(LifeSiteNews) — All of us have heard that the solution to the crisis in the Church is prayer. On this, we are all agreed. But what exactly does that mean?
My guest on this episode of The John-Henry Westen Show is David Torkington, an expert on Catholic spirituality and mystical theology and host of an internet video series on prayer. He explains how to pray well and how our prayer, specifically a practice dating to the earliest days of the Church, can change the state of the Church and world for the better.
Torkington began restudying mystical theology after realizing the extent of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church while giving lectures around the world 30 years ago. He did this in order to give people a body of work to help them understand prayer, believing that those perpetrating the crisis would repent. He realized with the Year of Mercy that not only would they not repent, but that they sought to institutionalize their abuse.
His solution with prayer is to return to Christ, Head of His Mystical Body, the Church. This, however, is only the first part of the solution; the second is to realize that Christ is still active in the Church, and that He is still offering Himself to the Father, something that we are invited into through the Mystical Body. Christ, Torkington tells me, never prays alone, but does it with the Church, and the members of the Church pray with, in, and through Christ, to the Father, and that this practice is itself a scriptural understanding of prayer.
He explains this by expounding upon the way Our Lady taught Christ how to pray, namely through the Jewish “Shema,” a prototype of the Morning Offering. “It would have been said by Our Lady first thing in the morning,” he says. “Now she teaches it to her Son, Jesus Christ, so that the day ahead is therefore sacralized, by using everything and everyone in that day to become the means through which we offer and sacrifice ourselves to God.”
The Shema was also said at 9:00 in the morning, noon and 3:00 in the afternoon at synagogues, and if not at synagogues, then Jews would stop their work and say it where they were. Further, this prayer attained a greater power after Pentecost, as now it is said through Christ. The hours at which one would pause and say the Shema themselves became hours in which one would pause and recall the Passion of Our Lord, usually reciting a short prayer.
“We need these little prayers of the heart, therefore, to keep us on track, to keep us offering the day so that that day becomes the Mass, the place where we are continually offering ourselves with and in through Christ to the Father.”
Torkington contends, however, that the reason why the Church is in such a sorry state is because people have not made their Morning Offerings the way the Jews would recite the Shema.
Explaining this point, he notes that what he calls “Tridentine spirituality,” or the spirituality that developed in the aftermath of the Council of Trent and the Tridentine Mass, involved two pillars. One was the offering of the Holy Mass itself, and the other was the sacrifice of self made in the Morning Offering. It is because of this offering that all one does in the day is offered to Christ as a sacrifice, a sacrifice given Him whenever we participate in the Mass.
It is because of this continual offering that our own spirituality would grow through the constant self-offering to Christ and in union with Him to the Father, and that this growth would result in mystical contemplation, something to which all Christians are called. This contemplation can only take place, however, after a period of purification; while Our Lady did not have to go through this purification because she had not the defects in her soul caused by Original Sin, being Immaculately Conceived, we ourselves must go through the “slow process” of purification so that there are no obstacles to grace and union with Christ.
“When we are taken up into Christ, we are taken up into His contemplation of the Father and of the Father’s love, and there we receive the fruits of contemplation, the infused virtues, the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so that then we come from our contemplation to share the fruits of contemplation with others,” he says.
This understanding of Christian prayer, however, was challenged by the Quietist heresy in the 17th century. While the Church in the wake of Trent was “going forth into a glorious future” and “in full sail,” Torkington says of Quietism that it is a “wicked, vicious, and heinous heresy” that, because of how unknown it is to most theologians and Catholics, is “all the more heinous and pernicious.” Strikingly, Torkington declares that this heresy is the reason why the Church is in crisis.
Describing the heresy, Torkington says that it was first taught by a Spanish priest, Miguel de Molinos, who sought to attain the “prayer of quiet” as described by St. Teresa of Jesus but bypass the purification of the soul described by St. John of the Cross in the Dark Night of the Soul.
Molinos taught that there is nothing we can do to attain union with God, that God must give it to us; that when we pray, we must do nothing; that when we suffer temptation or distraction in prayer, we must do nothing, since only God can take them away. Practically, the Quietists reacted to temptation by entertaining it, and as a result, when the heresy was condemned in 1687, the Quietists were accused of “gross indecency,” he explains, specifically sexual indecency.
The overall fear of Quietism on the part of the Church was such that it would lead the Church back into Protestantism, Torkington maintains. As a result of the condemnation of this heresy, the works of Sts. Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross “disappear to collect dust into clerical libraries, partly to be used.”
“Anything that spoke about being quiet or being still in prayer, anything that spoke about mystical theology; mystical theology now was out,” Torkington says. “That’s why people sometimes cringe when you say ‘mystical theology.’”
The resultant move in Catholic spirituality was the active spirituality that focused on man’s activity rather on God’s, something Torkington says can be seen in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, even though God’s grace is mentioned.
“A new spirituality was accepted that gradually grew stronger and stronger with the years. It was the me, me, me-centered spirituality,” says Torkington. “This is a spirituality that has taken over the Church. This is the wanton and woke wisdom, now, that they want to bring into our Church, and it’s an anthropocentric spirituality, and it begins in a very real way in the aftermath of Quietism.”
The way forward, Torkington insists, is the return to mystical theology, whereby one would offer all they did in union with Christ to the Father as exemplified by the morning offering, which he says transformed the classical pagan world into the Christian world of antiquity.
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