"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Angels and asceticism

I was delighted today to read about Fr. Marcello Stanzione and his militia. He got me thinking. I wish he'd get the whole Catholic world thinking.

Whenever I go to a bookstore, I see a book about angels. Every year I see one that I haven't seen before. Over the decades I have seen more books about angels than I can count—mostly by non-Catholics. Several years ago angels were all over the media: very much in fashion, often for the wrong reasons. But I can't recall when I last heard a peep about angels from the pulpit of a Catholic church in the United States. Everybody seems interested in them except the parish clergy. OK, Richard Dawkins isn't interested either.

The older I get, the more things I don't understand, and this is one of them. That interest in angels is often ill-informed and sometimes ill-motivated is irrelevant; in fact, that's a problem the Church should be addressing with the truth. Angels are real, active, and important. Scripture, Tradition, and classical theology have a good deal to day about them: the good ones and the bad ones. And they're as relevant today as ever. I often invoke my guardian angel and my patron saint, Michael the Archangel, marshal of "the heavenly hosts." Experience has firmly convinced me that they are active in my life: protecting me, strengthening me, bearing me up in spiritual combat with their evil counterparts, and with the evil in my own soul that gives those evil counterparts too much of a chance. I am by no means unique among Catholics—or Orthodox or Protestants, for that matter. I even know a few well-educated and sophisticated people who are convinced they have seen angels. The ministrations, and the appeal, of angels are not only ecumenical but universal. Yet in this age of post-Vatican-II universalism, very few Catholic clergy care. Why is that?

I suspect it has a common cause with the falloff in asceticism that has been noted by the Linacre Centre and that partially accounts, in their view, for the sex-abuse scandal. Sexual abuse aside, is it any surprise that a substantial minority of ordained Catholic men have left priestly ministry to marry? For that matter, is it any less surprising that materialism and sexual immorality among lay Catholics are not markedly less prevalent than among the general population? But it's the clergy that must set the tone. And among the middle-aged-and-over secular priests in the developed countries, which of course includes bishops, there just doesn't seem to be the lively sense of the supernatural that you can still find in certain quarters, such as Africa. It does remain alive in certain religious orders, ecclesial movements, and individually pious souls; but in most of the contemporary Catholic world, there just isn't much sense of the supernatural anymore. That's why there isn't that much asceticism among the clergy. Why be motivated to war against the flesh if that's not going to lead to visions of the Uncreated Light, to virtue that matters in ways people can understand, or indeed to much else besides lower bills for comestibles and entertainment? And that's why they don't seem interested in angels, or in certain other things that come with a sense of the supernatural. The stuff's out there but not on the radar screen.

From what I hear, they don't even talk about angelology and demonology in the seminaries either. More's the pity. They should heed priests like Fr. Stanzione.
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