Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I will post a bit less frequently during Lent. But it is still Tuesday, and it seems like I could do much worse than to meditate on greed. The following comes from a short book by the well-known writer Phyllis Tickle. Tickle begins by noting that American religion is passing through a dramatic time of rupture and reconfiguration. This is true, she says, whether we focus on spirituality, institutional structures, or, for that matter, morality. Regarding morality, Tickle, who served as the religion editor for Publisher’s Weekly, draws our attention to an increasing American preoccupation with sin. To be sure, this is not really unexpected “during the decades surrounding an era of apocalyptic anxiety.” But that does not mean that it is any less valid or real.
And so we come to greed. We generally imagine greed to be one of a group called the “Seven Deadly Sins.” There were the seven laws, or mishpathim, of Noah, and the Book of Proverbs tells us, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him” (Prov 6:16-19). Early monastic authors, such as John Cassian and Evagrius, list eight divisions of sin: gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, dejection, sloth, vainglory, and pride. Greed or “avarice” would seem to have a rather prominent place among the sins – after all, St Paul wrote, “Radix omnium malorum avaritia” (1 Tim 6:10). If we should doubt this placement, we might want to consider Holy Scripture’s incessant preoccupation with concerns about wealth, property, and covetousness. Tickle reminds us that the very first Christian ecclesial court concerned greed, or, more specifically, duplicity regarding the proceeds from the ownership of land (Acts 5:1-10). We might also want to meditate on the real destructiveness of greed. Evagrius writes, “Avarice suggests to the mind a lengthy old age, inability to perform manual labor (at some future date), famines that are sure to come, sickness that will visit us, the pinch of poverty, the great shame that comes from accepting the necessities of life from others.” In other words, greed is an enslavement to our fantasies, especially our fears, of what might come to pass.
Tickle then brings us to of Prudentius’ early fifth century text, Psychomachia. The Psychomachia describes seven battles, one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Avaritia is preceded in her particular battle by Luxury, Lust, Pleasure, and so on. But they are all unsuccessful – Vanity, for instance, is stripped naked and her precious robes are dragged from her. Avaritia herself then enters the battle with her “rake-like” fingers to salvage the weapons, jewels, and garments left on the battlefield; she is accompanied by Care, Hunger, Fear, Anxiety, Perjury, Dread, Fraud, Fabrication, Sleeplessness, and Sordidness. We are told: “Neque est uiolentius ullum/terrarum Vitium” (Of all the vices, there is none more frightening). Avaritia next tries to seduce faithful priests, yet fails as Reason arrives on the scene. Then quite angry, she disguises herself as Thrift, taking up what Prudentius calls “the delicate veil of maternal concern,” so that all of her grasping and longing can be said to be for her children. Human beings follow Avaritia, convinced that they are following virtue, and “The wicked fiend finds them cheerful victims happy to live in her shackles.” This story, Tickle tells us, shows that Avaritia is the mother of a large and horrific clan, that she threatens us with apostasy, that she can appear in the clothing of virtue, and, finally, that she is really about “desiring a life subject to human control over a life of vulnerable trust in the unseen.” Remember what Evagrius said.
But something then changes in our attitude towards greed. We can see this in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1557 engraving, Big Fish Eat Little Fish. It is all rather nastily Darwinian. We see a giant beached fish throwing up smaller fish. Its stomach is cut upon, so that other sea creatures pour out. They, in turn, are vomiting forth other creatures. Tickle writes, “There is in all this macabre rendering not one whiff of either emotion of theology, only a neutral observation of the way things really are, along with a kind of tacit acceptance of the acceptability of that position. Indeed, squatting noncommittally on a nearby bank, another fisherman is calmly using a small fish to entice a larger one to strike his hook. Such existential sangfroid is, we recognize instantly, much more comfortable for us than Prudentius’ warfare ever could be, primarily because it is infinitely closer to us in its reformative objectivity.”
Instead of seeing things through the lens of spiritual struggle, we moderns look merely at "the way things really are" and then try to attain moral knowledge. This may lead to compassion for our “fellow prisoners” in this world, but “it assumes as well an immutability or impersonality of conditions and principles that blocks us from hope.” Avaritia once hid herself as Thrift, now she disguises herself as the sheer inevitability of laissez faire, or free trade, or, for that matter, fish eating smaller fish. The most moving images of greed in the nineteenth century are perhaps Silas Marner – “the tragedy of social and religious circumstance, not personal failing” – and D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner,” which is less about character than the sad and predictable result of the introduction of a magical object among fallen human beings.
