Sunday, August 16, 2009

To Redeem the Age

The Bread come down from Heaven

The Second Reading for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Ephesians 5:15-20 as rendered by the Jerusalem Bible and so presented in the Lectionary approved for use in England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland, caught my attention this morning because it represents a bit of a departure from the text in the New American or Catholic Revised Standard translations. For that matter, the Spanish text approved for Mexico doesn’t take that path either.

“This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.”

The reading in all of its various renditions is an exhortation to live morally, uprightly. None of the other lectionaries seem to put forward such a clear challenge or motivation to live uprightly, however. My life or better our lives should redeem this wicked age, by always and everywhere giving thanks to God who is our Father!

Fairy tales and comic book heroes don’t prepare us for this. The closest they come is to proffer something like the old Greek business about Prometheus (read in IRON MAN or whomever you favor). Even the great arc of the adventure in Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings tends to distract from the all important denouement at the end of volume three where the Hobbits take back their home country, casting out evil through concerted action.

“This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.”

As clearly stated as it is and as worthy of trust or confidence as the words of St. Paul, being God’s Word, should be for us, resignation and less than sober living may be the out we gravitate toward because of either self-doubt or lack of confidence in the Lord’s promised power to save. The costumed super hero is an alternative not without attraction for otherwise sane and serious adults. Empowerment would seem to have to be lacquered and shiny… bulletproof?

In conversation recently with a gentleman who has dedicated his life to sports promotion especially for the sake of character-building among our youth, he factored out as very small (by his calculation not even a tenth of 1%) the minority of corrupt individuals responsible for the woes of our present world financial crisis and more. Though not a Catholic himself, he was evidently ready to attribute to a much larger percentage of any given population (namely those who profess to be Catholic) the potential for healing or redeeming an age. He asked very simply and, I think, rightly what was wrong with the Catholic Church at this point in time that that job wasn’t getting done. In other words, from outside the Church and on the basis of his life experience this good man would certainly subscribe personally to St. Paul’s words and urge us on, the children of the Kingdom, to do the same:

“This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.”

I keep coming back to the figure of St. Jean Marie Vianney and the earthshaking impact he had on post-revolutionary France, starting from the long hours he spent in the confessional and himself giving catechism classes to the people of his tiny rural parish in Ars. LE MONDE just ran a commentary on trends over the last decades in the Catholic population of France toward non-practice of the faith and concluded that the Church in France again today is in a bad way. This time however the Catholic Church seems to be the only religious group in France losing ground to the “wickedness” of total secularization. France’s serious newspaper has us on the way out.

The lesson of St. Jean Marie Vianney holds hope not only for the Church in France. Join me in begging God for abundant fruits from this Year of the Priest! For changes of heart and lives in those all-important men who are the only ones capable of bringing us Jesus in the Eucharist! Would that our parish priests in particular would take on the age and lovingly call it to repentance through the regular practice of the sacrament of penance! Would that our parish priests would see to it that all the baptized receive the instruction in the faith which would empower us always and everywhere to give thanks to God who is our Father!

The bottom line is vitality or resilience. It’s as close and accessible as the wisdom which comes to us from on high. Feed us, Lord, with that Bread, that we might live forever! To live life to the full in Christ, not just to survive or languish for lack of a better idea, this we seek and for this we pray!

“This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Rubricism" is not in my dictionary...

Save the Liturgy, Save the World?

For some reason I have the impression that a number of my blogger friends have been upping the ante so to speak during this vacation period. Somebody’s demographic study in Europe has the Second Vatican Council relegated to the dustbin of history in about fifteen years time. It seems “everybody” in my blogosphere is toasting the victory and rattling sabers in hopes of hastening the “I told you so!” day and hour. What may or may not happen in fifteen years in Europe hardly seems relevant to the analysis of what the Council has left the rest of the Church and the World as a patrimony. Were the Council to fail to save the Old World from destruction it hardly seems appropriate to respond with an “I told you so!” The demographics of the restoration cannot promise a Christian or a Catholic Europe in the next less than a generation.

