Religious Life IN GENERAL
RELIGIOUS IN TODAY'S WORLD
Armand Veilleux OCSO
Our current civilisation is experiencing a global-scale crisis calling for change of heart as well as of structure... What role can religious play, what role must they play in this building-project for a new humanity and a new Church?
This role is shown to be prophetic, and to . have various dimensions: as a prophet, the religious is
- a man-of God, a man with a mission from God;
: a man of communion and a man of solitude; - a man of the Word and a man of horizontal loyalties;
- in a word, a man of prayer.
I have no intention of presenting here some elaborate theology. of religious life. That kind of thing is fairly easily come by. Rather, my focus is that of someone living the "contemplative life" as it is commonly called, and trying to read the signs of the times in the light of God's word.
My aim is to express how I myself see the current evolution of the world and. of the Church, and the question posed for, religious life by this evolution. I want to show how the current situation of social sin and inequality between rich and poor among us is written into the vast global crisis of civilisation; how a new humanity is in gestation, requiring t the elaboration of a vast, global project of humanisation and evangelisation; and finally, what the role of religious can and must be, in this vast project of. building a new humanity and* a new Church. Then I shall touch on the various dimensions of this prophetic role of religious life.
1. The global and universal character of the crisis
It is a commonplace to say that humanity is now passing through. the most profound crisis in history. Basically, what we are speaking of is not a religious or economic or political crisis simply, or even a cultural crisis as such - implying this or that type of culture - but an anthropological. crisis. It is a type of civilisation, a type of humanity, a mode of relationship between men, rather, that is falling away and disappearing; but in its place and contemporaneously we are witnessing the tranquil and unpretentious birth of a new type of humanity, with new modes of human grouping.
Every aspect of human life is affected by. this crisis: the world economic system is severely shaken; between the great powers, the repartition of zones of political. and military influence is being subjected to interrogation; traditional family life is being largely overturned; traditional methods of apostolate are yielding progressively less the results we expect; and traditional. structures of religious life are proving increasingly less capable of supporting the new commitments required by evangelisation in our modern world.
No problem can be considered in isolation. Almost all the different problems that we meet with in our province, in our religious communities, in our work groups, are only the repercussion in our own small milieu of the vast problems with which the whole of humanity is confronted. And we would indeed show ourselves ignorant or irresponsible if we were to try and solve one or other of these problems without taking into consideration the globality of its context. We shall see, for instance, how the crisis of prayer is deeply bound up with the crisis of language as well as with that of political and socio-economic structures.
Since the Church exists for the world and is deeply linked with the structures of the society to which it must belong to fulfil its mission, it is expected that, whenever the world is passing through a period of change, the Church, too, needs to have a fresh look at the way in which it is functioning in society. Throughout history, all great periods of change have been periods of sifting and upheaval for the Church, too, as well as times of real creativeness.
The most typical example, and the period most similar to our own, is certainly that of the twelfth century. This was the period when the Church was most deeply bound up with the structures of the feudal Empire at its high point of development. Pope Gregory, with true wisdom, had foreseen the breakup of that feudal society and had ensured the Church's freedom from its system. This was the point of departure for an extraordinary period that witnessed, among other phenomena, the birth of many new religious communities: the Orders of Canons and of Mendicants, as well as the great monastic reforms like those of Citeaux, the Chartreuse, Camaldoli, Grandmont, Valumbrosa etc.
The crisis is both global and universal. Any problem nowadays that is not posed in planetary terms becomes thereby a false problem. All of us are bound to be on guard against provincialism as a tendency. All real. problems today are experienced in the same way all over the world. Even the difference between East and West is rapidly crumbling. If we agree that the world is round, then surely those who are easterners for their left-hand neighbour are westerners for their right-hand neighbour. You have only to meet the Greek monks of Mt Athos, the Jesuits of Japan, the Buddhist monks of Korea or Sri Lanka, to realise that the problems they face, the solutions they envisage, the aspirations they experience, are practically the same everywhere. At Bangalore in 73. 1, .. remember hearing some Buddhist monks from Japan explaining the problems experienced by Buddhists through the rapid secularisation of the traditionally religious Japanese society. It would have been no effort for me to convince myself that I was listening to a Redemptorist or a Jesuit in Quebec, facing these very same problems caused by the same movement of secularisation.