Tickle claims that twentieth century portrayals of greed tended to see it as “someone else’s sin and/or the sin of the oppressor.” Otto Dix’s 1933 painting of The Seven Deadly Sins portrays Avarice as an old hag, with Envy riding her back. Envy wears a mask of Adolf Hitler. More recently and closer to home, we have Michael Douglas’ coldly stunning rendition of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, Wall Street: “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.” As accurate as these portrayals might be of their respective subjects, we are not, and do not aspire to be, Hitler or Gekko.
So, how do we confront our greed today? How will we combat Avaritia this Lent? There are images on which we may meditate – perhaps those of environmental destruction. But Phyllis Tickle suggests a 1996 painting by Mario Donizetti. Donizetti rendered the Seven Deadly Sins in seven panels. Avarice is in the middle position of the three verticals, showing its central position among the sins. We see someone who looks like us, not Gordon Gekko. She is naked, so greed reflects who she is, not merely an unfortunate social and religious circumstance. We notice that she is painfully thin and her downcast eyes show that she cannot see. She is desperately using one bag of treasure as an impossibly uncomfortable pillow, but it is leading her into darkness. And she sits unsteadily on another bag of treasure, unaware that she is crushing another human being.
Well, is this us?
The Eve of Lent
Heading off to Des Moines for the day: meeting my brother Lynn for a hockey game, a nice meal, and some hanging out, in reverse order. It's just about a 200-mile drive from the house. I'm looking forward to a double treat--the time with my brother and the quiet of the drive to help get me ready for Lent.
I've had many good Lents. 1970, the months before I was baptized; 1988, my last one in my hometown; 1986, the one I began at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario; a few I lived in Iowa.
I got over my long-held apprehension by looking at it (at my dear wife's suggestion) as one of those retreats I love to go on. When I'm off at a monastery or retreat center, it's not so excruciating to give up internet, tv, desserts, staying up late, etc. and giving in to quiet time, prayer, and reflection.
Someobdy in the St Blog's commentariat (can't remember who) had an outstanding suggestion for Lent: getting up at the sound of the alarm. No snooze button. No lazing in bed. That seems like a perfect way to start a Lenten day. We'll see if I can manage it tomorrow on the heels of that three-hour drive home from the game, heading into 6:15AM Mass at the parish.
Let's keep one another in prayer today, eh?
Monday, February 27, 2006
Gaudium et Spes 21
Gaudium et Spes 21 is a bit lengthy, but bear with it. It capsulizes a wise approach in dealing with atheism and some of the problems often thrown in the face of the Church.
In her loyal devotion to God and (humankind), the Church has already repudiated (cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Divini Redemptoris, March 19, 1937: AAS 29 (1937), pp. 65-106; Pius XII, encyclical letter Ad Apostolorum Principis, June 29, 1958: AAS 50 (1958) pp. 601-614; John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra May 15, 1961: AAS 53 (1961), pp. 451-453; Paul VI, encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, Aug. 6, 1964: AAS 56 (1964), pp. 651-653) and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone (humankind) from (their) native excellence.
Okay. First, we Christians hold that faith is ennobling. The overall thrust and result of Christianity is a heightened sense of "excellence" as the council bishops taught it. The sense that faith exists to denigrate (or drug) the masses must be vehemently disproved.
Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all (people), she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.
Typical Vatican II optimism: know the questions raised by one's philosophical adversary. Answer the questions on the terms given in the public debate. Those who seek the title "apologist" might do well to consider this tack.
The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to (human) dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For (a person) was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him (or her), but even more important, he (or she) is called as a son (or daughter) to commune with God and share in His happiness.
Human happiness, not human suffering is God's will.
She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives.
Christians possess a duty in the earthly life. Most of all, the duty is to work as an agent of charity and justice, lest believers be betrayed by a false passivity and non-believers be scandalized by unconcern:
By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, (human) dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that (people) succumb to despair.
Go to God with questions say the bishops:
Meanwhile every (person) remains to him (or her-)self an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he (or she) may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life's major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons (people) to higher knowledge and humbler probing.
Atheism is treated as an illness, and the remedy is twofold:
The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of ...
(1) the Church's teaching
(2) as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members.
The understanding is that apologism is two-fold: not just imparing information, but living the faith.
For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly,(cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter I, n. 8: AAS 57 (1965), p. 12) to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible.
