“Be deeply convinced of the pre-eminence of the interior life over the active life. You are called to conquer the world spiritually … without becoming part of the world. St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds the apostle: ‘If you are wise, be a reservoir and not a canal’, because a canal simply lets water run through it without retaining any, while a reservoir begins by filling up before letting itself overflow … By remaining faithful to your meditation, you will nourish this interior life and preserve it from being harmed by your activities.”
– Pope Paul VI, allocution to the Brazilian College, April 28, 1964
“In the history of the Church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found on the path of meditation, indeed that we can reach higher through meditation. That’s dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return. Yes perhaps they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the Gnostics, no? They are good, they work, but it is not the right path. It’s very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbor.”
The pontificate of Pope Francis is significant for its extreme impatience with “passive” spirituality, by which is meant spirituality that is too “vertical” and focused on God alone. Also rejected by this papacy is a rudely caricatured “neopelagian” spirituality, perceived as too much concerned with personal holiness and morality, for purposes of pleasing God rather than serving man (i.e., encountering God in “the other”). This impatience is consistent with the anthropocentric trajectory of Modernism, a jealous idol that places man at the center of all religion. But as Pope Paul VI (of all people!) reminds us, the corporal works of mercy – if they are to be meaningful and sanctifying – must be the result of personal holiness and a God-centered life. Otherwise their benefits are merely temporal.
Pope Francis, I’m afraid, discourages that which is most essential to the Christian life. The somewhat paradoxical result will be a world in which the corporal works of mercy are far less common. The Anglican C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Aim at Heaven at you will get Earth thrown in; aim at Earth and you will get neither.”