Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DEADLY EARNEST: Saved by Chesterton and Father Christmas

A bit on the stressed side this afternoon and unable to work on the things before me, I opened my Kindle and low and behold out popped:
The Shop of Ghosts 
Tremendous Trifles, 1909
[Chesterton, G.K. (2011-10-20). In Defense of Sanity (p. 52). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.] .

This little short story was so fine; it made me laugh until I cried. After reading it, I didn't go back to work, but took the better course and went out for a walk on a lazy summer afternoon here in Kyiv. As old or wise as we can become or think ourselves to be, we sometimes (for the sake of our mental hygiene) need a firm push out the door. Thank you, G.K!

Miners once upon a time took canaries with them underground to forewarn them of the presence of dangerous gasses which could suffocate or just plain explode. The deadly earnest which is abroad these days must be similar to that odorless gas down in the mine-shaft, which first killed canaries but perchance thus alerted saved the miners by warning them to escape. It would be great if we had a similar test or control to alert us when deadly earnest begins to get the upper hand.

This business of being so terribly earnest is more of a problem in the world than you would think. What do I mean by "deadly earnest"? Well, for starters, let's take as an example the engrossed way that people from the whole spectrum and with varied interests followed every step of the Holy Father's activity at WYD in Rio. The Holy Father certainly worked hard these days, but I really don't think you could say that he was engrossed in it all. He came most paternally and warmly, and well, he seemed to enjoy himself no end while imparting his important message. He worked hard, yes, but why would we want to do what he did not; why do we have to analyze his every step?

Chesterton has an awful lot of fun with this little short story or vignette, "The Shop of Ghosts". It is totally preposterous and deliciously so. There is nothing to be discussed or diagnosed, but only enjoyed. We can't live from fantasy or fairy tale, but we can no less live without the gratuitous than we can live without fresh air. We need a little folly of the respectable sort from a man like Chesterton.

Oxygenate yourself, if you would, please and don't be forever trying to reduce things to the must of thus and so. I really don't think hard work has ever done anyone in. Deadly earnest? Well, maybe yes!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Clothed with the Sun or Dressed in Tatters?

Once again 2 Kings 2:1-15 (this morning’s First Reading from the Office of Readings) touched me. Normally, I don’t get much beyond the ragamuffin guild prophets and how earnestly they fit into the scene with both Elijah and Elisha. In faith, we distinguish between the guild and these two men chosen by God, but appearances probably left most spectators at the time without a clue as to how to distinguish them. Then again, maybe we don’t need to distinguish because at issue is not appearance, status or respectability but rather the fruits of their prophesying, and the Response from the Office comes to our rescue:

R: Before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will reconcile fathers to sons and sons to fathers.

John will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He will go before him as a forerunner, possessed by the spirit and power of Elijah. He will reconcile fathers to sons and sons to fathers.”

Perhaps that too, the seeming anomaly of appearances, explains the dynamism or the poetry of today’s Gospel at Mass [Matthew 12:14-21]:

“The Pharisees went out and began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him. Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district. Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved, the favorite of my soul.
I will endow him with my spirit, and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations.
He will not brawl or shout, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smoldering wick till he has led the truth to victory: in his name the nations will put their hope.”

As faithful as any of us might be, each of us according to our state in life, thoroughly committed to cultivating a truly quality relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and through Him with the Father, in the Holy Spirit, Isaiah’s prophecy still needs to sink in, needs to shake us out of whatever it is that holds us apart from Christ and His Church, and to fill us.

The Evangelist Matthew interprets the scene for us: Jesus withdraws from a potential confrontation and claims the victory for truth and for Himself in the words of the prophet Isaiah. It would seem that clinging to Christ and to His Church is enough; we don't necessarily have to be "written up and decorated for heroism on the battlefield", and we certainly don't need to be disconsolate for lack of victories to our personal account. Where the Spirit dwells and in abundance, guild prophets vs. Elijah and Elisha, who indeed carries the prophet's mantle, we will leave to the Lord in His own good time to reveal. Meantime, we will keep fighting or withdrawing, from the district or beyond the Jordan, as He Himself may bid.