Personally, the whole business leaves me sad, yes, but more than sad, perplexed. When confronted by all the liturgical abuse of the period, it is easy to understand the title to Martin Mosebach’s book “The Heresy of Formlessness”. Chris Gillibrand, guest authoring in Ruth Gledhill’s TimesOnline column, makes an appeal which is more than understandable: “…it is time to close down every liturgical committee in the land, and produce proper rubrics for the new Mass, so that its dignity of celebration can approach that of the Latin Mass.”

Excuse me the caricature but I feel caught in a shouting match across the picket fence involving folk on both sides with bulging neck veins and eyes bloodshot with rage. For the babe-in-the-woods or the average Catholic in the pew, perhaps, assisting at this scene and trying to comprehend the rage on either side would seem to be an exercise in futility. Who can get beyond the entrenched positions without resorting to caprice or another man’s aesthetic preferences? The whole controversy plays into the hands of the regime of relativism against which the Holy Father has been fighting for all his adult life. Where does the truth lie?

Although Fr. Z of WDTPRS is still plugging his “Say the Black, Do the Red” coffee mugs and bumper stickers, I see he has a new slogan on the market: “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”. I congratulate him on the first campaign and am glad to say that there’s no confusion or ambiguity in his rubrics slogan; its meaning is clear and the advice is sound. I cannot say the same about his new product. Rubrics are indeed the route to go; the books are there in black and red. The nihil obstats and the imprimaturs are in place and I can get a handle on what needs to be done and said. Campaign Two is not so eindeutig, as the Germans would say: “Save the Rainforest” takes me nowhere.

On vacation, I read a very well constructed book with a toned-down version of the more serious debate between the defenders of a restoration of the tradition and those of the so-called reform of the post-conciliar liturgical reform. The author also included a number of valuable monographs in his little volume. A first impression to be gleaned from this book and from the literature in general is that reforming the reform is more work than embracing the tradition. I get the distinct impression that embracing the tradition is considered by many to be the easier fix because they are unaware of the rubrics which are present in the liturgical books presently in force.

Be it noted that for us older folk what is touted as embracing the tradition really resembles novelty in many ways. As we assist at the liturgies celebrated in the usus antiquior on EWTN or on the training DVD’s, we are very much aware that this is something new, something we never experienced in our childhood or youth. Both for the manner of the priest celebrant and for the behavior of the faithful assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass it must be said that here too a rupture has taken place or that there has been an evolution with respect to the past. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I guess I’m not quite willing to give up on the rubrics of the Novus Ordo so easily, when in many cases they just haven’t been tried or applied. The daily Mass on EWTN, were it to be celebrated ad Orientem, could become for the English-speaking world an effective catalyst, like the Masses of the London Oratory, for providing the longed-for encounter with the unbloody renewal of the Lord’s Sacrifice on Calvary for our salvation.

“Save the Liturgy, Save the World”? OK, but let’s start with: “Say the Black, Do the Red”.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Truth

Identifying Paganism

Ephesians 4:17, 20-24

“I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live. Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”

The Second Reading for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time precipitated one of those series of thoughts which I feel urged to share with somebody. Let me say that another way: Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul gave me a handle to deal with some of the past week’s annoyances that I’d like to share with my readers.

Just the other day I ran across one of the blog entries I follow regularly where the author was terribly angry about the transformation of a seemingly attractive new church building in Austria into what looked like a staging area for training circus acrobats. I didn’t share the anger, which is pointless, but I certainly was scandalized thinking about Austrian Catholic “taxpayers” footing the bill for such folly, not to mention the liability insurance. Austrian Catholics must neither know nor care what is going on in their Church and how their money given to the Church is being spent. What parents in their right mind would sign the permission slips to allow their children to swing around in the rafters of the church building on a Sunday in place of going to Mass? We’ve obviously lost folks to something other than the faith if we need yellow crash helmets, harnesses and tons of block and tackle to get them into a church building.

