“Tradition is to the community what memory is to the individual”– John O’Donohue
Let’s cut to the chase – it’s been a rough few years for us Catholics. Well, maybe we should say a rough 17 or 70 years given the sexual abuse crisis? Or a rough 1000 years since the Crusades? Well, dang, let’s just call it. We Christians have been a train wreck from day one. So why are we still here?
The late Irish poet John O’Donohue, says “Tradition is to the community what memory is to the individual…it’s a huge naïveté for anyone to believe that a religion, understood as the collective wisdom and the lived spirit experience of a people, is an empty mass. It’s a huge resource! Tradition, like memory, has huge dark passages – within the Christian tradition there are dark zones of complete horror – but there are also zones of great light and immense wells of refreshment and healing.”
This speaks to me. My rose-colored glasses are long gone, but my love for our resilient Catholic family hasn’t waned. We just keep showing up and searching for God in this mess and there is something deeply endearing about this indomitable level of hope; something I find safe and lovely. Yes, we Catholics have a seemingly bottomless font of dysfunction, but what family doesn’t? To leave would be just trading one family’s problems for another. I intimately know MY family’s problems; our language, customs, faults and factions, and I feel that in terms of bringing about change, this awareness is an extremely valuable tool.
We believe that God speaks to us in nature. Dr. Margaret Wheatley writes “in nature, change never happens as a result of top down, strategic plans, or from the command of any single individual. Rather, change happens with little, spontaneous and irregular actions that spring up simultaneously in many different areas; large-scale change comes through small unpredictable beginnings.
If we could sit on a mountainside for many decades, we would see a tree here or there sprout up, and then more and more, until we had a forest. But we would be hard-pressed to find the blueprint. Our human behavior is part of this complex and delicate creation, but, we have constructed unnatural mega-systems that don’t work. They are crumbling around us, and we are the casualties—stressed-out, disconnected from each other, moving too fast.” So what are we to do?
Our own tradition points the way according to Dr. Brian Flanagan. In 13th century Europe, clergy and the big monasteries were seen by the people of God as deeply corrupt; caught up in wealth and power; distracted from the simple way of life of Jesus. A strong clamor for reform emerged. Out of this conflict, small groups of people working together to live more like the early followers of Jesus began to emerge, and the communities that embraced this kind of simple life of sharing and poverty – such as the Franciscans – exploded in size! St. Francis goes from practicing with just a few of his friends to having over 40,000 friars within about 60 years.
These little groups didn’t spend time directly confronting the institution, rather they found cracks in the older form of “doing church” that wasn’t working anymore and found creative ways to live with authenticity in those cracks and to grow something new. Being deeply rooted in our tradition made it possible for these little networks of people who shared a common vision of what was possible to innovate with integrity.
Anyone in arm’s length of me in the past 7 years has heard about the extraordinarily effective and beautiful method of faith formation called “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” (cgsusa.org) and all the work our catechetical team has been doing to transition to this style of spiritual enrichment for the children of our parish. I believe our little atria for our children ages 3-12 to be one such remarkable sprout growing up through the rubble of some of what is crumbling around us.
We are still becoming. Like Michelangelo said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
To read about CGS, please visit cgsusa.org.
“What I hear, I forget.
What I see I remember.
What I do, I understand”