturity (exercised by choice and responsibility), of his voice, and of his selfhood?
Saint Benedict cannot possibly mean this, of course. Yet well-meaning Christians can fall into this trap of misinterpretation. I’ve already pointed out our tendency to render “restraint of speech” as “silence.” Saint Benedict actually urges responsible speech, especially where it is most typically going to be denied in an unhealthy community. Thus the younger members are urged to speak up and be heard at community meetings of the greatest importance, and monks who find tasks beyond their abilities are directed to give reasons to the abbot rather than toil miserably without recourse.
This loss of voice is what concerns me especially. I hear so often, when persons are hurting and in need of prayer, expressions like “I know I shouldn’t pray for this, but…” Even in seminary, when I took a course on Wisdom literature, the prof (himself a monk at the time, though he has since left the life) concluded his lectures on Job by claiming that God’s revelation in chapters 38-42 meant that God has more important things to do than to bother about every little human being’s problems. This is a problematic interpretation, by the way, just on exegetical grounds. But it harmonizes with what I discern as a dangerous tendency in the life of faith, to think that being a good Christian means being bullied into silence and conformity by a God who is too busy for us.
God is not too busy for us. God wants to hear from us, especially whatever is hurting us. “Then they cried to the Lord in their need.”
The disciplines of obedience, restraint of speech, and humility are necessary–not because God is threatened by us but because we are forgetful of God. God tends to speak in a still, small voice (which is to say, the opposite of the domineering voice that many lectors take on when reading God’s pronouncements at Mass), easily crowded out by noisiness and idle talkativeness. Talkativeness further cheapens words, and God wishes to give us His Word. Let’s not cheapen that exchange! God gives us an astounding palate of freedom, in order that we might freely offer ourselves as a gift in return. Obedience is not about us being so unreliable and depraved that we need to be treated as slaves. Rather, our desires tend to blind us toward the needs of others, and obedience habituates us to an openness to others, an openness that is, one hopes, less patronizing than what we otherwise might produce by do-gooder-ness [see Deus Caritas Est 34*]. And finally humility is a way to open myself to the grandeur of the cosmos (here is a closer approximation of the message of Job 38-42), of which I form a unique and unrepeatable part…as does everyone else.
Faith does not mean allowing my voice to be co-opted by a dominant power structure. Nor is it about a false propheticism that is license to speak self-righteously about everyone else’s problems. I may require taciturnity to restore my true voice, just as physical therapy necessarily includes rest and inactivity for a damaged limb. But the goal is not silence but true speech, accurate speech, healed of both breezy ignorance and of grating pretension.
* “Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.” (emphasis added)
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about George Weigel’s recent post “Catacomb Time?” doesn’t sit right with me. I suspect that it is first of all due to an accumulation of fuzzy complaints with someone-or-other not quite specified. Who inhabit those “Catholic circles” who have “a passion for writing Build-It-Yourself Catacomb manuals”? I honestly have no idea who is meant by this. I suppose that he is referring to the Benedict Option, for which there is no shortage of critics, despite the fact that no one seems to know what it is exactly. The reference to “lukewarm, pick-and-choose” Catholics is always a dangerous one. Who of us doesn’t fall into the “pick-and-choose” category from time to time, even often?
Then there is this larger quote, expressing what seems to me a common enough sentiment, but one I just can’t get behind personally:
This same judgment—Catholicism by osmosis is dead—and this same prescription—the Church must reclaim its missionary nature—are at the root of every living sector of the Catholic Church in the United States: parish, diocese, seminary, religious order, lay renewal movement, new Catholic association.
