The temptation to be pessimistic is a strong one given the time in history in which we live. It is often easy to believe that no other time in history had as many struggles or as much confusion as our own. I guess it is the old saying about the grass looking greener on the other side.
In the history of the Church there have been many heroic figures and reformers. I can’t speak about all of them in one post, but let’s just look at some of them.
At the time of the Lateran Council the Church was in crisis. The liturgy was in disarray, Monastic communities were being controlled by the regents. The secular clergy had very poor training in theology and ministry. The laity was struggling to free themselves from the oppression of the feudal system. Religion played a small part of their daily lives. Let’s not forget the heretics of the time.
At the time, there arose Francis of Assisi who began one of the most powerful reforms of the Church in history. What made Francis an attractive reformer was not pessimism or constant complaining about everything he saw wrong in the Church. On the contrary, men and women from all ranks were attracted to Francis’ reform because of his positive view of the Church. He believed that the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit. He believed that God loved humanity. He saw God’s on-going work in the world through creation. He encouraged men and women to change the way the lived and to embrace a life of penance and on-going conversion. The call to poverty was not only a call to detach from material things, but also a call to detach from one’s own desire to control the Church and others. It was recognition that all of us are the lowest of creatures because we are sinners. Poverty was a call to practice the obedience of Christ, without murmuring and resentment, but with love and trust in Divine Mercy.
During the Spanish Renaissance there arose Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Both were aware that the Church was in crisis. No other institution showed the crisis more than the religious communities of the time. Once again, it was love and obedience that led the great Carmelite Reform, not CAVE Catholicism, Complain About Virtually Everything.
Teresa and John were practical, realists and obedient. They put on the table a plan to reform the Carmelite famiy and through that reform they would reform every heart and mind who came in contact with the Carmelites. They would offer their lives as a gift to the Lord and seek union with the Lord. They would be the light that shines in the darkness and proclaim to the world that the Christ is present, even in the midst of crisis and heresy.
Through their writings and their example John and Teresa proclaim to the world the holiness of the Chruch that can often be obscured by tragedies such as heresies, political conflicts and man’s search for autonomy from God. Despite every trial that the Church was suffering, Teresa and John saw her beauty and promoted a quiet obedience. Their reform was not without the blessing of the Church. Teresa often struggled to get the proper licenses to establish her discalced monasteries. But the example that she offers us is obedience. Even though she was convinced that the reform came from Christ, she would not act on it without the authority of the Church. She never lost her faith in the papacy, the reigning pope, the bishops or the leadership of the Church. She submitted to the leadership of ther Carmelite Order, which was in crisis. Nonetheless, it was the legitimate voice of Christ for every Carmelite. It was the voice of Christ that Teresa heard, while setting aside the human weakness of those whom Christ used to speak to her.
Later we have Msgr Escriva founder of the Opus Dei. He too was a reformer in our time. Once again we see a Church that is in crisis and a world that is torn apart by political ideologies and wars. Again we see a real reformer who believes in the Church, the reigning pope and the people of God. He takes a very positive attitude. He does not critizise or complains. On the contrary, he puts on the table a postive plan and leads others to reform the Church by reforming their lives.
He shows us how our work and the occasions of daily life are a means for spreading the Gospel and sanctifying every human endeavor. He does not challenge changes in the Church. He accepts, in good faith, that the Church is undergoing a transition from one paradigm to another, but her soul and the truths that subsist within her remain untouched.
Today, thanks to the vision of Msgr. Escriva, we have military men and women who go into battle field in defense of their country and while they are there, they also sneak food, water, medicine and other necessary items to the innocent victims caught in the crossfire. Like Christ, they go among those memers of society that most Catholics don’t even known they exist and they work for the transformation of human life from victim to the dignity of the sons and daughters of the Father. They do not complain about the Church, the liturgy, the number of annulments or the lack of priestly vocations. They act, they work, and they turn every thing they do into the work of God, the Opus Dei.
In their daily lives they consecrate themselves to promote the intentions of the Pope and to engage in whatever ministry that the Pope is working on. It can be ecumenism, liturgical reform, the poor, the pro-life movement.
In our daily lives it can be easy to become critics instead of reformers. I wonder how many of us see ourselves as positive reformers who love the Church, who obey the Pope and who act pointing to the possibilities rather than to the negatives.
Br. JR, OSF