I happened upon a blog post during a recent and rare trip to New Advent; a Catholic site with an amazing assortment of subject matter and an archive of wonder. I say “rare” only in that I do grow tired of its futile emancipation of things incredibly shallow in nature. I can read only so many times, “9 Reasons Why Pope Francis Likes Vegetables”, before I want to throw up my vegetables.
Anyways, having gone through the Catholic RCIA program in 2013, that’s the Rite of Christian Initiation for all of you non-Catholics, I found this post of good interest. I’d have to say in regards to my own experience with RCIA, that it was far less frustrating than the type of one imagined in this post. It was, nonetheless, similar with the writer’s experience in the fact that the program I went through seemed to offer up nothing as an examination of why I ever came to RCIA and the Catholic Church to begin with. What was my motive? Why the Catholic Church and not the Latter Day Saints or the Assembly of God? Had I been called or was I searching? Was there any metaphysical substance within me that sought the here-and-now, just as much as the there-and-later?
Truly, if someone came to my door and said they were my long lost brother or sister, I’d be a bit curious as to their perceptions and intentions. Would not you? Or if, as a National League baseball team manager, a young man came to my office seeking to join the team, would I not want to know first, “Who are you?” and second, “What are your skills?”. Fortunately, a candidate entering RCIA does not have to qualify with a DRE or a priest, as my examples above noted. But, the DRE and the facilitators in any RCIA program should be very concerned about the spiritual state of the candidate, as anyone who is openly seeking God and His will would profess, that what is guiding them to the Church is more the spiritual matter within them, and not simply the thought that perhaps it’s a good idea today to become Christian, and they just happened to be driving by the ministry center anyways, so why not.
Now, for the baseball manager to inquire as to the skillset of the potential player before him, brings to mind the fact that being Christian – actually being Christian – likewise requires a skillset, and not simply the desire. Yes, it does. Beyond many of our perceptions and assertions, being Christian is a gift; a gift from God that lies before and beyond any initiation or practice, and I might suggest it’s just a matter of unwrapping the gift. I’ll cover this later. For now, back to my train of thought.
Ignoring any examination of my spiritual quotient, the emphasis of the RCIA program I submitted to, involved the processional unfolding of the magnificence and holiness of Christ’s Church. It was a visually impressive process and I found it highly informative at times. It was not new to me though. The Catholic Church has been around awhile – a few years longer than my lifetime – and anyone who is caught in the societal stream of life these days knows well the strength and power of the Church. All good information, but it was just that; information, and I was sitting in the class there for other reasons. This RCIA program was enhanced by the presence of sponsors for each of us – witnesses – as well as well-selected individuals who brought to the meetings consistent viewpoints of the orthodoxy of the Church. Again, the information good, but only information. Nothing transformative or revealing that went past the material and intellectual, and into the sublime and spiritual. I remember reflecting on the whole of the program afterwards and counting my blessings that I had previously attended a charismatic, non-denominational church with an excellent school of ministry program. I can tell you that in such a context there is little hesitancy to address the issues of the spirit on a most personal level.
So, read this post, and then come back for my thoughts, please.
At times, I thought this post a little exaggerated. The comments by Agathonika, I thought, to be a bit over the top at times. There are some harsh declarations made that just might not truly represent the hopes and abilities of the DRE (Director of Religious Education) and the hierarchy beyond, but I do recognize the frustration clearly present in their words.
Since the first generation of Christianity, it has been practical and nominal to promote and visit religious practice with a long view that is designed – one hopes – to preserve and teach the perceived orthodox rather than the perceived heterodox of the faith. In such a context, it is consistent to regard any penetration of social change more as a random trend based on personal preferences, than on what could actually be a universal ascendancy towards truth, or a purified reformation of the original, undistorted truth. New thoughts can make people nervous. It is conjectured that curses, in all degrees, do emerge with the progress of man and so it is wise to judge carefully and resist any temptation to test new premises on unsuspecting and cherished souls, like those innocents in an RCIA program.
However, it is frequently forgotten that covenants, in all degrees, might also be refreshed with man’s progress. Here is where authority, weaned by the first generation of Christianity, attempts to measure orthodoxy with a just and purified hand. Authority has very large sandals to fill with Jesus’ ascendancy, and I’m sure the Apostles, Paul, and others had many concerned reflections as to whether they were getting things right. With all the effort through the following two millennia to preach and hold fast to the good news that Jesus brought to mankind, it turned out that order – an order based upon perseverance to the Word – would become the principle guide. Nothing new to this sober reality of course, as Peter’s rejection of Jesus demonstrated the incessantly poor judgment and disappointing inclinations of man. But there it is.
