Much talk about the blogosphere today about Archbishop Chaput's address in Rome about which I posted below. The two points that are grabbing everyone's attention is Chaput's assertion that we are in a spiritual war with Satan and his confession that he thought that after 20 years as a bishop "things would change and things would be a lot better but I don't think they are.
"I think we live in disappointing times, in times of confusion, and in some ways that is the result of our failure to understand that we have an enemy in the Devil, but also we have enemies in the world around us."
He pointed to a "great talk" from an American Protestant pastor he once heard which was titled "We preach as though we don't have enemies," and reflected that this sentiment "is true in the United States... .”
"I think it's important to understand the we are in a battle, we really do live in a time of spiritual combat and I think we've lost that sense of the Church," Archbishop Chaput stated.
Even though we both hail from Colorado these days, I don't know the good Archbishop, but I am bemused by how much we seem to have in common.
For one thing, I'm marking a 20 year anniversary this month myself. 20 years ago, I was a young, over-educated secretary, on one of the those bleak, cold, rainy, grey days that you get in Seattle in January. The chrism was still wet behind my ears. I was all alone, in a strange parish, kneeling during the consecration when, as Florence Nightingale put it long ago "God spoke to me and called me to his service."
No, I hadn't an inkling about charisms or the Called & Gifted or the Dominicans or the Catherine of Siena Institute. That would all come later. But it was the call I had been praying for, longing for, waiting for. Within a month, I had signed up for graduate school and each small step of obedience led to another. (I was once asked by a take charge kind of woman what my five year plan was for the Institute. I couldn't help but laugh. All I've ever had is a two year guess.)
And now, 20 years later, I've been looking over the events and fruits of those years in preparation for some strategic planning meetings taking place when we get back from Boston. 73 US dioceses so far. And that doesn't include the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Italian, Indonesian, Kenyan, and Singaporean dioceses. Called & Gifted workshop numbers 418, 419, 420, and 421 are coming up in the next week. No wonder I've spent a good deal of the last two days sleeping! Just contemplating all this makes me feel tired.
But what, you wonder, after all that work, is the real fruit? You remember the parishes and dioceses where things seemed to be taking off and then a pastor is transferred or a lay leader is side-lined. Or the vision never takes hold for reasons you can't identify. Scandal, illness, death, finances, personality conflicts and so many other things can stop things in their tracks.
The single biggest obstacle to renewal in our experience is the fact that the majority of Catholics are not disciples. That many Catholics, in fact, don't even possess an imaginative category for disciple. That the part of our parochial and diocesan culture which makes it so difficult to grasp the first, essential movement of faith is, as Archbishop Chaput noted, demonically empowered. In a very real way, we have been blinded by the enemy.
Our human weaknesses and sins are very real. The devil isn't making us "do it". But when individual and communal sin and brokenness is exaggerated and empowered by the enemy, we face a situation that can seem absolutely impervious to change.
The single biggest positive factor has been the gifted local disciple: priest, deacon, religious, or layperson, who is ablaze with the vision, dogged enough to persist in the bad times and creative enough to find ways past obstacles. Who possesses both the virtues of magnanimity and fortitude. And is willing to follow Christ in a thousand small obediences and sacrifices without seeing immediate fruit. And who knows that they are in a spiritual battle, that "this kind only come out through prayer and fasting".
But even the most radiant apostle or saint is not enough by his or herself.
At every Called & Gifted workshop I teach, I talk about the critical importance of organized, strategically focused, communal intercession for the spiritual renewal of your parish. Led, ideally, by the pastor. How that can transform the spiritual "climate" of your parish. How, where it is being done around the world, violence and conflict goes down and spiritual openness goes up.
In places where serious, sustained, intercessory prayer for the renewal of our communities takes place, miracles of healing, forgiveness, repentance, and faith occur when people just walk into the sanctuary.
Because the enemy's power has been broken and the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.
Over the years, I've given that talk at least 200 times. But very few pastoral leaders have taken me up on that challenge. Usually because we literally don't know that more than 24/7 "activity" in our institutions is possible or even desirable.
There is so much more that God intends to give the world through his Body, the Church, but we are not big enough channels as individuals. Only when we offer ourselves, our charisms, our vocations, our prayer together will God be able to do through his Church all that He desires.
Not faith without works. Or works without faith. But the faith and works of many, offered together.