It’s not a mortification, exactly…but this Lent I have been trying to spend a little more quality time with Maurice Blondel.
“Maurice Who?”, you ask. And I say, “Precisely.”
A year ago, I’d never heard of the dude…but it turns out he’s a significant figure in the intellectual history of the church. A philosopher by trade, Blondel’s complex and deeply nuanced theories effectively breathed new life into our understanding of both philosophy and theology in the early part of the 20th century.
Simply put, he was an original thinker – one whose thought led ultimately to the many (and still unfolding) blessings of Vatican II.
Blondel was so original, in fact, that his work was viewed with deep suspicion by many of his contemporaries in the church. The book I’m reading – an 800+ page tome by Oliva Blanchette – includes dozens of anecdotes about the professional perils Blondel encountered during his career.
So: The more I read, the more I realize it’s something bordering on a miracle that Blondel’s work was NOT suppressed in his lifetime…and that therefore it could go on to spark the aggiornamento and the ressourcement that ultimately flowered at Vatican II.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t pretend to understand a great deal of the technical stuff I’m reading in this book. The intricacies of Blondel’s Philosophy of Action are WAY above my pay-grade.
Rather, my goal is to “sorta catch the gist” as I’m reading along…because even that’s enough to confirm my belief that the Holy Spirit was at work in Blondel. And that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide so many other key thinkers and theologians in the ensuing decades…a delicate thread of aggiornamento unspooling throughout the century, until it wrapped the entire church in a vibrant cocoon of renewal at Vatican II.
I was reminded of this lesson in church history when I heard the gospel at Mass today – and reflected on how some of my contemporaries now vigorously campaign for a return to pre-Vatican II days. It’s an incredibly unhealthy instinct, in my opinion. And Jesus seems to have something like this in mind when he chastises the crowd for their hard hearts.
At the judgment, the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
By spending time with Blondel in recent days, I’ve become convinced that the Holy Spirit has long desired to take the Church beyond the Council of Trent.
Indeed: Through the gifts and blessings of Vatican II, the Holy Spirit is urging us to open our hearts and our eyes to see ‘there is something greater here…’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.