Disarming Beauty

Recently I was privileged to meet the rector of a major seminary. This wise priest pointed out a gap he perceives in seminary training today, one which wasn’t so relevant generations ago. Traditionally graduates of seminaries were assigned to parishes to assist older pastors for a period of mentorship which would last ten or twelve years.  During this time the younger priest gained practical human experience from the older prelate and so was better prepared to assume the role of pastor when his time came. Today, however, recently ordained priests are handled the reins of a parish typically only after three years from graduation – with insufficient exposure to the realities and responsibilities of parish life. For many of these men the ‘human development’ that would have occurred had they benefitted from the example of a senior pastor is lacking. Hence the need this rector recognizes for programs in seminaries that focus on human development – complementing of course the traditional programs of spiritual, academic and pastoral development.

The case the rector makes is persuasive and, I believe, critical. It strikes me though that the need for ongoing human development is one that challenges not just members of the ministerial priesthood but also us members of the common priesthood. This rumination has occupied me greatly of late, principally as a result of reading a book I received from Ezio Castelli of the Association of Volunteers in International Service (www.avsi-usa.org). The book is Julian Carron’s “Disarming Beauty” (2017 University of Notre Dame Press).

Fr. Carron is the current leader of the Italian Communion and Liberation Movement, a position in which he succeeds the movement’s founder, the saintly Msgr. Luigi Giussani. Using as a guide Guissani’s book, “The Religious Sense”, Fr. Carron postulates that we human beings today are less than fully human. A century or so ago society was still sufficiently moored in the Christian experience that there was a shared belief that the nature of reason expressed itself in the ultimate need for truth, beauty and goodness. Now, as the power of the post-Enlightenment has severed Christianity from Christ, for many of us faith is “notional” and is reduced to a system of ethics and sentiments. Our sense of reality is constricted to our limited experience of quotidian cares and desires. Our desire for the infinite (which makes us human) is nearly squelched.

“The summit of reason’s conquest is the perception of an unknown unreachable presence, to which all human movement is destined, because it depends upon it. It is the idea of mystery”. But we allow ourselves to use reason as a measure instead of as a window thrown open “before the unexhausted call of the real”. Carron calls this the ‘destitution of the visible” and writes that when reality is reduced to appearance it becomes a cage.

Christianity is an event, a world changing event which occurred at the Incarnation two millennia ago and persists today. But, because of our lack of recognition of the ‘contemporaneity’ of Christ our faith dwindles to an impersonal code of doctrines and disciplines and is robbed of the vivifying empowerment of the personal encounter with Christ. We are less alive than we could be.

Echoing Guissani Fr. Carron writes “In Christian faith there is no longer a reason that explains, but a reason that opens itself up to the very self-revelation of God”. Imagine in our utilitarian world believing that in human reason the infinity of God can be revealed!  One remembers St. Irenaeus’ claim: “Man fully alive is the glory of God”.  St. Irenaeus knew about human development.

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