What is at stake, then, as we set about building a new humanity, a new civilisation, and a new Church within it, like leaven in the dough. The whole focus of religious life .is witness to the Gospel -- like the Church herself, then the religious life is automatically involved in the new evolution. But it should not submit itself to it dumbly and passively. Alvin Toffler, in Future Shock, is an example of this passivity, for he presents us with an evolution that is completely subject to a determinism over which we would have practically no control. In fact, quite the contrary process must be brought into play: it is for religious in their mission as evangeliser, actively to intervene in the changing of society's structures.
Here I think we need to steer clear of the false dilemma that would look something like this: is our area one of involvement in change of heart, or in change of structure? It is a dilemma appearing on all sides. It was evident, for example, at the meeting of the CRC-Q in Montreal, June '75, and every community knows repeated instances of it. At that meeting of the CRC--Q in Montreal, when we were speaking about the socio-political involvement of some religious, the following question was raised: "Isn't the role of religious simply to work for the laity's conversion of heart, leaving the laity to work for the conversion of society'; structures?"
To me, this seems to be quite a false dilemma: firstly, because I have yet to see hearts marching in the streets ... we are composed of flesh and spirit, and are largely conditioned by the socio-political context in which we live; secondly, because the liberation that Christ came down to bring us is the integral liberation of man and of all the dimensions of the human.
This problem is being presented sharply in Latin America - but it often rears its head in our own communities too. For example, there will always be some who will be more concerned about the need to modify the structures of our community life so as to foster prayer life, or apostolate, or the general seeking of God; whereas others will be more concerned about the need to change our hearts, on the assumption that the change of structures will follow of itself In my opinion, neither can come about without the other, and we need to keep them both moving at the same pace.
I remember reading somewhere a remark of Fidel Castro’s: "There are Christians who are naive enough to hold that change of heart is all that is needed, and there are Marxists who hold, with similar naïveté, that change of structures is enough." In reality, neither can make any headway without the other. I feel that a far-reaching renewal of our way of living out community life, together with true conversion of heart, is urgently needed. If we are satisfied to wait passively for better tames, we are quite likely to be faced with collective death - and quite soon.
2. The Church and Evangelisation
Before going any further, I should like to draw attention to a few elements of post-conciliar ecclesial consciousness. I am referring here to the notion of the Church, to the understanding of evangelisation, and to our awareness of a change in the places of God's intervention in history as well as in the privileged places of witness.
The Church is essentially missionary. It exists for the world. We might even say, by a kind of paradox, that the Church exists for those who do not yet form part of it. We are not Christians for the purpose of holding meetings for.. ourselves, to tell each other how well everything is goings or to remark that this or that is good, or that we are lucky to have been given this exceptional grace etc. Nor are we. religious for this reason, either. Rather, we are Christians and we are religious primarily to bring the Good News to those who have not yet received it; to announce the Good News of liberation to those who are still victims to slavery and injustice. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that it was fear that brought the disciples together in the Cenacle, and that, when the Holy Spirit came to them on the day of Pentecost; he sent them out, and dispatched them to the four corners of the earth, to announce the Good News.'
In 1974, at the inter-American religious conference at Bogota, a strong appeal was made by the Latin-American religious. The members of the Canadian delegation had been explaining the evolution that we have been experiencing in Canada and especially in Quebec during the last fifteen years, our efforts to deepen our fraternal life, to develop our prayer life, to ensure time that will be strong in the living of community, etc. At one point, the Latin Americans came up with the pertinent question: you have put a lot of effort into renewal and adaptation. What is its real aim? To ensure your survival as communities - or, to spread the Gospel? In my opinion, this is a question that we have no right to elude.
But what is evangelisation? -- We cannot approach this question now with the old mentality of the rich - convinced that we are the proprietors of the truth and that we carry in our hands a treasure that we must share with those poor sinners who do not practise their religion, as well as with the unfortunate pagans who haven't even got the faith. There is greater awareness now that every man carries within himself the revelation of God. God is revealed in creation because he has made man to his own image: he has planted the seed of divine life within him.
I love the account of creation given in Genesis: it shows us God fashioning man with his own hands from the clay of the earth, and then breathing; into this statue of clay his own breath of life. By this breath of life, God deposits in the heart of every man his divine life, and through this seed he reveals himself to every man. All subsequent revelation will be but an explanation of this first revelation.
Since God has revealed himself, Christ too, when he comes, will reveal no one else but the same God. In the line of the great prophets, he will come to tell us about the extraordinary experience of Life that he lives with the Father, about his awareness of being the Son of this same God, and he will teach us how we are called to live in this same communion and in this same life.