There’s lots of “saber rattling” going on these days… we need but cling to Jesus in His Bride the Church (ragamuffin as she might sometimes appear). By prayer and self-sacrifice we need but open ourselves to His promptings and see where He would lead us. His is the Glory, His is the Victory.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Latreutic vs. Didactic: Really?

"No one goes to the traditional Mass in order to “hear Scripture,” since that is hardly the main purpose of the Holy Sacrifice; we go to worship God and be nourished by His Word and His Flesh, and to this profound and specific purpose the modest but well-chosen Scripture passages make a decisive contribution. It is my conviction, and that of many of my fellow Catholics in the new liturgical movement, that the use of the traditional Latin language makes a similarly decisive contribution, one that deserves to be understood, cherished, and preserved for all future generations."

The blog New Liturgical Movement refers to an article soon to be published elsewhere, entitled: "In Defense of Preserving Readings in Latin" by Peter Kwasniewski. The above quote comes from there. All well and good, I guess, but I am wondering about the insinuated (?) equivalency between sacred tongues, like Latin and Greek, and latreutic action and vernacular tongues as being didactic principally (?) in their force. I hope that is not the case, and if it is, I cannot buy it.

To my way of thinking, the argument in favor of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic or Church Slavonic would be that it cuts the arbitrary out of the liturgical equation; the liturgy in all aspects must go by the book, if you will, it belongs to God and His Bride the Church and not to personal whim. I don't know of a case where use of the vernacular for the NO has not been the key element to introducing or promoting an arbitrary approach to worship. Much of the casualness as abuse is related to the facility to improvisation to which the vernacular lends itself. While the vernacular can most certainly be latreutic, it lends itself to banality in a way that an ancient tongue never could. That is the danger. The question is whether it is a risk worth taking and for what reason.

My own thesis is that the didactic predominates in the NO simply because we have capitulated and withdrawn to the sanctuary. Being Catholic is much more than one hour of a Sunday and it requires an interior life enriched by study and prayer. Catechesis belongs outside of Mass; it should be extensive enough and rich enough to produce a little child like me in the 1950's who was indeed caught up in the Sacred Mysteries, Latin/Greek, plain chant, Gregorian and all. Literacy or no, it seems that mighty fortress became impenetrable because someone lost the key or refused to turn the latch to open. How do you recover from neglect and in a sense resignation which runs so long and so deep (two full generations)? The NO solution, if you will, as it was imposed in the 1970's was the wrong equation: a one shot attempt at evangelization/catechesis no longer in the least sublime (God oriented).

The recovery is not and cannot be as "easy" as new marching orders for Sunday morning i.e. the Mass of the Ages. While the argument of attraction speaks in favor of this possibility: we see all kinds of people rejoicing in the discovery of the TLM as something beautiful, devout and truly God-centered. Literacy, which is probably at an all-time low point in the West, cannot carry this enthusiasm alone. Catechesis and a certain popular mystagogy must be brought into play if we do not want people to fall away.

People who talk about the crisis of faith in our day and time neglect the fact that post World War II the Church was a revolving door as well, but perhaps more were rolling in (baby boomers and converts) than were rolling out. I have family who distanced themselves from Church in the 1950's; the TLM alone could not hold them; you have to know Who it is that you adore in these Sacred Signs. Would a truly decorous NO work better? That is not the point. Abuse drives people away, but even the best prepared hour of a Sunday NO or TLM alone is not enough. Didactic for the folk is not the object of what St. Benedict referred to as Opus Dei/God's Work, but it is part of the Christian life.

The author of the article speaks about the gradual turn toward the Lord during the Solemn Mass, from Epistle (west), to Gospel (north), to Preface (east). Someone needs to explain such things to the folk, otherwise the subtlety/profundity is entirely lost. What happened to us in terms of rupture cannot be explained solely with conspiracy theories, nor can we put the "train back on the track" by fiat from on high. The solution demands an approach on many fronts and a fundamental recovery of something which is called faithfulness to commitment.

Timeless Scholarship or Same Old, Same Old?

