Friday, December 26, 2014
"And the past is about to happen." --T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion
The Church is the only institution that penetrates deeper into history with each successive year and, as such, sort of breaks apart the human conception of calendar: root tip and bud tip share a proximate extension. The Church neither dons nor doffs. The life of the Church infiltrates, excavates, transpires. She sets a table in the midst of our foes. The life of the Church makes peace out of conflict and brings life out of desolation; and it is the only institution that does this one person at a time.
The notion of ending an old year and beginning a new one, with its concomitant new year's resolutions, well-intentioned but ultimately self-centered and always tinged with the sadness of man-made effort, is kind of facsimile to the Church that gives us the deep renewal of Epiphany in the dregs of winter; the miraculous star in the depths of darkness; the Child under the star who is worth more than all the stars; that brings us to a present in which is all of the past, and submerges us in a past that is entirely present; that frees us from our sins, not as some time-distant acquisition of new habits, but in a moment, sacramentally procured, after which you are completely and totally free of them, washed of them; that makes us children of God.
And yet there's another sense in which the Church is not only like the oak, neither donning or doffing in the season of other trees, but is like the baobab that the Africans call the upside-down tree, that looks like a tree that was thrust top down into the earth, with its naked roots sprawling in the air. For we are the Church of Pentecost, of the Holy Spirit. There are indeed even varieties of trees that go beyond looking like they have their roots in the air, and actually grow aerial roots in order to breathe air in water-logged regions. The Church is founded from above and is in fact not the Church without the Holy Spirit. So the Church is not the Church simply because she is old or even the oldest, but also because she is new and the newest. People talk of new year's resolutions with an intention to change, but these changes are nothing when you consider how Peter and the other Apostles were changed in a substantively different way, and changed forever beyond any human understanding, at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
One of the things I love so much about Pope Francis is that we see the nods toward the Catholic Charismatic Renewal given by his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, gain to a certain head in this present papacy. The gap between "fear of the authorities" and "I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your opposers shall not be able to reply to or resist" seems to be bridging. And Francis ever talks about "newness" (which the blogging authorities register according to the hermeneutic of suspicion) and "going out", of not being "closed in", of a healthy "messiness" that is open to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that renews an encounter with the Lord Jesus and doesn't develop "spiritual Alzheimer's".
The testing of anything "charismatic" and pentecostal is warranted in these deceptive times, but we do well to realize that when this becomes persistent, automatic and preemptive; when it becomes suspicious, derisive and disdaining, then it begins to smack of the Protestant error that says the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles with the decree to bind and loose ended with their deaths, and that it was given only for that time to get done what needed to get done. Now, we know that what the Apostles were given by Jesus and the Holy Spirit is passed down to the end of all time, from bishop to priest. But the Consoler given to the Apostles that made them go out into the streets proclaiming the Gospel, accompanied by various gifts, or charisms, is something that can happen like the wind, on any of us.
The suspicion of this - automatic, preemptive and disdaining (like those saying the apostles were drunk on new wine) - could be said to be done by those who seek to "tame the Holy Spirit". But Jesus said we must be born from above. He said the Holy Spirit is like the wind that blows and from where it came and where it goes no man knows: certainly a nightmare for those with a worldly attachment to accumulative knowledge.
The hermeneutic of suspicion begins to look like Protestantism. This Protestantism is truly Protestant and not that of the "denominations", for they have centuries and decades of entrenched belief they are either born into, or acquire out of ignorance of Catholic teaching, but also because it is simply no longer of that which knew no other "Christianity" than the Catholic Church yet still rebelled and rejected her, while Super Catholics of the Blogisterium know better, but they rebel; they protest. This form breathes by help of a second lung, Anti-papism.
Remember that God was born in the veritable mess of history, and more, was born in obscurity and poverty. As our pastor reminded us on Christmas Day, this manger we call "the seat of learning". At this time of Christmas we do well to learn at the seat of learning, the manger. And remember our Mother who was the first to ponder in her heart at this seat of learning. Remember the Wise Men: they didn't stay at home blogging about what they knew. They did not know about the virginal birth. They did not know about the Immaculate Conception. They did not know the word "Incarnation". They left their homes, and traveled far, exposed to the elements and to robbers; and they came to the seat of learning.
In a sense we today perhaps know more than they did (in terms of knowing Revelation, of theology) but are we wise like they?
I think not.
Wisdom is the first and highest fruit of the Holy Spirit. And it is given from above. Consider the self-emptying of God in the Incarnation. As Pope Francis said, "he became nothing for us" - and He went even further in instituting the Eucharist. Doesn't this give us a huge security in divesting ourselves? Can anyone of us ever match God in His self-emptying, in forgetting self, in renewing our charity, in renewing our sight of our neighbour, in finding joy in life and in simple things? We've been freed beyond anything we could ever imagine.
We have these days to go to the manger, the seat of learning.