“Every living sector” of the Church in a country of almost 70 million Catholics? That’s a big claim. I think what troubles me most about this sort of language is the absence of any feint in the direction of the work of the Holy Spirit in animating the Church. Then there is the question of whether my own religious community qualifies as a “living sector” and whether we actually share that judgment and prescription. One reason I balk at that way of phrasing the “judgment” that “Catholicism by osmosis is dead,” is that it privileges what Mary Douglas refers to as “elaborated speech code” (the language of academia, personal commitment and conviction, related to what George Steiner calls out at the beginning of Real Presences) at the expense of “restricted speech code,” the more passive communicative modes of ritual and symbol. Much of what we learn in the Church is at least somewhat osmotic. Yes, we should pay attention at the liturgy, but often times it takes all kinds of exposure at various levels of awareness and engagement before connections are made. Perhaps I sense here, fairly or unfairly, a neglect of the fundamentally receptive nature of faith, prior to any genuine engagement in mission. St. Paul, the greatest missionary of all, spent well over a decade anonymously living the life of a Christian before the Holy Spirit set him apart as the Apostle of the Gentiles. During that time, what was he doing? Praying? Re-reading the Scriptures? I don’t know, but it was certainly a life of withdrawal, maybe not to the catacombs, but a withdrawal nonetheless.
And then let us not forget who is the patroness of the Church’s missions.
I will leave it to reader to think about the connections between the contemplative life and missionary effectiveness.
Let me end with a little more explanation from Mary Douglas. In the first chapter of Natural Symbols, she relates asking her progressive clerical friends (in 1970) why they think it’s a good idea to move away from the Friday abstinence to more personally meaningful acts of charity–like working in a soup kitchen on Friday.
I am answered by a Teilhardist evolutionism which assumes that a rational, verbally explicit, personal commitment to God is self-evidently more evolved and better than its alleged contrary, formal, ritualistic conformity.
I will admit to nitpicking here a bit, but I think that it is worth watching our language very carefully on these points, lest we saw off the branch upon which we sit. The overall tone of the article supports an individualistic and activist mode of Church life that has the potential to undermine the communal, receptive, gratuitous, gracious, and humble life of faith and hope. Surely one of the points of the young Josef Ratzinger’s “Future Church” article is precisely that we are being called away from “edifices…built in prosperity,” as part of an invitation to leave behind triumphalism. Weigel comes uncomfortably close to a triumphalism-minus-edifices. It is striking that after the long quote from the future pope, a quote that ends with an emphasis on “faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world,” Weigel never again mentions faith, Jesus Christ, or even God. Again, I will admit that finding such lacunae in a blog post runs the risk of straining justice. But as a monk, I am inclined to be watchful on these counts.
More than anything, this serves as an introduction to Mary Douglas, whose work I have put off writing about for long enough…
UPDATE: Recall that the relationship between mission and contemplative life is the crux at which our community began. Also, that while it is hard not to agree that practicing one’s faith will require great resolve and strength in the coming years, maybe decades, this must be a practice rooted in repentance and joyful humility, grounded in the sacrifice of Calvary, celebrated daily in the liturgy. Finally, while Fr. Ratzinger did say that the future Church will make “bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members,” [emphasis added] this mention of individual members needs to be read in the context of the future pope’s voluminous writings on the liturgy and the Church. The initiative he is calling for surely must be greater fidelity to the reality of the ongoing Incarnation in the local church (including a high mystical “Ignatian” vision of the bishop as Christ and priests as the bishops’ vicars). Otherwise, Weigel might be heard to be inviting individuals to greater creativity, initiative in a maverick kind of sense, rather than in a sense of responsive answerability toward the gospel. And the first step may well be admitting that I’m part of the problem with the contemporary Church.
I decided to take up this topic once again because of three separate instances in the past week or so. The first one directly involves me. I was preparing to go to the sacrament of confession. During my examination of conscience, I came upon an old, all-too-familiar sin. I’m tired of battling against it, occasionally discouraged by my inability to make much apparent progress. But what happened next was interesting. I noticed that there was a very subtle stirring inside that suggested to me that what I needed to do was feel worse about this sin. And feeling really, really sorry, really upset with myself…well, I suppose the idea is that my behavior will magically change if I change my feelings.
