This post was written as a comment on one of Sr. Joan Chittister’s articles in the National Catholic Reporter. As always, Sr. Joan hits the nail on the head as she interprets the Catholic faithful’s mood vis-a-vis a church leadership that has lost its way and ours as well. Her article appeared on 3/14/13 when the Church itself through the college of cardinals made it public they needed to elect a Pope to reform the Vatican curia itself. Pope Francis instilled new hope in the Catholic faithful throughout the world by offering a new style of following Jesus. Although the post addresses an article almost 2 years old, its message has a timeless application for spiritual issues.
“Weariness,” spiritually weary that is, aptly describes how many of us Catholics have been accustomed to respond to guidance from our Church. Sister Joan’s later writings, insightful as always, offers up Pope Francis as a hope for our tired souls, but only hope and not yet the actual peace and rest in God’ path that they have been hungry for. For a long time now the official Church has failed us and we can only hope that Pope Francis will reconnect the faithful with the spiritual energy and enthusiasm formerly part of our collective lives.
A theological reflection might help some to overcome this weariness that has accompanied so many disappointments thrown our way by the official church since it turned its back on the enthusiasm for a deeper spirituality generated by Vatican II. In rarified theological circles (Rahner, Kung, Lonergan, Congar, etc.) during the 1900s through the unlocking of Scripture and church history through modern scholarship prior to the Council the realization developed and spread of how little of what we believe escapes the mantel of mystery. Philosophical and theological books by master brains discovered and demonstrated the degree to which God seekers depend on the symbols that mediate all the supposed certainty about eternal things. Symbols of all types, closely tied to the culture that generates them are time and place bound and easily lose their referencing power. Over a life span we spend countless hours at our Catholic Mass where we congregate to encounter Jesus, God the Father, the Saints, hearing various belief propositions, without a real understanding frequently even of the textual words of what the reality behind the words might be. A typical example can be found in the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” a Aristotelian Greek proposition within the creed itself, where the Father is not really a Father and its only certain truth is that God has no substance. Yet, “we believe” because behind the worn-out verbal symbols of the man formulated creed, Jesus has portrayed for us an intimate mysterious Father/Mother symbol of love stronger than death, introducing us to a new divine adoptive sonship that in mystery surpasses all understanding.
Perhaps we became used to letting the Church leadership, made of men like the rest of us, try to take the mystery out of things. The problem is that Church officials become stake-holders in their investments in resources and credibility offering us programs such as the “New Evangelization,” the same spiritual vision that was to substitute the one they rejected from Vatican II. The Vatican curia ensconced in an imperial culture of 18th century Europe appears incapable of shaking off its ancient trappings and accepting the “way” of a Galilean peasant who probably never entered a big city nor knew how to read. All of us can lose our way, but church leaders that have chosen to live in the tower of a full-blown caste system, perhaps of ivory but without windows, almost certainly have lost touch with the signs of the times and need to be jolted out of a blind complacency.
John 23rd, in my mind an exceptional and brave leader (when the stakes were high), attempted to do this with his appeal to the Holy Spirit through a gathering of over 2500 Church bishops called to take time out to beseech (Him Her, It) for light. Unfortunately serious insights generated by the jolt were basically high jacked by a relatively few bureaucratic stakeholders of the moment. And until our leadership gets back on track we need a personal return to Jesus the final arbiter of how we should look for His Father (Mother). By relying on a complete trust and dependence on the guidance of the Spirit of the Father (Mother) Jesus came to know so intimately on earth, we might be able to ease our sense of weariness. In my opinion we can best satisfy our spiritual hunger by following the spirit and teachings of the Second Vatican Council within the Church itself seeking in humility and trust to engage the compelling mysteries that shine through the Council’s re-discovered message of Jesus.