The Personalist Project

Not meant to be mere instruments

What does God, above all, demand of us? [i]Our love.[/i] What is the question Our Lord puts thrice, emphatically to Peter in that great hour when He entrusts him with the care of His flock? It is the question as to his love. “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?.” Those men err who believe it to be our supreme goal that we become pure instruments of God. … So long as we are a mere channel for the flow of God’s will, so long as we are nothing but an impersonal tool in the hands of God, as we have no desire other than to discharge a certain function in the universe according to the plan of God, we cannot be transformed in Christ. The attainment of our proper supernatural aim supposes an entrirely different attitude on our part. It requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ by an act of love which is nothing if not eminently personal.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ

The meditation for morning prayer in today's issue of Magnificat comes from St. Hippolytus, a Roman priest who was martyred in 236 A.D.

It has to do with the duties of Church governance that belong to the offices of priest and bishop and how those duties are all about service: "serving by night and day, ceaselessly propitiating your countenance and offering the gifts of your holy Church."

It was the first lines, though, that particularly struck me: [my emphasis]

Let the people come together with the presbyters and any bishops who are present on the Lord's day. When all give their consent, they lay hands on the man to be ordained, and the presbytery stands in silence. And all shall keep silence, praying in their heart for the descent of the Holy Spirit. After this, at the request of all, one of the bishops who is present, laying a hand on him...

Note the essential participation of the laity—the local body of believers—in the decision-making surrounding ordination. Their consent is required when it comes to choosing whom to ordain. Their silence, their prayers, their request are part of the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Today's conventional Catholic thinking and culture preserves at least nominally the idea that the governance of the hierarchy is about service. But it has lost almost completely the idea that the laity have a decision-making role in the Church.

It is, I claim, that lack above all other deficits in the status quo that is stifling the life of the Church. Without it, the leadership of the hierarchy degrades to the mere bureaucracy of earthly power and control, in place of the life-generating dynamic of reciprocal love.

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A friend sent a link to an excellent Crisis Magazine article by Darrick Taylor about the historical roots of the clergy sex abuse scandals. It jibes perfectly with the case I've been making for years now about the problem of clericalism, the master/slave dynamic in our communal life, and the need for the laity to, as it were, grow up in our Christianity.

After the Reformation, nominalist ideas of obedience combined with a distorted view of priestly sanctity created psychological habits of dependence among the clergy and passed them on to the laity.

Those habits, coupled with erosions of safeguards in canon law, led to the calamity we're facing.

But where such an idea of authority and obedience went unchecked, it must have created an atmosphere that drew abusive men to the priesthood. 

Yes. Abusive men were drawn to the priesthood, which in turn, and in a classic vicious cycle, repelled a not-insignificant number of naturally-spirited laymen, who then became dissenters or left the Church altogether, so that now She is much-too-largely-composed of abusers and weak, passive people, clergy and laity alike.

If we want to change that, we're going to have to make fundamental changes in ecclesial law, custom and culture. Above all, in my own opinion, the laity will to have to learn to seize and exercise responsibly co-ownership and co-agency in the Church.

It's already all given in the doctrines and philosophy of our Faith. We just have to take it up.

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A couple of particulars from today's first reading from Acts 15.

Some of the Jewish Christians were claiming that gentile converts would need to be circumcised to be saved. 

Because there arose no little dissension and debate, by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question. They were sent on their journey by the Church". 

Who is the subject of the verb "sent" here? Is it not the body of believers, the People of God, i.e., the laity, acting as a corporate subject? Paul and Barnabas are effectively the leading clergy in that community. And yet, they are the ones sent by the believers of that place. They are, in this case, the objects, as it were, of the laity's agency.

Now look a couple verses further down. [my bold]

When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the Church, as well as by the Apostles and presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them.

There is a distinction between the Church and the Apostles and presbyters. What does that mean?

If you ask me, we are looking at complementary reciprocity between priesthood and laity at the very origins of ecclesial history.

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A constitution is the founding document of a formal association. It lays down fundamental principles; it defines "a people who are collectively sovereign." In other words, it forms a corporate subject. It turns a collection of individuals into a deliberate, distinct people.

In late 18th century Poland, for example, a new constitution was drawn up, part of whose aim it was to "elevate the status of the burghers" as over and against the monarchy. Learn all about it in this short video clip that came up in my Gab feed this morning:

What I'm trying to say is this: The laity of the Church need a sort of constitution. And by Church I here mean not the hierarchy centered in Rome but the body of believers, the people of God centered in any given place. We need to embody ourselves as a definite corporate subject that can relate itself to our priests as such. Not adversarially, but spousally—as complementary opposites, ordered toward mission, i.e., new life.

I'll say again what I've said many times before: I'm not talking about abolishing the priesthood or the hierarchy. Nor were the Poles of that trying to get rid of the monarchy. Rather, they were about a re-distribution of social and economic power to better reflect modern "discoveries" surrounding the rights and dignity of the individual.

Similarly, the structural changes I'm calling for are about re-distributing "power" in a way intended to reflect organic theological, philosophical and experiential developments of the modern period, including especially those regarding the dignity of women, the subjectivity of the person, the nature of marriage, and the value and distinctness of the lay vocation. 

(I put quotes around power because the kind I'm talking about is only analogously related to power in the secular sense. "Power" in the Church is deeper and more comprehensive, and it's suffused with divine grace. Call it agency or authority or decision-making or charism. Or help me find a word that comprises all of those things.)

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Why are the neo-marxist globalists pushing masks, despite the ever-mounting evidence indicating that while they are no use against a respiratory virus, they are profoundly harmful in many other respects?

I say it's for the same reason Islamists push the burqa, viz., the devil hates the human face, which reflects God. He also hates the interpersonal-gaze, which is the experiential ground of true communion, the human image of the Holy Trinity, the seed of love. So, whatever disrupts that is right up his evil alley.

(Painting by Mary Cassatt)

“All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:18

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