It’s not easy finding people who like reading the works of American fiction writer Flannery O’Connor. Her characters, even the likeable ones, end up shot, crushed, gored, drowned, trapped, abused, in jail, or dead of a heart attack. In a world where every blockbuster and bestseller has to have a hero and a feel-good ending, Flannery doesn’t sell.
I’d get depressed, too, if that’s all I could see in Flannery’s work. But Flannery was deeply Catholic, and her sad endings had a purpose: to provoke her characters to an encounter with grace, one they would have never had if they hadn’t suffered the unspeakable. In the end, then, there is redemption, even at the unwitting hands of a devilish assassin.
In literature, this device is called paradox. Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as, “an apparently self-contradictory statement, the underlying meaning of which is revealed only by careful scrutiny.” Christianity is full of paradoxes: to give is to receive; to surrender is to find freedom; to die is to be born to a new life. Paradoxes that are revolting and indigestible at first, but gradually draw us into the mysterious world of God’s ways and the wonders of his grace. “We preach Christ crucified,” said Saint Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1: 23-24) Writers use paradoxes to arrest attention and provoke fresh thought. The Holy Spirit uses it, too, to wreck schemes and remind us that it is he, not us, who knows the way things ought to be.
The Regnum Christi Movement is a living paradox. On the one hand, it has a morally depraved founder whose personal style of governance heavily influenced its constitutional law, traditions and praxis. On the other hand, it has a real charism that has been affirmed and reaffirmed by top Church authorities and theologians and thousands of Regnum Christi members.
Several of my friends and acquaintances would prefer that the paradox not exist. They’ve commented to me over the past few months that they find it impossible to believe that God could have transmitted a charism, a grace, through Marcial Maciel LC, the Movement’s historical founder. The Church is making a mistake, they say; there is no charism. And being that there is no charism, thousands of Regnum Christi members wasting their time on renewing and purifying the non-existent. Why don’t those members just face up to history, disown the past, and start over again, whether as a new movement or just good ol’ parishioners?
Their points are important and their concern is genuine. If anything, they want me out of an “abusive situation.” Yet I can’t help thinking that their starting premise is mistaken; they’re looking at the situation from the point of common sense and justice, and not from the point of grace. It is the supernatural view that transforms what we think about the natural. It does not imply that we deny facts and historical events or oppressive systems and serious errors; rather, it thoroughly embraces all of that and asks a question from a different perspective: is God trying to write a story here, a story that implies we get crushed, drowned and buried, so that we can learn what it means to be saved, to be chosen, to be free? Is grace truly capable of working through the most desperate and horrific of situations?
What I want to share with my friends in this short series of blogs are some theological reflections on the nature of grace, the theological truths that have permitted the Church and Regnum Christi to believe that the grace of a charism can be granted though an unworthy founder. On these premises are based the hope that the members of Regnum Christi, guided by their Pontifical Delegate, can purify and renew the patrimony of the Movement. I don’t want my friends to cover up and escape the paradox of Regnum Christi, but to contemplate it with me, to let it fester, haunt and upset our souls, until a clearer vision of grace and its mysterious workings emerges before us.
The next blog will start with the concept of grace. What is grace, and can we do anything to merit it?