Sunday, October 16, 2011

do not bear the yoke with unbelievers

The passage from a letter of St. Augustine to Proba offered as the 2nd Reading for the office of this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time encouraged me a lot this morning and provoked some rambling thoughts I'd like to share. Let me quote the part which was key in that process:
"Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it) but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: 'Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers.'
The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. 'No eye has seen it'; it has no color. 'No ear has heard it'; it has no sound. 'It has not entered man's heart'; man's heart must enter into it.
In this faith, hope and love we pray always with unwearied desire. However, at set times and seasons we also pray to God in words, so that by these signs we may instruct ourselves and mark the progress we have made in our desire, and spur ourselves on to deepen it. The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruit. When the Apostle tells us: 'Pray without ceasing', he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it."

Beyond that first motion to, yes, aspire to increase my own desire/longing within myself for that gift which comes from God, I spent some time marveling at that motion or inclination in the lives of the mother foundresses or co-foundresses of the religious congregations of women whose acquaintance I have made in these last years, namely of the sisters in the Nunciature of Port of Spain, the Siervas Guadalupanas de Christo Sacerdote, who just 50 years ago came into being in the midst of the needs of priests in Mexico City as the solitude and suffering of priests touched the heart of Maria de Jesus del Amore Misericordoso Guiza Barragan and of my congregation here in the Nunciature of Kyiv, the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate, the first community of the apostolic life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, co-founded by Blessed Josaphata Michaelina Hordashevska, in the last decade of the 19th Century to meet (as only women could) the needs of her own poor people.

Let us say that the boundless hearts of both of these women impressed others and unleashed in girls and young women, in particular, an almost instantaneous and generous response. Both congregations, as with so many others I have not had the honor to know personally, knew a first hour and which endured for decades of rapid growth and truly fruitful apostolate. St. Augustine would identify them as women of greater and more fervent desire whose charity for others (Christ's 2nd great commandment) flowed from and complemented their love for God (Christ's 1st commandment and our salvation). In both cases or should I say always with congregations of religious dedicated to the apostolate, we're dealing with energy, with love unleashed in the midst of misery. We're dealing with a wonder so radically and so well documented in the person of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, where women not only roll up their sleeves to get a job done, but they embrace the suffering of others heedless of the consequences for themselves. They work for a purpose, they work with method, but most importantly they do all out of love. By prayer and commitment they seek first the Lord and His Kingship over their hearts and lives.

I suppose there is something of the moment in all of this and that it would be too much to expect generation upon generation, century after century to catch the living flame ignited by a founder or foundress and those initial followers. Then again, why should it not be so? Apostolic fruitfulness, when the needs to be met continue, should not flag, should it? Do hearts become smaller with the passage of time? Why do some charisms or apostolates seem to play out? Why do they no longer capture the imagination of youth? "When the Apostle tells us: 'Pray without ceasing', he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it." 

Many would say that the vocations crisis of our day must be attributed to the sterility of a society choking on its own materialistic preoccupations. Were all these young women and girls who first followed my two foundresses all half-saints with a superior prayer life? It's possible, but it's more probable that St. Augustine's scenario for hopefully growing in desire through dedication to prayer was it. In a recent interview, the Latin bishop-archbishop of Kyiv spoke of continuing formation and commitment to witnessing to the Christian life in charity amidst the people to whom he is sent as the highest priorities for priestly ministry today.

In volume II: Spouse of the Word (Explorations in Theology, Ignatius Press, 1991) Hans Urs von Balthasar examines the phenomenon of secular institutes and consecration to Christ in the world. The chapter is titled: "Toward a Theology of the Secular Institute". My own first reticence about that witness is the fact that it is lived (by definition) so uninstitutionally out there in the world. It is a celibate witness to Baptism, which honestly has all the marks of the first hour of a religious institute. Over a century ago Blessed Josaphata cooperating in creating something, yes institutional, but entirely new for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. As daring as the priests who advised her and as she herself was, I guess we have the essential pattern for witness and apostolate in the Church right there. Daring and novelty are not the components worth seeking and fostering today, but the prayerful spirit and an unceasing desire for the Bridegroom.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity is in touch with all sorts of daring and novel efforts to witness to Christ in the world. From my own little experience, I am guessing they have (perhaps in the midst of excesses) the privilege of encountering all kinds of souls in expansion, with unbounded desire to love God and neighbor. I firmly believe and hope that in the misery of our world (Wall Street protests and riots in the center of Rome, ...) there are those who have caught the flame and will gather up the man who fell among robbers and left despoiled and near death by the side of the road. It's not utopian, but it certainly is beautiful and a challenge to me to open wide my heart.

1 comment:

  1. I have a relic of bl. Józefata! Her inspiration seems to have been very similar to that of bl. Edmund Bojanowski, (except of course that there were already many "active" orders for women in the Latin rite)


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