Isaiah 41 – Cyrus, king of Persia, plays a role like unto that of the Messiah in reestablishing the kingdom of Israel. The remnant God has chosen must not fear. “I am with you; stop being anxious and watchful, for I am your God. I give you strength, I bring you help” (41:10). Your enemies shall be destroyed.
The idol worshippers have no god like Yahweh. They cannot “tell us what happened long ago . . . or let them know what’s going to happen” (41:22). “I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news. Not one of your idols told you this. Not one gave any answer when I asked. See they are all foolish, worthless things. All your idols are as empty as the wind” (41:28-29).
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Still, when I was able to receive him and participate in the liturgy fully, my outward participation also became full of meaning to me. Becoming a lector and being able to read the Holy Scriptures at Mass also became important. Many Protestants do not appreciate how substantively the Scriptures are part of the worship of the Church. Indeed, one of the things I came to appreciate about the Catholic Church was how perfectly its approach to Scripture paralleled the view I had come to take of it. They did not take a literal approach, but accepted it nevertheless as authoritatively part of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And they did not always “translate” it or interpret it. They stuck with the words they found there and left it open as to what the words might mean or lead to. In fact, it surprised me how little this “authoritarian” institution actually did define what people should think of this or that Scripture passage—less than Friends had, that was for sure. In everything I participated in—liturgy, sacraments, retreats, Scripture groups, prayer books I used for daily reading, adult classes run through the parish—I felt fed in my spirit. Yes, there were controversies over modern day issues—women’s role in the church, sexual politics, even arguments over what I would call a Catholic form of sectarianism (the call to return to Latin and such other controversies)—but these things did not get in the way of real spiritual life.
But as much as I grew to love being back, as much as I came to appreciate the many benefits there were to being a Catholic, I knew I also had a burden on me to share what I had learned from Friends. This is ultimately the point of what I have written here, for I know that there are many contributions Friends’ spirituality might make to the Catholic Church provided it is kept in touch and tension with the tradition the Church guards. It is to these I turn my attention now.
Quakerism offers in its approach to spirituality something all Christians might benefit from, especially Christians who have as rich an outward tradition as Catholics do. While it is true that Catholic churches in this country are well attended, it is also true that charismatic and evangelical churches all over America, not to mention Quaker Meetings, are filled with ex-Catholics who left the Church because they felt no encouragement there to go beyond the outward show of ceremony, sacrament, and dogma. There are also many Catholics who drift away from religion entirely. Part of why there are so many Catholics in these boats is because there are just a lot of Catholics. Many also stay in without ever feeling any deep spiritual reward from it. They stay because being a Catholic is simply part of the family culture. I don’t mean to make it sound like a completely negative thing. It isn’t. A person knowledgeable on some level with the gospel is, I think, more likely at some point to be brought into it at a deeper level, as the number of lapsed Catholics in other churches also tends to show. But it seems to me a shame that we in the Church do not do more to draw people into the deeper and more inward aspects of their faith. We all need a prophetic voice in our lives from time to time, and Friends’ call to the inward Christ is such a voice to all Christians.
It also seems to me that there is a great hunger for inwardness among Catholics—both individually and in the corporate setting. I go on a regular basis to a Jesuit retreat center near my home. There is almost always some kind of Buddhist meditation going on, and I always wonder why we turn to traditions completely outside the Christian experience for this inward aspect when we have a sister tradition that focuses on that inward dimension the way Quakerism does. I do not know Buddhism or Buddhist meditation, and it would be foolish of me to say derogatory things about something I know nothing about, but Quakerism offers a rich resource to us from within our own spiritual tradition. The same is true of all the twelve-step groups that meet in Catholic retreat houses and churches. These all reflect a deep hunger among Catholics for a spiritual discipline or technique that can bring them into a more personal experience of God’s saving power and life. But why do we always look abroad? Christ is in us, just as he is in our Eucharistic bread. We can know him there, know his touch, know his guidance and his voice. We can experience his light and his judgment, his urgings and his comfort, and we can speak to each other what he opens to our hearts and minds.