About the time Google announced it was going to "euthanize" its famous "Reader", I began a search to help me keep my internet reading in order and on track. Before finding "Feedly", which performs to my satisfaction and without a couple of Reader's long-term glitches, I explored the "Twitter" option and got hooked on something which serves a somewhat different purpose, but which also puts me in touch with some things I am glad to have read. Both platforms have the advantage of allowing me choose what I want to follow. "Unfollowing" is always just a click away and something I don't hesitate to do (It somehow seems less judgmental than "Unfriending" someone as is done on another platform).

On "Twitter" I follow a certain, small number of "vaticanisti", some in English and some in Italian. One of them just summarized a German contribution to the discussion on Curial reform, which put me on to an Italian publishing house's blog with a translation of the whole article by somebody named André Zünd. At this point in the process, I was still under the impression that the original must have come out some time since last February when Pope Benedict announced his retirement. I was also surprised that it had been published originally in "Stimmen der Zeit", which I discovered has not gone belly-up. A search of the Jesuit German magazine's webpage revealed that the article had appeared back in May 2000, a quick read proved to me that it was indeed the same André Zünd who had shared the thoughts which Queriniana was trotting out just now in Italian translation on its blog.

Now to my way of thinking, the classic authors, like the Church Fathers and Doctors, like certain philosophers, historians and even niche writers, are indeed "classic" and of timeless quality because even if the paper they are printed on yellows and deteriorates, they don't. The classic authors keep on giving and their ideas remain fresh. The same cannot be said of all authors and their great projects. There are lots of populists whose writings age faster than the paper they are printed on (I cannot exclude the possibility that I might just be one of them!). In the case of this particular proposal for Curial reform, I would have thought Queriniana might have been a bit concerned about the text being 13 years old. In 2000, the Church in Germany had ample financial resources: that has changed, if for no other reason because of a financial "bubble" which burst in 2008 sending shock waves, yes even through the Church in Germany. Our author's boundless scenario for creative things to do with the Roman Curia needs to be radically redimensioned. I'm not picking a bone with an old article, but with those who pulled it out of the file and paid someone to translate it into Italian. No attempt was made to deal with the reasonable suspicion that such an article appearing in a periodical just might have a label on it stating "best used before a certain date".

I found out the other day that it pays to be even more wary of what is put out there in cyberspace. A while back, it seemed that Cardinal Marx (one of the Pope's eight advisers on Curial reform) had offered the Holy Father the services of the McKinsey Group, which had been advising some German bishops and the conference over the last couple decades. Curious I picked up and read the protagonist's own book:
Thomas von Mitschke-Collande 
Schafft sich die katholische Kirche ab? 
Analysen und Fakten eines Unternehmensberaters 
Mit einem Vorwort von Kardinal Karl Lehmann
Random House DE. 2012 Kindle Edition. 
The book is a disaster, raking up folly at every turn. It got dumped as it deserved. Come to find out, once again from somebody's reference on the Internet: Cardinal Marx did not recommend the guy or offer his services to the Pope. Live and learn, as they say.

With automobiles, shoes and clothing, Dad was always of the opinion that you spent what you could afford, so as to have something durable and dependable: better a superior make in a well-researched used car than something cheap and new. For reading and thought, I guess that even on the contemporary scene we need to go with approved authors and not just pick up indiscriminately on "feeded and twitted" fare.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Appeal to Reasoned Authority and an Invitation to Read!

I just finished reading “THE BUGNINI-LITURGY AND THE REFORM OF THE REFORM” by LASZLO DOBSZAY (Front Royal VA, 2003). This was something I had put off despite having read a later and posthumously published book by the same author. It was the pugnacious title of the early work which put me on my guard. I didn’t want to spend good money for a 200 and some page rant. As it turns out, nothing could be farther from the case and I found the book both challenging and informing. I recommend Dobszay always and everywhere.
Late in the book he spends some sobering time with the challenges which keeping the full-blown Roman Liturgy afloat have presented for centuries and especially in our own day and time. He offers some very concrete strategies, which not everyone is going to agree with, but which must be faced in one fashion or another.
For now, let me just share his marvelous and encouraging postscript:

“A Word to the Reader
Every honest observer of the present state of Holy Church will find it difficult to gainsay the signs of confusion and "disintegration" (Card. Ratzinger) which are so often evident today. The counterpart of disintegration in theology, in discipline and in morals is the disintegration in liturgy, which perhaps is where the entire process began. Nonetheless, we delude ourselves if we imagine that what we see is simply the consequence of disobedience towards the Church's rules. There are cases in which provisions made by Church authorities are themselves, at least in part, responsible for the situation.
An historical analogy may be found in the years around 1520 or 1530. Symptoms of secularization (not only of the society, but of the Church's own life) and various influences upon religious and liturgical life itself — alienation from the Church, latent heresies, desire for and movement toward a reformation — all these were widely prevalent in that long-gone age as well as in our own time. There emerged, even with ecclesiastical approval, liturgical rites that severed the thread of traditions. It was an era that desperately yearned for the Council of Trent. Is it possible that we, too, stand before another Trent? Or that we have to return to the point where we missed the way, and to prepare a right reform of the traditional liturgy as was intended by Sacrosanctum Concilium?
Is it not too audacious for a layman to criticize the liturgical usage of Holy Mother Church? Is it not presumptuous of him to offer proposals? Indeed, - but one who possesses some degree of competence (and I hope I did not miss the mark in presenting and interpreting liturgical facts) is perhaps permitted to offer his services in bringing about a change for the better.
But, my friends, what can we do here and now, if we are anxious about the present state of affairs and motivated not by disobedience but by Zelus domus tuae?
We should strive to persevere in adverse times. We should strive for solutions that are, within the parameters of the law, the closest to the best liturgical traditions of the Church. We should strive for a better future by learning, thinking, weighing ideas and facts, and above all by praying, so that when the day of true reform dawns, we will not confront the problems in ill-prepared haste.

But only the "official" Church may act. What we do may later appear useful; but it bears fruit only after the Church embraces it and makes it her own. As the Exsultet says: what the diligence of the bees has gathered, it transformed into the material of the precious candle by the work of the Mother-Queen; only she can offer it as a pleasing evening sacrifice to the Lord. May God grant us, my friends, that Holy Mother Church may present all our efforts to Him by the hands of His ministers, the work of bees... per ministrorum mantis de operibus apum sacrosancta reddat Ecclesia.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"versus populum codependency"

A comment on my post Oriented towards the Goal used the expression "versus populum codependency" as an explanation for the resistance of priests or bishops to opting for the ad Orientem celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Personally, I think that "fear of the unknown" is closer to the reality. In America generally, you have to be at least age 60 or older, like me, to have any clear recollections of ad Orientem as the norm for worship. The other option is to have the great fortune to be of the Summorum Pontificum generation, which means you are young, young. I don't really think that codependency is a good general fit anywhere.

"Codependency" presumes something on the part of the worshiping community which no one can prove to me is either universal or even that general. Like my dear sister, commenting on Facebook, said about this same post: "Maybe it's my old age, but it makes no difference to me which way the priest faces." I think she represents the more general sentiment among the faithful, which would disqualify the "co-". If there is resistance on the part of the congregation, it would be resistance to more gratuitous change or innovation. We owe it to our people to behave better in their regard than did our forebears in the 1970's.

Without wishing to exaggerate too much, what is needed is something short of a Pentecost conversion in response to the preaching of St. Peter (Acts 2:37-42):

"37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven ; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you , for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them , saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." [Harper Bibles (2011-11-15). NRSV Catholic Edition Bible (Kindle Locations 63584-63590). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.]

As strange as it may seem, my own "conversion" was in response to the teaching on the liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI. I can control my own environment (being the boss and generally celebrating in my own chapel) and I have adjusted the altars in both places and could do so at no extraordinary cost, in both settings and for somewhat different reasons. Not all priests have that freedom, nor can they undertake big changes unilaterally.

