Saturday, April 26, 2008

charism V*

Two thoughts recurred to me over and over as I watched and listened to Pope Benedict’s US visit.

1. Jonathan Morris has become the perfect bobble-head accoutrement for the Stepford blondes of Fox News Channel.

2. Pope Benedict is clearly the right man at the right time.

In response to the first thought, I simply changed over to EWTN when the muddled Morris morass became too irritating.

In response to the second, I reread his words, hone my preaching to include his message, reflect on the powerful presence of this rather diminutive man in our scared and belligerent world...

At the gathering with seminarians and young people at Dunwoody Seminary in Yonkers on April 19, Pope Benedict had this to say about one of my preferred topics:

Today, I wish to draw your attention to the positive spiritual renewal which congregations are undertaking in relation to their charism. The word charism means a gift freely and graciously given. Charisms are bestowed by the Holy Spirit, who inspires founders and foundresses, and shapes congregations with a subsequent spiritual heritage. The wondrous array of charisms proper to each religious institute is an extraordinary spiritual treasury... Through the discovery of charisms, which yield such a breadth of spiritual wisdom, I am sure that some of you young people will be drawn to a life of apostolic or contemplative service. Do not be shy to speak with religious brothers, sisters or priests about the charism and spirituality of their congregation. No perfect community exists, but it is fidelity to a founding charism, not to particular individuals, that the Lord calls you to discern. Have courage!

The renewal of religious congregations is undertaken, that is, consciously and willingly brought about, in relation to their charism.

Hmmm. Funny how this specific topic should come up on the Pope’s visit. That deja vu thing all over again.

It is remarkable to see the varied perspectives that religious institutes have on their own charism. For some it’s a single, black-and-white virtue that can be succinctly stated. For others it’s like the night sky that contains the same stars, but can be looked at again and again from different angles, with a view to plumbing its depths ever more diligently.

I consider the most outstanding element of the LC’s charism to be the radical Christ-centeredness of its spirituality. Everything begins and ends for the LC priest, during the long years of his formation and forever after during the exercise of his ministry, with the person of Jesus Christ. Our studies, our preaching, our apostolates, our interaction with the world at large have Him at the center of it all.

To be totally, obsessively centered on the person of Christ in these times when doubt concerning His historical reality, theological confusion often disguised as tolerance and interreligious dialogue, vague neo-gnostic spiritualities that distort His singular and mysterious identity, fundamentalist and apocalyptic ranting that enslave and diminish His truth, indifference and skepticism that portray Him as a cartoon or worse...

This is the renovating quality – charism – given the Church and the priesthood through the Legion. The right gift at precisely the right moment...

A second undeniable element of LC charism follows immediately from the first: a bold and unfettered rediscovery of priestly identity.

In the LC, the priest is not a manager or an administrator, a psychologist or an ecologist, a political wonk or a social engineer. He is, as Fr. Maciel relentlessly insisted to all of us, Alter Christus. The world has the right and the reason to expect it of us. HE is all we need to be.

A third, unmistakable element of our charism is our steadfast and enthusiastic allegiance to the Chair of Peter. This aspect of our spirit needs to be freed from the embarrassing hubris we’ve been known to indulge in at times... the vacuous cheerleading, the self-marketing that draws dangerously close to a manipulation of the hierarchy, the lobbying and the influence peddling, the peculiarly myopic ecclesiology that seems to ignore or disdain the many forms of fidelity and service that do not reflect our penchant for double-breasted suits, shiny black shoes and pressed French cuffs...

Our adhesion to Peter is best expressed in our ability to help the faithful in far away places appreciate the universality of the Church, feel the closeness of Rome, make accessible the teaching of the Popes and the Councils, know the pride of being part of the living Tradition that stems from Christ and His apostles. Our commitment to being ever and always at the Holy Father’s disposal is a staple of our Founder’s inspiration.

Another facet of our charism is harder for me to express. For now, I’ll call it “apostolic versatility”. The name may not catch on, but I consider it one of the LC’s most surprising qualities. It is experienced as a conviction and a drive. A conviction that no place, no situation, no realm of human experience is to be excluded a priori from our evangelizing mission. It is a drive to plunge headlong into all sorts of initiatives, attempt all types of projects, get involved – opportune et importune – in every field of activity imaginable in order to spread the Word.

We really believe we can bring the presence of Christ to education, politics, science, economics, entertainment, art and literature, city and country anywhere in the world. This inevitably means that we fail and succeed, we change course and move on without much notice, we make fools of ourselves just to get a foot in the door (i.e. J.Morris!) and we try things that even the most believing of LCs may have their doubts about.

It is a gift of the Spirit no to be afraid, not to be stuck to one form of apostolate, one type of ministry... to feel the urgency – collectively, as a congregation – to be involved and active in all the ventures and circumstances of our times. We have to resist the temptation to measure our results purely in numbers, we have to avoid strangling ourselves with our own methodology and we must teach ourselves to avoid the spotlight. If we can learn to sincerely prefer anonymity and collaboration to domination and control, there is no telling to what distant reaches our “apostolic versatility” may take us.

When I ask myself about our charism, these elements are the most deeply etched on my soul in thirty years as an LC. I have spoken and continue to converse at length with many brothers about these things and am heartened by our strong consensus. And I think we barely scratch the surface, which bodes well for us...


* Haters might do well to skip this post. All that is true and right about the LC is for them either propaganda or duplicity. This modest commentary on some of the finer aspects of LC charism will not be to their liking.
Bitterness and spite, alas, are demons the Exorcist cannot drive out.