Well, it doesn’t actually work for me. Does it work for you?
Once you start thinking about this meme, you find it all over. We try to convince each other of our sincerity (especially when we let each other down) by furrowing our brow, biting our lip, getting bleary-eyed. The template for this in my world will always be President Clinton. This is not a criticism of the ex-President. When he felt our pain and acknowledged “not feeling contrite enough,” he was doing what a leader should do–in an emotivist world. Media figures and fellow politicians wanted to make sure that he felt bad, and he needed to make sure that we knew that he felt bad. And it’s become something of a public ritual ever since. When a celebrity (Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Paula Deen) messes up, he or she is expected to go on camera and exhibit signs of sorrow.
What other route might there be? Keep in mind that contrition is a condition of absolution in the sacrament of penance. So there is nothing wrong with the feeling itself. It can be a sign of a healthy conscience. The difficulty is that these feelings may or may not actually have an effect on future behavior. If you’ve ever dealt with (or are an) an alcoholic, you know this. Caught lying, the addict may well feel completely miserable and sorry. But the lure of alcohol and drugs typically overrides the feelings eventually. So generating correct feelings is insufficient for changing behavior.
What I recommend instead is truth and preparation. By truth, I mean what twelve-step programs mean by steps four and five: making a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and stating the exact nature of our wrongs. By preparation, I mean that we learn what situations trigger our disobedience, and make a decision to act contrary to our inclinations when temptation presents itself.
Let me give another concrete example of emotivism.
A common complaint about liturgy is that those attending “don’t get anything out of it.” This sort of rhetoric tempts pastors to make the liturgy more interesting, to see it as a service that they provide to consumers whose desires need to be accounted for. And what are the consumers hoping “to get out of” the liturgy? I can’t say for certain in every instance, but I can speak from my own youthful experience. I thought that church ought to make me feel better about myself, others and the world, that it should inspire me to be a better person. I should walk away from the liturgy with different feelings. This is how many of us gauge the effectiveness of many, if not most, public and private encounters. Success means feeling good, and feeling crummy means that we are doing something wrong.
But does it? This is a highly questionable idea.
When I was studying to be a professional musician, I typically practiced three or four hours at the piano every day by myself. I did not enjoy this for the most part. Wynton Marsalis likes to refer to practice as The Monster. Every day, musicians have to get out of bed and confront the monster and slay it. The payoff comes when, after years of slaying monsters, one plays the trumpet like Wynton Marsalis or sings like Renee Fleming. In the meantime, though, one must act contrary to one’s feelings, rather than taking feelings as any kind of objective measure of one’s moral state.
Similarly, in a marriage, when a spouse becomes debilitatingly ill or a child develops a major behavioral issue, dealing with this situation will often require mastering one’s immediate feelings of disgust at sickness, resentment at having to set aside personal goals, and fear that things may spiral out of control. These feelings must be opposed because to give in to them would be to act wrongly, to fail in one’s duties and responsibilities to others. Nursing an ailing loved one can be exhausting, no fun at all. But it is beautiful. When we witness this kind of sacrifice, we recognize it as true and good as well. But to accomplish this sacrifice, we must be prepared to act contrary to our feelings, rather than having our feelings somehow demand of others some kind of compliance (as is the case when we want to “get something out of the liturgy”).
These kinds of routine decisions to act in accord with the truth, with the demands of beauty and goodness, change us into different persons. Our identities become completely wrapped up in the repeated good action, and we become virtuoso trumpeters or faithful spouses, beloved brothers. We have become virtuous, having the ability (Latin: virtus) to choose the truly good, the truly beautiful even when others can’t see it. Here’s the hitch. As we are changing, we are likely at times, perhaps often, to feel “inauthentic.” That is to say, we will miss our old selves. What it’s actually like to be a virtuoso or a faithful spouse is at first an unfamiliar experience and requires us to act in ways that feel insincere.