Not just real presence, but a visibly evident one as well. Consider this advice:
This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating (the believer) toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the ... charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel (cf. Phil. 1:27) and who prove themselves a sign of unity.
Social gospel Catholics should be cheered by this assessment, which is a true one, I believe.
While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all (people), believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue.
Shared goals imply the dialogue needed to get things done. Also, freedom is to be a given, as we read in the earlier document Dignitatis Humanae:
Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God's temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.
The concern shared with all people is for human dignity. The Church of Gaudium et Spes possesses a quiet confidence about faith, belief, and purpose. I can see how this message would be heartening to Third World or other oppressed persons. It's a matter of right perspective, but I agree that Christian faith must be evident to non-believers, especially in the way faith is practiced publicly and how believers interact with the needy.
Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing (humankind), her message brings to (their) development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of (the person): "Thou hast made us for Thyself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."(St. Augustine, Confessions I, 1: PL 32, 661)
After I posted on confession and healing, Liam brought up the experiences of some of our brothers and sisters, "among them, the scrupulous, the manic, the addict, the anxious, the depressed and many others." In some communities of which he was part, Liam tells us, he detected an "ambivalent attitude" towards them: "The experiences were only valid to the extent it allowed you to claim victimization; otherwise, you were expected to defer to the 'Be Joyful in The Lord, Dammit!' timbre of so much else."
I was thinking about that as I read a column in the most recent Christian Century by L. Gregory Jones, Dean of the Duke Divinity School. Dr Jones was inspired by a reading of Joshua Wolf Shenk's recent Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness:
Over time, Lincoln learned to hold together both his burden and his gift. He appreciated the complexity of life, and persevered even when situations looked hopeless. Lincoln had learned that the only way to survive was through the suffering, not by trying to evade, deny or flee it.
Shenk recognizes that Lincoln's theological views are indispensable both to his disposition and his leadership, though he struggles to articulate their full significance. Lincoln placed his own life and that of the country as a whole within a larger, coherent story—the story of God's purposes in the world.
What does such an account tell us about our yearning for leaders like Lincoln? Shenk briefly alludes to our contemporary demand that politicians be optimists who seem disconnected from suffering, a predicament found among Democrats no less than Republicans. We need leaders who are capable of joy and hope for the future, but we might need to turn to people who are drawn to melancholy. At the very least, we need them to be people whose joy and hope have been tested and shaped by the crucible of suffering.
Great authors from Aristotle to Edgar Allan Poe have argued that there is a close connection between a melancholic disposition and the beautiful, whether this connection is found in statesmen or writers. To be sure, this does not mean that one should seek out suffering in some masochistic way, or that one should dwell in a morose or self-pitying sense of victimization. After all, Lincoln's leadership was marked by strength of character, humility and a profound commitment to the good of the country and its people.
Might it be, however, that the first place to turn for melancholy leaders is the church? After all, if our lives are patterned in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are marked by the complexity and wholeness that Shenk describes. If we pray the Psalms daily, we'll discover the full range of suffering and hope, grief and joy, lived in the providence of God's care for us and for the world. If we learn to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2), we'll become aware of both the fragility and the connectedness of our lives. And if we learn to live as caring communities, supporting one another in times of sadness as well as joy, we'll offer a more faithful witness than communities that are either morose or saccharine.
Looking For It
I have to wonder about some of the St. Blogetariat. A bit of a furor over "nakedness" here
. Aside from a deceptive post title, "Get naked this Lent with Richard Rohr," the author seems to have forgotten a classic Pauline message of comfort:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? (Romans 11:35)
The author confesses:
I really don't go looking for this stuff.
Sure seems like it, taking a fairly well-known Scriptural allusion out of context. I hear there's a Catholic charities board in Boston defying their new cardinal-in-waiting. Why not go over there to play?
Moon In Perspective
Mimas orbits over Saturn's night side in this January image from Cassini. Two remarkable things ...
First is the size of Saturn's moons in relation to the planet. Mimas is not a giant like our own moon, which ranks number six in the solar system. Mimas is about as wide as the state of Ohio--one-eighth our moon's diameter. Saturn is about nine times as wide as the earth. Even Titan is dwarfed by Saturn, and the other moons are pretty insignifcant in size.
Below is a simulated view of Mimas as seen from Saturn. That little fingernail clipping at center is Mimas. It's about a fist away from either the left or right edge of the view below. This moon appears about as big as one of the eyes in the "man in the moon" does from your backyard.
