In 1968 Bishop Casey of Brentwood appointed me director of his retreat and conference centre at Chingford in North London. The centre, otherwise known as Walsingham House, was owned and staffed by Dominican sisters. My tenure lasted from 1969–1981. All the courses for priests and religious were aimed at spreading the New Biblical Theology that had such an influence on the Second Vatican Council. Sadly, I could not find anyone to give lectures on prayer so I gave them myself . When the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was approved by the assembled bishops I was deeply disappointed, when so many of my friends were all but ecstatic. The ancient liturgy was indeed faithfully reproduced, and in such a way that it was made easily understood and intelligible to modern believers, but the awe-inspiring daily mystical spirituality bequeathed to the early Church by Jesus himself was completely missed out. At first I thought it would be followed by another Constitution, specifically dealing with what inspired and animated the early Christian liturgy, but no such Constitution was ever even discussed. It was for this reason I decided to do something about it by stressing the importance of daily personal prayer in all the courses promoting the New Biblical Theology, because it was personal daily prayer that led to the contemplation that was of the very essence of early Christian spirituality.
No systematic teaching on prayer in seminaries
When a young priest told me that in seven years of training no one ever spoke about the importance of personal prayer, I found it hard to believe. But over the first few years of my tenure I found that far from being the exception to the rule, virtually everyone, priests and religious men and women described a similar experience. After six years asking the same question and receiving the same answers, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that the anti-mystical witch-hunts that followed in the wake of the condemnation of Quietism (1687) continued to have a devastating effect. This conviction was reinforced as I began to travel all over the world speaking about prayer. Every year from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, I went to Rome to give a course on mystical theology to religious from all over the world as part of the extra-mural department of the Dominican University, the Angelicum. I was yet again shocked to discover that formation in prayer was for them no more than rudimentary. Once again my own earlier findings were reinforced time and time again.
Contemplation and the Fruits of Contemplation
If personal prayer was encouraged it was only up to, but never into the dark night that no one seemed to know anything about. Without the purification that follows first fervour we cannot be united with Christ in such a way that we are united with his contemplation of the Father. This is what true Christian contemplation involves, and it is the divine love that is received in this mystical contemplation that is the life blood of the Church. That is why St Thomas Aquinas said that the work of the Dominican Order was, “To contemplate and to share the fruits of Contemplation with others”. What he said sums up the vocation of the Dominican order, but it also sums up the vocation of the whole Church. The fruits of contemplation were most certainly the life blood of the early Church. When those first Christians who were baptised into the mystical body of Christ chose to do all that was possible to take part in his mystical contemplation of the Father, then they received the power of divine love in return. It was this love and all the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit contained in it that empowered them to transform the most powerful pagan empire ever known into a Christian empire in such a short span of time.
Personal prayer was left out of the New Theology
One day when I was discussing the general ignorance about mystical theology with a group of theologians, it suddenly dawned on me that if the general ignorance about mystical theology was all but universal, it must also have affected the great scholars whose exemplary theological studies made the Second Vatican Council possible. It was this ignorance that affected their objectivity, at least when it came to prayer, and they were totally blind to the daily mystical prayer as practised by Jesus and his Apostles and handed on to the first Christian believers. Without it the ancient liturgy would have been lifeless, and not the hub and centre of the early Christian community which it certainly was. We all knew that the great reforming Councils of the past owed their very existence and their success to myriad mystics and saints who were steeped in prayer, as were the new orders that they founded.
