Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Tension between Missionary and Pastoral Tasks in the Church

The common thinking regarding the Protestant Reformation is that it was a unique effort to renew the Church. From my reading of Christopher Dawson, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, I begin to see that the Reformation was one in a series of renewal movements in the Catholic Church, one in which the tension between missionary renewal and pastoral authority was snapped. The idea of Protestantism is that the church is made up of the reformed and reforming only — a destabilizing notion. And yet, among Catholics, the emphasis is more often on pastoral unity whereas the apostolic mandate for reform, renewal, and missionary discipleship is too often ignored or dormant.

A little bit of history will help us to examine the dynamic fountain of renewal at the heart of the Catholic Church:

"The words that provide the foundation understanding lay movements in the Church are found in the First Letter to the Corinthians: 'Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit... to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good [of the whole Church] ... All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills  (12:4, 7, 11). Even a summary review of the Church's history will confirm this characteristic, which is astonishing because it points us back to the transcendant, incalculable origin of the Spirit's charisms, an origin that cannot be domesticated. The three aspects that this passage distinguishes and holds together — (1) the variety of spiritual gifts; (2) the fact that they are ordered to the benefit of the entire Church; (3) their spontaneous birth from the divine Spirit, not from some human calculation — are already clearly to be seen in the first few centuries of the Church: it is not in the least a flight from the world that sends the layman Anthony of Egypt into the wilderness; rather it is his desire to help the Church through prayer and asceticism; he frequently returns to the city, and a great movement of disciples is spontaneously brought to life by his existence. The same is true of the great charisms of the layman Benedict, later of the layman Francis of Assisi, and later still that of the layman Ignatius of Loyola: no one other than the Holy Spirit urges them to set out on their journey and leads them to their goal, often by lengthy, circuitous routes upon which they must allow themselves to be blindly led. If the great movements they kindled into life became partly or wholly clerical communities later on, for both internal and external reasons, nevertheless their lay and purely pneumatic origin ought never to be forgotten.

We can also see this pneumatic origin in the fact that the second element mentioned above, the visible incorporation into the universal Church — in practice, papal approbation — sometimes took a very long time, until sufficient proof had been given of the movement's genuine supernatural provenance and therefore also of its Catholic orientation. There could also be problematic cases, such as some of the movements for poverty in the Middle Ages, whose charismatic origin drove them out of the visible Church, sometimes through the impatience of the members and sometimes through a lack of insight on the part of the hierarchy, so that they were not able to bear all the fruit that was intended. The Poverello possessed both the necessary patience and an almost boundless reverence for ecclesiastical authority that were needed to ensure for his movement its proper place in the Church's structure and, indeed, to fortify this place through his own, deeply personal sacrifices."
"Lay Movements in the Church" from 
The Laity and the Life of the Counsels by 
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Ignatius Press: 2003.

A couple of notes: 
  • Poverello = the poor man = St. Francis of Assisi 
  • Pneumatic = from the Holy Spirit, charismatic
  • The above statements are qualified a bit in the paragraphs following this beginning, so that readers will not jump to certain conclusions due to the bold strokes of this sketch of history.

This same history is sketched by others with a bit of a different emphasis. See the below excerpts, for example:
Pastoral unity is essential, and the passages from Holy Scripture and the saints, posted by Mary ought to be goads for us all to seek a stronger more certain communion with Christ, and thus with the people whom Christ has called into one body. I was reminded of this powerfully last Sunday when I heard the reading from 1 John during Mass:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him. (NAB).

Adapted from a post at Broken Alabaster.
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