A short time ago, I heard of an exchange of communication between Blessed Paul VI and the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB. The Holy Father had delivered his homily at Christmas midnight mass. His theme: God's constant search for his people. Knowing his private secretary was to travel to London the following day, he asked him to deliver his greetings to Cardinal Hume, along with a summation of his homily. It is to be remembered that this is long before the immediacy of communications which are so taken for granted today. The secretary duly arrived in London and, having secured a meeting with the Cardinal, delivered the Holy Father's greetings. During the course of the same meeting, the Cardinal received another message. It took the form of a letter from a London based publishing house, confirming that the Cardinal's book had been accepted for publication. The title: "Searching for God". I was struck by the precision of the promptings of the Holy Spirit to have instilled in these two men of great faith, the desire to reflect upon the dynamic of the Divine call from such complementary perspectives; whilst conveying the same truth: we may forget Him, ignore Him, reject Him; but, God is, in His mercy, ever constant. As we hear in the Eucharistic prayer: "From age to age, you gather a people to yourself". He is seeking us out; like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) looking out for our return. Many of us were taught that the return journey rests upon the practice of prayer; supplemented with fasting and abstinence. However, in a culture which relies upon the desire for immediate self-gratification, consumerism and the rejection of 'the other', fasting and abstinence are seldom seen or received as anything other than components of a dietary regime, intended to secure rapid weight loss.
In a recent homily, the Holy Father referred to the dangers of 'fake fasting'. He may well have had in mind the notion that authentic fasting must necessarily represent a component of the conversatio morum to which St Benedict refers in his rule. That is, a response to the call of the Creator with a settled resolve to enter into a meaningful relationship with Him; one which increases self-understanding and motivates our interaction with others. Such a commitment calls for not only faith, but perseverance. In an age such as our own, 'faith' 'perseverance' and 'relationship' are counter-cultural phrases. Curiously, "self-belief" is advocated; whilst "religious belief" is deprecated. The responsibility of relationship is displaced by personal convenience. Perseverance eclipsed by lethargy.
It would, however, be wrong to conclude that these challenges emanate solely from outside the Church. Faith communities are also required to confront the enemy within. Many Catholics have abandoned the Church as unnecessary. Others within the Church have sought to use their position, office, and status, to serve their own ends; relegating (and occasionally discounting) the teachings of the Church in the interests of social appeasement, expediency, or, personal celebrity. No section of the people of God is immune from this malaise. It is a condition which - if allowed to go unchecked - can prove terminal not only to proponents of this so called 'culture' but also for those who are required to deal with the resultant confusion amongst the faithful.
With the best of intentions, even the most sincerely committed member of the particular church runs the risk of becoming disheartened when required to witness events which appear to be so alien to all that the Church teaches. Witness, the recent resignation of the Bishop of the Diocese of Ahiara; nominated by Pope Benedict XVI, affirmed by Pope Francis and rejected by the clergy of his diocese.
The dangers of inauthentic "religious practice", the cultural resistance to the vocabulary of commitment in faith, and the rejection of a Bishop in the face of pontifical nomination and approval share a common denominator: acedia. Originally considered as one of the "deadly sins", acedia was considered to afflict only those who are called to priestly or religious life. Our lived experience confirms this assumption to be erroneous. Acedia enjoys a number of definitions from spiritual lethargy, negligence or disinterest. However, the term is wide enough to capture a form of apathy or detachment. Detachment may, itself, point to objectivity or neutrality. In the present context, however, it represents a rejection of relationship and communion. The rejection of others, their views, their authority, their standing; their dignity. The obstinacy displayed in the rejection of an episcopal candidate cannot be seen as a victory except for those who are hostile to the nature, character and mission of the Church. It marks an abandonment of the vocation to which we are each called: to seek God in communion with others.