Thursday, April 26, 2012

In a stew...

I've been thinking a bit about the news reports that have been dominating reports about the church recently: the "fight" (the Guardian's word) to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the appalling treatment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the USA, the latest threats from the hard men of GAFCON, and where that leaves the ordinary Christian, trying to "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God..." (Micah 6.8)

While I was thinking about this, I stumbled on an excellent post by Greenpatches, which pointed me back to Richard Rohr's Falling Upward. Rohr says (pp.74-75):

A crucible, as you know, is a vessel that holds molten metal in one place long enough to be purified and clarified. Church membership requirements, church doctrine, and church morality force almost all issues to an inner boiling point, where you are forced to face important issues at a much deeper level to survive as a Catholic or a Christian, or even as a human. I think this is probably true of any religious community, if it is doing its job. Before the truth "sets you free," it tends to make you miserable.

The Christian truth, and Jesus as its spokesman, is the world-view that got me started, that formed me and thrilled me, even though the very tangent that it sent me on made me often critical of much of organised Christianity. In some ways, that is totally as it should be, because I was able to criticise organised religion from within, by its own Scripture, saints and sources, and not merely cultural, unbelieving or rational criteria. That is probably the only way you can fruitfully criticise anything, it seems to me...

Eventually... Catholicism became for me, and I think as it has for many, a crucible and thus a unified field. Which is why it is very hard to be a "former" Catholic, once you really get its incarnational and inherently mystical world-view...

For all its failures, it is no surprise that the Catholic world-view (note that I am not saying the "Roman" world-view) continues to produce Teilhard de Chardins, Mother Teresas, Thomas Mertons, Edith Steins, Cesar Chavezes, Cory Aquinos, Mary Robinsons, Rowan Williamses, Desmond Tutus, and Dorothy Days. I like to call it "incarnational mysticism." Once you get it, there is no going backward, because nothing is any better.
This is really an extraordinary insight. If Rohr is right, and generations of religious (and others) seem to testify that he is (just think of St Francis, or St Teresa of Avila) then we don't need to worry, for ourselves, about these troubles - perhaps not even about the inevitable pain and even anger that arise in us when we read yet another report of strife within the body of Christ. As St Paul said, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8.28)

It's worth remembering another passage of Scripture, though. "Jesus said to his disciples, 'Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!"  (Luke 17.1)


  1. Thanks for this. I guess the trick is to be able to discern on which issues we're truly called to expend our energy and resources and which are outside our own particular sphere. Not easy.

  2. You know, Mike, I am running into quite a few Catholics who make a point to say that they are not 'Roman.'
    I have not read "Falling Upward." Maybe I should.
    Thank you for a seminal post :-)

  3. Thank you both... I think, Jane, the thing for me is not so much knowing where to expend my energy, but more to hold onto the faith that the grief that I feel when confronted with the things the church does - or that people think it does - is not futile, and that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well," not only with the church, but with our hearts. And that is the hard one to have faith for!

  4. Oh, and Falling Upward is highly recommended, Claire. His best since Everything Belongs if you ask me...

  5. Anonymous9:07 am

    nice idea.. thanks for sharing.