Reform is ever-renewed ablatio—removal, whose purpose is to allow the nobilis forma, the countenance of the bride, and with it the Bridegroom himself, the living Lord, to appear… this path alone allows the divine to penetrate and brings about congregatio, which as both gathering and purification is that pure communion we all long for, where ‘I’ is no longer pitted against ‘I’ and self against self. Rather, the self-giving and self-abandonment that characterize love becomes the reciprocal reception of all that is pure and good. Thus, the word of the kindly father who reminds the jealous older son what the content of all freedom and the realization of utopia consist of becomes true for every man: ‘all that is mine is yours’ (Lk ).’
Called to Communion, 142-3
Reflection – Well, this is a mouthful! The Holy Father is talking in this book about the reform of the Church, the whole project that has taken up so much of the energies of Catholics, especially clergy and religious, in the past 50 years or so.His reference to ablatio is a bit obscure (the surrounding context of the quote explains it). He is using here the image of the sculptor who ‘sees’ the statue in the block of marble and merely chips away everything that is not part of it.
This is crucial, though, both in the reform of the Church and in our own personal Reformations, big and small. The point is that the Church already exists, not as our creation or as any kind of product of human ingenuity, but as a creature of God, indeed the most noble creature there is, for it shares in a wholly supernatural way in the life of Christ who is God.
So our efforts to ‘reform’ the Church, which are perfectly legitimate and necessary (ecclesia semper reformanda-the Church always in need of reform) have to proceed from that understanding. What has God made? Who is this Bride, this Body? What has been established from the beginning, what have we understood over the millennia as being proper to the life of the Church? Only from that can we ‘chip away’ at things that should not or do not need to be there.
So the reformer who talks about eliminating Confession or changing the nature of the priesthood by allowing women’s ordination or jettisoning the indissolubility of marriage or… well, we all know the drill. Throw everything out that offends modern sensibilities. But this proceeds from the idea that we are the ones determining what the Church is. There is no ‘Church’ that is given from the hands of God – only our making and fashioning.
There is a deep principle at stake here, even deeper in some ways than the specific controversies which get most of the media play, important as they are. Is God the author of reality? What is human creativity? Who am I? Who are you? Do we create ourselves? Or are we co-creators with God? What is my path of self-reformation? Making myself up out of thin air, or beholding within myself the image of God already there, and ‘chipping away’ at what doesn’t belong to that? Very deep questions.
And it is fascinating (this quotation from Ratzinger is rich, rich, rich!) that he links it to communion. Of course he’s talking about the Church, and that is the whole substance of the Church’s life, but again the deep point he makes is that communion between people comes from living in truth. When the truth of my being and your being emerges from all the falsehood we have to ‘chip away,’ then we can live both in that open receptivity towards God (the image of the Bride), ‘all that I have is yours,’ and from that a happy receptivity towards one another.
I could go on and on about this, but this post is long enough. It’s worth meditating on, though. What is my ablatio today? What chips of marble are keeping me from you, from God, from happy communion? And what tool will remove those chips? (Hint, it starts with ‘Cr’ and rhymes with ‘boss’!)