When one speaks about Vatican II, several names come to the fore. Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Paul VI are certainly at the top of the list. Noted theologians include John Courtney Murray, SJ, Hans Küng, Karl Rahner, Leo-Joseph Suenens, Edward Schillebeeckx, Augustin Bea, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger (remember him?) and Karol Wojtyla. there are three priest-theologians whose works I have read with interest. They are Henri De Lubac, Yves Congar, and Louis Bouyer.
Father Louis Bouyer was a French priest. He is known for his books on Christian spirituality and its history. He was a member of the Oratory of Jesus. In 1969, he was chosen by Pope Paul VI to be part of a team to start the International Theological Commission. The ITC continues to advise the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Their work is the examination and clarification of Catholic theology and thought.
I have been working through Introduction to the Spiritual Life. This book was published by Louis Bouyer in 1960. A section in the book recently caught my attention. I believe it also has some relevance to today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
The First Reading outlines a 4-part guide to a holistic Catholic spiritual life. “Those who accepted the message devoted themselves:
- to the teaching of the apostles (the reading – and study of the Bible)
- to the prayers (personal and with others)
- to the breaking of bread (participation in Mass and the other sacraments (implied))
- to the communal life, (regular meeting in some kind of small group or community)
Bouyer looks at these components. Then he takes them to a different, deeper level. He also shows how they are all necessarily integrated.
Here’s his first point: The idea of a person “being spiritual and not religious” finds no support in Bouyer. A person cannot say “I just talk to God on my own.” Personal prayer has to be tied into the breaking of bread. “The reading of the sacred text is never a simple “lesson” in the sense in which we understand the Word today” A silent, wholly personal prayer must be completed and consummated in us.” What does he mean by consummated? The reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Related to this is the second point of Bouyer. A necessary component of fruitful personal-prayer-combined-with-liturgical prayer is silence.
While such a prayer normally needs silence for its birth or at least its development, it should normally also end in silence. Conversation between persons with mutual affection, knowledge, and comprehension attain a certain depth. In conversation, there comes a moment when no word can suffice to express what is in our hearts. We arrive at a moment, when all words are by the same token unnecessary, inadequate and superfluous.
It is this moment in prayer which we usually call “mystical.” And there is no true prayer which does not tend toward it.
Third, prayerful conversation with God goes somewhere. It should lead to charity-in-action. “The contemplation of (the Word) of which we are speaking here .. is not some kind of aesthetic exercise; this would not wholly engage us in our prayer.” What is the correct action? Here, Father Louis brings in the idea of the Church, specifically some type of community. The “communal life” we read in Acts, can function as a kind of spiritual system of “checks and balances.”
Christians take every spontaneous impression and every more or less developed interior reaction of their own spirit (when they read) the divine Word as divinely inspired. they do this without distinction. They are in greater danger, than anyone else, of stifling the Spirit. They confuse the Holy Spirit with their own unconscious caricature (of him).
Referring to the sense of the Church helps such people. The Church can help the person distinguish what is authentically “spiritual” in themselves – from what is fallacious. It strengthens them. It assures their further progress in the ways of the Spirit.
Our French Oratory father offers a final caution. It deals with people who do a lot of spiritual or religious reading. He questions the purpose, direction, and fruit of their reading He writes:
Too frequently, the most carefully worked-out methods of prayer have an unhappy tendency. They operate in a vacuum. The Divine Office and spiritual reading go along with one of these methods. Yet only very rarely do they form an integrated whole. The Office remains on the margin of a personal interior life. “Spiritual reading” serves more as a means of feeding or distracting the intellect with religious themes – than a direct nourishment of prayer.
- Can you describe this early Christian community in a short sentence?
- Amid the pandemic virus, what does your “communal life” look like? What group of brothers and sisters in the world are currently in your community?
- How is your faith strengthened by the faith of these others?
- How has your faith strengthened the faith of someone else?
- What fills you recently with “awe”?