Summary: The Church has always been in need of reform, and the Holy Spirit empowers true reformation rather than revolution.

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Thirtieth Sunday in Course 2015

Last Sunday in October

Reformation or Revolution? Today, the last Sunday in October, is called “Reformation Sunday” by Protestants. In two years, they will celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s dissent. As we today remember the moving story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus, it might be good for us to start with some stories of Reformation and Revolution, and to make a distinction between the two in the history of the Church.

Many activists consider Jesus to have been a revolutionary. After all, Our Lord came to us as an agent of change. But He always insisted that He was not here to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. And He certainly was the fulfillment of the Law. Consider His moral code. He taught us to love one another as He had loved us. That means to do good for others, even and especially our enemies, as He did. That means do good to the point of giving up our life for others. That not only obeys the Ten Commandments; it goes miles above the Ten Commandments. Don’t just avoid killing other human beings–stand outside abortion clinics and pray for the men and women who are murdering children inside those clinics. Don’t just resist the temptation to steal–work for organizations that help the poor and elderly file income tax returns, and run your business in such a way that you can pay a family wage to all your employees. The Pharisees, who thought the way to please God–and build wealth–was to follow all 600 plus dictates of Torah while finding loopholes to enable them to fleece the poor–they were the true revolutionaries. Jesus considered them to be fellow-travelers of the original revolutionary, Satan.

Now the Church has needed reformation from time to time, and until Luther, the Church had been reformed by the actions of saintly popes, bishops and lay religious. There are several salient examples. By the late sixth century, as the Roman empire deteriorated in the West, the liturgy, clergy and charities of the Church had also declined. St. Benedict of Nursia had already arisen with his followers to build a scaffold of preservation, learning and worship in the Benedictine monasteries of Europe. Our Lord then raised up in the hierarchy Pope Gregory the Great, who in fewer than fifteen years began reforms that made the seventh century a time of growth and devotion.

After the decline in the twelfth century, a similar dynamic gave us the reform of the thirteenth. At the start of the century God’s gift was Pope Innocent III, whose list of reforming actions is huge. Perhaps the most important of these was his recognition of the charisms of St. Dominic and St. Francis, whose religious orders revived orthodox Catholicism throughout Europe, and later spread the faith to the Americas.

In every age, when the weakened minds and consciences of men have brought the Church to a nadir, the Holy Spirit has raised up clerics and religious and laity who have led the Body of Christ to a renaissance of spirit, learning and art. Consider that the Dominicans have given us St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest mind of the last millennium, and Fra Angelico, whose art continues to inspire hundreds of years later. The Franciscans, of course, were the core of the missionaries who evangelized the Southwest and Mexico, and left us the missions of San Antonio, recognized even by secularists as world heritage sites.

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