I love the Second Reading for this the 4th Sunday Throughout the Year (Cycle A):
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”
These words of St. Paul can (as they have for me) give perspective to a person’s vocational journey, reminding us that both celibate priesthood lived to the full and a truly blessed marital union, as vocations to which we are called by God, are gift and grace revealing the handiwork of the Most High for His greater glory and our joy always, but always, in Him Who has not only begun the good work in us but Who brings it to fulfillment with our cooperation.
It is another aspect of this reading, however, that I would like to reflect upon briefly. The penultimate sentence of this passage is the one which strikes me above all today: “The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.” It is another way of saying Christ is everything in all of us. That is a notion which has consequences for the way we lead our lives and for the sorts of causes we may choose or attempt to champion. Should everything else pass away, libraries, monuments or whatever, and we as a race or generation fail, we, God’s little ones, the common and contemptible can still boast about God’s handiwork as revealed in us through Christ. That accomplishment is reflected in lives lived so as to radiate the presence of the gentle Savior Who dwells in our hearts.
“…Members of Christ Jesus…” Too often, I am afraid, we gloss over the wonder of our, by God’s doing, being incorporated into the Son of God made Man. By reason of our dullness or distraction, perhaps, we rarely pick up on more than the flutter of the emotions of those scholars and mystics who wax eloquent or gushing over the implications or import of words like “sanctification” or “divinization” for our lives. Maybe, in point of fact, the problem is less with our dullness or distraction and more with that of the bravado of some of those who try to limbo under the bar of human comprehension placed on what for casual party-goers, at least, is the impossibly low notch of these “–tion” words! It might be better to leave the low, low bar to the stage performers and professionals and dwell both simply and profoundly upon the consequences of our baptism, of our having put on Christ, but in a fashion more intimate and earth-shaking that can be rendered by just a perfunctory glance at the great images of the white garment and our candle catching fire from the Easter candle.
“…Christ Jesus … by God’s doing … our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.” Ours must be the mind of Christ. Jesus condemns hypocrisy and commands those among His listeners for whom the shoe fits to first pull the plank from their own eye before attempting to pull the splinter from their neighbor’s eye. In that regard, I have to say (at the risk of condemning myself by my own judgment) that I have been particularly troubled of late by encounters (both through the media and directly) with the intolerance of any number of prelates within the Church: intolerance not directed toward wicked people, but intolerance toward those who are attempting as best they can to be faithful, especially in matters concerning Divine Worship and the education of children and youth.
Why, even three years after the issuance of Summorum Pontificum (just to name one example), are well-meaning lay folk still treated with such great disdain by no less than bishops, bishops in communion (of heart, soul, mind and strength?) with the Successor of St. Peter when they ask for Mass in Latin? Is this anything other than blind hypocrisy (the plank!)? You tolerate no small amount of bad taste, bad music and caprice, while begrudging some few a port in the storm of liturgical abuse which seems not to want to subside? Can we be after His own Heart and not just claim to be members of Christ’s Body while still acting so at odds with the example set by the Holy One of God, meek and humble of heart? Such prelates are at counter or cross purposes to the sense in which the Church wants to go; they are ignoring what the Spirit is saying to the Churches and doing so with a backhand to some who are branded common and contemptible, but certainly not in the eyes of Christ... Let me say it more clearly! My issue is with the contempt shown for an outstretched hand, contempt such as would not be shown toward someone asking for some other benefit.
When the Holy Father speaks of his will to see these two forms of the Roman Rite (ordinary and extraordinary) enrich each other, when he and others express eagerness for a recovery of the sense of the sacred in our churches and in how we worship, I am convinced that he has indicated the true nature of the rupture which has indeed occurred and needs to be mended or healed. You would think that those in communion with the Pope would seek to understand him and embrace his point of view. There is too much room for caprice and hence the need to reform contemporary Catholic worship. This is evidenced time and again, by way of one example, in the sense of helplessness many priests experience when confronted by musical groups moving into church with inappropriate repertoires, not to mention the dance and puppet troupes which should have been banished long ago. If a bishop does not want to discipline at least he can respect and foster those seeking good order.
St. Charles Borromeo advised his priests to fight distractions and foster devotion the same way that you keep a stove lit with only a flicker of flame inside, and that is, by keeping that stove closed up tight until you get the fire going strong. I think that has to be the aim of the reform of the reformed liturgy. That was the genius over centuries of the old Latin Low Mass, tamper-proof and self-contained throughout the vicissitudes of time. The pendulum swing to the other extreme, which has swept away everything that was popular devotion and religious expression, while at the same time opening up that stove to nearly anything and everything, has had little more effect than to have diminished the liturgy’s capacity for providing heat and light. Contemporary worship is too often held hostage by caprice (tasteful or tasteless is not the point), by creativity, if you will, but still something not foreseen by legitimate authority.
Among the things which contribute to the crisis of faith among our youth, among those things which contribute to their dismissal of the Sunday obligation to assist at Mass (see the statistics for Mass attendance by young Catholics!) is the absence in what they experience in their parishes and Catholic school settings of an approach to Divine Worship marked by the healthy fear and trembling which time and again brought His disciples to their knees before the Son of Man. Just the other day in an airport waiting lounge I caught a conversation, in the row of seats back to back with me, between two elderly Catholic couples who were miffed at Father for having admonished them to go to confession for having failed to fulfill their Sunday obligation on the day after Christmas! The grounds for their dismissal of Father’s well-meant admonition were that such rules are man-made anyway. This is to my mind a logical conclusion to be drawn from a Sunday service as free-flowing and de-sacralized as they probably experience, as anything on cable TV or to be found in a passing revival tent meeting.
“The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.”
Apart from this intolerance, I’ve been confronted again and again recently with the reality of how oblivious many priests, religious and laity are to the de-sacralized character of their liturgizing. Jeff Tucker at “The Chant Café” is swarming about all he sees as progress toward the reform of the reform. I wish I could see what he sees. The promotion of the extraordinary form is an encouragement to reforming vernacular liturgy. The hunger of many of the laity for a reformed vernacular liturgy marked by noble simplicity has been and continues to be fostered by encounters with the extraordinary form. My guess is that a more positive attitude by more bishops toward the extraordinary form would go a long way to moving some of the priests toward an examination of conscience concerning their approach to celebration.
Why do some successors to the Apostles seem so unaware of the injustice of the double standard they apply in reacting negatively to requests for Mass in the extraordinary form? If they are unwilling to restore decorum to vernacular worship “cold turkey” for lack of courage or whatever, then the least they could do is recognize and support those among them who seek better.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine!
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI