Second Rule of Discernment (or) How we rescue the Church
I had an engaging exchange with an interested party on Facebook recently on the question of what we could best do to resolve the problems—indeed the crisis—in which the Church finds herself today. That crisis varies from place to place, but what was under consideration in this case was the incredible pusillanimity of the Church from top to bottom in the West. Pusillanimity is a good, biting word meaning “lack of courage or determination; timidity”. It derives from “pusillus”, meaning very small, plus “animus”, meaning mind or soul. So what do we do about the small minds and shrunken souls of so many in the Church, at all levels, who cannot even conceive of themselves as sacrificing their own worldly comforts and convenient worldly ideas to follow Christ.
In recent reading, I noticed that Cardinal Pell highlighted the problem at the upper levels of the Church in his Prison Journal, when he asked:
What do some of the reform forces in the Church want to change? They never put all their cards on the table. It was a moment of awakening for me when I claimed to a high European prelate that the first criterion for a good bishop is that he would witness to the Catholic and apostolic faith. My interlocutor frothed with indignation and disapproval. [Entry for March 16, 2019]
That, of course, is exactly the spirit—which is not of Christ—to which Catholics at every level throughout the West so frequently succumb, and which deeply committed Catholics are so determined to combat. But is there a particular program we can follow to do it?
The answer is a resounding “NO”. While we can point out many particular things that should be done—or that we think would help a great deal if priests, religious, bishops, the pope, and even influential and/or wealthy laymen would do—there is no single particular reform program on offer anywhere that we can all unite behind to make happen. There is no question of joining one organization or committing all to one particular facet of the cause. Rather, the way the Church continually renews herself is through her members living their baptismal promises in the myriad situations, stations and offices in which they find themselves. And the way all of us activate those baptismal promises most fully is to assess both our abilities and how God is calling us to use those abilities for His glory.
A brief lesson on human talent from Exodus
I was reminded of this the other day when reading, in the Book of Exodus, how the Lord commanded Moses to bring into being His design for the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, through which He decided to localize His Presence among the Jews—much as Our Lord localizes His Presence in the tabernacle. Here is what the Lord told Moses:
See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you…. According to all that I have commanded you they shall do. [Ex 31:2-11]
From the first, in fact, God makes it clear that He is the one who brings each person into being and adorns each person with his or her particular abilities and talents. He does this precisely so that each of us may glorify Him by engaging in the tasks to which He calls us within the circumstances of our lives. It is through fidelity to God’s calling and purpose, and to this alone, that we fulfill the two great commandments which govern our existence, namely that each one shall love God above all things, and love his neighbor as himself. The basic rules for that were given very early in the Ten Commandments, expanded and exemplified in the prophets, and then solidified, explicated, and supremely engraced through Christ and the Church.
As noted in Discernment: The First Rule, our first job is to obey God’s clear commands as known through the Church. But beyond that, our ongoing task is to discern how He calls us to use our abilities for His glory. If we find ourselves frothing with indignation and disapproval at the priority of witnessing in this way to the Catholic and apostolic faith through our daily lives—as did Cardinal Pell’s high-ranking questioner—we are resisting God’s call, and squarely on the road to permanent separation from Him. There is no way to sugarcoat such a loss.
The one thing needful
These truths demonstrate clearly that there is no “one program”, no “surefire solution”, which, once we have all adopted it or supported it or donated to it, will result in the renewal of the Catholic Church. While every commitment to the truths taught by the Catholic and apostolic faith is a step in the right direction, and every refusal of those truths is a foot put wrong, the particular manner in which each person is actually called to serve is hidden within God’s plan for that person. This is so true, in fact, that many people do harm because they fail to discern their vocation in all its dimensions, instead flying off on tangents unwilled by God.
Apart from the Catholic sacramental life we are to share in common as the source of our unity with God, even the manner in which each one of us is to pray and so discern God’s will can vary immensely. It is no wonder, then, that there will be a great variety in our principal activities and the particular works through which we give life in this world to our baptismal promises as priests, prophets and kings.
The Second Rule of Discernment, then, is that every gift we have is to be used for God’s glory, in the particular natural and supernatural ways he gradually brings us to know through an authentically Catholic life of prayer. This is also the key to our own happiness, the joy for which we were made. When He brought us into being, God had a plan for us. Our purpose as Catholics is simply to discern that plan and that calling, secure in the confidence that we can do this properly if we seek His glory through the living, sacramental heart of His Church.
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