Friday, 28 February 2014

95: Understanding the spiritual crisis in the Church

Today hardly anybody would speak about a “spiritual crisis” in the Church (while in fact there is one). Why? Because many new movements have blossomed in the Church and Pope Benedict has spoken a lot about spiritual life and Lectio divina.

To put it plainly one needs to understand that in order to have a flourishing spiritual life in the church, one has first to have two things at least:
 1- Spiritual Formation and 2- Intellectual Formation (Philosophical, Theological and Mystical (Spiritual Theology)). Spiritual formation is based on the intellectual formation. So if the latter is not done properly, the first won’t be done properly either and won't bear the expected fruits.

So: lack of Intellectual Formation leads to --> a lack of Spiritual Formation, leads to --> a weak, random, amateurish, DIY Spiritual Life

Today, we live in an amazing state in the Church. On one hand, we have people who are fervent, who are willing to do a lot, people who are already trying  many different things, but on the other hand we still don’t have proper Spiritual Formation. So people and pastors (Priests and Leaders) are left alone, having to improvise - in a DIY way - some “spiritual teaching”. “DIY” is amateurish of course, and spiritual life is such a serious vital, eternal matter that can’t be left to random or material preparation (it is supposed to lead us to holiness, to God himself, to the Union with Him, and this is not a superficial issue). But it is not their fault: there is no solid teaching in “Spiritual Theology” in the Catholic Universities today. So, to sum it up, there is a huge gap between the thirst/effort amongst God’s People and the poor formation offered.

Again, spiritual life can’t be dealt with in an amateurish way. It is the most important part of Theology, it is the Queen topic in Theology, and has a huge responsibility in the Church. But for years, it has been a very neglected side and weak topic. Spiritual Theology is still very much in its deep Crisis, and this has been so since the end of the 1940s.

The crisis originated in the existing distance between the “logical language” of studies (majorly at that time Thomistic), and the “bio-logic reality” of the human being (who is implementing the teaching). The church had an amazing renewal in Thomistic Studies (reviving the study of St Thomas Aquinas in Philosophy and Theology) and in Spiritual Theology in the 1920s and on. The Thomistic way is perfect for great sharp minds, in order to analyse, categorise and understand. In my humble opinion, the core elements (philosophical and theological) of Thomas Aquinas should be the background of any professor in Spiritual Theology (I know many won’t agree). Otherwise one can't understand the Master of all Mystics: St John of the Cross. (Many try today to understand St John of the Cross, without the Thomistic background! This still surprises me a lot, because it is like wanting to see a cell without a microscope.)

St Teresa of Avila, the most "bio-logical" mind
But normal humans wouldn't benefit (i.e. understand, grasp) from this language and mental structure. It has sadly proved unproductive (counterproductive) from the 1920s through to the end of the 1940s: Spiritual Theology problems remained very theoretical with hardly any contact or implication with the real human being. This is the reason why since the 1950s we don't have anything new (i.e. a complete synthesis/presentation/manual of Spiritual Theology) in that field in the Church to help people grow spiritually. Since, then there have been efforts, of course, but they always lack something. One must not forget the intellectual abyss the Church went through at the end of the 1960s and the 1970s. We haven't come out of it yet...

To explain the intellectual theological and philosophical crisis in the Church one can say: The difficulty is that we have to go to Thomas Aquinas (at least in the core elements), otherwise we might be speaking simple rubbish. Many alleged "theologians" have abandoned St Thomas and would laugh at you if you say so. St Thomas is for powerful sharp metaphysical minds, and not just any person can afford understanding him. So we dove crazily into the abyss (mid 1960s), by abandoning him. The rare ones today who still stick to him (or go back to him), are not necessarily grasping the problem (and the practical unproductiveness of his language if it is not translated into plain English). Plus, they might slowly be isolating themselves from the rest of we human beings. Why? Because it is as if you learned Latin, and nobody around you spoke it. So you meet with a few who learned it and that's it! This is not "working for the salvation of people" but working for hailing the past and not being able to translate it in to the present, as the Holy Spirit, through Vatican II, asked us to do.
What should be done is: after having digested St Thomas and St John of the Cross, we need to keep them at the back of our minds, and try (in our language and contents) to find simplicity, a simplicity that doesn't water down the substance, but conveys it.

This is one of the most difficult challenges that a human mind can face: study St Thomas Aquinas' Philosophy, and Theology, the Fathers of the Church, and the Spiritual Masters, the Mystics, and integrate them, digest them, having them become alive in you (with discernment and led by real spiritual masters), and then, having the charity to form concepts, words, examples, symbols and drawings that are in "plain English". Jesus spoke "plain English"... not intellectual Rabbinic Hebrew; He was able to do so, but he didn't. He is the Saviour, not a Dominican Brain.

People are still tempted today to go back to the Thomistic structure (which is "logical", not "bio-logical"). Who wouldn't ! It is the most solid and sound thing we have. But in the end, you should nourish people with something given in "plain English". The core question is: Is "Spiritual Life" (Spiritual Theology) translatable into plain English yes or no? Jesus' answer is a very powerful "YES". (This is the challenge we have been facing for years.) It is very easy for a professor today to use mysterious and non understandable words/expressions. But is this helping people? This is having a poor mind, incapable of making yourself understood.
Can't we find words that are more accessible and be at the level of people and stop insulting them? It is indeed insulting them. Jesus never insulted us, and he is our role model. He used very simple and easy symbols and examples, but still, he is the most profound teacher in Spiritual Life. We should impose on ourselves that discipline of respecting people, i.e. learning the most difficult concepts of philosophy, theology, and mysticism, but in the end, we need to spend the same amount of time to find the right "plain English" words and examples, in order to talk to our brothers, fellow human beings... not to an intellectual rare elite that can understand Thomas Aquinas.

This is why I felt impelled to "build" an entire formation, given in “Plain English”: the School of Mary.

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