I attended a fascinating lecture the other day about a junior naval officer, later an admiral, who really knew how to make waves. (¡Hagan lio!) The solution was simple and obviously important, a technological and tactical improvement that would revolutionize the accuracy of naval gunnery. The trouble was, how to make a change in a bureaucracy?
It’s always the same in war, isn’t it? Generals fight today’s battles with tomorrow’s technology–and yesterday’s tactics. Ranking officers would prefer not to hear suggestions. Junior officers are afraid to speak. Losses due to a simple lack of candor can be astonishing.
In the Church, since apostolic times, there has been a tension–often ultimately fruitful–between structure and charism. Both structure and charism are God’s will for the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, administration is itself a charism. And Jesus Christ personally instituted the hierarchy.
In light of these structural realities, it is often necessary to take deliberate steps to open up listening processes. New initiatives will at first seem impractical or even impossible, and due to the inertia inherent in institutions, quite likely undesirable.
In his interview book Light of the World with Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict spoke in a way that might at first glance seem more, shall we say, Franciscan:
“Less clearly but nevertheless unmistakably, we find here in the West, too, a revival of new Catholic initiatives that are not ordered by a structure or a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is spent and tired. These initiatives come from within, from the joy of young people.”
Ironically enough, one of the first things that can happen with a fresh initiative is that it can become a new rule, a new codified structure. This is what has happened with ecclesial music, for example. Once the first fellow got out on stage with his guitar, it was basically all over for chant.
And thus today’s fresh new initiatives are often recovery efforts, finding the best kinds of service and evangelization, the best sources and methods of Catholic teaching, the best kinds of art, architecture, and music, and bringing them to new life. Often this happens with a certain struggle. A parish or diocesan initiative having to do with chant will have an infinitely more difficult time getting started than one involving a guitar and piano combo, despite the obvious failure of Elvis-era outreach, and despite the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council on chant’s primacy in our Liturgy.
So the way forward, it seems to me, has a lot to do with thinking. We want to do what is best and most appropriate for both “vertical” and “horizontal” reasons, without a lot of inertia.
What are the next steps?