Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Spirituality for Our Times

I just finished reading Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Disciple Who Revealed the Glory of God by Damian Zynda, a friend of mine in Rochester. This a creative approach that seeks to develop a spirituality of conversion which is apt for our post-modern age. She uses Romero's life, the theology of Irenaeus, and the insights of psychotherapy to explicate this spirituality. Many of us know of Oscar Romero and his heroic stand for the ordinary people of El Salvador but few of us know of his life long struggle to respond to the call to discipleship, particularly within his obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

Again and again she makes the point that we are called to respond to the presence of God in our lives exactly as they really are, with all the enormous possibilities of human existence and with all the wounds that inevitably are part of our lives as well. It is surprising how apt the thoughts of Irenaeus--the second century pastoral theologian--are to our contemporary existence.

The final chapter presents her conclusions about a contemporary spirituality of conversion. It might be tempting to just read that chapter but one needs to work through the biography of Romero, the insights of Irenaeus, an understanding of the impact of his diagnosed OCPD, and Romero's spiritual journey, all contained in the first four chapters. Only after that work does the final summary have its full impact.

Following Irenaeus, Zynda views conversion as a process of growth toward full realization of our humanity and autonomy. It is not a one-time event but an ongoing, life-long process of becoming who we already and really are. It is important to understand that this growth and the response to the call to conversion from God takes place within the actual realities of humanity, warts and all. Thus the traditional view of conversion as a movement from sinfulness to holiness is not a helpful or accurate stance. It is a movement toward wholeness and authenticity.

A spirituality that supports such a conversion would be very different from the spirituality that most of us were taught or have heard of. It is not a spirituality built around formal prayers and religious practices but rather around more interior processes. The final two paragraphs summarize her conclusions:

Because it has relevance to postmodern Christians, a spirituality of conversion is a dynamic path to holiness. Formed through personal contemplative payer and communal worship in the liturgy of the Word and Eucharist, an asceticism that promotes solidarity with those who suffer, and the constant discernment of spirits with and among the loving community disciples, a spirituality of conversion transforms disciples into the likeness of the Son of God. Embracing the struggle to be obedient to the grace of conversion, we are, throughout life, nudged deeper into the vision of God and the fullness of our endowed potentials.
Thus, in the fullness of our humanity and divinity, we too reflect, as did Oscar Romero, the glory of God.

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