Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Growing younger as the years go by

Well, of course that's a paradox, but it does truly apply to two things - the two things which (as GKC says) are the only two "that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill or down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church." [GKC, The Ball and the Cross]

Yes, only physical science - in its true form, where it remains humble before reality, no matter what - is perennially young - for it is always seeing something new in the world. I need not explain how it applies to the Church - that was explained quite clearly in that bit about changing and becoming like little children.

One of the great changes in the life of the Church was the "reformation" - which led to something called the "counter reformation" - which actually accomplished what some of the reformers weren't able to do. And today is the feast day of a great Doctor who was one of the great Reformers of the Church - St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), who was the foundress of the discalced Carmelites and a Doctor of the Church.

(I used to get these two (Therese/Teresa) mixed up, but my mother always referred to her as "Big Saint Teresa" - since the other one is always "little", this is the big one, obviously! N.B. the Little one - the one with the "h" and all the accents - is also a Doctor. Friends call her "Doctor Flower". Ahem.)

Usually when we talk about the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation, we think of people like St. Robert Bellarmine (yes, the one who had to deal with Galileo), or Pope St. Pius V (yes, the one who had everybody pray about the battle of Lepanto) or St. Peter Canisius (who wrote a famous catechims). But there was other kinds of work going on, and some of it was a bit more hidden. But it was most assuredly alive, and the work that was begun more than 400 years ago is still busy. Here is what Chesterton had to say about it:
The Reformation grew old amazingly quickly. It was the Counter-Reformation that grew young. In England, it is strange to note how soon Puritanism turned into Paganism, or perhaps ultimately into Philistinism. It is strange to note how soon the Puritans degenerated into Whigs. By the end of the seventeenth century, English politics had dried up into a wrinkled cynicism that might have been as old as Chinese etiquette. It was the Counter-Reformation that was full of the fire and even of the impatience of youth. It was in the Catholic figures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that we find the spirit of energy and, in the only noble sense, of novelty. It was people like St. Teresa who reformed; people like Bossuet who challenged; people like Pascal who questioned; people like Suarez who speculated. The counter-attack was like a charge of the old spears of chivalry. And, indeed, the comparison is very relevant to the generalization. I believe that this renovation, which has certainly happened in our own time, and which certainly happened in a time so recent as the Reformation, has really happened again and again in the history of Christendom.
[GKC Where All Roads Lead CW3:33-34]
People like to talk about strong women - in certain contexts - but they always seem to omit the truly strong ones who were hidden. Mothers always leap to mind, and certain very hidden saints who only show up at serious things like death (I think of the Marys on Calvary, or St. Catherine and the man about to be executed.) Don't they know that the strongest parts of buildings usually are hidden? But here is another part of the paradox: they make visible the ancient youthful Beauty cried to by St. Augustine, and teach us why we always call the Church our Mother. For the Church
is newer in spirit than the newest schools of thought; and it is almost certainly on the eve of new triumphs. For these men serve a mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed. [cf. Lk 1:48] We might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows old.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:401]
It's rather a different meaning of "change" than the world likes, but it's the only one that works. Wouldn't it be nice to know you'll be young tomorrow and next year and all the rest of the time? Yes. It's real. It's how the real strong women live.

(And even some strong men, too.)

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor and Carmelite, pray for us, and help us become young like you.


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