Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I'm Working on Serenity

I tend to major on lament and minor on praise - quite unlike the Psalms, which include both but never get stuck permanently in lament mode. Two experiences in the past 18 hours have made me realize that I need more serenity.

1. Last evening I had the pleasure of hearing Archbishop Charles Chaput speak in person at St. Basil's Church on the University of St. Michael's campus. Archbishop Chaput is the author of Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholics Beliefs in Political Life (Doubleday, 2008) . He is one of the most candid, courageous and articulate spokesmen for orthodox Christianity in the United States today and a model bishop. His book is a great gift to lay people who struggle with how to be effective witnesses in the public arena. His witness is a great blessing to the Church.

Anyway, the point is that what I noticed from listening to him speak and field questions for 90 minutes or so and then in a personal word with him after the talk was (you guessed it) his serenity. He is not mad or angry and yet he says things more directly and clearly than many who are. For example, on the topic of ecumenism he said that 12 years ago when he went to Denver most of their interactions were with "mainline" Protestants but that now they don't have so much to do with them and are much more likely to be involved with joint ventures with Evangelicals. Another example was his treatment of the topic of hope. He criticized the lame, thin, sloganering version of hope offered by certain recent political campaigns that one could name and the Christian theological virtue of hope. One more example; he pointed out that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. It is a pragmatic response to public disagreement that is strategically necessary (even prudent) at times, but it is not a virtue because it is not an end in itself.

He gives the impression that he takes God very seriously, political issues such as abortion also very seriously and himself not very seriously. He reminds me of the saying of St. Francis de Sales that one should take the truth and dip it in charity until it is sweet to the taste. He can be the public spokesman for my faith any day of the week.

2. Today I read an article by John Webster entitled "Principles of Systematic Theology" in the new issue of IJST. Here is a quotation:

". . . it is worth remarking that the contraiety of the conception of systematic theology in what follows ought not to be allowed to generate an enduring posture of lament for a lost dogmatic culture. Lament is fitting on some occasions, but as a permanent attitude it can do damage, breeding intellectual vices such as vanity or pessimism, inhibiting a clear-sighted view of the situation and drawing theology away from its contemplative vocation. Likewise, polemic arrests and coarsens the mind when allowed to become habitual. What should hold lament and polemic in check is a gospel-derived awareness of the necessary pathos which attends theological work, the roots of which lie in the fact that the world is at enmity with the church and is reluctant to learn about the divine wisdom with which the saints have been entrusted. Yet even a due sense of pathos ought not to overwhelm the tranquil pursuit of theology, made possible and fruitful not by the capabilities of its practitioners or the opportunities afforded by its cultural settings, but by the infinite power of divine goodness shedding abroad the knowledge of itself." (International Journal of Systematic Theology, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2009): 58)

Neither Chaput nor Webster will ever be mistaken for craven compromisers; yet both are characterized by serenity and tranquility, both of which are the virtues of the faithful. They are examples to be emulated and gifts of God to His Church, for which we give thanks.

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