In an emotivist world, the great sins are inauthenticity and insincerity, the great virtues sincerity and authenticity. Thus, it is difficult for an emotivist to make any headway in any kind of human excellence. Let me end with a quote from Lionel Trilling on what this might mean [emphasis added]:
“At the behest of the criterion of authenticity, much that was once thought to make up the very fabric of culture has come to seem of little account, mere fantasy or ritual, or downright falsification. Conversely, much that culture traditionally condemned and sought to exclude is accorded a considerable moral authority by reason of the authenticity claimed for it, for example, disorder, violence, unreason.”
When God singles out a person for a special task, He often changes his or her name. Abraham, Sarah, and Israel in the Old Testament, and Peter in the New take on a different identity when God calls them forth. Von Balthasar has this lovely reflection on this phenomenon:
Simon the fisherman could have explored every region of his ego prior to his encounter with Christ, but he would not have found “Peter” there….Then Christ confronts him with [his mission], unyielding, demanding obedience, and it will be the fulfillment of everything that, in Simon, vainly sought a “form” that would be ultimately valid before God and eternity. —Prayer
God can confront each of us with a mission that we ourselves could not have predicted or discerned by “casting round our comfortless” interior, exploring every region of our ego. This is a radical idea. Our more typical notion of authenticity is based precisely in seeking for clues in the corners of our inner psychological Simons. Simon needed the man Jesus of Nazareth to say to him, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” Otherwise, he would never have become Peter. He needed to be “made” by Christ anew, and the old man, the fallen man Simon, had to die so that this Peter, who is capable of things that Simon would never have imagined himself capable of, might begin to flower and put forth fruit.
I wrote yesterday that in order to become proficient in a tradition, one must undergo a kind of conversion. One must become a different kind of person. And this conversion depends on an act of faith in a teacher, who may ask me to do things that I don’t understand. Obedience need not be “blind,” but will be more effective when it is accompanied by love and devotion to the teacher. After all, what we are seeking is not only self-fulfillment, but sympathy with the master. “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher [Matthew 10: 25].” The goal of Christian conversion is to mature into our “Christ-self,” to become members of Christ, to put on Christ, and this requires us to be called out of ourselves.
Most dedicated Christian know all of this. Where it becomes truly demanding is when we recognize that the calling really must come from outside, and therefore may well be more authentic when opposed to our inclinations and preferences. When we think of discerning God’s will, is it not the case that we often equate God’s voice with some interior conviction? Obedience to another person is a real undoing of the self, because it prevents us from confusing our own wishful thinking with God’s plans. And it comports with the notion that we must become different kinds of persons, rather than simply developing what we ourselves identify as our latent talents. “Consent merits punishment; constraint wins a crown,” Saint Benedict teaches [RB 7: 33]. He is quoting from the acts of the martyr Anastastia. In this connection we see how even allowing for obedience under unjust circumstances can be more fruitful than following our own inner light, for this docility allows God to act and conforms us more closely to Christ Himself.
Much of the exasperation with what people term “organized religion” comes from the fact that the Christian church has often given so much weight to doctrinal accuracy that the life-giving potential of worship, and faith itself, gets lost in the shuffle, made all but inaccessible to the skeptical multitudes. The poet Jonathan Holden epitomized a common attitude when he stated in The American Poetry Review that because “religious doctrine delivers us an already discovered, accepted, codified system of values–official truth,” a truth he defines as “static,” it can never attain the authenticity of a well-made work of art.–Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith
I for one am grateful to profit from the great work of the saints, theologians and philosophers who have gone before me and have done so much to clarify the teachings of the Church. But I see Holden’s point here.
There is a danger to inheriting an accepted, codified system of values. We Catholics can lose our hunger for the dynamism of faith, a dynamism that is fueled by challenges, doubts and arguments. It is a gift to have to hand well-thought-out stances from the Catechism and Canon Law, but how do I know if I understand them properly? How can I be sure that I am applying them in the correct contexts?
