Saturday, October 12, 2013

Doing the Splits in a Post-Modern Age

There are many religious Catholics whose readiness to change is merely a conditional one. They exert themselves to keep the commandments and to get rid of such qualities as they have recognized to be sinful. But they lack the will and the readiness to become new men all in all, to break with all purely natural standards, to view all things in a supernatural light.

They prefer to evade the act of metanoia: a true conversion of heart. Hence with an undisturbed conscience they cling to all that appears to them legitimate by natural standards. Their conscience permits them to remain entrenched in their self-assertion. For example, they do not feel the obligation of loving their enemies; they let their pride have its way within certain limits; they insist on the right of giving play to their natural reactions in answer to any humiliation.

They maintain as self-evident their claim to the world’s respect, they dread being looked upon as ‘fools of Christ’; they accord a certain role to human respect, and are anxious to stand justified in the eyes of the world also. They are not ready for a total breach with the world and its standards; they are swayed by certain conventional considerations; nor do they refrain from ‘letting themselves go’ within certain limits. There are various types and degrees of this reserved form of the readiness to change; but common to them all is the characteristic of a 
merely conditional obedience to the Call and an ultimate abiding by one’s natural self.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ

Reflection – This is one of those books you can easily pick up, open at random, and find a passage that makes you go, ‘hmmm. Well, that’s enough for me to think about for one day!’ I just did that, and the above is the proof.

It is always tempting, of course, when we read something like this, to immediately start making lists of all the Christians we know who are just like this and who really need to get their act together, and boy wouldn’t it be good if so-and-so read this book…

Yeah. One more manifestation of the refusal to change and become a new man, that is. This is really a matter of our own examination of conscience, our own need to really search out what is happening in our own hearts and minds. Where am I specifically saying ‘no’ to the transforming work of Christ? Where do I cling to my own natural ways of doing things, my own petty selfishnesses and egoisms? Where in my own life is it, in my own quiet way, ‘my way or the highway’, without any regard for the will and work of Christ?

Tough questions, and we all have to engage them according to our will to do so. I think the key to much of this is to renounce forever the attitude of spiritual complacency. There is nothing quite so toxic to the soul as the attitude that ‘I’ve done enough. I’ve gone as far as I need to. I’m OK.’

We are made to live a divine life, to live as Jesus lived: to have absolutely no bounds to our love, our mercy, our desire for the good, our willingness to serve, our detachment from our selves, our readiness to suffer and even die for our brothers and sisters. Until we’re there, we’re not there – we have not done enough, not gone as far as we need to, we are not OK.

This has always been vitally important—remember what I wrote yesterday about how it is the mediocrity of Christian witness that impedes Christian mission and evangelization. But I would hold that this half-hearted, ‘one foot in the world, one foot in the Gospel’ approach is getting even more problematic as the world gets further and further away from Gospel attitudes.

If half of us (at least) is adopting the standards and mores and general attitudes of the world and the other half (at best) is adopting Christian standards, this is going to get more and more uncomfortable as the two diverge. We will be rather in the position of doing the splits willy nilly, and are likely to break something up in there.

In an earlier age, the conventions of the world (which have never been all that great) at least included some of the precepts of conventional morality and decency. This is less and less the case, and a Christian with a fundamental allegiance to worldly attitudes in a post-modern world is more and more incoherent and fragmented. And incoherent and fragmented is no way to go through life, son.

So we have to choose. We always have, and the division of the ‘spirit of the world’ and the Spirit has always been a profound one. Von Hildebrand is a tough, challenging author, and I fully intend to keep throwing him up on the blog because he does bring that element of uncompromising challenge to the fore. Lots more to be said on this subject, but that’s enough for now, I think.

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