Of Wheat and Weeds

An adult faith knows it must serenely accept the inevitable mingling of good and evil, wheat and weeds, wisdom and folly in our ecclesial realities, because it knows clearly that the roots of both reach into each of us. The boundary between wisdom and folly is porous in our own hearts, and light and darkness coexist there. Maturity consists not in the illusion of having access to pure and uncontaminated wisdom to offer, but in reconciliation with the ineliminable presence of contradiction and evil in us and with the ever-present risk of folly.

The understanding that comes from humility ultimately consists precisely in this. In all our ecclesial activities, the coexistence of wisdom and folly, the frightening possibility of intending to dispense the former and instead offering the latter, are consequences of God’s patience. There is no way forward other than to accept this risk; we must accept it, because God accepts it—and God accepts it because without it, none of us would be saved. The only perfection, the only justice, the only wisdom to which we have access in this age is the Father’s mercy and a discernment that must be taken up day after day, tirelessly, until our last breath.

Luigi Gioia, Saint Benedict’s Wisdom: Monastic Spirituality and the Life of the Church, tr. Barry Hudock (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2020), pp. 27-8.

The Cross in Creation

A cross breaking through a circle, carved on a pillar of stone, is the typical Celtic symbol. Pillars of stone were a universal symbol of the link between heaven and earth. The circle round the cross was introduced by the Emperor Constantine as a symbol of the wreath of victory. But only in Celtic lands did it remain fashionable, probably because the circle also came to represent the created world, which the Celts so highly valued. The Celtic cross speaks of victory, wholeness, the transforming power of Christ in all creation.

The old pagan and today’s New Age philosophies offer us a circle without a cross. The Augustinian philosophy offered a cross without a circle. Our world stands in need of both the cross and the circle.

Ray Simpson, Celtic Christianity: Deep Roots for a Modern Faith (Vestal, NY: Anamchara Books, 2014), p.157.

The Crisis of Globalization

“Francis’s pontificate coincides with the increasing visibility of the crisis of economic and political globalization, a crisis that has been called the age of anger, with the resurgence of reactionary, nationalist, isolationist, and chauvinist movements. It is an anger from which global Catholicism cannot claim to be exempt and, on the contrary, is fully part of intra-Catholic tensions today. Catholic anger can be seen in militant members of the church who rail against modernity and the world of today as well as in those self-appointed “orthodox” Catholics who fume at other Catholics. But it is also seen in liberal-progressive Catholics who vent their anger over their unfulfilled hopes for the reform that they expected from the Second Vatican Council, which some saw as their church’s equivalent of the Enlightenment.”

Massimo Faggioli, The Liminal Papacy of Pope Francis: Moving toward Global Catholicity (New York: Orbis Books, 2020), p.98.

Life-Death-Life Is the Paradoxical Logic of Human Fulfillment

“For many Christians, belief in the saving work of Christ begins and ends with the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, sometimes called the paschal mystery. The term paschal recalls the Hebrew Passover (Pasch), in which God delivered the Israelites from slavery into freedom. Christians hold that in death Christ too “passed over” into the Father, effecting our own liberation from sin. Many Christian traditions hold that the celebration of the sacraments, particularly through baptism and the Eucharist, is a means of ritually uniting ourselves with Christ in this paschal mystery. But it is a mistake to think of the paschal mystery only in connection with the final events of Jesus’ life. For what transpired in the last days of Jesus’ life on earth was but a dramatic culmination of his entire life. The central challenge of Christian life is to internalize and make this spiritual rhythm of life-death-life our own. With Jesus we are to live out of the assurance that we are God’s good creatures, die to any tendency to make ourselves the ultimate reality in the universe, and live anew in lives of loving attentiveness and service to others. What Jesus lived, he also taught: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). In his life and in his teaching, Jesus offered us a new vision of human wholeness in which death and life are infused with new meaning.”

Richard Gaillardetz, A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Christian Marriage (Ligouri, MI; Ligouri/Triumph, 2007), ebook location 464-474.

“In Despair, Despair Not”

…”God’s distance” does not require one to abandon belief. In fact, [Rahner] regarded “the declared atheism of many people, theoretical as well as practical,” a hasty response to the experience of God’s distance.3 We need, he proposes, to allow ourselves to “mature expiatingly in the purgatory of this distance from God” by facing the “God-distance of a choked-up heart.”4 Rather than fleeing from despair, he enjoins submission to it. In undergoing the throes of despair, our idolatrous concepts of God collapse and crumble. Albeit paradoxical, the truth of his counsel – “in despair, despair not”5 – shine forth. “In despair” the choked-up heart’s idols are dislodged and purged. But then, in the emptiness, we “despair not” as we find the heart’s “deadly void”6 resounding with God’s presence. The darkness of God’s distance becomes, for duly purged senses, the luminous brightness of “God’s incomprehensibility, to whom no road is needed, because he is already there.”7 The despair of God’s insuperable distance gives way, in a transformative moment, as we are roused to experience anew God’s intimate presence.

Ryan Duns, SJ, “”In Despair, Despair Not”: Ways to God for a Secular Age”, Theological Studies 2020, Vol 81(2), 349.

All footnotes are as in the original, and come from Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year, ed. Albert Raffelt (New York: Crossroad, 1993). Pages are as follows 3 115 4 115 5 116 6 117 7 117.

The New Pelagians

Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the last among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.

Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rule, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilised… or corrupt.

Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), nn. 57-58

Surrendering Control

When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.

Pope Francis Gaudete et Exsultate (Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), n. 41