March 2015 | Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
The year 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof. Most of us can hum a few bars from at least one of its songs. It╒s now considered a classic, but did you know that when the show was first conceived, its central theme wasn╒t clear to its creators?
╥Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money to watch a story about the struggles of a Russian Jewish peasant and his wife and five unmarried daughters? What is this show really about?╙ they asked. The answer was found in the song that became the opening number: ╥Tradition.╙ It showed us why we should care about these people and set the stage for a story about tradition.
Throughout 2015 we╒re celebrating another, much more important, fifty-year anniversary: the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1965. Here, too, the participants had questions: ╥What is this council really about?╙
For some, the council╒s most lasting impact involved moving the furniture around and celebrating Mass in the local language.
But was that really all that happened?
Actually, no, but it╒s taken about fifty years for many of the changes to become clear. Pope Francis has brought the meaning of the council into even more focus. What we╒ve learned from Francis has been very important for our Scrupulous Anonymous family.
From my perspective, Vatican╩II was primarily about relationship. The Church that had emerged from the turmoil of the Council of Trent and the reality of life in the sixteenth century was highly structured, hierarchical, and law centered. It served us well for a very long time, but it ran out of steam as the needs of the Church and its people dramatically changed.
Vatican II changed the Church╒s emphasis. Its new understanding is summarized best with its identification of the people as the people of God. I don╒t think we understood how dramatic this identification truly was, but fifty years later it╒s coming more and more into focus, assuming a living and energetic clarity.
We╒re still learning what it means to be the people of God. We╒re still learning what it means to proclaim that we╒re in relationship with each other and with God.
This is a whole new way of being, a whole new way of seeing. It takes time and effort and, perhaps most of all, persistence, patience, and perspective.
Pope Francis is making this experience of relationship all the more clear: ╥Who am I to judge?╙ he asked early in his papacy. This makes absolutely no sense to people with a juridical and dogmatic point of view, because the whole point of law and dogma is to judge, define, and sort. But ╥Who am I to judge?╙ makes total and complete sense from the position of relationship because relationship doesn╒t separate or exclude╤it integrates and includes.
The Church╒s difference in emphasis is an essential reality for those who believe, as Jesuit Fr. Teilhard de╩Chardin once wrote, that ╥We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.╙
Understanding what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus as people of God is important for everyone, but it╒s important in an additional way for members of the Scrupulous Anonymous family. Our relationship with Jesus isn╒t earned or merited; it╒s a gift of grace bestowed upon us at baptism. It╒s not a relationship we can lose. It╒s not a relationship that is totally and at all times at risk, fragile, or fleeting.
God doesn╒t give us this relational gift of grace and then hold that relationship over our heads until he decides to take it away because of our error or weakness. Relationships can become seriously stressed, but they don╒t usually suffer mortal damage. They can, but they usually don╒t. From that perspective, it╒s easier to understand everyday human faults, foibles, and failings.
If we can learn to think about our relationship with Jesus from the perspective of grace and not put as much emphasis on law, sin, number, kind, and the other baggage that weighs us down, that would be a good first step toward understanding what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus as people of God. If we can begin to use some of the other skills we╒ve developed through the healthy relationships we╒ve enjoyed with family and friends, perhaps we can apply those experiences to our relationship with Jesus.
This kind of graced effort can result in significant healing and restoration even in people with scrupulosity. The effort alone will help us grow in our appreciation that as people of God, we walk with the Lord and the Lord walks with us. We╒re not alone, isolated, or alienated╤rather, we are loved, forgiven, and welcomed each day into his loving embrace.
And that╒s what it╒s all about. The meaning of who we are and what we╒re called to do is the Christian tradition of the powerful activity of grace and the movement of the spirit.
We just need to see it more clearly╤and claim it for ourselves.