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Cleansed and conformed to God’s will

We must all intensify prayer and penance. We should all be inviting to church those who have left out of boredom, anger, confusion, or disgust.

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“Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted” has long been one of my favorite hymns. Its tune, taken from the 16th century Genevan Psalter, is eminently singable. The hymn text — when not corrupted by that politically-correct scoundrel, “alt.,” — is even better. For Francis Bland Tucker’s lyrics put 21st-century congregations in touch with the second generation of Christians, and perhaps even the first, by combining various phrases from an ancient Christian prayer book and catechism, the Didache.

Scholars continue to debate whether the Didache, more formally known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, comes to us from the second or first Christian centuries, but the weight of academic opinion now favors the earlier date. Thus, the Teaching (“Didache” in Greek) links us to what biblical scholar Raymond Brown called “the churches the apostles left behind:” the Christians who were taught by those who were taught by the Lord himself. Singing “Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted,” we are praying as second-generation Christians, formed by those who had known the Lord Jesus and were witnesses to his resurrection, prayed.

That should be both a consolation and a challenge as the Church prepares to begin a new liturgical year in this season of Catholic grief and anger. Why? Because the primitive Eucharistic Prayer found in the Didache, and the hymn that Father Tucker wrote from it, remind us that the Church is always in need of purification: “Watch o’er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy/save it from evil, guard it still/Perfect it in Thy Love, unite it/cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.”

That the Church needs cleansing is not much in doubt as Advent 2018 dawns. And that cleansing will necessarily involve everyone in the Church. All of us are called to live chastity as the integrity of love. All of us are called to support each other in meeting that lifelong challenge — by prayer, counsel, example, and fraternal correction when necessary. No one should doubt that, in this matter of the integrity of love, living “cleansed and conformed” to the divine will can be difficult, especially in today’s cultural circumstances. That is all the more reason for intensified prayer and penance in Advent and throughout the Church year, asking the Lord to watch over his Church in mercy, saving it from evil and guarding it from the Evil One.

Reaching too easily for “Satan” as the explanation of a Church crisis or a historical disaster should be avoided. Ignoring Satan is just as dangerous, however. And the Evil One is surely a factor in sowing the evil with which the Catholic Church is contending today. Sexual predation has as many causes as there are sexual predators, but each act of sexual abuse is a manifestation of evil and of a victory for the Evil One. Malfeasance among bishops — whether it be rooted in cowardice, a false notion of the imperatives of institutional maintenance, or personal corruption — is not just a matter of managerial mistakes; the failures of the shepherds touch the mysterium iniquitatis, the “mystery of evil,” and that should be recognized at every level of the Church’s life. The people who wrote the Didache knew that, it seems. So should we.

At the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of a new year of grace, the Church reads from the apocalyptic literature of the Old and New Testaments. Whether the seer is Daniel in Babylon or John on Patmos, the message is similar: do not flee from difficult, even horrific, situations, but live responsibly even when things seem to fall apart — perhaps especially in those moments when the foundations seem to be crumbling. Here, too, is a lesson for this season, in which so many Catholics are saying, “I have to do something.”

That’s true; we all do. We must all intensify prayer and penance. We should all be inviting to church those who have left out of boredom, anger, confusion, or disgust. We should all support the good priests and bishops we know, and we should firmly call clergy who are wayward to a change of heart and a change of life. It may seem as if Jesus is asleep in the storm-tossed boat, and we should call to him for help. But he also expects us to do something, and “something” will always be close at hand.


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About George Weigel 297 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

9 Comments

    • If you consider youself Catholic, consider her magisterial teachings that George Weigel rejects:

      “It is the Church’s duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another god, Mammon” Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical, CARITAS IN VERITATE

      As Catholics we do not cherry pick Popes nor their encyclicals like Weigel does.

      Stick with the Church and educate yourself with her teachings all available online for free or at your local Catholic parish.

      • Maria, you’re going to have hard time proving that George Weigel actually rejects any magisterial teaching. There’s a huge difference between having honest disagreements over matters of prudential judgment and committing heresy. Surely, you do not mean to advocate a mindless ultramontanism!? Your apparent ad hominem attack is not helpful since Weigel is on the side of meaningful reform and for ecclesial unity on the basis of love for the truth. I pray that is the same side that you are on.

      • Actually we should cherry pick Popes and encyclicals. Unlike the previous pontificates when we can pretty be sure that they are in continuity with the tradition of the Church and grounded on Scripture, the current Pope is neither. He is in a revolution against the church and her doctrines.

        We are living at a really good time because we know what the Church teaches and we know when the Pope deviates.

  1. “We should all be inviting to church those who have left out of boredom, anger, confusion, or disgust.” This would be an easier task if decades of the New Evangelization had actually formed parishes that are challenging, peaceful, clear (and distinct), and reverent. The communities of the Didache were probably much more united in truth and love.

  2. “…cleansing will necessarily involve everyone in the Church.”

    What on earth is he getting at? The problem isn’t everyone, it is the leadership. From the top down.

  3. I think it is a wrong advise to “inviting to church those who have left out of boredom, anger, confusion, or disgust”.

    Every Christmas and Easter you see a ton of people go Church and receive communion because “they have been invited to Church” by their family.

    The priest never ever says that if you are not Catholic you cannot receive communion. If you have been away from the Church you cannot receive with going to confession first. If you are living in sin, you cannot receive at all.

    What we should do is engage the lost and the bored and disgusted in conversation and present the faith today. If we are ever going to ask them to come to Mass, we should be very, very, very clear that they cannot receive communion. Here we get to expound the why and that is an opening to explaining the beauty of the faith.

    What Catholics should first and foremost do is to learn the faith. What can you share if you don’t know anything either.

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