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Brother Andrew (1928-2000): returning to spiritual basics
Brother Andrew, who died on 4 October, was widely known in Australia as a great spiritual director. He was originally ordained as a Jesuit father in India where he met Mother Teresa of Calcutta, with whom he co-founded the Brothers of the Missionaries of Charity. After returning to Australia he conducted missions and retreats and published a regular newsletter. The following article is edited from of one of his last newsletters and is included as a tribute.
Whether it be secular governments or Church planning at top levels, one has to recognise a marked powerlessness to change things or to remedy deep problems. Brilliant efficiency, expertise, endless resources have a place, as well as sincere people desiring a new and better society and environment for all. These must be acknowledged and respected. But an awful sterility, powerlessness and disappointment remain.
I briefly call to mind observable symptoms of deep malaise in the Catholic Church:
* The well known decline in church attendance, in interested young people, in the number of priests, nuns and non-salaried church workers.
* The collapse of religious orders that formerly maintained marvellous schools and hospitals with a unique spirit of love, service and competence.
* The self-destruction of many of these orders and institutions through a loss of the faith-vision in Christ and reliance on his grace and providence in the face of difficulties and limitations, as well as the loss of regular personal and community prayer in daily life.
* The crippling political attention to be paid to governments and media approval in order to preserve funding and image - with consequent great loss of the freedom and spontaneity given by the Gospel of Jesus.
* The undue takeover of the Church's public voice by the exaggerated and misguided side of public issue groups.
In the end, the truth and witness of the Church is attacked both from within and by hostile attacks from outside.
Father Patrick McNulty, in Restoration, recently distinguished between the grip of issues on us and the vision, to which God calls us. Issues when given undue primacy become harsh, ruthless, political gods. Whereas the vision that is ours in Christ liberates us, enriches us, delights us.
Somehow, the Church today has been overtaken by issues. It has become crushed under the weight of its own institutions and political correctness, its fear of what the world and the media will think of it if it proclaims Jesus, who was continually accused of eating and drinking with publicans, tax collectors and sinners, who shone the light of his truth on all darkness, on those leading astray the little ones and the innocent, who gave sight to the blind and drove out demons.
Somehow many church people and ministers are blinded by the world's reliance on experts, technology, funding and therapies - which daily are proving incapable of bringing harmony, peace and justice.
If the world with all its secular brilliance cannot deliver peace and justice, surely a Church that follows the same path, to the neglect of its own unique and divinely given grace and light, will do no better.
As one comes closer to Church bureaucracies and academics, one feels an awful heaviness, a terrible lack of freedom, creativity and spontaneity. All the systems and structures are there, but that awful institutional heaviness is crushing.
Happily, you and I, in our littleness and simplicity, do not have to remain depressed in that territory. For our loving God lavishes on us in ready availability His special treasures: the Word of God in Scripture, Christ-Life in the Sacraments, our daily life of prayer in the Holy Spirit, Christ our Brother to comfort daily at home, and the needy and wounded.
The power scene (whether secular or ecclesiastical) is too big and too heavy. There is no entry for the small, the poor and the weak.
We can turn to Jesus no matter how poor or oppressed we feel. He invites us: "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke on your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart."
We do not have to be afraid of one who calls us in such tender words.
Cardinal Ratzinger recently said: "It is a question not only of action, but of living the Mystery. Perhaps this should be highlighted to avoid reducing Christianity to pragmatism and activism, which stress above all what we do. Whereas the beauty of Christianity is that which comes first to us is a gift. Entering into this gift we are led to life. The Church is not just a human institution; because of its divine origin it is, above all, a 'mystery'."
An important part of our prayer, spiritual life and our love for God's people must be the effort to recognise the pearl of great price, to let go of and sell off our lesser issues, so as to make this treasure our own vision - then to ponder its beauty, which will shine forth for our own joy and for the enrichment of others.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 13 No 10 (November 2000), p. 20
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