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Clarifications from Fr. Couturier

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 12, 2007

Last September 6th, I wrote a column critiquing a new vision of religious life offered by Fr. David Couturier, OFM Cap. to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men the preceding month. The column was mildly sarcastic in tone, enough, surely, to provoke annoyance on the part of the one criticized. Instead, it provoked only a very charitable clarification.

Fr. Couturier wrote to me recently expressing chagrin that his address was susceptible to the interpretation I gave it, and voicing concern that no scandal or harm to the Church should arise as a result of anything he said. He believes that I misinterpreted him in my column (A New Vision of Religious Life?), but his goal in writing was clearly to clarify rather than to criticize in return.

Fairness demands that I pass along Fr. Couturier’s clarifications, which I excerpt below:

My piece is a rejection of the Enlightenment project because I believe the Enlightenment rejects the anthropological starting point of Catholicism—that we are made for God, in the image and likeness of God. The Enlightenment project, translated into economic structures, does not believe in the validity of humanity’s pursuit of the good, as Aristotle and St. Thomas taught.

I was trying to point out that a consumer driven society robs the soul of its transcendent desire for God and replaces it with commercial desires. (Perhaps that is another way of saying infidelity!) My goal throughout this August 2006 talk was to encourage religious to return to a theocentric self-transcendent desire.

In speaking about the turn toward an international mission culture or globalization, I was trying to do no more and no less than be faithful to the teaching of Pope John Paul II in several of his encyclicals, when he spoke of the development of the “virtue of solidarity.”

My own talk should have been more explicit about the role of Christ…. I want religious life to affirm our Catholic vision which I see, understand and accept as a Trinitarian view that rejects an ontology of violence and tries to bring all men and women into the communion of Christ.

In response to my conclusion, in which I juxtaposed the vision of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical to the vision of Fr. Couturier’s speech, Fr. Couturier affirms without the least ambiguity the “importance of [Benedict’s] thoughts on love in Deus Caritas Est. They are the right words at the right time. Indeed, profoundly so.” On this we are supremely agreed, and this agreement raises a further question.

At what point does the creation of intellectual models and international structures cease being useful and begin to mask a flight from the need to offer concrete help to real people? Put another way, is it possible to express solidarity without one-on-one contact with those in need? With particular reference to the hope that Fr. Couturier places in the new Franciscan non-governmental organization at the United Nations: Do we desire fewer religious operating at higher political levels to develop better theories, or more religious suffering in direct daily service to those in need?

Which approach arises from an Enlightenment model? Which from an Incarnational one? I am grateful for Fr. Couturier’s clarifications, and look forward to his continued exploration of this theme.

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