Overcome the Tyranny of the Present

Part of the paradox of Christianity is how we must be in the world, but not of it.  (Romans 12:2)  If you want to be effective at ministering to others, you must have a powerful interior life.  You have to guide people away from sin in stages, but you must never dilute the call for a radical conversion of heart.  If you aren’t careful, the law of graduality frequently requires even more graduality.

At the Synod, we heard constant refrains (sadly sometimes from high ranking Bishops and Cardinals) that the moral teachings of the Church were more or less impossible to live by.  There was little, if any, talk about how holiness is possible, and all are called to it.  Instead of this, we frequently received exhortation to “meet people where they are at” and to “walk with them” with scant reference to where that journey was going or ended.

While those who hold this view would like to believe they arrived at some new insight, they haven’t.  They are certainly correct that you are unlikely to reach human sinners with human reason and arguments alone.  Yet they are also downplaying the ability of divine grace to transform hearts so they can understand and live out Christian doctrine.  The world is meant to be overcome (John 16:30), and contemporary Christianity often forgets this.

In order to answer this temptation, we need to carefully reflect on the words of Johns Gospel mentioned above.  Not only does Christ say he has overcome the world, he wants us to take heart in that fact, and that in this fact, we will find peace.  If he has overcome the world, we can do likewise.  He has given us the tools.  We can reflect on the great monastic renewals, and realize that revitalizing the Church requires a modern day monastic renewal.  He gives us the liturgy, which is able to save our souls and form us in everything we need.  He even provides holy leaders (such as were on display during the Synod) who stand up for the Gospel, even when it is not popular to do so.

Most importantly, he gives the world the gift of you.  He has put you in the present time to be a sign of his Grace.  He has given you these tools so you can show the world how it is possible to live a life of holiness according to the Gospel.  Without this example of holiness, our words and arguments are pointless.  You use your vocation to overcome the world so that you can experience something better.  While we cannot do much about what our leaders are doing, we can control what we do.  In his classic work The Spiritual Combat, Dom Lorenzo Scupoli says the following about the importance of our own vocation:

For whoever has the courage to conquer his passions, to subdue his appetites, and repulse even the least motions of his own will, performs an action more meritorious in the sight of God than if, without this, he should tear his flesh with the sharpest disciplines, fast with greater austerity than the ancient Fathers of the Desert, or convert multitudes of sinners.

It is true, considering things in themselves, that the conversion of a soul is, without doubt, infinitely more acceptable to the divine Majesty than the mortification of a disorderly affection.  Yet every person, in his own particular sphere, should begin with what is immediately required of him.   

If we commit ourselves to this, we can be surprised what happens.  No reform of the Church has ever come solely from the dictation of the Pope or from the top on down.  Instead it comes from owning our vocations and being transformed by them.  When enough people on the ground do that, this is where reform starts and truly takes off.

In the end, that is my advice to you who were afraid by the Synod.  There are many who will say that such fear is irrational, and even if rational, one should pipe down lest others get scared.   Instead of this,   I will only ask you the following question.  Are you willing to overcome the world in service to Our Lord and His Church, or will you give in to the crushing tyranny of the present?  Let that anxiety and fear you have drive you to renew that commitment placed before us at our baptism.  Do this, and the Church will be renewed.

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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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