I don’t know much more than the basics of sailing. I’ve been sailing a couple times and enjoyed it, but I can’t say it is on my top ten favorite things to do. In today’s day and age, if you don’t like sailing, get a motor boat. Of course, this is not an ideal world where everyone gets his luxury boat of choice, but the point I want to bring out is that whereas in the past, sailing was the necessary means of transportation, today it isn’t. The ocean is the same ocean, but you don’t need to cross it the same way Columbus did.
I think this analogy can help us discern the signs of the time. Some things never change like the ocean. These are perennial principles. Other things, like our boat, can change with time. These are means.
Recently I have been reading a book called I Want To See God by Blessed Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, O.C.D. In this book, Fr Eugene-Marie, a Carmelite himself, provides an excellent synthesis of Carmelite spirituality. In the sixth chapter, he speaks about the Teresian concept of asceticism, which was criticized often in her day as being too lax, yet in hindsight has guided countless souls to a deep encounter with God. This got me thinking.
Why was Teresa’s teaching so powerful? It was the principles of the Gospel applied to her times. It wasn’t the principles of the Gospel applied to the past or the future, nor was it some past (even most proper) application of the Gospel applied to her era. It was the everlasting Truth applied to today. It was today’s boat sailing in the everlasting sea. John Paul II, at the beginning of his 1987 Encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis speaks of “the awareness of the duty of the Church, as ‘an expert in humanity’, to scrutinize the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel.” This is a perennial task.
We need “St Teresas” who can discern the voice of God for today. Ultimately, the unchanging ocean is the truth that “You made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Augustine, Confessions, I, i, 1) What are the best means to cross this ocean today? I don’t know the answer, but this is the challenge God is extending to us, his children of the New Evangelization, today.