Monday, May 14, 2012

Discerning the Spirit

From the First reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter [Acts 10:44-48], Peter in the house of Cornelius: 

 “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, ‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?’ He then gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.”

When I read these words today I did so with other heavy words full of hopelessness or resignation, from a comment box on another blog, in the back of my mind. There, seemingly, a traditionally minded contributor despaired of reconciliation for himself and the Fraternity SSPX (as he perceives it) with the Catholic Church, and that over the issue of impossible differences seemingly held by the parties involved concerning religious liberty and ecumenism. While this passage from the Acts of the Apostles focuses on the possibility of bestowing life-giving baptism upon the pagans and how this discernment process went for St. Peter, I asked myself, in the light of this direct intervention by the Holy Spirit to overturn a perception of what the first community believed was supposed to be the will of Christ, why would this present day man believe that ecumenism or religious liberty are obstacles to the fulfillment of His Will for His Church? Are we not dealing here with "chapter two or the sequel to the baptism of Cornelius and his household", that is, with an attitude on the part of my commentator somewhat analogous to that manifest in the struggle between St. Paul and the so-called Judaizers' demands that all Christians be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law?

My only personal contact with a family which left its Catholic parish for an SSPX chapel goes back over 30 years and consists of a sympathetic description I received after the fact from others of the parents' decision to take themselves and their young children out of harm's way after they received no satisfaction concerning their well-founded protest to legitimate authority over the egregious behavior of an assistant pastor who was to everyone's mind simply out of control. With courage, back before 1988, they did what they thought best to preserve their children in the faith. We know and we have always known that we must pay for the folly of not just a few in the Church over the last 50 years. But it would be wrong, however, to abandon the "ring" so to speak and the fight for the Faith as it has come to us from the Apostles. The good fight has always been carried on within the community of the Church and sometimes at incredible odds (think only of the fight against Arianism). Whatever has happened over these last decades, the urgency is now to pick up and carry forward the discourse within the community of the Church and for the sake of all those in "Nineveh" who don't know their right hand from their left "not to mention the cattle", as the Book of Jonah tells us. How can one refuse the call to "prophesy over the dry bones"?

My own personal scandal over the above mentioned commentator's despair of reconciliation by reason of the Church's teaching on ecumenism and religious liberty does not seek to deny the false irenicism which has been abroad since the publication of the pertinent Vatican II documents, but it demands a hearing for efforts in recent years to accompany others back to the fullness of Catholic Truth. Caution on the part of Peter in Acts 10 is not lacking, but neither is a genuine respect for the other also created in the image and likeness of God.

While error has no rights, we have marvelous examples in St. Norbert of Xanten and in St. Francis de Sales of the warmth and respect accompanying the missionary task which indeed have borne rich fruit. Slavic Orthodoxy's steadfast refusal of religious liberty for others has never borne the desired fruit, nor will it today. Neither the secular arm nor the "christian emperor", the defender of the faith, necessarily open hearts and minds to Christ. Better that we should pray for open hearts and minds for ourselves to identify just where the Spirit is moving as it did so long ago in the house of Cornelius.

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