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Are We Willing to Live with Tension? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 13 September 2007 05:39
I've been thinking about Sherry's post on "The Existential Cost of Love." On a number of occasions, Sherry has pointed out that although I've taken a vow of poverty (along with chastity and obedience), my life seems much more secure as a Dominican friar than hers does as a lay woman attempting to follow the call Jesus has entrusted to her.

I don't get offended by this observation, because it seems to be true.
1) I have job security like no other, unless someone accuses me of sexual impropriety in a convincing way,
2) I will always have food, shelter, education, automatic status within most Catholic contexts,
3) I will live a middle class American lifestyle that would qualify as luxury to most people around the world, and
4) I don't have to worry about retirement. Of course, most friars in my Province don't retire until we're convinced by the community that it would be best for the people of God, but I digress.

Sherry's post dealt with the cost of following one's personal call from God, and responded to a concern that a woman writing under the name of Chrys had regarding the discerning and use of gifts. In a nutshell, her concern was that discerning and living a mission from God based on the discernment of spiritual gifts can get bound up in the ego, so that one is no longer serving God, but one's own needs.

This is a valid concern, and the phenomenon of selfishly twisting a call to serve others into self-service is not at all uncommon. In the Catholic church, however, we seem to have become suspicious of the charismatic (here I'm not speaking simply about the Charismatic Renewal but the expression and struggle to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit). One possible sign of this is what tends to happen in religious communities, whether composed of men or women. The community is founded by a "charismatic" man or woman – meaning they have a vision of how one's life can change to become more life-giving, more Christocentric. They envision a way of living the Gospel that is fresh and new in their own time and place, and that helps others encounter the Gospel in a surprising way.

We then institutionalize the founder's vision in a rule or set of laws to attempt to legislate behavior in the next generation that had flowed from the intimate relationship that the founder had with Christ. The group, over time, may lose sight of its end, or purpose, and focus on the external means that are meant to support and promote it. It can happen that the group fails to adapt the means (while maintaining the principles and values behind them) and thus fails to communicate with the culture that has changed around them.

For example, the Dominican Order of Preachers "was founded, from the beginning, especially for preaching and the salvation of souls." We have a very beautiful way of life that is meant to help focus our effort to evangelize and be "useful to souls." We Dominicans have to be careful that our legislation regarding our way of life continually refers to that mission, that our discussions of any aspect of our life include the question, "Yes, but how does it help us be better disciples, and thus better preachers?"

There often is not a creative tension between the institution, which helps to order and regulate our life and tends toward the pragmatic and known (and thus more comfortable), and the charismatic, which tends more toward the spontaneous and surprising. Our parishes, religious orders, small Christian communities, lay movements can become comfortable with the predictable, and view the charismatic with suspicion. We can fail to "test the spirits to see whether they belong to God" and instead simply, "not trust every spirit" (cf. 1 John 4:1)

In his 1998 address to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, Pope John Paul II addressed this tension:

"Whenever the Spirit intervenes, He leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; He radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with His virtues. Allotting His gifts according as He wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), He also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank….” (Lumen Gentium, # 12) The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential, as it were, to the Church’s constitution."

"Co-essential" means that both are absolutely necessary to the health of the Church and all of its elements. It is the charismatic element, the willingness to follow the Holy Spirit, that helps us creatively bring the Gospel to bear upon the needs and challenges of our present generation. Without it, we will eventually lose sight of our mission given us by Jesus to "go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28:19-20a

We will baptize without making disciples.
We will attempt to teach, but it will be without authority and effect.
We will observe the commandments, but only live the letter of the law, rather than in the Spirit that inspires it.
We won't believe Jesus' promise, "I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt.28:20b)

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