I have found ad Orientem always rewarding for me as a celebrating priest. I can attest that my little daily Mass crowd in Port of Spain, Trinidad, found it a liberating and consoling option for them. Here in Kyiv, in a Byzantine context, it is the most natural thing in the world for my Greek-Catholic Sisters. The ad Orientem celebration of the OF immediately puts in evidence much which the Roman Rite and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom share in common.

And the EF you ask? Excellency, when are you going to come home to the tradition? The simple answer is that I cannot say, as I do not know what, other than training and some issues with the old calendar, is holding me back. My interlocutor from the previous post would certainly recommend a workshop and perhaps even find me a tutor. I'm reading Dobszay's earlier book for enlightenment on the calendar issue. As I say, we needs do or abstain from anything to avoid the scandal of a repeated aggression like the iconoclasm of the 1970's. How best to promote Benedict's agenda of growing into the future through mutual enrichment? For now I'll hold my ground and continue to insist on the urgency of recovering the proper orientation in Divine Worship. I still have found no one more convincing than Dobszay in terms of the choice which stands before us. He represents a body of scholarship and scholars which have convinced me that the future of the Roman Rite, its healthy and organic development, depends on finding that reset point which is more of a restoration than a reform of the reform.

I'll keep reading and praying, waiting for or preparing the way for the supreme legislator capable of binding all us "Romans" together and saying with authority "This is the path. Follow it!" In the meantime, to repeat myself for the umpteenth time, beyond restoring a sense of the sacred to our worship through genuinely sacred music and slowing down the Communion procession and giving it the decorum which a Communion rail readily provides, I'll keep recommending proper orientation.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Oriented Towards the Goal

This year's anniversary for Summorum Pontificum has generated an awful lot of what is upbeat sentiment or commentary in a serene and, for the first time generally, non-defiant kind of way. I am terribly happy about this sensation which is abroad, because it offers hope that, when the time comes, we might avoid sinking into a liturgy war in reprisal for the iconoclastic violence suffered at times over the last half century. Pope Benedict's thesis about mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one rite, can, has, and will bear fruit unto reconciliation and growth (and sooner, I am confident, than later).

While some might be miffed at my choice of words, my point is that these blogposts seem, more than in years before, to radiate confidence and a well-founded expectancy concerning the future; they simply marvel at the fact that the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (especially as a daily Low Mass) has come out of the catacombs and done so, at least in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, in such a natural fashion. As one example, Father Christopher Smith of The Chant Café waxes quite "European" (less than pragmatic) and analytic in reflecting upon what has happened or where we are today: his 2 July Article is more descriptive and the 5 July Article more "European" if you will. Neither ascribes to the thesis of an elderly friend of mine from Paris who, at some point in our countless and heated discussions, would always dismiss me with the quip that the EF was just the last bastion of the monarchist crowd (not my thesis obviously).

More to the point than my desire to laud the efforts of Fr. Smith would be my concern to foster the cause of mutual enrichment and maybe defend Pope Benedict from the accusation of liturgical pluralism, as intending something quite different from my pre-Conciliar altarboy anxieties at seeing a visiting Dominican in the sacristy waiting to celebrate Mass with that preparation of the chalice at the beginning which would invariably keep me off-balance right through the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. For as long as it takes, there can be no other goal but the recovery of the continuity of our Liturgical Tradition as the sine qua non for the organic development of living liturgy, as it has been always and everywhere.

Despite the rosiness of this scene, however, I must admit that I am plagued by the urgency of moving beyond or faster (without violence) than what Fr. Z. has wisely promoted on many fronts as a "brick by brick" recovery. Only the recovery (always and everywhere) of "orientation", of our liturgical east, will enable us to set forward the process of mutual enrichment. Fully aware as I am that the Ordinary Form of the Mass can be legitimately celebrated with the celebrant on one side of the altar and the people on the other, I can see the wisdom of nudging a few priests and bishops to move beyond "licit" to what is better and recover that which was from the beginning and which has never ceased to be in the Byzantine tradition. Ad Orientem: we pray together facing Christ, the Dawn from on High, Who comes to save us.