To evangelise, then, is to help every man to come into contact with this revelation of God that he bears in his heart, and to help every man live in accord with what he understands of the beatitudes, and from this to discover the rest. We are bound to respect the psychology o£ God as we find it in the parables of the Kingdom, clearly delineated. We are bound to respect the laws of growth, too. The parables show us the Kingdom of God in the form of a grain of seed entrusted to the earth, germinating slowly, like leaven acting in dough which causes the whole slowly to rise. God, through the Incarnation, has entered personally into man's history, respecting all the dimensions of the human, including the long dimension of time and growth ... he was born in the womb of a woman -- ho was a small child -_ he grew at the normal rate of growth. It is up to us, then, especially in these present times, to know, before anything else, how to be a leaven in the desacralised milieux of witness, how to show forth in silence our own experience of God, in places that are utterly devoid of the sacred. Perhaps, after a long period of verbal inflation, the time is note ripe for the Church to live through a period of silent witness.
Our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and of Jesus is the God of history. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always lived its spiritual experience as an awareness of God's intervention in history. When the ''lord of God became incarnate in time, he deposited in the heart of humanity the seeds of profound social change. The change that we are experiencing at present on the planetary scale is one of the fruits of this seed.
Throughout the history of both Old and New Testaments, we find periodic changes in the privileged places of God's intervention. At the time of the crossing of the Red Sea, and again at Mt Sinai., God intervened chiefly through his intermediary Moses. All through the wandering in the desert, his presence was shown in the ark of the Covenant, and in the cloud that accompanied the people. His intervention in history will assume various forms of structured mediation: so we have the Judges, in the Old Testament, then the Kings. Once Kingship becomes an established structure, the prophets have a definite role to play, and in the period of the exile, it becomes a much greater role.
It is easy to see in the history of the Church, since the time of Christ, an identical evolution of the modes of God's intervention, and of the channels that God's voice takes to reach us. Pope Paul has spoken in various contexts, and especially in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, of the "cry of the poor", to which we must give ear. And the interesting point is that Pope Paul wrote this document shortly after his visit to Bombay, where he had made personal contact with extreme poverty, and had heard the cry of the poor with his own ears.
It is clear enough that this shift in the privileged places of God's intervention implies, as a consequence, a shaft in the privileged places of witness. The various documents that have come through the Church's magisterium in the last ten or fifteen years are a real invitation to us to bring our Gospel witness particularly to those places that are poorest and least privileged in our society.
In the last few years we have had a fair amount to say about the existence of two Churches. In speaking of two Churches, of two diverse peoples, we are expressing some element of truth, but in so doing, we are using expressions that carry ambiguity. In reality, there is only one Church; but on the level of its insertion and incarnation in the concrete world, this Church clearly holds some structures that are on the way out, and other structures that are still only on the way in.
We might say that our activities are caught up in various sectors of the Church's life: some of our apostolic activities, for example, necessary and all as they are, clearly belong to an element in the Church's life that is disappearing, or to ecclesial structures that are disintegrating; whereas other activities are connected with structures that are only now in process of coming to birth, or belong to the Church that is coming into being. There are still -a fair number of traditionally-minded Christians who need religious services of the kind they are long accustomed to. But there are also great numbers who have moved right outside all ecclesiastical circuits, and it is of utmost urgency for us, in our apostolic efforts, to find ways of renewed contact with them. It would be heresy, in the etymological sense of the word, to tolerate separation between these two diverse sectors and activities; it would lead to the non-recognition of one group by the other, or to mutual rejection.
What is of basic importance is the spirit in which this or that type of ministry or evangelisation is carried out; but it is of equally capital importance for us to make an inventory, right now and on the spot, of the areas in which we invest our best energies. In the life of any institution, whether it be the Church or a religious Congregation, and equally in the life of any individual, there must be a certain balance between the amount of energy we invest in maintenance activities and the amount we invest in creativity. It would not be normal for 95% of our energies to be spent in maintenance and 5% in creativity.
