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The Church is a huge organization, made up of human beings who are broken, flawed, sinful. As such, She has been deeply wounded by the implosion of the disordered culture around Her, just as individuals have been hurt. Let’s let God do the work of reviving Her from above (yes, we church-mice can stop trying to be God, the Pope, the Bishop!) and see what can be done to revive Her from where we actually stand.
Down here, at the level of the individual believer, the family, the local community, there’s so much we can do to effect real change, real revival – but we don’t do it. We don’t, because a) it’s easier to theorize about what the higher-ups should be doing and b) we don’t believe small things can make any difference until big issues are resolved. Idealism doesn’t make it into actuality and pessimism gives in to what is already real in the situation. Neither has potency, and neither is worthy of a Christian person.
The very message of the Incarnation is exactly that the small, the lowly, the local is what changes all the greatness of the world! You may still have opinions (I do!) about what the Pope or God could do, but the real power is in your own free action here, now. Through the actuality of your smallness comes the Actuality of God’s greatness. Real calls to real, Deep to deep, Light to light, and you are at the center of this movement of the Holy Spirit – invited merely to obstruct or conduct the flow of that power by your own action. Your sphere of response-ability grows as your freedom grows, by each free act (but it won’t likely grow to become the Whole Church or the World, or even Kansas!)
In that light, your little self is just one of many little ‘switches’ in the Body of Christ, saying ‘yes,’ or ‘no’ to His work in the world. Please begin your work of revolutionizing the world by learning to let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no. It is sad to me when this simple, Scriptural admonition seems beyond the capability of a fellow Christian. We ask “How’s your prayer life?” but not “Can you make a commitment and keep it?”
If you say you will do something, can I count on that? Can you make a promise and keep it? Is it enough to have your word, or do I need a signed contract and the force of law?
If you’ve broken a promise to me, I forgive you, but it did hurt. I’m more worried about what it means about you. I notice that what seems to weaken us is lack of memory, and confusion or disorganization in time management. These can be cultivated, so I suggest this in all seriousness as a better use of our time and energy than complaining about whatever God, or the Pope, Bishop or parish priest is doing, or not doing.
I have other ideas for very small, powerful things you can actually do (they are in your sphere of response-ability) that will have actual, revolutionary, kingdom-bringing effects. Watch this space!
Sometimes, my heart is breaking for a friend, or I have pain of my own to bear. Often, the tears are joyful. The sight of a baby can bring me to tears, or of a dear friend. My tears may be both sorrowful and joyful at once.
More often, though, my weeping begins and ends in the Mass itself – without reference to the circumstances of life, or the people around me. I’ll just be heart-pierced by the reality of the Real Presence of Christ, or the nobility of the priest as he reaches up to bear the Unbearable Beauty for my sake. The words to a hymn, or psalm will pierce my soul. The beauty of Christ’s people – His Body in the world – often breaks my heart wide open. I’m struck with affection for all these people, in every sort of ‘distressing disguise.’ Size, age, handicap, crummy clothing, beauty and finery, tattoos, attitude – none of it hides the glory that seems to shine through in those first moments after they receive Christ in the Eucharist.
Sometimes tears begin with contrition for my sins, or with a particularly urgent prayer request, but for the most part, they signal that I am deeply affected by the actual people with whom and through whom I’m to realize Christ in the world. He remains in me, within His Church, and I remain in Him by building community with these people. It’s an amazing reality that moves me to tears!
The Catholic Creatives Salon just hosted a viewing of St. Pope John Paul’s play, The Jeweller’s Shop. This is my introduction to it for guests who had not been reading Cat Hodge’s great article, Theodrama in Mid-Century Poland, from Second Spring volume 18.
Pope John Paul II once said we could know him best by studying his plays. His understanding of the role of drama, of the spoken word, in proposing truth to the world is at the core of all his writings about human freedom and human destiny.
In Nazi-occupied Poland, during WWII, young Karol Wojtyla considered how theater might be a means to restore man to himself. He was opposed, in principle, to a school of thought in which theater becomes a quasi-liturgical event, and where actors so strip away the elements of self as to become empty transmitters between impulse and action, drama and audience. Believing that the actor’s gift of self must not be a complete negation of self, Wojtyla emphasized the primacy of the spoken word over emotive gesture in his plays.
His Rhapsodic Theatre was a form of cultural resistance to the Nazi suppression of national identity. Stories that help us hold onto the narrative of our people help us hold onto our individual sense of self. Naturally, Poland’s masterworks of literature and her history were not welcome under German occupation.
Wojtyla and friends presented their adaptations of these essentially Polish stories in cramped spaces, in secret, in real danger, with few props and no lighting or sound technology. The actors wanted to so lift up the words as to convey idea most purely and emphatically. Just as an icon points back to the viewer for its full realization in his own being, their plays created a sacred space of encounter between audience and idea. As the viewer is moved, is provoked to come to a judgment, is challenged to respond, that space opens to God’s action within him.
Instead of propelling a wave of emotional stimuli, and initiating a thoughtless movement of gestural imitation in an audience, Rhapsodic Theatre, with its ‘words like a song’, sought to serve idea by proposing it well, and serve listeners by respecting the boundaries of their personhood. The Theatre of the Word demands more from us than to sit still while others act, vicariously experiencing action while atrophying in our own capacity to act. Instead of a bath of emotions, ‘free’ of intellectual analysis, reason, and judgment, we are involved in a questioning, and not supplied with a simple answer. Such a production isn’t complete until each of us then acts, freely, in response to the idea we have met through dramatization.
