Thursday, May 15, 2014

Entrenched bureaucratic institutions and their reform

In response to a status on a dear (Protestant) friend's (Facebook) wall, which expressed a wish about Pope Francis reforming an "entrenched, bureaucratic institution,", I wrote the following comment. Like so many such endeavors, it grew into a mini essay. I don't deny that there are many aspects of the "entrenched, bureaucratic institution" that need reform. That's really not the subject of my response.]

Between 1965 and 1975, that entrenched bureaucratic institution, very efficiently, thoroughly and breathtakingly, dismantled a whole edifice of customs, devotions and numerous relatively tiny, but mutually reinforcing traditions that supported Catholic culture, spirituality, and, going well beyond the mandate of the reforms of the Council, reconstituted the liturgy in a way that would have made Thomas Cranmer proud. We are still floundering in the ruinous wake of that self-immolation on the altars of "modern man" effected with such alacrity.

The new springtime promised has proved elusive, very elusive, especially in the West, even as so much of Catholic leadership parrots nostrums about the "renewal" that would rival a Stalinist apparatchik's obsequiousness.

Of course the Spirit blows where He wills, though it is a foolish fantasy to imagine that His blowing neatly coincides with the insistent demands of the Zeitgeist. He has brought amazing renewal and life out of the bare ruined choirs of Tridentine Catholicism. He also raised up the saintly Pope John Paul, and his quiet and humble successor to stem the the infiltration of the "smoke of Satan" into Christ's Church. He blows amazing life into the poor, forgotten corners of Africa, and Asia, where Christianity has experienced an explosive resurgence.

The renewal has, of course, been very refreshing in many regards -- for instance, the vocation of the laity, the universal call to holiness, has been appropriated in a new and vital way (though barely. Clericalizing the laity - as Pope Francis has often remarked -- is not the path ahead). Nor do I want to paint any kind of romantic picture of some golden age when everything was perfect and "if only one could dial the clock back..." or claim that it was one event (the Council) that unraveled everything. Christ is alive now, and He calls us to fidelity in our world and time, and He goes ever before us.

However, It also takes a while to take stock, look back, and discern which spirit was at work.

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