Just as incongruous were two pieces of film I accidentally saw commented on TV: 1) a YouTube video of a Minnesota wedding where the whole bridal party danced and somersaulted down the church aisle to some disco song; 2) a “red carpet” celebrity sort of thing where some people jumped into a pool at a Los Angeles cocktail party and the commentator explained their silly behavior as something like a baptism experience. In 1), the small tube world witnessed the violation of a sacred space for the sake of the individualism of a couple who obviously wanted a church wedding on their terms and not God’s, and in 2) a TV commentator trying to mystify with the word “baptism” what was obviously “tomfoolery” probably inspired by an excess of alcohol.

“I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live.”

It’s no wonder that many serious folks not only get upset but they also seek to arm themselves and protect their children from such and similar folly. Years ago, as “first world” Catholics we were taught to disdain the syncretism of quaint Catholic expressions elsewhere, but from the looks of things we’re not too far ourselves from carrying some blue sea goddess into the water off the beach in Rio. Not syncretism, but paganism would seem to be alive and well not only in Brazil. The battle would seem far yet from won when it comes to a regular and serious practice of the faith, faithfulness to the truth and to the celebration of the sacraments, especially of the Sacrament of Penance:

You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.”

In the couple verses from today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians the word “truth” comes up twice. The question would seem to be: Why does falsehood or illusion hold such an attraction? If it didn’t, how else could you explain transforming a church building into a circus big top? Why else would someone deny the proper decorum owed, since time immemorial, to a church building and to a church wedding procession? Why attempt to explain or to excuse outrageous behavior in Los Angeles by throwing around references to the sacred ritual with water we call Baptism?

Now that is hardly the way you have learnt from Christ, unless you failed to hear him properly when you were taught what the truth is in Jesus.”

Just as I can’t share my blogger friend’s anger over folly in faraway Austria, so I can’t be indignant about the other two TV blips either. All three are no more than indications of the wayward heart of man and perhaps of my personal need to be even more watchful over my own heart, my personal need to clean up my act and set a better example for others.

I remember reading the account of the three little children from Fatima and being impressed by the little boy in particular and his desire to do reparation for the sins and failings of others. Big or small, we could do likewise and with profit for ourselves and for our world.

It would be great to get beyond appearances for once and I rather suspect no harder today than it was at any time in the past. Nearly two centuries ago, at the age of 17 Pauline Jaricot, the young woman who founded in France what became the Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of the Faith, heard a sermon from her parish priest that made a deep impression on her. His words helped her recognize in herself a disappointing and infinite vanity that she then abandoned forever! On Christmas night 1816 Pauline made a vow of chastity and discovered her reason to live in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and in reparation for the offences committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus, also insulted by the excesses of the French Revolution.

It’s the simplest, the most straightforward, the genuine kinds of things which hit young people, like Pauline’s parish priest’s sermon did back in the early 1800’s. Let’s face it. We’ll never be flashy enough, polished enough, or cool enough to compete for that share of the grass and the flowers, which bloom today and tomorrow fade and feed the furnace. No amount of block and tackle will bring us victory, no matter how much liability insurance and no matter what kind of popular, taped or live music we close a blind eye to for wedding ceremonies which promise nothing until death do us part. We need to be genuine; we need to cling to Christ.

Let us allow St. Paul’s exhortation to really sink in:

“Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.”

Our Holy Father speaks regularly of the truth as central or key and as a teacher of the faith has done so consistently throughout his adult life. He recognizes as should we that things get out of hand not for lack of absolutes but rather for lack of confidence or conviction in the existence of not just “a” truth but of “the” truth which comes to us from God. On the one hand, it’s easier not to have to deal with Pollyanna’s red face and stomping when you tell her that girls don’t somersault in their wedding dresses, at least not in church. On the other hand, we owe it to the Lord to whom we give witness by the grace of our Baptism, not to give our son a stone, when he asks for bread, nor a scorpion, when he asks for a fish.

What’s the title of the Holy Father’s most recent encyclical letter? CARITAS IN VERITATE: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.”

The “devil’s advocate” might see no more than an appeal for sobriety in this little meditation. For who has a moment of “Sunday silence or rest”, I would hope these words would speak to the heart and perhaps offer a “handle” or a nudge to get on with the wonderful work together with Christ of casting out darkness and bringing light. CARITAS IN VERITATE!