Thursday, 13 September 2012

New Movements and New Media: Discuss

[This post is a response to Fr Tim's New movements John Paul II, new media Benedict XVI: discuss.]

Pope John Paul II's encouragement of the new movements in the Catholic Church has its highlight the meeting between those movements and the Pope on the eve of Pentecost in 1998. And the highlight of the highlight was John Paul II's assertion of the "co-essentiality" of the institutional and charismatic elements in the constitution of the Church, as foreshadowed in the teaching of Lumen Gentium n.12:
The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church's charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities.
A charism is a specifically given gift of the Holy Spirit arousing in the person or persons receiving it a call to fulfil a particular ecclesial mission. Each of the major ecclesial movements has its own unique charism, but it is interesting to identify common themes.
1. As Fr Tim pointed out, a Catholic with an intelligent and well formed commitment to the practice of their faith will, almost without exception, have received a formation from one or other of the new movements. Parish life has not been providing that formation in recent times (personally I am not sure how far it was providing such formation in more distant times either). At first sight this suggests a point of tension between ordinary parish/diocesan life and the life of the movements. However, it is worth recognising that the engagement of a person with the life of a movement should be seen as a specific way of experiencing baptismal consecration in commitment to Christian life. Seen in that way, there should be a continuity between parish life and the life of a movement. [The Marian consecration typical of the Legion of Mary at its Acies ceremony and of the last day of the "Fundamental Retreat" of the Foyers of Charity is explicitly articulated as a specification of baptismal consecration; "baptism in the Spirit", typical of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, is also understood in this way.]
2. The 1983 Code of Canon Law, in c.321 ff, allows a status as "private association of Christ's faithful". In summary, this status allows a movement, subject to the approval of its constitutions by appropriate ecclesial authority (the Bishop or the Holy See, the latter in the case of universal associations), to govern itself rather than being under the governance of an ecclesiastical assistant. This is a canonical expression of the idea of "co-essentiality"; I do not know whether or not there was an equivalent status under the provisions of the 1917 Code, though I suspect not.  [However, this self-governance does not exempt an association from visitation by those in ecclesiastical authority, which should provide safeguard against abuse of power in those associations.]
3. If we look at the specific charisms of some of the movements, a number of common themes appear that are worthy of further examination. These common themes run through the more unique aspects of the charisms proper to each movement.  They are: (1) a strong Marian character which is not a "devotion added on" but a natural part of the ecclesial life - the Legion of Mary, Focolare (official title "The Work of Mary") are not the only examples; (2) a natural ecclesial sense, expressed in a faithfulness to the Holy See and the official teaching of the Church that lacks any dogmatic or ultramontane spirit; (3) an interaction of a male and female figure in the founding charism - Pere Finet and Marthe Robin in the case of the Foyers of Charity, or indeed, the relation of the inspiration of Agnes Holloway to the mission of Fr Edward Holloway described in the introduction to the booklet "God's Master Key"; (4) an affirmation of the value of the vows of the evangelical counsels as appropriate not just for priests and religious but also for the lay faithful, often emerging as a group sought to live the charism of the movement in a more radical way - the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, the life of members of the Foyers of Charity are examples.

4. As suggested at 1 above, there is a question about how the life of the ecclesial movements, perhaps particularly those that are universal rather than diocesan in nature, relate to the life of parishes and dioceses. And indeed about how the life experienced in one ecclesial movements relates to the life of other such movements. This has been part of the process of "ecclesial maturing" to which Fr Tim referred, a process that has involved the explicit articulation of a founding event, often in the preparation of constitutions, and the discernment undertaken by ecclesiastical authority in approving such constitutions. It is at this point that the question of examining and ensuring the authenticity of a founder/founding charism, and questions of behaviours of founding figures, should come to the fore. The task of promoting unity among the movements was a particular task undertaken by Focolare (with its charism of unity) after the meeting at Pentecost 1998. Increasingly the word "communion" has been used to express the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, and the theology of communion perhaps offers a way of understanding the "co-essentiality" of charisms and institutions in the Church and of how they should relate to each other in living the Christian mystery.

5. If one can see Pope John Paul II as a particular promoter of the new movements in the Church, one can also see Hans Urs von Balthasar as being a particular theologian of the new movements. The  evangelical counsels as an option for the life of the lay faithful can be seen in his writings on the states of life in the Church and on the secular institutes. His book Engagement with God is prefaced by a dedication to Luigi Giusani and Communion and Liberation. He recognised in the Focolare exactly the living out of the "Marian profile" that features in his understanding of the Church and shared with them a strong sense of "Jesus forsaken" on the Cross.

Can we see Catholic blogging as a form of new movement akin to those being discussed above? I would suggest rather that, generally speaking, it partakes of an aspect of ecclesial life that has a certain analogy to the idea of the different ecclesial movements, but is not so readily capable of a positive evaluation. Unless I have misunderstood some recent reading, John Henry Newman referred to the Oxford Movement in a significantly different way when an Anglican than when a Catholic. As an Anglican, he would not have seen it as a "party" engaged in a (political) struggle for supremacy in the Church, but as a call to live Christian faith in its fullness; as a Catholic, he asked those who continued in the Church of England to recognise that they could not continue as a "party" (among other parties) following the general rejection by the Church of England's bishops of the Catholic principles of the movement. Colonised largely as it is by those of a traditionalist inclination, I would suggest that the Catholic blogosphere is closer to representing a "party" in this Newman-esque sense than an ecclesial movement in the sense considered above. It's campaigning behaviours, and sense that the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy as the only show in town and the subject to which every Catholic is devoted, seem to me characteristic of a "party".

Just as a final comment, and at  risk of arguing ad hominem but hopefully not without charity. The challenge that a traditionalist Catholic faces in considering the new movements derives from a strong sense of the institutional aspect of the Church. In consequence, the traditionalist might well have a reluctance to recognise the legitimacy of the charismatic and be put off by those who fail to live the charisms of their movements as well as they should; and they might also let their attachment to the Extraordinary Form trump all else as far as liturgy goes. But the witness of the movements, and of the support given to them by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is precisely a witness to "co-essentiallity" between the institutional and the charismatic.

UPDATE: See also Fr Tim's observations on this post, which particularly respond to my suggestion that the Catholic blogosphere has the nature of a "party".

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