An example I like to use is the “universal call to holiness.” This is a good, solid teaching rooted in the one baptism that all Christians share. It became obscured with the rise of a type of clericalism in the Middle Ages, along with the rise of the religious orders. Before the Second Vatican Council, it could appear that the Church had two levels of holiness, the religious and ordained ministries, and then the laity. The Council Fathers stated clearly that all members of the Church are called to holiness.
In my experience since the Council, this teaching is often misinterpreted, ironically enough, because of a lingering bias toward clericalism. “The priests had their turn to be holy [meaning occupying privileged places at the liturgy and elsewhere] and now it’s the laity’s turn.” What should have been a call to greater self-renunciation and prayer appeared paradoxically to call for greater assertiveness and personal privilege for persons who “felt called.” The universal call could even be used by religious as an excuse not to engage in holy practices, since these might reinforce the distinction between religious and laity and suggest that we still had a two-tiered structure of holiness.
What went wrong? The term and the teaching are correct, but the context in which the universal call is heard and interpreted causes a distortion. What is this context? We can describe it in many ways. Our cultural situation inclines us to atomistic individualism and its attendant focus on personal rights and equality, and our ecclesial situation, at least in the years immediately following the Council, inclined us to a “professional” understanding of the charisms, an understanding based in an overemphasis on the Church as the “Perfect Society,” and exemplified by the priest as certified dispenser of sacraments, reporting to the bishop as CEO of the diocese.
What is the correct context, then, and how do we find it, if we have to live in a culture that causes these distortions? The answer is found in the liturgy. Ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. “That the law of praying established the law of believing.” Often this more exact phrase is rendered more simply, “Lex orandi lex credendi,” the law of prayer is the law of belief. In either case, we see that the “already discovered, accepted, codified system of values” should be in-formed by the practice of the liturgy, in which we conform ourselves to the high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ. This is what Kathleen Norris is after when she contrasts doctrinal accuracy with “the life-giving potential of worship.”
This also connects with what I was attempting to explain in yesterday’s post. Church teaching has not recognized same-sex marriage, and the weight of tradition is against such recognition. But how do we understand and live the truth of this teaching? As I wrote yesterday, I don’t really know, and I’m not sure that anyone is all that sure. We are in uncharted waters, and the biases of my own culture are against me [see: The first engagement with culture is at the level of thoughts]. I need a renewal of my mind and heart and I need the power of God to do this. So I must be content with my weakness.
The liturgy is the exercise of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. When we enter the liturgy, it is Christ Who is the main ‘agent’ (which is why so many discussions about ‘active participation’ are confused), and we are all participants in His action of praising the Father in the Spirit. We are caught up in a world being brought into being, a world in which the True Light enlightens our minds and hearts that we may discern what is God’s will and carry it out with courage. At the liturgy, it is alright to be weak, because there God is strong, and this becomes our default stance toward the world. Liturgy is also full of a lot of confounding rites, texts, vestments and stimuli at once disorienting and reorienting. In this space of conversion to a new orientation toward Christ in all things, we have the chance to reassess argument, to hear anew the Word instructing us. We also see and experience the persons to whom we must first submit our ideas for living a new life. The liturgy sets the bounds of the community of faith and gives us our first audience for a new understanding.
More to come.
I’ve mentioned ‘discontinuity’ a few times in recent weeks. This is what happens when a tradition like monastic life or liturgical music suddenly takes on a strikingly different form than what came immediately before. Why does this interest (or concern) me? If you are allergic to long quotations, you probably can read the first and last sentence of what follows, and still get the gist:
Christians first engage the surrounding culture in their own hearts and minds.
This is important to grasp. Well meaning people misunderstand Benedictine withdrawal from the world as a lack of engagement with culture. Not so.