The Successful Reforming Councils of the Past
That is why one of the most successful of all Councils called to reform the Church, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) was so successful, and that is why its moral and spiritual ethos successfully spread all over Christendom and beyond through the new mendicant orders like the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and the Austin friars founded by great saints and mystics. These Orders were teeming with saintly men and women who are still household names today, like St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Bonaventure, St Dominic, St Albert the Great, St Thomas Aquinas, St Clare, St Margaret of Cortona, St Angela of Foligno and so many others canonized for their transparent and heroic holiness. The other great reforming Council of the last millennium was The Council of Trent (1545 -1563). This too was preceded by great saints, like St Catherine of Genoa, St Angela Merici, St Teresa of Avila, St Peter of Alcantara, St Ignatius, St Philip Neri and so many others. While older orders were reformed, new orders were raised up to embody and disseminate the spirit and the teaching of the Council. Orders like the Jesuits, Barnabites, Theatines, Capuchins, Discalced Carmelites and Oratorians were theologically and spiritually guided after the Council by such goliaths as St Robert Bellarmine, St Francis de Sales, St Vincent de Paul and St John of the Cross. It was in the hands of such great leaders as these that for more than a hundred years after that Council the Church continued to thrive and prosper, surcharged from within by the profound mystical prayer that had animated and inspired the Church since the great St Bernard. After the Second Vatican Council, not only were similar mystics and saints all but absent, but so also were the sort of new and vital religious orders to help spread and disseminate the teachings of the Council, and the existing religious orders diminished in personnel on a scale not experienced before, since the Black Death in 1348.
Mind the Gap
The first wave of departures immediately after the Council came when so many priests and religious who were waiting to disseminate the teaching of the Council, were shattered to see how the teaching was blocked by the curial officials in Rome who had no sympathy with the Council and simply carried on regardless as if it had never happened. Then a second wave followed after the promulgation of Humane Vitae. The massive gap left by the Council’s failure to produce a document detailing a modern spirituality based on the spirituality that had vitalized and animated the early Church has been devastating. It enabled ever more pernicious liberal ‘pseudo-spiritualities’, championed by the new breed of clergy to mushroom everywhere. They use pop-psychology and the latest sociological methods and techniques to do what prayer and contemplation did before. Almost half the Dominican sisters at Chingford were seduced by these ideas forcing the others to leave and found their own congregation, “to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation with others”. Thank God they are still thriving while those whom they left behind have long since disappeared, like so many other religious congregations who were allured and lured into embracing feral liberalism.
Things have never been so bad before
There have been times in the history of the Church when there has been serious and sometimes devastating moral decline, but I know of no time when there have been so many priests, religious, bishops and Cardinals falling into the most horrendous sexual sins and covering up for each other. They have been, and still are trying to introduce into the Church secular liberal agendas that have become more and more extreme with each passing year, attempting to make holy some of the most unholy and despicable acts imaginable between seminarians and priests, which can only be described as ‘satanic’. Often it is not just what they do and what they propose to introduce into the Church, but what they try to cover up that is so pernicious. For instance, when the synod to deal with sexual abuse is in session this February, powerful and highly placed advocates will do all in their power to exclude all mention of what has recently been called the ‘elephant in the room’. In an interview on the 24th of January this year, Cardinal Muller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), stated that Church leaders who reduce clergy sex abuse to ‘clericalism’ while failing to acknowledge how active homosexuality has contributed to the crisis, “don’t want to confront the true reasons” why “minors, boys and young men” are abused. In a new interview with the National Catholic Register ahead of the February 21-24 Vatican summit on the protection of minors, he said he believes these same Church leaders are exploiting the sex abuse crisis to push “their own agenda”.
Archbishop Vigano’s Solution
I have already written much about these matters in the past but as Archbishop Vigano said, the only ultimate answer to these heinous and unholy horrors is spiritual. It is for this reason that I have been trying to detail the profound and God-given mystical spirituality that should have been re-introduced into the Church by the Second Vatican Council. If you would like to read my short history of Spirituality to show how the spirituality introduced by Jesus himself sadly declined decisively in the last three hundred years, leaving us in the pitiful state in which we find ourselves today, you can find my course at SpiritualDirection.com I am doing this so that, without endlessly waiting in vain for initiatives from ‘on high’ we can all begin to renew our spiritual lives now and without delay, for as St Catherine of Siena said:
“The trouble with the world is me!”