On this point, we here in Quebec cannot close our eyes to the fact that the situation in which we have to live out our Christianity has changed radically in the last fifteen years. Today we find ourselves in a position where the percentage of religious practice could be set at somewhere between 25-30%.. for the whole state of Quebec, and much lower in the big cities. Fifteen or twenty years ago, it would have. been quite natural to think of pastoral activities almost entirely in terms of sacramental services for practising people. But this could certainly not be taken for granted today. We can no longer accept it as normal to have pastoral structures that have no relation at all to 75--80 % of our fellow-citizens - who are therefore quite outside the range of all ecclesial circuits. And surely we cannot reconcile ourselves.to the fact that nothing of God's word in preaching is getting through to them. To my mind, there is urgent need for a searching examination of conscience on this matter.
3. The Church and its role in history
At this point, it might be interesting to have a quick methodical look at how the Church has borne fruit, through the course o£ history, from the seed o£ social change that was sown in the soil of humanity by the Incarnation of the Word.
The first Christians found themselves facing a socio-political situation quite similar to what we ourselves are living through today. The Roman Empire covered almost the whole of the then known world, and. comprised two categories of people: Roman citizens, and all the rest in general. The Roman citizens had all the privileges, and all the others were in their service. (Over-developed countries and under-developed countries!) The Roman citizen expected everything from the State, which provided him with "bread and shows". The State could support Roman citizens, both in Rome itself and in other parts of the Empire, because the numerous countries that Rome had conquered and colonised provided. the necessary funds, and also because there were thousands of slaves. In the face of that situation of social disparities - a situation of collective, social sin - what was the reaction of the first Christians? They worked out, in their own personal living, a counter-witness to their culture. Roman citizens, along with those who were slaves, all alike sold their possessions, held everything in common, and divided up the property of all, according to the needs of each. It was certainly utopian and, in my opinion, does not seem to have had any great immediate success, but it has left a deep impression on the subsequent history of humanity, right down to our own day. This action of the first Christians, though devoid of all colour of political partisanship, was basically a socio-political gesture.
From the time of the peace of Constantine, the Church was involved in another way in the socio-political structures of society. When Constantine emerged a s victor from the civil war that destroyed and dismembered the Roman Empire, his first task was to find some basic and continuing social institution that could act as a kind of social cement and integrating element in that broken society, if he was to succeed in preserving or restoring its cohesion.
The reconstruction of a politically unanimous society, the collective confession of the same Christian faith and the formation of a common national conscience based on that faith: this was the remedy indicated by the symptoms, and it was Constantine's genius, without any doubt, to perceive it. The Church had just lived. through three centuries of martyrdom prison and underground activity, and now found herself in an unexpected and privileged position. Probably without any thought for the consequences, she accepted being thus institutionalised, and becoming this medium of social integration.
It is important for us to realise that the Church accepted globally a role that was properly socio-political. It is a role that she has never since ceased to play. At the same time, she acquired a position of monopoly: monopoly of the collective roles of society, monopoly of the definition of the legal forms that would cement the near social order.
This socio-political role that the Church has played throughout the centuries is not without ambiguity: but I wonder if it would be wise for Christians today to react against what is now a historical fact, by withdrawing altogether from those places where new social. norms are. being established. Whatever we may think of the last point,. at least let us refrain from calling out all to easily that it is scandal when, in the Church's name, some religious feel called to socio-political involvement.
Moreover, even in Quebec, the Church was intimately connected with a type of society and a type of socio-political activity, and stood pledge for them: we refer, of course, to those services of a social character that she has rendered and must continue to fulfil for several generations to come (schools, hospitals and various social works).
In any case, it seems clear to me that we must completely destroy the myth of being apolitical. Whether we choose it. or not, every one of our lifestyles, modes of apostolate, even turns of expression, is bound up with a type of society and a type of Church, and stands surety for it. Moreover, the history of the Church shows us that whenever the Church, in periods of social change, takes her own stand in relation to this change, she is profoundly renewed: whereas when she aligns herself with systems that are disintegrating, she pays dearly for this alliance by its result.
In 1974, at a meeting of Buddhists and Christians in Sri Lanka, a young Buddhist monk severely and pointedly reproached Christians for their lack of involvement in all the great revolutions of history. Some well-informed participants lost no time in drawing his attention to the fact that the contrary was in fact the case, and that many of the great revolutions, even in Asia, had been strongly influenced by Christians directly, or at least by the Gospel.
By way of example: the initiator of the great trade-union movement in Japan was a Christian :.Kagawa; and the same is true of Sun-Yat-Sen, father of the social revolution in China. The whole world is aware that Ghandi, though never officially accepting Christianity, drew from the Gospel and especially from the Beatitudes the best part of his doctrine of non-violence.