My own blogging record would have to read as an option for "try it you'll like it". I've generally cringed at restoring proper orientation by legislative fiat, but I am beginning to see that the orientation question may be for many priests and bishops a harder nut to crack than fostering truly sacred music or adding decorum to the Communion procession by restoring the Communion rail. I do not understand why there is so much resistance, but there is. Perhaps it would be as simple as offering a presbyterate a concrete workshop on the ars celebrandi and giving men the reassurance that while the Toastmaster's Club is right to foster eye contact in public speaking, it is not part of prayer, at least not of the Canon of the Mass and the preparation to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. 

The pushing impatience of the 20th Century liturgical movement has done us untold harm; the error is not to be repeated even for the sake of righting a wrong. Maybe we need just to continue to live in hope, confident in the power for enrichment of good example. Let us entrust this challenge too to the Lord and ask His powerful intervention in fostering proper orientation of priests and bishops when it comes to lifting their hearts to the Lord together with their people.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

No Top Hat; No Dancin' Shoes!

Reading a homily St. Augustine preached on the anniversary of his ordination as a bishop, I came across this quote which impressed me in no small way. It struck me in a manner quite irrelevant to the point the Bishop of Hippo was making, but salutary enough to want to share it:

“…if you remember the poor, because you yourself are also poor, whatever the abundance of your wealth, you are clothed in the rags of the flesh;” [Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (p. 391). New City Press. Kindle Edition.]

There was an old expression (Hollywood maybe?) "glad rags", which referred to dress-up clothes. The genius of the expression was indeed to be found in its caprice: nothing transforming, nothing permanent about dress clothes, just something fun to be put on for an occasion and maybe put away again for another such fun time.

I get the impression we don't know so much about "glad rags" any more and perhaps all the money spent on plastic surgery might be an indicator. This is my second summer in Kyiv and I have to say in that regard that the young men I see about town shock me in that regard. How much plastic surgery goes on is irrelevant, but with less clothes on, how much is spent on tanning or otherwise coloring skin, on tattoos, and so on. Here and elsewhere there is something which goes on which is tagged "body sculpting" and all of a sudden, well, "glad rags" just are not enough.

When it comes to worrying about or being preoccupied with outer appearance, not just health, neatness, and presentability, but with an almost ascetically hard won appearance often termed "buff", well, I guess it is time across the centuries for St. Augustine to come to the rescue to tell me and to tell you right in the face: you are clothed in the rags of the flesh. St. Francis of Assisi, pretty boy, left aside his "glad rags" to embrace Lady Poverty and to overcome his fears by kissing that leper who blocked his path. He had it hard, but by the grace of God Who loved him more than the parents who had showered him with material gifts, he attained freedom really in embracing Sister Death.

The "glad rags" and their contemporary equivalents involving "body sculpting", anything which goes beyond athletic training or an exercise regime to foster good health, must be rebuffed with St. Augustine's words: you are clothed in the rags of the flesh. We have here no lasting dwelling place, and as nice a thing as beach season might be, it is all vanity and a chase after the wind (saith Qoheleth).

I wish one and all a happy summer without too many cares and too many second glances in the mirror.

A Glimpse Behind the Veil?

RISU has done us the service of publishing, first in Ukrainian and then in English translation, an article by Oleksandr Sahan, Doctor of Philosophy: "NEW CHALLENGES IN ORTHODOXY IN UKRAINE – WILL THERE BE NEW RESPONSES?" In RISU's own estimation we are dealing with a scholarly analysis of the present state of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in all its various expressions (he counts three big and many more small ones), and this on the eve of another intense period of church activity, in the midst of a new crisis, which the author contends will determine the next 10-15 years of the Church's development here in Ukraine. Different from most popular discussions, Prof. Sahan speaks only of Orthodoxy, wisely avoiding the inevitable complications which derive when one tries to factor in other Christian groupings. Although this approach lends itself to the sterility of the white coat and laboratory approach, it does cast a glaring light on some issues which are properly Orthodox. In my judgment, Prof. Sahan's sympathies lie with the Kyivan Patriarchate, but apart from this article I have no way of judging whether this is in fact the case.