Second, note the degree of shine on Saturn's night side. That's reflected light from the rings. And though scientists speculate that if all the ring material were put together, the resulting "moon" would be about the size of Mimas. Yet if we were hovering above Saturn cloudtops in a zeppelin at night, the arch of the ring in the sky would be far more glorious than a full moon or rainbow. Don Dixon painted this daytime scene of the rings from Saturn. The night view would be much better.
Two Forms of Yoga
From my friend Tom. If you take Mardi Gras to extremes, be sure to keep your yoga straight. Better yet, hold off on those asanas till the next day.
Young Catholic Journalism
According to CNS, Horizons
, the newspaper of the Byzantine Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma
(Ohio) has opened up its children's page to children's input.
Rita Basalla, principal of Cleveland's St. Mary Elementary School:
"The hope is that the students will see how what is taught really does affect our daily lives. The students will become active participants rather than simply receptors of information."
A few things:
- See how "active participation" has infected non-Roman Catholics?
- I don't know if diocesan print media ever circulates significantly to pre-teens. But the effort here should be applauded.
The Armchair Liturgist 8: Ashes Outside of Mass
A timely topic for the series: under what circumstances would you armchair liturgists permit or encourage the distribution of ashes outside of Mass.
I had a specific request by e-mail this morning from a parishioner:
I work at (a) hospital. (Another parishioner) works with me and we were having a discussion about if as a eucharistic minister could you get ashes at church and give them out like at our work? A couple of women asked if we could do that would we give them ashes at work because when they get home their service is over.
How would you respond?
- Tell 'em that ashes are not obligatory and if they can't make 6:15 AM Mass, it's not a big deal?
- Offer to lead a word service at the hospital (say around noon) and bring ashes to any patients there?
Does your parish send people to nursing homes, possibly with Communion? Or is that the priest's job?
Note: On many of these armchair liturgy questions, I've already made my call on it. I'm not necessarily looking for advice, though I've been fascinated by the input on these. The intent is to get you thinking about the unusual or odd decisions that parish staffs are confronted with on the liturgy front.
PS Trivia question: May non-Catholics receive ashes?
Saturday, February 25, 2006
The Armchair Liturgist part 5B
Here's what we did with Stations and 24-Hour First Friday Adoration.
Last Lent was the first year we did weekly adoration and weekly stations. They were not a favorite of our former pastor, so he alternated them in 2004 and years prior to that. I knew that it is possible to have Stations while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but the deciding factor was that some of our parishioners might not. Rather than get into a big educational thing, we (mostly me and the staff with consultation from some of the liturgy committee) decided to do Stations on the four Fridays from March 10th through 31st. Another factor in that decision was that last year I led Stations three times. Many of the groups that had traditionally led stations started begging off a few years ago, and the expanded schedule ended up in my lap. Now it's a whole new set of leaders--which is a good development.
Though I didn't talk about it with the braintrust behind 24-Hour Adoration, I thought a singular focus for their group these first few months was an important consideration.
The Armchair Liturgist part 7
Interestingly, there is a push from a few parishioners to go Perpetual Adoration. How would you liturgy folks out there handle it? Do you think I should or would be supportive of it? Do you piece it together in stages or take the plunge? Do you need a separate chapel for it?
More on the "Gay Takeover"
CNS reports from Rome
on a seminar entitled "The Homosexual Question: Psychology, Rights and the Truth of Love."
It seems one-sided to me. And a bit paranoid.
In a public conference Feb. 23, professors teaching the seminar spoke at length about the threats posed by the gay rights movement and said current legislative proposals around the world could have far-reaching effects on how society is structured.
Comments like this always slay me. Depending on whom you ask, homosexuals make up 4 to 10% of the human population. The majority prefer not to bother with marriage and family. I'm curious to know how this would have the impact some say it would. Perhaps if heterosexual marriage were outlawed. But nobody's suggested that. Perhaps if heterosexuals began choosing gay activity because they found it (?) an improved way to be. But I haven't heard of that. Except in prisons.
French Msgr. Tony Anatrella, a psychoanalyst and consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family, said gay couples were unable to give children the model of sexual difference that any child needs to develop his or her own sexual identity.
Does Anatrella suggest that genital sexual expression is the only model for sexual identity? I've hardly ever heard gay people advocating they are a "third sex," though I know that some extremists advocate five, not two.
