No. 4 & 5


Bishop Anders Arborelius  

(two fragments of lecture)

                                                            Now I occupy my soul
                                                            And all my energy in His service
                                                            I no longer tend the herd,
                                                            Nor have I any other work,
                                                            Now that my every act is love.
                                                             (Saint John of the Cross, 
                                                            Spiritual Canticle, stanza 28).


The atmosphere of individualism pervading our modern world—a brief description

     Man has become a very ‘‘I-centered being’‘. This, however, is not something completely new; this has been our condition in life ever since Original Sin entered into the picture. Still, I would say that our contemporary way of life and thought has made us more and more ‘‘I-centered’‘ . Many people do not really see that they are ‘‘part of a ‘we’’‘ , whether this be humanity itself, the Church, or any other corporate body. ‘‘I’‘ have become the centre of existence. However, in the wake of this ‘‘I-centeredness’‘ one discerns a rather tragic effect: many people seem to have lost their true ‘‘I-identity’‘ , because I can only become a real ‘‘I’‘ in dialogue with a ‘‘Thou’‘ . The temptation is that I decide for myself what is good and bad, true or false, or rather, I have the tendency to feel that what is good and comfortable for me is the only thing that really matters. In an individualistic, hedonistic ambiance it is very difficult even for good people to escape from this horrendous prison of ‘‘I-centeredness’‘. On the horizon, however, one can sense that many people are becoming wary of this way of life and so are longing for a more ‘‘Thou-centered’‘ and ‘‘we-centered’‘ reality. Community, solidarity, and similar forms of comradeship might seem far away from what people think and dream about, but still one can perceive a growing longing for this terra incognita where people of former ages were quite at home. This more biblical way of life where every individual was seen as a part of God’s people forming a sacred community is something quite prophetical for those enslaved by individualism. 

     This longing for deeper relationships with others, with God and, really, with existence itself is really a most hopeful sign. This spiritual hunger experienced by the victims of consumerism needs a serious answer. Maybe our Carmelite tradition can be of help to all those who hunger for a ‘‘we’‘ and a ‘‘Thou’‘ , because quite often this is a twofold longing: for God and for communion with others. The ideal would be to offer them a human ‘‘we’‘ where they encounter the divine ‘‘Thou’‘. This is really what the Church is all about! However, we must hasten to add that it can be quite difficult for our contemporary brothers and sisters to fall in love with the Church, that despised institution so much criticised by modern mass media. But I daresay that the way our Carmelite saints perceived the Church can be quite providential for many people today. This spiritual and mystical outlook they had for the Church can help people today overcome many a prejudice, leading them into a personal encounter with God who always gathers a people to himself and who always will come to us, his children, not as if we were mere individuals but as part of a communion of brothers and sisters. 

     It is my hope that the Carmelite tradition can help people of today be healed from the wounds that the individualistic, relativistic, hedonistic, materialistic, positivistic (and so we could go on and on) atmosphere of our contemporary world has given them. Jesus who is himself ‘‘the wounded Healer’‘ (Henri Nouwen) can heal his people and make them into a holy people (cf. German: Heil, Heiland).

3. John of the Cross:

Bridal aspect of the Church

     In the Romances, Stanza 3 of Saint John of the Cross, the image and the reality of the Church is present already in the intratrinitarian dialogue, preparing creation.

          My Son, I wish to give You
          A bride who will love You.
          Because of You she will deserve
          To share our company

          And eat bread at Our table,
          The same bread I eat,
          That she may know the good
          I have in such a Son;
          And rejoice with Me 
          In Your grace and fullness…

          I will hold her in My arms
          And she will burn with Your love,
          And with eternal delight
          She will exalt Your goodness.

     Here we get a majestic glimpse into the very life of the Triune God himself. And, lo, even here the Church is present as an idea in God’s plan of predestination. The Eternal Word of God will become the Word Incarnate, and, as such, he will receive a bride as a gift from his Father. Redemption is planned from all eternity. The Incarnation is seen in a bridal perspective. Humanity is created in order to become the bride of Christ. Christ, the Bridegroom, in his turn, is to present the bride to the Father. The bridal dimension is something inherent to humanity, and really, to creation itself. The Church is looked upon as mundus reconciliatus as Saint Augustine would say. The world is supposed to become Church thanks to the Bridegroom who reconciles everything to himself and presents it to the Father. 

     Even if we find the spousal dimension on this more collective level in the writings of Saint John of the Cross, it is even more present in his description of the spiritual process of growth of the individual soul. In his Spiritual Canticle, this spousal mysticism is continually present when he describes the process leading up to spiritual marriage. Even if it is a more personalistic outlook, where the individual soul is looked upon as the bride, the ecclesial dimension is never totally absent. This becomes clearly evident when the soul arrives at the state of union of love and is given the grace of pure love. ‘‘It would be noted that until the soul reaches this state of union of love, she should practice love in both the active and contemplative life. Yet once she arrives, she should not become involved in other works and exterior exercises that might be of the slightest hindrance to the attentiveness of love towards God, even though the work be of great service to God. For a little of this pure love is more precious to God and the soul and more beneficial to the Church, even though it seems one is doing nothing, than all these works put together’‘ (29, 2). Here we get a glimpse of the infinite dignity that the Bridegroom gives to the bride who has been totally transformed by grace. Here the bride-soul becomes fruitful for the bride-Church in a mystical way. Contemplative life is thus of utmost importance for the Church.

     Saint John of the Cross, in complete accordance with tradition, looks upon Mary Magdalen as the model of this contemplative life that is so vital for the Church. ‘‘Because of her determined desire to please her Spouse and benefit the Church, Mary Magdalen, even though she was accomplishing great good by her preaching and would have continued doing so, hid in the desert for thirty years in order to surrender herself truly to this love. It seemed to her, after all, that by such retirement she would obtain much more because of the notable benefit and gain a little of this love brings to the Church’‘ (ibidem). The Church is not dependent on efficacious preaching —nor management!—on the human level, but she badly needs this pure contemplative love in order to remain what she is, the bride of Christ. Today, more than ever, this message of Saint John of the Cross is necessary. So many Christians feel despair when they realize how few the results seem to be of all the apostolic endeavours of the Church today, when people seem to lapse more and more. It is important to remember that the Church can grow on this qualitative level, even if she diminishes on the quantitative level. The wound that modern efficiency has caused our human heart—and the Church in its human appearance, somehow, can be cured when we reflect upon this message of Saint John of the Cross.




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