But just the same, a closer look at things also showed that the young Buddhist monk did have some grounds for his accusation. While individual Christians have often enough been responsible for instigating social transformation, the institutional. Church has generally been very reticent about them and rather reluctant to accept them. This is especially the domain of the prophet rather than of the institution. And now that we are face to face with a period when we have on hand this vast project for a new humanity and a new Church, religious have a very particular role to play, for the Church has always expected her religious to assume naturally the role of being prophets they are not guardians of existing structures - or at least not only that - but rather, the builders of a new world.
The religious prophet
In what follows, I have no intention of giving a treatise on prophecy. I just want to stress some of the traits that are more especially characteristic of the prophet in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The prophet is first of all a man of God; and secondly, he is a man with a mission received from God. By the same fact, he is a man of communion - and equally a man of solitude. He is also a man of the Word - and likewise, of horizontal loyalties. And finally, he is a man of prayer.
Man of God.
The authentic prophet is characterised by a deep experience of God, which makes him view human life in a new light, His meeting with God leads him quite naturally to other men, especially to those who are suffering or oppressed. The prophetic element in his religion is characterised by the intimate connection between religion and life, He is at the very opposite pole to spiritual schizophrenia. In fidelity to the Spirit, he is open to novelty; he has the courage to oppose the powers of this world. His grace is to see the whole of reality, to see the present moment in relation to the whole history of salvation, as fulfilment of the past, and as promise of God for the future. He is a man of hope: that is why he dares, with a daring that trusts entirely in God's . fidelity and sometimes borders on the extreme, to destroy the complexes of security in himself and in others, and to teach men how to walk into the future, Paul Valery says somewhere that we approach the future backwards. On this assumption, the true prophet isn't someone who goes into the future backwards, but rather, someone like Abraham, who walks ever onwards and with firm step, even when he does not know exactly where the Lord is leading.
Jesus was the prophet par excellence.. totally rooted in God his Father, free from all forms of bondage, unfettered by any social and religious conventions, he could walk into the future and open up its way to his disciples..
Man with a Mission
As a man of God, the prophet is also a man with a mission. When we speak of prophecy, we think spontaneously of the mission he is given to carry out in regard to his brethren. We have just seen that the prophet is primarily a man of God, living in direct relationship with God. But God sets him wholly apart to send him to his brothers. His relationship with God is intimately connected with his mission to his brothers. And here again, the true prophet is incapable of spiritual schizophrenia.
It seems to me important that we distinguish between mission and function. You will find this definition extremely well explained in two works of Marcel Legault, Man in Search of his Humanity, and Introduction to the past and future of Christianity. Mission is something that is written into every fibre of our being. It is an inner drive, the fruit of the presence of the Spirit within us. Function, on the other hand, is something imposed upon us from without. Man can and must identify with his mission; but it is always sad to see a man identify with his-function or with one of his functions -- and it carries something of drama with it. The tragedy is that we live much oftener and with much greater constancy on the level of functions to fulfil than on that of mission to discover and live.
It should be said, in passing, that our conception of religious life has given us this orientation. When we made our choice to enter this particular religious community, our choice was probably a matter of some religious or social function to carry out, rather than of a mission to discover day by day. The change of awareness in this area, i.e. the rediscovery of the Christian dimension of mission, forces us to rethink our concept of religious community and, above all, the connection between personal mission and the role played by the community.
In the past, we all too often considered the community as an organism with a certain number of functions to carry out within the Church, and with the need, therefore, to apportion its members on the best conceivable functional basis to answer these needs.
In the future, I feel that the role of the community will be primarily one of granting more and more freedom to every one of its members to discover his own mission and fulfil it well, day by day. This evolution will take place within a broader sociological evolution, implying some form of upheaval. in the patterns of human grouping.
In the past, every community, every human grouping, was a kind of objective pattern into which one would enter in order to play a certain role. From now on, the authentic communities are primarily communities open to the mobility of change; they are the provisional. or definitive encounter of persons with identical. or similar spiritual and human drives.
