Sunday, September 6, 2009

Never Too Late

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

By accident really, looking for something to read for an upcoming airplane trip, I happened to pick up a book by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR, “The Reform of Renewal”, Ignatius Press, 1990. The sense of the title of Father’s book lies in describing the heritage of Vatican II as renewal accomplished, but still very much in need of reform. In the course of the book, Father leaves no doubt of his absolute conviction that reform in the lives of individuals, from greatest to least, is what the Church urgently needs today.

After the fact, I checked the reviews and find myself in agreement and wondering why this little book doesn’t seem to have made it “big” at some point over the last almost 20 years…

"Father Groeschel has written *the* book for the Church in the '90's. He is right on target! He has said clearly and prophetically what must be said before it is too late: namely, that all true Christian renewal must be rooted in personal, on-going conversion. I found reading the book as valuable as making a retreat."
— Father Richard Roach, S.J., Marquette University

"By his frequent use of appealing concrete examples and comparisons, Groeschel shows conclusively that true, lasting renewal in the Church can only happen by continual repentance and reform in our individual lives."
— Father Kenneth Baker, Editor, Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Permit me to quote at length the last paragraph of what certainly is not a “classic” but is definitely more than a “gem” in the genre “spiritual books”, meriting attention even twenty years after the fact in a situation both within the Church and in our world where answers are required or keys are sought for applying or unleashing St. Paul and the force his timeless words to the Romans:

“Every disciple of Christ is obliged to confess Him before all men and to follow His example. This is the real meaning of bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth. The lethargy, depression, conflictful attitudes and lack of commitment and zeal that are evident in the Christian churches at this time strongly suggest that no real sense of repentance and conversion is deeply present. There is no question that Christianity is losing ground because the Good News is not being effectively communicated to the people of our time or to young people who belong to families of faith. All those who consider themselves disciples of Christ must pause at this time to see if conversion is ongoing in their hearts. Every Christian is called to a ministry of reconciliation between man and God through the teaching and grace of Jesus Christ. We can hardly be working on this ministry of reconciliation for others if we are not pursuing it in our own lives. The real answer to the problems of the individual, of society and of the churches is to be found in the simple and direct words of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the beginning of His Gospel: “The time is come and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” (pp. 215-216)”

What shines through from beginning to end of this book is that Father knows hearts and understands that regardless of where a person might stand on the ideological spectrum there is room for change of heart: repentance and conversion, the components of reform.

No telling how long my copy of the book had been on the shelf of that Catholic book store, but I’m grateful that it fell within my grasp late rather than never. Father Groeschel’s focus is certainly the Catholic Church in America. One of my concerns has always been somewhat akin, namely that of distinguishing the measure of vitality in the past within the Church in the New World by comparison with the vitality in the past within the Church in the Old World (the other pole of my life experience). Since the Second World War and until maybe twenty or so years ago this New World vitality carried with it a constant turnover, thanks to large families filling the pews on Sundays and any number of converts “joining the Church” as they entered into marriage with a Catholic. The neophytes always more than offset those who quietly drifted away and disappeared from the parish lists. Today’s demographics are different and the institution no longer seems to have the pull to carry people to the altar and through the first years of matrimony. The balance of pressures to conform has tipped from church, family and school to Hollywood, Bollywood and “Reality TV”.

BBC radio has a program running on G. Allegri’s Miserere mei Deus. I started to listen until I discovered that this musical masterpiece can be for some little more than a warm fuzzy just like my rosary or my pectoral cross can be bling for others. Father Groeschel finds in St. Catherine of Genoa and her prayer groups the source of “plutonium” for the engines of both the Reformation and the Catholic Reform. Before I criticize or doubt him for attributing so much influence to the holiness of life of one woman, I guess I’d better give that kind of reform in my own personal life a try and see what might be unleashed. Just maybe a heart contrite and humbled is more than mountains of inspirational music or sacred bling…

Nonetheless I still have this gut feeling that imparting knowledge has something to do with this equation. Whether it’s Miserere or Dies irae, if I get people beyond the symmetry to the content, I have the means to build on and beyond sentiment. Unforgettable for me is the example of our little boy blessed, Francisco, from Fatima, who knew, yes, knew enough to want to do reparation for the sins of others. I am thinking of a whole world of Catholic folk in the sunset years of life that knew its catechism and built upon it. Thanks to home, I still have rhymes and memorized prayers that nourish me and challenge me to that change of heart never too late even six decades into the game. Where would I be without? How many of our younger baptized were treated to catechetical content as opposed to sentiment?

Thank you, Father Groeschel, for laying it out there especially for priests and religious! I’d hate to think we are losing the race against time and that another generation might have to be claimed for Christ from paganism or ignorance by missionary bishops and little monks in their tiny boats from a far away someplace. Christendom is really a great word and something worth ringing church bells about no matter the silly ordinance about decibels. Knowledge and substance imparted, we hope and pray for the grace of repentance and conversion, for the grace of reform.

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

No comments: