loren Eric Swanson: From Trent to Rome--Day 2

Thursday, July 06, 2006

From Trent to Rome--Day 2

We woke up this morning in the Focolare Center called Mariapolis about a fifteen minute drive up the mountains from the heart of trent. Liz and I breakfast with the Lambs along with a new arrival, Sarah Strand, a worker with Campus Crusade for the past nine months on the campuses of Florence. This would set the pattern for most breakfast gatherings during the class.

After assembling in a modest auditorium and a brief worship session, Ray Bakke begins his lecture. Because the Focolare movement was founded by a woman Ray believes it beneficial to get talk a bit about the historical context of what we are seeing—both from a lay-led renewal and the role of women in the Bible. As an example, Ray talks about Dorothy Day who started the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. She was so effective that she was investigated by J. Edgar Hoover.

Ray has a philosophy of history. History is about God living in community and God authentically revealing in history. God has given us two book in his divine library—his works and his words, both which are to be read and interpreted. Quoting one of his literary friends, Ray says about time—“The past is the present in memory. The future is the present in possibility.” We live in three time frames, past present and future here and now in the present. History is moving toward a goal. History includes the stories of women in the Bible—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, who, as Luther pointed out, were all foreigners in the blood lineage of Jesus. Jesus has the blood of the nations flowing through his human body. Women were ancestors of Matthew and Mary. Jesus got his blood from the world and shed his blood for the world. This concept alone shatters racism, classism, and chauvinism. The roots of the gospel along with the fruit of the gospel are to go way beyond the borders of Israel. Matthew 28:18-20 tells us to “disciple” the ethne while Matthew 1 gives a list of the ethne we are to disciple. In appreciation of the contribution of the Catholics Ray says, “For a thousand years I was a Catholic and I can’t help but thank God for these streams in my life.”

Ray continues his lecture by talking about the spread of the gospel, citing an interesting statistic by historian Kenneth Scott LaTourette, that from 400-1500 AD the church did not grow either geographically or numerically…we just changed real estate; we gained Europe but lost Northern Africa. Ray always seems to have the ability to drop in interesting names, events and dates—a “Charlemagne” here, a “bubonic plague in 1348” there, a “Constantinople” in another spot. It’s much like trying to fill one’s cup in a rainstorm—some water gets in the cup but much is washed down the gutter.

Ray then introduces us to six historic models of reformation—for reforming the church. These insights themselves are worth the price of admission today.

1. Preaching is the first model for reformation. Great preachers like the Frenchman Peter Waldo (Waldensian Church), John Wycliffe, who preached the Bible cover to cover—for the first time in history, Savonarola, the Dominican monk whose preaching so stirred the people of Florence that townspeople willingly surrendered to the flame anything deemed anti-Christian. He himself was burned at the stake after the Florentines tired of his moralisms. John Wesley’s preaching literally transformed England in the 1700’s. Ray asks, “What does preaching have to do with reform?” The answer is in the assumption that since society is made up of people, the more people who are converted, the more society will be transformed.

2. Education is the second model of reformation. The prolific and scholarly work of Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose translation of the Scriptures into Latin, provided the textual foundation for the King James Bible. It was the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press in 1451 that allowed the educators ideas to spread. Reformation through knowledge is based on the idea that knowledge influences behavior so the more and better we understand, the better chance there is to bring about behavioral change.

3. Conciliar reform is the reform of management. Councils (or committees or working groups of today) convene to clarify the agenda of the church and to figure out who is responsible for what. The Council of Trent, the first Vatican Council and Vatican II are examples of such a conciliar approach.

4. Ray calls the fourth approach the “government assistance model.” How’s he going to explain this one? Well, historically in 1534 by fiat the parliament of England create what we know as the Anglican Church. In more recent times, Rev. Martin Luther King used his public pulpit to inform the country on the need to change. Believers are forever tying reform of society to the election of politicians and the appointment of judges.

5. Primitive church model comes from the camp of those who think and say, “If only we could get back to the book of Acts and their way of doing church. It was good and pure back then and the closer we can replicate the practices of the early church the better off we’ll be.” To these folks the way forward comes from looking backwards.

6. Lay movements. It is interesting that what we call “parachurch” today were lay-led reform movements of yesterday. In 1540 Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuit Order—the ambitious band of brothers who lived life “with one foot raised” on the beck and call of the Pope. Francis of Assisi began the Franciscan order to identify and show solidarity with the poor. The model we are steeped in this week—the Focolare movement is a lay-led reform movement of four million faithful. In our Protestant world, parachurch organizations are given birth to fill in for a perceived deficiency or capacity of the local church. Lay-led parachurch groups are mission and not maintenance focused.

Ray concludes his session with a snapshot of where we are today. Drawing from Phillip Jenkins work he notes that in 1900, 80% of the world’s Christians were white, northern, western and living in North America or Europe. Today, over 80% are the people of color, southern and eastern. Rays response? “Missionaries, you did it!”

Our second session of the morning is an overview of the Focolare Movement. Focolare is an Italian word meaning “fireplace” or “hearth.” Focolare was started by a young woman named Chiara Lubich in the bunkers of Trent during World War II, who, along with a group of friends, decided to live out the gospel. The movement is built on two cornerstone concepts—the principle of unity as outlined in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and endless agape love as found in John 13:34 and 35. Their practices are shaped by Matthew 25—serving Jesus by serving and loving those in distress. They are tapping into the universal desire of every person on earth to be part of a family and among brothers who love one another. Today they are in 180 nations, comprise around four million adherents, have twenty-seven publishing houses in thirty-five languages. They talk a lot about “inter-faith dialogue.” One presenter says, “To give people reciprocal and mutual love is to give real life to people.” This is going to be an interesting week.

Over lunch Ray makes the observation that he now sees “two Trents”—the Council of Trent and the Communion of Trent. After lunch we took the bus into Trent to see the historic cathedral built in the 1200s where the Council of Trent convened. We had gelato and watched the throngs of Trentinos packed in outside café / bars watching Italy play Czech Republic in the World Cup. Italy wins!

After supper at Mariapolis we bus back into town to attend a public lecture by Ray given in a room above an art exhibit. A hundred people show up and after Ray’s insightful presentation can’t stop applauding. Afterwards came home and did reflection with the Lambs from A Woman’s Work, on page 38. Because they lived among the needs and hurts of the people in the shelters, they “were able, without delay to put [the words of Jesus into practice because our neighbor was always there. Those who were suffering were right beside us.” We prayed for our families and got a good night sleep.

Today was like entering a parallel universe that has existed alongside my world that I’ve only heard of but never entered. Today I stepped into the closet…or the phone booth that took me into the parallel world of Catholics. There is new terminology. New insights and new ways of thinking that have followed a different evolutionary path than my own or that of the Protestant world. These people are the real deal. They are living the gospel as holistically as anyone I’ve met. They talk of Focolare being a work of the Holy Spirit and it certainly has the fingerprints of God all over it. Here there is a sense of peace. These folks seem to have adopted the practice of learning something and then actually putting it into practice—almost as a habit of life, not just a one-time application. One of the most moving things about Victoria’s (one of the Focoarian presenters) story is a practice they adopted several years ago. “I forget everything today that happened that was not positive. You are now a new person to me.” Wow! Every day we start every relationship as if it is brand new…with a clean slate. That’ll change your life! They do practical things to serve the poor by setting every other place at dinner for the poor. This is not theory. It is practice.

Today was a good day. Although with heavy meals, warm afternoons and translated speeches, the spirit of Eutechus came up our cohort like a mighty wind with even the best of them dropping off like flies in the classroom. I have an interest in movements-how one person with a different way of seeing the world and imagining how life could be different can really change the world. Chiara had a vision to live the Christian life—a vision that was so attractive that others “left everything to follow her.” She epitomizes Victor Hugo’s statement, “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Chiara and those with hers also have a way of keeping and codifying what is valuable in their lives. Application was not a one time action from studying a passage but rather was something to be incorporated into every day life. In some ways they have developed a “code” akin to Benedict’s on living the Christian life. So today when Victoria shared about forgetting the foibles of today and beginning each day with “You are now a new person to me” is absolutely powerful. Build on, in God’s power that which is beneficial and helpful and leave the rest behind.


At Thursday, July 06, 2006 5:19:00 PM, Blogger jerry said...


good to read your posts on the class. Ray really does have that gift, doesn't he, of dropping those historical "bombs" all along his talks. I enjoy hearing how it does it in other settings.
You did not say much about Ray's talk at the art center. Besides his keen delivery, what was the topic of discussion.
Any good books from the class you would recommend? Was that one, Woman's Work?


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