Man of solitude and of communion
The prophet must be both a man of solitude and a man of communion. Moreover, these two realities, far from being in mutual opposition, are in mutual need, each of the other. One can live a life of intense solitude to the degree in which one lives in deep communion and, inversely, one is only capable of deep communion to the degree in which he can accept solitude - the degree in which he has been able to take up his position alone, completely stripped, facing God and facing himself. A life of community and of deep communion implies a profound. respect for the personal mission and trend of each one. But here, beware! By respect 1 mean respect for the deep being of each one, and not respect for his caprices. Far from being a compromise with all sorts of weakness, this respect will very often bring with it the obligation of rousing. a brother to keep him from going to sleep - reminding him of the ideal he has accepted and of the values to which he has dedicated his life. Clearly; too, this respect implies acceptance of some degree of pluralism - one which must not be a mere justification of the status quo, but which must lead us to accept certain creative marginalities - surely at the root of all great religious Orders - and which must lead us, further, to avoid secreting the passive marginalities of people who are or feel rejected.
Man of the Word
As man of God and man with a mission, the prophet is also a man with a message: for the man receiving the Word from God is a man with a message to be transmitted to his brothers. It is a disturbing word, and can denounce as well as announce. The denouncing word, for example, is the message of the prophet Nathan to David: "Thou art that man." This is a role that we, as religious, do have in society today - it is °role that must enable us to enjoy the liberty conferred by our vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience. Thus, for example, many religious work in sectors where injustices thrive - both on the personal and on the institutional level (in schools, hospitals and other work areas). Often, lay people working , in such milieux are not free to denounce injustices because they have a wife to support, a family to raise, a job to keep. Perhaps it is the special duty of religious - supported as they are by community, and able therefore to run any length of material risk - to know how to speak for those who cannot, for those who are the victims of these injustices and are humiliated by them.
To be a man of the Word must also mean to announce: to announce the coming to birth of the seeds of new life right there where all seems to be dead, and, by the same token, to point out that something is in fact dead where people are still thinking it has. life .
The prophet must not allow his brothers, his contemporaries, to sleep on in the false security of the status quo; he must persuade them to abandon an unreal past that so often exists only in their imagination, so as to give themselves completely to a future that may still be uncertain but already exists in their hope.
As man of the Word, the prophet must be concerned to find a language for the religious experience of today, by freely giving expression to his own personal experience of God. The crisis of prayer that we are living through at present is largely a crisis of language, This is important in itself and pregnant with consequence: for language is not just a means of expression - it conditions the experience itself. Since there is no experience without awareness of experience, our religious experience is profoundly conditioned and limited by the categories that we use in expressing it to ourselves, before we can express it to others.
Man of solidarity
I won't stay long on this point -- but it is important. I should like simply to insist on the fact that the social and ecclesial tissue is' built up collectively. Now it seems clear enough that our period is not one in which religious communities can work out great collective projects. All the more reason, then, for religious being present individually and collectively wherever society and the Church are being established.; that they be present in all the great collective projects that are afoot around them.
In the years to come, we must be very attentive to the convergence of missions, to the encounter of the deep intuitions of those who, though coming from different horizons, meet together to build the one, same Church and the one, same people.
Already we are. witnessing the birth of communities composed of married couples as well as celibates, old as well as young, the contemplatively as well as the more actively oriented - all united in the same spiritual consciousness, the same type of spirituality, the same call. This is how the great religious families were formed in the past and, in any opinion, this is how all our spiritual families find their feet again.
I am myself convinced that most communities founded in recent centuries for some specific social purpose, whether teaching, care of the sick, or something else, are now destined to disappear as such - though there will always be some that represent the great spiritual families. There will always be people, for example, who will identify spontaneously with some type of Ignatian spirituality, others who will identify spontaneously with a type of spirituality that may be Franciscan, perhaps, or Benedictine. For this reason, I don't see why these great spiritual families that have outlived the centuries and have been renewed and refounded, so to say, in every profound crisis that the Church has experienced, are not capable of another lease of new life now.
Man of Prayer
As a man of God, the prophet must obviously be a man of encounter with God -- that is, a man of prayer and contemplation. In mentioning contemplation, I am not, of course, referring to a neo--platonic concept of disembodied contemplation. True Christian contemplation implies two meetings with God that are complementary and inseparable: our meeting with the person of Jesus who, from the inner depths of his heart, reveals to us his Father and the Spirit; and our meeting with our neighbour, especially with the poorest and underprivileged- "I was hungry . and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked, and you clothed me...”
