Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Retreat Society

Dear Friends,

UK members of We are Church might well be interested in the work of our The Retreat Society – Like you, we believe that much has to change if the Church is to be anything like what Our Lord intended it to be. But, while having enormous sympathy with the work you are doing and the courageous forays you mount against the Institutional Church, we believe that in one - all important - matter you efforts are misguided.

Our emphasis is, therefore, somewhat different – we want to use our heads to think rather than as battering rams. We really do believe that, as members of the Body of Christ, we are his Church, and it is, in our view, pointless appealing to the Institutional Church to change in our favour. The problem or rather the host of problems confronting sincere, thinking Christians today stem from the Institutional Church’s belief that its institutional structure represents the will of Christ and symbolises its catholicity.

We believe the time has come for this hoary view of Church to be abandoned. Some four hundred years ago, Ignatius of Loyola formed a Company of Jesus - an army, under the pope, ready and willing to fight for the 'Church' wherever sent. The early Jesuits embraced poverty but this poverty was, like their ideals, of its age - it did not entail that radical poverty of being, like Christ, an outsider.

Today, as we know, many thousands of men and women are, so far as the Institutional Church is concerned, outsiders. This should be seen, we believe, as an opportunity - not only to seek solidarity with the one who had 'nowhere to lay his head', but a huge creative opportunity to move forward, away from the concerns of institutionalised Christianity, into the modern arena where we – the followers of Christ – can, in the freedom of God, form intimate communities for spiritual work, inner and outer. Such communities can resonate with the understanding of contemporary men and women and meet them where they are most at need.

The Christian is someone who has moved beyond mere individuality into personhood and community! Institutions cater almost exclusively for individuals. Christ, on the other hand, is the supreme Person who calls us, his followers, to be one with him – something we, as mere individuals (objectified, countable entities), cannot achieve. The Church is a community of persons, or would-be persons. It is the leaven in the world, witnessing for Christ to the world’s potential transformation. In short, we believe, it is time that members of Christ’s Body stop paying tribute to an institution in hock to structures designed by Caesar and, as mature adults, get on with the job of being church. The Fathers teach that catholicity has nothing whatsoever to do with geography or numbers and that were the Church to be reduced to a single person it would still be fully catholic!

It, of course, goes without saying that truly catholic communities are, naturally and without ostentation, open communities in which the faithful, whatever their colour, gender, sexual orientation or social status, can play a full and active part. To continue defining one's life, and more especially one's spiritual life, in terms of opposing those who reject or fail to comprehend such a development is a waste of precious time and energy (grace) and means, furthermore, that we continually fall short of our vocation! We have, courageously and with trust, to follow Our Lord’s mandate and, shaking the dust from our feet (and minds), move on!

With good wishes and blessings,

John Hardy
Spiritual Director
The Retreat Society

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