Back to the Future – A Cultural and Committed Catholic?

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Over thirty years ago, by accident rather than by design, I became aware of the terrible sexual scandals that were, in fact, to hit the headlines ten or so years later. However, what I discovered was so horrific that nobody would believe me. It was still the policy in Rome to sweep such criminal atrocities under the carpet silencing any whistle-blowers and covering up for abusers. As a spiritual theologian, I knew the source of the problem, and have in fact already written a book about it – Wisdom from the Christian Mystics. Its teaching is essentially quite simple. Without love, you will not be able to do anything (Read John chapter 15).  Not our love of course but God’s love. The terrible scandal is that mystical theology that teaches how to receive this love was practically abandoned over four hundred years ago, as I explain in my book.

The Theology of Love

If we are not taught how to receive the love of God then we will be powerless to live out the teachings of moral theology for any length of time and with any constancy or consistency. If you think that the Mass and the Sacraments endlessly release the love that can enable us to live a perfectly moral life then you are of course right, but only mystical theology teaches us from beginning to end how to open our hearts to receive it.  Without this teaching, long since abandoned, we will all become guilt-ridden hypocrites and on a grand scale, as recent events have proven. The only way forward is to change our lives radically, to allow the Holy Spirit to possess us from within.

Cultural and Committed Catholic?

In the early Church, virtually everyone was a committed Christian. After all, you wouldn’t join a religion that asked you to pray five times a day, take up a daily cross that included penance and fasting whilst loving your enemies when your prospects of being crucified, or thrown to the lions was a  distinct possibility. The difference between nominal or cultural Christians came later after Constantine’s victory over the pagans at the battle of Milvian bridge (312 AD) and after a particularly vicious period of persecution. As the fourth century rolled on, and as Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Popes were given consular rank, Bishops were treated like senators and priests were held in high esteem. In this new world order, it became, not only easy to become a Christian but advisable and even profitable, if you wanted to get on in the world.

From the spiritual to the temporal

When wealthy Christians died they started leaving their lands and property to the Church in the hope that their generosity to God in this life would encourage him to be generous to them in the next by easing their passage into Paradise. This was the origin of what later came to be called the Papal States and the vast swathes of property that made the Pope a temporal, as well as a spiritual power until 1871 when they were handed over to the new emerging Italian State. I am not going to bore you with a potted history of the Church, but I just want to show how our Catholic Church began, and with such fervour and with such an unprecedented quality of  love  for others, and that included those who tortured them, put then to death and came to scoff and deride them as they were being martyred. It was this quality of human love, quite clearly suffused by the divine, and their commitment to die rather than forsake the One who won it for them on the Cross, that inspired a Roman Empire to become a Christian Empire in such a short time.

A dramatic conclusion

Before fast forwarding to the present let me draw a conclusion if you have not done so yourself. If what was done with little more than twelve men to inspire, it can be done again today. However, we must have more totally committed Catholics, not just nominal or cultural  Catholics to enable Christ to do again today what he originally did two thousand years ago. If you think that this is impossible then you are only thinking about what you can do. Not so for the first  Christians who knew that with Christ and the love that he unleashed on the first Pentecost day all things are possible, even the impossible. You can see this for yourselves on virtually every page of the Gospels and in the Acts of the Martyrs.

By nominal or cultural Catholics I mean those who have been born into a Catholic family,  sometimes in a Catholic country where their religion is all but identified with their nationality. For many of them, their faith is part of their identity,  but it does not necessarily affect the way they live out each day as it did for their first forebears. They may well have been born into Catholic families, baptised, confirmed,  sent to Catholic schools and taught to go to Mass each Sunday, but their education was primarily intellectual, learning how to understand, explain and defend the Creed that they recited on Sunday mornings. Sadly that is not enough.

A religion of the heart

 In the early Church, it was essentially the same faith, the same sacraments, but the whole emphasis was different. It was the heart rather than the mind that dominated. The loving heart of the One who rose from the dead, and who continually poured out his love onto and into all who opened their hearts to receive it. The sacraments were the means through which this love was continually made available to all with good will, and with open hearts. Baptism did not just signify what once happened, but what is continually happening most particularly in their weekly Mass. God’s love was, and of course still is,  repeatedly being poured out through Christ, who rose from the dead to continually suffuse and surcharge his followers completely, changing and transforming their lives irrevocably. It was this love that possessed them mystically from within. It made them into ‘other Christs’ through whom the Risen Lord could continue to build his Kingdom of Love on earth.

A Body full of Love

 Sadly the ravages of time have changed the emphasis that once prevailed amongst our first forebears, but it must return if the diabolic forces that are threatening to destroy our Church are to be vanquished. The Church, the sacraments and most particularly the Mass must be seen once more as the means by which the world-shaking release of God’s love on the first Pentecost is being poured out now to do what was done before. The presence of this love, the power of this love and the certainty of what it can do for all who choose to receive it, is exactly the same as it was in the beginning. What has changed is that a whole series of regrettable historical events from the past have changed our attitude to our Faith. Our Faith is not primarily a body of truths, let alone of moral precepts or rules and regulations, but a body full of love that can radically and permanently change us all and our families and the world that we are called to make whole again. This love will infallibly do all these things and much more, if we only see and realize that this love is daily, hourly, minute by minute available to us. What we must do is learn how to open our hearts in such a way that we can receive this love.

The cost of transformation

It will not cost you anything, nor will it suddenly mean making dramatic changes, nor will it suddenly mean giving up what you legitimately like or enjoy. What it will mean, however, is secretly building an inner spiritual life within in which we learn from the Christian mystical tradition how to open our hearts ever more fully to receive the love that surpasses the understanding. This will bring a happiness that we have never experienced before to the whole of our lives, to our families and to all who we love, for human love suffused with the divine is utterly irresistible and totally transforming. Prayer is the word used to describe how we begin and continue to open our hearts to this infinite love. Sadly as the intellect has been so dominant in our Catholic education for years, the word prayer has been devalued and therefore misunderstood and at best become little more than a cry for help when all, and everyone else has failed us. Yet, what is more important for a human being than learning how to love, for everyone needs it, yearns for it, craves for it in this life and in the next. What will all this cost?  Nothing.

I am just in the middle of a mini-course detailing and simplifying the whole Christian tradition on prayer from start to finish. Please follow it for free at https://www.spiritualdirection.com/author/david-torkington

Furthermore, please go to my website www.davidtorkington.com where there are many articles on Prayer, and where you can listen to my podcasts, particularly my latest one was given during a retreat at Belmont Abbey.  http://www.davidtorkington.com/retreat-belmont-abbey-2-from-meditation-to-the-beginning-of-mystical-contemplation/

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