In my view, it results in meaningless twaddle that undermines, rather than promotes the faith. Maybe its a paradigm that plays well with the brainwashed members of the older generation (though I doubt it), but it just makes me cringe and want to run away.
'Living a Year of Grace'
A classic example of this seems to be the new Lenten Resource produced by the Archdiocese of Canberra and authored by its Coordinator of Spirituality & Faith Formation, Shawn Dwyer.
Living a Year of Grace is apparently intended to be a warm up to the Australian Year of Grace, but if this is a sample of what is yet to come, then I'm going into hibernation until the Year of Faith, which sounds like it might actually be about Catholicism, starts!
I haven't read the whole thing, just sampled the free download sent out to promote the resource.
But just those few pages are more than enough!
Promoting false ecumenism
The first alarm bells have to ring when the email advertising the leaflet declares that it "is suitable for use by any Christian faith tradition".
Any? Anyone at all that even vaguely claims to be Christian?
So you know it is going to be utterly content free, surely a difficult thing to achieve when we are talking about a series focused on the theologically dense Sunday Gospel readings for Lent!
But then you get to the text.
Right in the first few pages there is a little discussion dissing converts, with the clear subtext being that conversion from some other form of Christianity to Catholicism is a bad thing (I guess this is meant as a sop to those ecumenical readers, but really, putting yourselves down is embarrassing, not appealing), about mere 'belonging' rather than actual conversion to the truth:
"We have all heard Catholics who either describe themselves, or are described by others, as ‘converts’. Get them to talk about what they mean by this and invariably it will come down to ‘he or she used to belong to another church (or to none at all) and now he or she is one of us’.[That is they have rejected error and found truth. Because the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic.]
Belonging is very important to human beings so it is not so surprising that we automatically focus on this consequence of the conversion experience...[Odd to see a liberal catholic rejecting the importance of the catholic community! Odder still to imply that conversion to the Catholic fiath is a merely human response, rather than a result of grace! But in any case, surely joining a genuine community, formed of those to whom the tradition has been entrusted and handed down to, rather than some group that has either rejected part of the tradition or entirely made up its own largely human 'faith tradition' is actually a good thing!]. In fact, we are going to find throughout this program that conversion is at the very heart of our relationship with God. We do not convert in order to belong – we belong because we are constantly responding to the grace of conversion." [True, but neither can we be Christians apart from the Church! This all sounds a bit like that protestant youtube video that has gone viral, you know the one - 'Why I hate religion but love Jesus'.]
There is, though, a second, not quite so ecumenical moment in these first few pages of the sample text, when the author describes a discussion with some Jehovah's Witnesses. Apparently they don't constitute a 'Christian faith tradition' for the purpose of this resource, which is fair enough. Good to know that there is a line being drawn somewhere!
Except that the point of departure between Catholics and the Witnesses for the author appears to be the idea that there will in fact be a Second Coming, that there is a final judgment, and that fear of God might be a good starting place for us in thinking about conversion in the here and now!
Now I know from my own encounters that the Jehovah's Witnesses are more than a little over the top on this issue and have some fairly weird ideas around what is going to happen, but that really doesn't mean we have to go to the opposite extreme!
I suppose it is fairly standard liberal avoidance stuff that I've talked about recently at length. One can perfectly understand why liberals want to water down the meaning of John the Baptist's call to repentance, but still, disappointing to see regurgitated in this context. The message is all focus on the now, and carry out 'random acts of kindness' . The sub-text is, let's try and forget about death, judgment, heaven and hell.
Schmaltz rather than the patrimony
The whole resource appear to promote the fallacy that lectio divina doesn't actually require any contextual knowledge of Scripture, that rather, if we just read a passage through and pray over it long enough it will miraculously become meaningful.
The sheer arrogance of this anti-intellectual approach seems to me to run counter to the approach to Scripture set out in the Catechism, and drawn out in Pope Benedict XVI in Verbum Domini that suggests starting from the literal meaning of the text, as the basis for the other senses of Scripture. It rejects the idea of looking at what the Tradition has to say about the meaning of the text in favour of 'sharing a word or phrase' that seems meaningful. And it bears no resemblance whatsoever to lectio divina as it was actually practised in the monastic tradition.
As the nineteenth century Benedictine Solesmes foundress Cecile Bruyere observed in her book on the Spiritual life:
"The knowledge of doctrinal truth is the root of prayer, hence its great importance; it is likewise the safeguard against many illusions of the imagination, the corrective of pious dreaming and of false mysticism. It is absolute presumption to expect to obtain, by immediate light from God, that knowledge which we can and ought to acquire for ourselves as part of our work in this world."
Then there is the accompanying CD, which apparently features the music of Stephen Kirk. It is the kind of muzak that goes well with a content free approach I guess.
The nature of Grace
I have to say, though, the thing I find most upsetting of all is the straw man approach to 'what used to be taught' as Catholic spirituality, such as this paragraph from Archbishop Coleridge's introduction to the booklet:
"Grace is a concept with which we may have become unfamiliar. Grace is not a thing. Too easily we fall into the trap of thinking of it (if we think of it at all) as something we wait for from a God who may or may not dispense it. The thought that God doles out grace only in response to the correct approach from us is one that once dominated Catholic spirituality. [Really? Where? Why even say this - why not just present the positive picture of what grace is, and quote the Catechism for example, and/or use St Augustine's famous restless hearts quote?] Unfortunately, our rejection of this miserable interpretation of grace has found many of us backing away from the concept all together – to the detriment of our understanding of what it is that God is bringing about in our lives."
Maybe I'm just too young (though I'm over the half century mark now!), but these kind of characterisations of 'what used to be' invariably seem to me to be utterly unrecognizable. They bear little or no resemblance to anything I've ever heard or seen taught, or what I've read in any pre-Vatican II texts or Catechism. Indeed, the only place I see these kinds of misrepresentations of what catholics 'used to believe' is in places like the acatholica forum or on the rabid comments on anti-cath news.
And even if some nun somewhere or other did once upon a time distort the faith in order to convey some truth's overly simply, the 'it used to be terrible/but now we've fixed it' paradigm just seems inappropriate many years on!. Not to mention somewhat at odds with the concept of the hermeneutic of continuity!
Bring on the Year of Faith.