Now authority does recognize that there are limitations to what they can offer and accomplish as an authority, and not as the Holy Spirit, in the governance of its programs, and so they tend to exclude those requisites of faith that exceed the bounds of authority’s own capacity? Are there not certain mysteries of faith that lie beyond the mere process of practical content found in the Christian faith? Is there not a realm that is as God is; Spirit, and would it not be expectant that all answers to all of man’s problems reside in such a realm? Christ was universal in His assertion that a relationship with God had nothing to do with authority or fleshly practice, and everything to do with spirituality. So, what is true spirituality?
Perhaps a true relationship with God has nothing at all to do with social initiation and practice. Perhaps the very realm from which God transcends is a world so abstract from our physical world that even our most basic of social expressions cannot find substance and use in the realm of God. We express ourselves as one of God’s creatures with our minds and bodies; both mortal elements that have no place in the next world until Jesus reunites us once again. Perhaps we have misplaced something central to our successful relationship with God’s will, for while one might claim the mind and body as key to our free will and thus to love unconditionally both God and man, all evidence alludes towards another source.
The post’s writer and commenter are both railing against the lack of spirituality in the Catholic Church; I get it, and agree. They assert that the Church has walked down a practical, bureaucratic path; processing rather than spiritualizing. Well, perhaps it is time to contest this bureaucratic path, for another thing I can agree with is the following:
“You end up with a church full of people who have in common high tolerance for bureaucratic silliness, and lower levels of passion.”
Down through the last two millennium, things “spiritual” have heaped in impressive, ordered, social fashion for the systematic consumption by good Christians: prayers, sacraments, liturgies, sermons and homilies, hymnals and ballads, praising & worshiping, rights-of-passage, workshops, retreats, bible studies, ministry classes, missions, charities, social programs, and pilgrimages; all for the good of one’s soul. We call these things spiritual. There are few challenges to these perceptions and practices other than to debate possible arrangements and modifications, inclusions and exclusions.
In themselves, these spiritual things of man are endeavors that contain the potential of forming personal habits of virtues, and they certainly lift oppression in all of its forms. The world has greatly progressed towards human dignity by the hands and feet of millions of active Christians around the world. We each have our mission(s), should we truly recognize them. I confess, I find it inherent to sing in the choir, and to cantor. I know it is good ministry to those who attend Mass and yearn for the meditative and holy setting as they personally reach out in supplication to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. A Mass rarely goes by where a parishioner does not let me know of how I have helped them by my ministry of singing. I do this, though, not because I enjoy the physical performance (I do not), or that my mind loves doing it (it does not). I do it because my spirit loves it. I do it because God wills it; He gave me a gift and I am to use it. It’s not an obligation or debt, it is simply the way things are; the way of God’s will.
One can call it a sacrifice. I do not, yet I understand why so many Christians must talk of sacrifice. If one sees the world by the might of their mind and the strength of their body, all things might appear right; leaving one satisfied to proceed through life with a sense of fulfillment. I contend however, that in all likelihood, such a person’s water jar is half empty and they do not even know it. In truth, there is still an estrangement from the full transcendence of God’s will. One can sacrifice themselves to the regimen of righteous task or the enduring perseverance to prayer and meditation, but to do so by the mind and the body is like a mirage; that coke machine shimmering in the desert sun brings a hope of salvation, but by the time you get there, that coke machine somehow shimmers at another distance from where it once stood. The thirst is unquenched.
In the end, the frailty of the mind and body, brought by their mortality, induces their failure to lift themselves ultimately to God’s will; for to them they fear that what they seek is less than who they are, as one meant for but a short time in this world. And this is why our religious perceptions and practices can do much in this world, but cannot carry one to the next. And it is why so many of us abandon the effort all together, or fashion a likeness to Christ’s way that, in truth, does not hinder their worldly path and thus gives them some sense of topical good.
I had said earlier that being Christian has little to do with initiation or practice. While certain sacraments are meant for the inclusion of one into the Christian faith, they are physical, visible representations of a soul’s hope for true conformity with God’s will. As such, these sacraments are incomplete. There is still the spiritual, invisible to contend with, and in this realm, there are no representations, only realities. I’ve harped on this before, but think of it in reference to Plato’s concept of the form of things.
If you imagine the ideal form of a bed mattress, it is perfect, yet you will never sleep on such a one in this physical life. If you imagine the ideal mate, he or she is perfect, yet you will never meet such a one and marry.