I put the title "A Glimpse behind the Veil?" on my post as a reflection of my personal dilemma (as the Holy See's man in Kyiv, one without the linguistic skills to be able adequately to follow internal debate in the Ukrainian language on topics of utmost importance) who is most grateful that RISU sees fit to produce English language translations permitting us outsiders further appreciation of what is going on, in my case, around us.

Leaving aside judgments on the overall merit of Prof. Sahan's analysis of the Orthodox situation, I am seeing now for the second time here in recent days terminology describing currents within Orthodoxy in Ukraine, which I find surprising and somewhat disconcerting. He speaks (as seemingly do others) of the Church as having had a "political period" and as being in the midst of or just emerging from an "economic period".

Prof. Sahan, unlike others, seems to think that the struggles of the "political period" are still very much with the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is to say that the statutory independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow is not forever set in stone. The political struggle could once again come to the fore and be decided in favor of a suffragan status of the type which existed under the Soviet Union. In his conclusions the author judges such a development as a negative for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and a potential gain for other Orthodox groups here not in communion with Moscow.

What he terms as “economic Orthodoxy” or the “theology of business” has very little to do with what has come to be known in the English speaking world as "the prosperity Gospel". Here the material benefits for the high clergy are just that, no pretense being made of promising anything to the simple faithful. While our experience of the Protestant variation on this theme has not been free of moral compromise for the sake of material gain on the part of preachers, as a supposed way of corroborating the "truth" of this Gospel, here it would seem that the higher clergy are simply creating their own gilded cage.

From what little I am able to grasp of such, from the often less than veiled critique of Patriarch Kyrill and those closely allied with him here in Ukraine, I am thoroughly puzzled by Sahan's seemingly sober presentation of self-aggrandizement as something serious, as “economic Orthodoxy” or the “theology of business” (maybe the irony of the original text is not rendered by the English translation).

The popular press, especially in Ukraine, seems more inclined to seek leaders whose behavior corresponds to that of Pope Francis. Canonicity and tradition have a ponderance or weight they do not have in fluid American culture. People here do identify with their Orthodox roots and long for direction and good example from their leaders; they are not inclined to shop in the "market of beliefs". This offers Orthodoxy a truly extraordinary opportunity even yet today to offer a holy and sane alternative to secularism. May the Lord come to the aid of our sister Church and assist her in drawing all to Christ.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pre-Baptismal Exorcism, Post-Baptismal Penance

On his feast day today, thinking of St. Thomas, the Apostle, in his bold profession of faith, "My Lord and My God!", just like St. Paul, blinded by the light of Christ, on the road to Damascus: both offer us powerful assurances of the "then" of conversion in and for the life of the Church, which cannot be without consequences for the "now" of our conversion and discipleship for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus, Risen and in Glory, breaks in where He wills; He chooses us for Himself out of boundless love. None of this happens outside the context of the Church. Except in God's unbounded mercy, salvation really doesn't take place outside of Christ's Church and that Church generates a culture which fosters and sustains both near and far. What was true for St. Thomas and St. Paul is no less so for us today, as the Lord bids us to follow Him in faith, hope and love.

Since sharing some of my thoughts into what I believe to be at stake in Chapter 1 of Sherry Weddell's book: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,  Our Sunday Visitor, (2012-07-05), my plan was to read her whole book and then write a review as I do with most things I read, like and hope others might pick up and read as well.  I did that first reflection because I was already dealing with the topic from another source expressing reticence and even rejection concerning the notion of the key role in ecclesiology yet today of Volkskirche or Catholic culture, as regards what we mean by Church and for the destiny of Catholicism in the modern world. We cannot do without a cultural context for Catholicism, because popular culture, in the Catholic sense, cannot be excised or radiated away from Church, which only is if it is incarnational. Church as an invisible spiritual something is a heresy. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. The bond which His Bride the Church shares with Christ is concrete.

