History has shown and continues to show that one can partake in many spiritual activities: prayer vigils, Masses, retreats, formation courses, novenas, conferences, catechism studies etc and yet not be transformed at a deeper level.
Christian formation was and still is often a matter of forming behaviours consonant with Christian belief. But this will never be enough if we are to help England and the Western world rediscover their Christian roots. Saints, known and unknown, are those whose heart, mind and sentiments have been conformed to Christ.
We are called to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, with all our mind. So a personal interior conversion at every level of our being is needed. We must allow Christ to reign over our heart, mind and will, so that His Kingdom can come first in us, if it is to eventually reign in our community, in our families and in our society. Mary was able to respond to God’s call, she was responsible (response-able) for the gift given to her. ‘God does not impose salvation: he proposes it as an initiative of love, to which one must reply by free choice… Mary does not raise objections to the future prepared by God… He wishes to deal with persons who are responsible and free’ As Victor Frankl also said, “Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” For this reason the teachings of St John Paul II on the Theology of the Body about the meaning of the gift of life and love are important for COLW.
For Christ to become truly incarnate in us, seeing that grace works on nature, we aim to provide a formation to freedom that gives the Spirit space to truly work in us; ‘where the Spirit is, there is freedom!’ Like the Holy House at Walsingham, England’s Nazareth, our souls need to be emptied of self at a deep level. That way, it will be easier for Gospel values to be gradually internalised and for our mind, heart and sentiments to be made new in Christ. In Baptism we have been immersed in Christ and, slowly but surely, we need the multi-faceted aspects of our lives to be identified with him and his way of being. This happens over time. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”. In contrast to living a life of disobedience to God and his ways, St Paul instructs believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”. What a countercultural witness we need to offer as Christians, let alone as consecrated men and women called to follow Christ more closely.
This becoming conformed to Christ leads the one being formed to take on ever more profoundly the very mind of the Son; to share in his total self-offering to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. The final objective of the offering of self to God in vowed consecrated life is not just any ideal of perfection or availability for others, whether individually or collectively, but the formation of the heart according to the mind of the Son.
The human heart can and must be formed and evangelized, purified and liberated, with all the suffering this entails, to the point of showing forth more readily this attitude of the Son. There does not exist an authentic formative process for the Kingdom of God which does not entail passing through the stages of formation for freedom, phases which are both positive and negative, ascetical and mystical. As Amedeo Cencini FdCC , reminds us: ‘Freedom concretely means an awareness of one’s internal workings, even those which are unconscious, and the capacity to be always less dependent on them (freedom “from”); freedom means a gift received from God in Christ, a gift which is continually renewed by the sacraments and new life in Christ (freedom “in”); freedom means a rich interior life rooted in love for God and having desires with the strength to actualize them (freedom “for”)’.
Only with a heart freed to be passionately in love with the Father and with humanity can we enter with Christ into the Paschal mystery and become bread broken for our brothers and sisters in a world dying of hunger for God. This is why as Colwelians we have a preferential option for the spiritually poor. St Teresa of Calcutta said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty – it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” Centuries earlier, St Theresa of Avila implied that we must burn with love for God if we are to warm up our many neighbours who are dying of cold.