After Wojtyla became a priest, he continued to write plays, and The Jeweller’s Shop is his most famous. In it, he meditates on the Sacrament of Matrimony, through the lives of three different couples. In the third act, we meet the children of the first two couples. There are two spheres of action: the shop where they buy their wedding rings, and each character’s interior landscape. The Jeweler stands for the durability of marriage, as the couples reflect the pain and struggle in tension with that ideal.
We loved the movie, and had a great discussion of the ideas it placed before us – the importance of community to marital strength, the beauty of the Lover claiming his Bride, the way our response to the dissonance around us shapes our lives, the reality of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that surrounds us, our longing for priests with time to be part of our families’ lives, and more.
In an amazing ‘God’s instance,’ The Jeweller’s Shop was also picked for this year’s readings by the Well Read Moms. God must agree with them that this a good time for the ‘year of the Spouse’!
Remember the scene in The Hobbit in which we see the vast pile of treasure guarded by Smaug, the dragon? That’s me in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – I’ve barreled in and now am wading knee-deep and slowly through a blow-your-mind pile of treasure! (Links to previous posts in this series:
So far, blessings galore, and Liturgy as sort of an Iron Man suit, making me supernaturally able to do wonders. To wit: keep standing in the very Presence of God, transmit His glory without exploding, touch the Ark of His Person without dying on the spot. Try it without suit – no superpowers!
So here we are, Jesus and me, having this love fest – blessing flowing to me, praise flowing to Him, me growing holier, me forgiven constantly, me rolling in the riches of His grace, me living the abundant life. But there’s more. God’s got a plan, and He has made it known to the Church, presumably because He intends for it to be accomplished through us.
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:9-14)
I count fifteen references to this section of Ephesians in the Catechism (CCC), so we’ll be taking it slow-and-serious-like.
Whenever I hear “God’s got a plan for your life,” I remember how glibly we evangelicals told people that, and how much I struggled to figure out how to put that plan into practice. “I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me The Plan.” He never quite did.
What we meant was to reassure non-Christians that God valued their lives, could help them accomplish worthwhile things, cared about them in a way they might not have cared about themselves. All good. But, in practice, I wanted marching orders, a plan of campaign, a job description, even a Mission Impossible. What is the actual plan by which I am to take my next step?!?!?! It’s one thing to know there’s a plan, but it can be a nightmare trying to figure out what it is. If generals did battle this way, the soldiers would pack up and go home in frustration.
Let’s see what answers the Church could have given that struggling new Christian to shore up her understanding. I’ll take the references in order, and see what we come up with.
The Plan is that I receive His life, and become like His Son. (257) Creation and human history are to be fulfilled through Christ…in me…in the Church. (668) The Holy Spirit has something to do with it, (693, 698) holding ‘our inheritance’ for us until we possess it [Christ-likeness] (706) The Plan is “to unite all things in Christ” through the Church (772) and that (the renewal and transformation of humanity and the world) will be fully realized at the end of time as the new heavens and new earth. (1043) God wants this Plan accomplished “for the salvation of the world and for the glory of His name” (1066) “The Holy Spirit’s transforming power in the liturgy hastens the coming of the kingdom,” giving us life, hope, and the guarantee of ‘our inheritance’. (1107, 1274)
This guarantee, or seal, of the Spirit – His presence in our hearts – assures us we belong to Christ. (1296) Christ sets the example for us of adhering “in His human heart to the mystery of the will [The Plan] of the Father.” (2603) “Uniting all things in Christ” is the same thing as “recapitulating all things in Christ” (and we’d want to study Christ’s priestly prayer in John 17 for more on this) – the reconciliation, or re-uniting of “God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the disciples present and those who will believe in Him by their word; humiliation and glory.” (2748) (In Christ, The Plan is completely fulfilled (CCC 2749), in us it is being fulfilled, and in the Church’s perfect union with Christ as His Bride, it will one day be utterly fulfilled.)
When we pray, “hallowed be Thy name,” we are drawn “into his plan” and “immersed in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity.” (2807) His work “is realized for us and in us only if his name is hallowed by us and in us.” (2808) His desire? His will? His Plan? “To gather up all things” in Christ. When we pray “Thy will be done,” we are asking “for this loving plan to be fully realized on earth as it is already in heaven.” (2823)
Whew! It was hard not to get sidetracked as each one of those references led to so much more (much of it connects with Ephesians chapters to come!), but I wanted to power through all of them to get a clear description of The Plan. What stands out for me is the gathering in, the re-collecting of all being – sort of a scavenger hunt, where we go out collecting bits and pieces, bring them to Christ, and He puts them all back together in some way that makes sense of it all, and pleases God.
Well, if He can collect all the broken pieces of me, and put me back together, whole and beautiful, I’m betting on Him to accomplish The Plan whether or not I fully grasp the mystery! Oh, and it’s Christ who does the accomplishing. If I’ll just live for the praise of His glory, He’s got the whole Plan in His hands.
This description of The Plan makes it sound less like a fill-in-the-blank test (God wants me to ____) and more like a huge adventure (Here, grab my hand and jump on the moving train!!). I’m excited about going on to re-read all of my favorite book of the Bible through Catholic eyes.
Next: End of Ephesians Chapter One – Christ to the Third Power
I mention the placenta so often, I had to post this image!
Here, also, are links to every one of my posts that mentions placenta!
In case you didn’t get it, this photo is of…drumroll, please…a placenta!