Much to my surprise, what I wrote moved others quite strongly, some in negative fashion (Criticism on my part does not exclude appreciation and esteem) and others in a positive way. I'm still in a bit of a quandary as to why the notion of "Catholic culture" sets off bad vibes for so many. My fear is that, as most of my interlocutors are younger, they may be confusing our culture when healthy, better or at its best with the hopeless parochial wasteland all too often experienced over the last 40 years (Cultural Catholicism is another phenomenon, not to be confused with Catholic culture). I fear that too little attention is paid to the exalted nature of Christ's Church in the concrete, which per force is played out within a cultural context. I don't think most of those who dismiss the notion of "Catholic culture" really know what they are dismissing; they seem to be jousting with a straw-man or a windmill and not the real thing. One of my reasons for suspecting this derives from a quote in Sherry's Chapter 7, which insinuates as much:

"One of the biggest things our community lacked was an experience of the supernatural dimension of the Christian life. It just wasn’t on our radar. They had “unintentional” encounters in the liturgy but never something that they felt or experienced as having an impact. Eucharistic Adoration with teens and adults has been a powerful experience of the presence of Christ. Eucharistic Adoration gives them an experience of encountering God." (pp. 164-165. Kindle Edition.)

I have said it before and I will say it again: the present malaise in parish life is not the norm for Catholic culture, but a perversion of the culture, the nurturing environment, if you will, which we have always fought to maintain in our parishes, as the outward manifestation of the inexhaustible mystery which is Christ's Church. People find refuge in the Adoration Chapel from the typically abusive situation of banal parish liturgy and worse; Divine worship is not meant to be so but rather better. Most Adoration Chapels present a genuine oasis in the midst of life's turmoil: they display a universe properly ordered to God and inviting; they have a pretty gold monstrance to display or enthrone the Bread of Life and they have the homage to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of flowers and candles; they are places of quiet: they are a remnant of what once was in the parish church and was once not confined to a small chapel, but was all pervasive. Would it really be too much to say that Adoration Chapels are the places where the peace of Christ reigns supreme? Please, don't count me hysterical if I ask, looking at lots of church buildings and how they are employed today, "Where is beauty? Where is genuine worship of the Living God to be found today?" 

Couple this with errant calls for a non-judgmental treatment of defections from Catholicism by some "seekers" going over to other groups in order "to be fed" (they say). But call defection, please, by its right name: call it such based on a false irenicism or on an outright denial of the true nature of Christ's Church. I don't know how one can ignore the divisive spirit which has invaded the temple, the looming shadow of that old American "Gospel Holiness Tradition" of condemning the other and separating oneself off from sinners so perceived. While it may be wrong to be cranky or mean-spirited, hard on those who waver, it is still just plain wrong to cater to types who refuse grace, or demand it on their own terms, or set off on their not-so-merry way, damning everyone else.

Pre-Baptismal exorcism is an integral part of the celebration of the first of the sacraments of initiation. It is not only descriptive of the state of the soul without grace, but answers a real need, because without the life-giving waters of the font, people are in Satan's grasp; he must be driven out. What is the basic kerygma? "Turn away from sin!" We are baptized into Christ's death and saving Resurrection. His life is bestowed upon us through the Sacraments, seven of them, which He entrusted to His Church. Post-Baptismal Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great need. Woe is me, if I don't kneel before the priest for penance and absolution for my faults, yes, my most grievous faults (thanks be to God, we hear those words again!).

Truly, I fear that those who so lightly dismiss Catholic culture don't understand that it goes far beyond certain quaint customs and is for us today just as, if not more, important than the synagogue was as a foundation for spreading the Gospel in apostolic times. As "discipled" as I may be, I am not the locus of the Church, treated as if it were something diaphanous cloaking me like the fog from which a ghost ship suddenly appears on someone's movie horizon.

Am I saying more than that I think "Catholic culture" has gotten a bad rap in some quarters? I think yes. I am saying the New Testament documents the conversion and commitment of true disciples, but leaves it to the Lord Jesus Himself to raise them up. We work hard to spread the Gospel, as St. Paul admonished us, but we do so while clinging to Mother Church. Tradition has its big "T's" and its small "t's"; they don't always let themselves be so easily sorted and the same could be said of "culture". Unintentional anything? No, call it rather "tepidity" and brand it a sin. The strategy of the culture has never been to foster tepidity and hold people bound in ignorance to the Church, but to light the way to Christ.