Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The voice of one crying in the wilderness....then and now
Today is the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist, and the story of his conception, birth and life, has, I think a few salutary messages for us in our situation today.
First, it illustrates the axiom that what seems difficult or even impossible to us is always possible for God. St John's parents Elizabeth and Zachariah, you will recall, were both old and childless. When given the news by the Angel Gabriel that his wife would have a child, Zachariah was disbelieving.
Traditionalists should take heed of this I think. We still seem intent on disbelieving the good news that the TLM is back. Certainly it is an initiative of this Pope, and still faces enormous opposition. The next Pope (may he not take office for many years yet!) may or may not have the same appreciation of the importance of liturgy. But I think it will be very hard now to totally reverse direction on this.
Secondly, St John the Baptist reminds us that spending a long time in the wilderness can be a positive thing! St John the Baptist lived as a hermit in the desert for many years before embarking on his short period of ministry - in fact Luke 3:1 places the start of St John's ministry as between 27 and 29 AD, so not that much earlier than that of Our Lord.
Thirdly, the story reminds us that when God wants things to change, he generally starts slowly, and allows things to build momentum. St John went about the Jordan area preaching the baptism of repentance. Our Lord had barely started his public life by the time St John was imprisoned by Herod and then executed. Yet two millennia later, we continue to celebrate not just St John's heavenly birth but also his earthly birth.
Vatican II is not the first Council of the Church to lead to an aftermath of heresy and crisis. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI has previously pointed to the Council of Nicaea in 325 as having some close parallels to the experience of our own times.
Nicaea, you might recall, condemned the Arian heresy. Yet in the years immediately afterward, virtually all the bishops of the Church became Arians. It was only really the persecution of Julian the Apostate (who hated Christianity in any form, and so those in power - who just happened to be Arian - bore the brunt of his views) that really turned things around for orthodoxy.
When the final restoration came at the Council of Constantinople in 381 it was pretty much an anticlimax - only 148 bishops attended, half the number of Nicaea. In fact, given that the Pope was represented it was only in retrospect, in view of the universal and enthusiastic acceptance of its decisions that it is even accepted as an Ecumenical Council.
We too must hope and pray, trusting in God's love for his Church. Our task is to listen for that voice in the wilderness, calling us to repent and do what we can to prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven. I'll write more on some ideas about what I think that can include doing later in the week!