More reflections from this period of retreat--which I offer with some concern that I'm foisting on others what are very private thoughts about very private struggles, which may not be of much interest to anyone but me, and which probably ought not to receive much attention from others, because these are idiosyncratic note-jottings from the margins of the Catholic church and its theological traditions today:*
1. Without love, I'm nothing. Living in love is a daily challenge that requires me never to settle for certainty, never to imagine that I am the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong or good and bad, but always in the process of being shaped and reshaped. Since the call to love is absolute and open-ended in the Christian gospels and in the scriptures of the world's major religious traditions. We can never stop moving towards love, giving up our sinfulness, hard-heartedness, certainty that the world revolves around us, because love continues to beckon us as the final horizon of our lives, the ultimate, definitive goal. It continues to beckon us in the eyes, the needs, the human flesh of every human being we encounter every day of our lives. Love beckoned Steve and me yesterday in the eyes of the young girl to whom we gave money on the street, who may well have used that money to buy drugs (and who may well have needed that money to buy food--and what she did with it is not my business. My business is to rise to the challenge of love.)
2. Love is the ultimate signpost of the spiritual life, the one that tells us definitively if we're on the path or have strayed from it. We may and should talk about all the other signposts, the markers which suggest that we're moving in the right or wrong direction, the questions of discernment of Spirit. But if we talk about these in the absence of talk about what is absolutely central and indispensable--love--we miss the point.
3. Isn't it interesting that two of the most profound mystics in the Catholic tradition, masters of the spiritual life who spoke over and over about the primacy of love in the spiritual journey, were from families of conversos? I'm speaking of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, both of whom emphasize that at the end of our journey, it is love that will judge us. Our own love will judge us. We'll be judged according to how we've loved. Love will judge us. God is love.
4. Teresa and John, both from families whose blood was regarded by the true believers of their era, the promoters of the smaller, purer church in their time frame, as impure, mixed, dirty blood . . . . Neither able to claim the lineage of racial and religious purity that would have helped shelter them from the Inquisition, which dogged the steps of both of these poor little people who owned nothing in the world except their spiritual insights, grounded in the overwhelming, freely offered love of God. And who therefore, for some mysterious reason, represented a profound threat to the men who ruled things in their period.
5. With their mixed lineages and marginal status, Teresa and John would not have written for the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, Mirror of Justice, Catholic League blog, or America of their period. They would not have been represented in the line-drawing, identity-defining, power-distributing conversations of the powerful journals and blogs of the Catholic center in their time and place. Their talk about love as the touchstone of the spiritual life would have been politely ignored, if not laughed out of the tightly controlled centrist conversation space of the church of their time and place.
6. And as I think about this, I think about how little, how almost not in the least, the term "love" enters the conversation of the Catholic center in the U.S. these days. As power is sliced and diced and divided up always and predictably among the same power-mongering centrists who determine who will and who will not count in the conversation that determines Catholic identity.
7. We talk about Catholic identity. We talk about prudential judgment. We talk about formal cooperation with evil. We talk about magisterium and conscience. We talk about evangelization and new evangelization.
8. But we don't talk about love. Around which everything revolves and must revolve if these conversations are really about what they claim to be about: determining that Catholic identity remain solid in a rapidly changing culture in which secularism is making decisive inroads and traditional Catholic teachings and values being subjected to analysis and renegotiation.
9. It's hard to avoid the impression--for me, this is more than an impression; it's what I see clearly with the eyes of my soul, as a marginal, count-for-nothing little person of decidedly mixed blood and lineage--that what's really going on in the conversations of the Catholic center right now is a struggle between old boys (of both genders) of the hard right and of the center right about who will have most of the spoils, when the final battle between these groups has been been fought and the tiny spoils left to divide have been divided up.
10. Meanwhile, large numbers of Catholics are walking away from this unseemly battle that's about everything in the world than what's centermost in the spiritual life--because we have to do so if we want to save our souls. Because we've long been taught by the masters of our spiritual tradition that love is what counts above all.
And love is what we're hearing nothing at all about from the self-declared definers and defenders of our Catholic identity right now.
*I'm very grateful to readers for all the comments you've been leaving here, and want you to know I'm reading and pondering them. Because I want to focus on making myself accessible to whatever the Spirit chooses to say and do inside me this week, I'm not taking time to reply--but will do so when the week's over. And I want you to know in the meantime, if you've left a comment, that I appreciate it.