He referred to one recent study, which he said showed that 40 percent of children raised by homosexuals became homosexuals themselves. Msgr. Anatrella said there were other psychological "collateral effects" of being raised by a same-sex couple that show up only in adulthood, including anxiety over sexual differentiation. When it comes time for these young people to form their own families, they suffer because they have not learned to accept the sexual difference between two adults, he said.
A few things:
- First, parenting by SSA individuals and couples should be studied. Some SSA parents suggest they impart advantages to their children because of certain healthy aspects of their approach to relationships. I can understand how it would be difficult for extreme findings to gain a fair hearing. It's got to be worth the attempt.
- Second, Anatrella's comments lean toward it all being about the adults. It's not. Even if certain risk factors were elevated for children of gay couples, the baseline of comparison is not healthy heterosexual couples. It's life in a non-permanent home versus being parented by someone other than the "ideal" heterosexual couple.
Pope Addresses Union: Three Fidelities
. Want to bet that fidelity to profit is not one of them?
1. Fidelity to workers
The person is the "measure of the dignity of work" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 271). For this reason, the magisterium has always recalled the human dimension of the activity of work and has redirected it to its true aim, without forgetting that the biblical teaching on work culminates in the commandment to rest.
2. Fidelity to democracy
... which alone can guarantee equality and rights to everyone. Indeed, there is a sort of reciprocal dependence between democracy and justice that impels everyone to work responsibly to safeguard each person's rights, especially those of the weak and marginalized.
Fascinating take. Imagine: democracy is an institution dependent on justice and dedicated to the protection of the weak.
3. Fidelity to the Church
It is not by accident that John Paul II addressed these words to you on 1 May 1995: "The Gospel alone renews the ACLI"; they still mark out the principal route for your association, since they encourage you to put the Word of God at the center of your life and to see evangelization as an integral part of your mission.
The brief address was given on the 60th anniversary of the Italian Christian Workers' Associations.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Using and Knowing Your Bibles
There's concern in the cafeteria
that Americans are getting cheated on Bible translations.
No wonder EWTN uses the Ignatius (=RSV Catholic Edition) Bible instead of the bland NAB. Well, at least it goes with the equally bland, flawed English translation of the Mass we still have.
Both approved by Rome. By this reasoning the curia just wants to keep us down on the farm. The Canadians are permitted to use the NRSV in liturgy.
If the new, more faithful and poetic one ever makes it out of committee (the usual suspects are holding it up), maybe we'll get a better Bible translation, too. Oh yeah, that wonderful desire to make everything accessible, until it sounds like elementary school poetry.
Actually, the movement is to make the Bible more faithful to the Latin Vulgate. Sorry; beauty, poetry, and even common sense is not part of the orthodox equation in this instance.
I'm not sure why Gerald is upset, though. There's a misunderstanding that the RNAB is the only approved Bible for Catholics. Wrong. It's the only approved one for liturgy. If you're talking personal study, prayer, or bedtime reading, there are a number of approved translations and even paraphrases out there. Don't let the liturgy wars distract your focus.
St Basil on War and Repentance
I am sure that we are all praying for the Middle East, especially in the aftermath of the destruction of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra. During the past few years, I've posted a few times about reconsiderations of just war theory. Moral theologians have suggested a “jus post bellum” – an additional set of moral norms to govern the way we end war, including a principle of restoration. The Methodist theologian Daniel Bell has pointed out that just war theory must not be a checklist, but the description of a rigorous ecclesial practice: "right intent" would then mean praying for our enemies during warfare, avoiding anger and hatred, and confessing our own sins as we seek a justice for all. These do seem like important expectations as I write. The difficulty of fulfilling them, and the other lessons of our painful experiences in Iraq and elsewhere, should, I think, draw us further towards what the US Bishops called “a common presumption against the use of force as a means of settling disputes.” Certain voices in the Vatican have even wondered whether just war theory has become outmoded; the then Cardinal Ratzinger noted in 2003 that "given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"
But, before we come to any definite conclusions about just war theory, we should try to listen to tradition (the life of the Spirit in the Church), even - perhaps especially - if it is not as clear, obvious, or unitary as we might wish it to be. The following excerpt is from the Orthodox priest and scholar John McGuckin; it comes from the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website (you can also read it here). Comments here would be especially welcome.
