Monday, April 17, 2006

A World Poor in Spirit

The Western world is at present poor in spirit. Romano Guardini wrote in The Art of Praying:

Sunday. . . is the day of God and, for this reason, the day of man. Its meaning has been largely forgotten. . . .

In former days people regularly read the family Bible. Through its pages the great events and figures of the redemption entered into their personal lives. Nowadays that intimate relationship has largely disappeared. . . .

In earlier days, the very layout of the living space of the community was an important factor in creating a well-ordered religious life. Indeed it may be said that the faith dictated the spatial order of the life of the community. . . . This order has largely disappeared.

The normal routine and events of everyday life themselves provide proper opportunities for religious observance. In former ages these daily events were imbued with religious significance which found appropriate expression. Little of this still remains. . . .

The church building itself is no longer (in Guardini’s words) “the house of the Father in which we are at home” but “only . . . the place of communal worship,” where (in my words) the worshipers are better accommodated than the worshiped—at least in theory, for in reality the worshipers desire to worship is scorned: as in the history of Communism, when the dictatorship of the proletariat turned out to be rule by apparatchiks, so in the Church the mystical body of Christ is manhandled in the name of the people by idealogues, originally and probably still well-meaning but now and certainly followers of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, except that in the Catholic Church, the Pope, who truly worships the Father, is much less influential than the Party Chairman was, and the Church itself, unlike the militant Muslim and the heedless consumer, little threatens the wider world.

In short, as Dom Armand Veilleux said, “Christendom”—“Whether we like it or not, whether we are nostalgic or not, that phase of history is finished and every effort to restore it is bound to be a pathetic failure.” This is not necessarily bad news, if it is news at all. If Western Culture is, as Jacques Barzun wrote, in a period of decadence, then it is not surprising that the Western Church experiences that decadence. It is our cup. It leaves plenty for Christians to do, including suffer, for the greater glory of God.

The present world is poor in spirit. The present answer is not, I think, “Get rich!” Dom Armand says, “We should not try to invent new symbols with the hope that they will speak to today’s men and women.” He even thinks that the entire sacral world of ritual activity is lost forever, gradually being replaced by a recognition of:

the symbolic value of everything we do in our daily life and of everything around us. . . . Many authentic Christians nowadays are very attentive to practice the Gospel values in their daily life — in their family life as well as in their professional life — but are not interested any longer in what we call “religious practice”, like going to Mass on Sunday.

This is perhaps more pie in the sky than the kingdom of heaven. But Dom Armand is right in saying that “Good practices are not created or invented. They are born from life.” That is (in what is only verbal contradiction), they are true creations and inventions, because their mother is life.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.


Post a Comment

<< Home