Stephen Lybrand has a number of ideas that ordinariate communities might consider to help them grow. We cannot underestimate the importance of even small changes that might encourage newcomers to stay, such as including in Mass or Morning Prayer instructions on which book or pamphlet to pick up and the page number so people will not be lost.
I have also been considering some programs that ordinariate communities might look at or are employing to help them evangelize or reach out to the wider community, such as Alpha. I will consider some others in the future, such as The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
At the same time, however, I would not want our parishes to shift from offering spiritual depth, or meat, so as not to frighten away those who are only ready for milk. Rather, let’s never replace the meat with milk, but find ways to nourish people at whatever stage they are in their journey towards heaven.
The key, however, to both discerning what programs or ideas to employ, and to preaching the Gospel, is prayer. Deep prayer that does not give up when the going gets rough or when the daily discipline becomes dry or so fraught with distractions that it seems like it’s not doing any good. What is really going on when we continue to press on? What can we learn from the Christian mystical tradition about the “dark night of the soul” and specifically the teachings of pre-Reformation English mysticism, such as The Cloud of Unknowing that we can incorporate into the lives of our ordinariate communities, in addition to praying the daily offices?
David Torkingtonhas devoted much of his life to helping people develop those deep habits of prayer he believed motivated the early Christians who imitated Jesus. He contends it was the praying without ceasing, the dying to self and receiving the love of God through Christ that made their loving witness so palpable and transformative. In order for the Church to experience true renewal, Catholics must return to this kind of deep prayer, he argues.
We have many ministries in the Catholic Church and elsewhere that introduce people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and in charismatic circles, to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But Torkington likens the relationship of a Christian to Jesus Christ as a marriage. The initial falling in love is only the beginning of the relationship. As in a marriage, those feelings wear off and the real work of loving begins. And the end-point of that loving is a deep communion of self-giving love of which the preliminary “falling in love” was merely a foretaste.
Torkington writes in Wisdom from the Christian Mystics: How to Pray the Christian Way
“When, after first enthusiasm, we find ourselves in dryness and aridity, endlessly trying to dismiss the many distractions that assail us, we are at the beginning of the dark night. It is here the purification of the selfish, self-centered person that we are, begins. Many will soon run away and give up the daily prayer that they once hoped would give them an experience of God. They do not want to waste time doing nothing when they could be changing the world by themselves. However, what they would call doing nothing in prayer is called ‘doing the one thing necessary’ by the mystics. They know from their own experience that it is by continually turning away from the distractions and back to God, although he doesn’t seem to be there, that the selflessness that makes selfless lovers is gradually learnt. Only then can they love God and others more perfectly. So, when we courageously journey on in prayer although we seem to get nothing out of it, we are in fact practising the selflessness from which all virtues are born. We are carrying the cross daily that Jesus asked us to carry, as he carried his cross all the way to Calvary to show his love for us.”
What can ordinariate communities do to foster this kind of prayer among its people, and to encourage them to persevere? Why is this perseverance to important in the life of a Christian? What does the nuptial union of Christ and His Church look like when we can truly say, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine”?
Torkington stresses that without undergoing that inward purification—akin to voluntarily entering Purgatory—we have little room in our hearts for the love of Christ that will make a difference to ourselves and to others. He bemoans the lack of good spiritual direction to help people stay on track during the dark night and the counterfeit forms of mysticism that promote the pursuit of spiritual states as an end in themselves—to feel better– rather than the dying to self in order to make room for God’s love to fill us and transform our very being.
Could there be a role for our ordinariate communities in recovering this kind of prayer and the needed spiritual direction to accompany it? I think so. I hope so.