The physical can do only so much to lead one to God because God is Spirit; He is perfect. He is the form and one cannot be united with Him by intellectual and physical means alone. One must give up on the intellectual and physical pursuit of God, by giving up the tools most commonly used by man in order to find God; one’s mind and one’s body. This is not to say that one should not engage the world with Christian practice. Of course, “Go out, go out, and tell the world” as the popular gospel song declares. Jesus calls us to engage the world with all that we are. It is by our actions that in the end gives us the sign of our devotion to God and man, but not to dynamically capture the will of God by the efforts of our intellect and body. Rather, Jesus calls us all to use the whole of humanity, in surrender to God’s will, so that we might finally find God, and find the service that He has called us to by the gifts He imbued within each one of us.
In a sense, I am saying to put the cart before the horse. God’s gift came before your intellect or your flesh was ever conceived. He knew who you would be before He “formed you in the womb”. Your gift, while manifested in the world potential, is the immortal essence of God’s Spirit and will. It is your spirit within you. You have one, you know.
There is much unresolved discourse on the matter of soul, spirit, mind, body and heart. The Roman Catholic Church has chosen to let such reside in the realm of gentle notion, rather than substance; not quite putting the matter into context of its import, or to rest. But to collect the parts and deduce a meaning; I might suggest the following:
That men and women are the sum of a unity of material and mutable with the immaterial and immutable; the former mortal and the later immortal. While the mortal is meant for attainment of its highest form and thus by condition must be susceptible to value or worth, the immortal is the form that the mortal seeks to attain and thus by condition unconditional. In other words, that which you seek is within you. And as the Church embraces, the immortal does not perish upon death of the mortal, but reunites with the mortal in heaven.
Thus, your cart – your spirit – is full of God’s grace and love. And you need not pull it for it is already where you wish to go. However, little is said of such a gift in our daily religious discourse, with the effort always directed towards the mortal part of men and women, and their efforts to attain that which they already have. The problem is that man – through social authority and the law it governs by – has been instructed that the practice of faith is the domain of the physical rites, and not of the spiritual form. It is self-defeating. So, if there is any semblance of truth in my suggestions, what is it that we do?
First, I want to return to my earlier conversation on the mind and body. These are the mortal elements of mankind. Yes, I acknowledge that catechism welds the mind to the spirit, creating a soul. I also acknowledge that St. Paul does not. There is confusion, and as such, I will continue to focus on my proposal; that the spirit is a separate element of man, placed there by God upon the conception of the child. Yes, there is unity, but no, there is not the calculated balance of power as God would desire. I further propose that man’s fallen nature references a condition whereby his/her mortal state of mind and body has chosen, by its own free will, to recalculate that balance of power and thus subdue its immortal state of spirit. This is where things get ugly, because such a state yields the fallen man whose inclinations do more harm than good.
I mean, what was it that actually happened to the very being of man when he chose to exert his free will over God’s will? It’s not imaginary, certainly; nor illusion. No, it’s real enough, and I find it sensible and logical to suggest that what changed within man had to do with a subjugation of what catechism states as the “form” of man; namely his or her spirit.
So, if we take this proposal down its logical path, we each have an interred spirit within us; seeking both release and its rightful share of control of the unity of the body. I mean, which part of our unity is one to trust in choosing God’s will over our own expressed will. One’s will, where their spirit is interred, is that of the mind and body; a cocktail well known for intoxication, while the will of the spirit can be only that of God’s, for it is what God breathed into us at the beginning and its composition beyond dirt. This brings me back to the beginning of this post.
When I walked into RCIA in 2013, I was seeking what I have just referenced; we all do for that matter. We seek God. And to do so, means that our spirits must first, find release, and second, find its strength so it might lead.
This is the purpose of initiation into the Church; to hopefully be that catalyst or spark that renews the mind and body to the truth of the spirit. There is no real, lasting conversion without the disinterment of your spirit from under the hard hand of your mind and body. But to disinter means one must dig in the dirt; the metaphysics of man who was created by God from dirt. The glory of the physical structure of the Church is a wonder to behold, but to simply put it on display as a museum of process and progress is to ignore the actual work it takes to exhume the primal spirit; it’s just too brittle an exoskeleton. The strength of the Church resides in the spirit of the body, not the body itself.
The author of the post, I suggested you read, noted at the conclusion of her post, “This is the first time I think I’ve understood the full magnitude of the problem.” She went on to say that she did not quite know where to go from here, but it might be best we find it quickly.
I offer up the disinterment of our spirits as the answer to the dilemma. And one place where it is crucial that we engage such an activity is in any process where the rubber meets the road; where the Church engages the un-Church; especially with the seeker. RCIA should be a place where each candidate is given the full opportunity to explore why they are there. It is personal; very personal, for it challenges lifelong assumptions and habits that have been promoted by one’s mind and body, yet promised by one’s spirit. It is due time that the spirit receives a hearing for parole.
God Bless – Reese