These two meetings with God are inseparable, and true Christian contemplation consists in their union. A pseudo-encounter with God that does not integrate an awareness of the social sin in which humanity is living and for which we are all alike responsible - a pseudo.-encounter with God that does not take stock of the distance that separates us from God - would be just as unchristian as some form of human, frantically social activity not rooted in encounter with the Word made flesh,
If the religious is truly a man of prayer and of contemplation, he will be able to play an important role in the present crisis of prayer. In my opinion, we are still in the thick of this crisis, in spite of considerable renewal of interest in prayer these days, and some renewal in prayer itself. Most of the great religions of our day, especially the various Christian Churches, are experiencing; the same.
I was saying above that this crisis seems to me to be connected with a crisis in language. Any cultural transformation, like the one in which we are living at present, will be keenly felt on the level of modes of presence to the world, or to being itself. Our prayer is developed within a religious tradition in which verbal expression played a predominant role. The religious man of the Judeo-Christian tradition has a deep need to speak to his God, to speak to himself about his God and about himself. He needs to objectify :what he bears of the divine within him, the presence that he experiences, as if it were an opposite pole, something over against him. Thus he expresses his religious experience in the form of dialogue - and what he puts into the mouth of God is just as much part of that dialogue as what he himself says to God. This whole attitude loses much of its pertinence with a cultural situation in which all the traditional forms of expression are sent flying.
In the present search for new forms of prayer religious can play a role of discernment and guidance.
A role of discernment, first of all: for it is both important and urgent to show how to discern in the ensemble of current movements of prayer those, on the one hand, that express genuinely the deep need we have to experience God and to rediscover the religious dimension of human living, and those, on the other hand, that are no more than enthusiasm pure and simple, and that respond to a kind. of social situation of disillusionment.
It has been recently pointed out that the Uruguay that was formerly synonymous with cultural anti-militarism, freedom of speech and. laicism, and was characterised by a middle of the road policy and by all the aspects of human warmth, has now given place to a Uruguay completely different from this where youth, subject to dictatorship and repression, and caught in a veritable hell of anguish, frustration and confinement, cannot remember that Uruguay of the .past; and he goes on to explain how these young people were irresistibly drawn towards the least breach they could see, that would enable them to spread their energies, to think of something less heavy and less crushing ... So we see in Uruguay now the proliferation of movements that appeal to supra-sensible forces to spiritualist sects, to a school of diverse gurus, to groups that vaguely smack of the charismatic. There is a fair amount of popular recourse to magic, to the appearance of oumbandist rites etc ... This ensemble of phenomena is quite typical of desperate situations.
In my opinion, these facts and this attempt at diagnosis could shed light on the way in which certain prayer movements are showing up in America -- an America that has lost heart through the long war in Vietnam, the drawn--out Watergate enquiry, the insoluble racial enquiry etc. The same prayer-group movement spread like wildfire in Quebec, when we were reduced to trauma after the crisis of October 1970 -- and in the west, too, now that it is beginning to experience full--scale decomposition.
Role of discernment - and at the same time, role of guidance : In recent years we have had a number of articles in various reviews and papers, all 'connected with the peed for gurus. Recently, Caffarel _recalled the need for teachers in prayer. In my opinion, there is some ambiguity in these expressions. Prayer, in fact, cannot be taught. St Paul tells us that the only real prayer is the cry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts: "We do not know how to pray, but the Spirit of God prays, in us with unspeakable Groanings". This is the only Christian prayer there is. Anything outside that, that we call prayer, is nothing but the human method we use so as to make our own, by expressing it, this prayer of the Spirit within us. That is why the great Eastern masters of the spiritual life systematically refuse to speak of prayer or to speak of any spiritual experience except within the master/disciple disciple/master relationship. Spiritual. experience can be communicated only in this situation of intimacy. If certain techniques of asceticism, certain methods of physical or psychological predisposition to prayer can and should be taught, it still_ remains true that one can be led into the deep and mysterious ways of religious experience only by someone who has already been living this same experience, personally and profoundly.
if we know how to assume our prophetic mission, i.e. to be men of God, living out in contemplation our solidarity with our brothers, and drawing into our solitude the Word of God sown in the ground of the society in which we live, we shall be able to bring a particular and original contribution to the colossal task with which the whole of humanity is today confronted: that of giving; the world a new humanity. If we can incarnate in our own life the presence of the Gospel, like leaven in paste, we shall be carrying out to the best of our ability our specific task of evangelisation.
Fr Armand shared this paper with us in '76: it appeared in French in the Franciscan periodical "La Vie des Communautés Religieuses" Feb '76, Montreal.