Theologian David L. Schindler, who I suppose features as the hero in the thesis I am currently composing, has some really challenging proposals for Catholics and Christians more broadly, as we engage in the new evangelisation in our modern-liberal culture.
My reading thus far sees Schindler is something of a confounding figure in contemporary Catholic theology. As editor of the English edition of the Commnio journal he is, in my humble opinion, certainly an influential thinker, and yet it seems that his own work does not find a huge audience of scholars outside of Communio circles who deeply engage with him. Outside of a number of engagements in the 1990s with certain scholars associated with the journal First Things, it seems that, within broader academia, Schindler’s voice, which I consider to be somewhat prophetic, has been deemed either uninteresting or unintelligible.
Schindler offers, in my reading at least, a radical critique of modern-liberal cutlure that asks a hell of a lot from Catholics and Christians who read him. In fact, what he asks is a fundamental re-think of how we engage with reality as a whole.
While his articles nowadays seem to be received simply with a stunned silence from those outside the Communio milieu, his critics in the 1990s offered little more than a series of variations of the question, ‘What then are we to do?’
A good question I suppose, and one I am constantly asking as I wade through the pages of his essays. Larry S. Chapp and Rodney Howsare, in an essay which they contributed to a festschrift for Schindler provide two of his favoured responses:
‘First, “Success is not a Gospel category”; and second, “Liberals give the impression that if Jesus had just been lucky enough to be born into a liberal society he could have avoided a rather ignominious end.”‘
Schindler is perhaps seen as little more than an idealist. His writing is rigourous and strong. He, in my reading at least, seems to work out the real-life implications of the Gospel and the admonition to ‘be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.’ (cf. Mt 5:48)
In the end, Schindler’s bold claim is nothing short of the universal call to holiness.
The stunned silence he meets is perhaps similar to what John Paul II received from certain Church-men-and-women who thought he was being unrealistic.
The young people of the world, however, did not receive his call in this way. In fact, as the World Youth Day phenomenon continued to show, that kind of ‘idealism’ was not only within our grasp as something that could be realised, but was, in fact, something that all are called to.
Rather than be off-put by the call to holiness/perfection as something out of reach for common persons, the young people of the world, buoyed by natural youthful exuberance and the reality of grace presented to them by the now Saint John Paul II, recognised the call and received it joyously. When they cried ‘JPII WE LOVE YOU!‘, what they meant was, ‘Let it be done according to your word,’
This papal saint from Poland knew too that the weight of the Gospel, when viewed through the eyes of one burdened by guilt or sin, or simply the eyes of a jaded personality might seem too much. And so he asks, “Are we to fear the severity of these words, or rather have confidence in their salvific content, in their power?” (Oct 8, 1980).
Or perhaps, as he writes in what is, in my opinion, his most astounding encyclical Veritatis Splendor
It would be a very serious error to conclude… that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a “balancing of the goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man” ? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit (103)