Basil of Caesarea was a younger contemporary of Eusebius, and in the following generation of the Church of the late 4th century, he emerged as one of the leading theorists of the Christian movement. His letters and instructions on the ascetic life, and his "Canon" (ethical judgments as from a ruling bishop to his flock) on morality and practical issues became highly influential in the wider church because of his role as one of the major monastic theorists of Early Christianity. His canonical epistles were transmitted wherever monasticism went: and in the Eastern Church of antiquity (because monasticism was the substructure of the spread of the Christian movement), that more or less meant his canonical views became the standard paradigm of Eastern Christianity's theoretical approach to the morality of war and violence, even though the writings were local and occasional in origin. Basil's 92 Canonical Epistles were adapted by various Ecumenical Councils of the Church that followed his time. His writing is appealed to in Canon 1 of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in Canon 1 of the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787), and is literally cited in Canon 2 of the 6th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (681) which paraphrases much else from his canonical epistles. By such affirmations eventually the entire corpus of the Basilian Epistles entered the Pandects of Canon Law of the Byzantine Eastern Church, and they remain authoritative to this day.
Basil has several things to say about violence and war in his diocese. It was a border territory of the empire, and his administration had known several incursions by "barbarian" forces. Canon 13 of the 92 considers war:
"Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety. Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean."
[Fr McGuckin here tells us that the "Our fathers" above refers to a letter by Athanasius that was (and is) taken out of context; Athanasius was writing to monks, not soldiers, and using a rhetorical example to show that "contextual variability is very important in making moral judgments."]
Is it logical to expect a Christian of his diocese to engage in the defense of the homeland, while simultaneously penalizing him if he spills blood in the process? Well, one needs to contextualize the debarment from the sacrament in the generic 4th century practice of the reception of the Eucharist, which did not expect regular communication to begin with (ritual preparation was extensive and involved fasting and almsgiving and prayer), and where a sizable majority of adult Christians in a given church would not have yet been initiated by means of baptism, and were thus not bound to keep all the canons of the Church. By his regulation and by the ritual exclusion of the illumined warrior from the sacrament (the returning "victor" presumably would have received many other public honors and the gratitude of the local folk) Basil is making sure at least one public sign is given to the entire community that the Gospel standard has no place for war, violence, and organized death. He is trying to sustain an eschatological balance: that war is not part of the Kingdom of God (signified in the Eucharistic ritual as arriving in the present) but is part of the bloody and greed-driven reality of world affairs which is the "Kingdom-Not-Arrived." By moving in and out of Eucharistic reception, Basil's faithful Christian (returning from his duty with blood on his hands) is now in the modality of expressing his dedication to the values of peace and innocence, by means of the lamentation and repentance for life that has been taken, albeit the blood of the violent. Basil's arrangement that the returning noble warrior should stand in the Church (not in the narthex where the other public sinners were allocated spaces) but refrain from communion makes the statement that a truly honorable termination of war, for a Christian, has to be an honorable repentance.
Several commentators (not least many of the later western Church fathers) have regarded this as "fudge," but it seems to me to express, in a finely tuned "economic" way, the tension in the basic Christian message that there is an unresolvable shortfall between the ideal and the real in an apocalyptically charged religion. What this Basilian canon does most effectively is to set a "No Entry" sign to any potential theory of Just War within Christian theology, and should set up a decided refusal of post-war church-sponsored self-congratulations for victory. Any violence, local, individual, or nationally-sanctioned is here stated to be an expression of hubris that is inconsistent with the values of the Kingdom of God, and while in many circumstances that violence may be "necessary" or "unavoidable" (Basil states the only legitimate reasons as the defense of the weak and innocent) it is never "justifiable." Even for the best motives in the world, the shedding of blood remains a defilement, such that the true Christian, afterwards, would wish to undergo the kathartic experience of temporary return to the lifestyle of penance, that is "be penitent." Basil's restriction of the time of penance to three years (seemingly harsh to us moderns) was actually a commonly recognized sign of merciful leniency in the ancient rule book of the early Church.
Celebrate us! (At the risk of not sounding sufficiently theocentric.) My bishop columnizes
about our diocese's jubilee. It's an unusual one, in that 1956 saw the merger of two 19th century sees, Kansas City and St Joseph.
I pray that our patrons, Our Lady the Immaculate Conception, and her just and faithful spouse, St. Joseph, will assist us in giving proper honor and glory to Our Lord Jesus Christ in this historic year.
Friday, Beer, and Beef
Rock on "Indult.
" And no, it's not what you think.
Check out his web site--I go daily. His recent posts gently noting various inconsistencies and fumbles on the Catholic Right have him labelled as a "progressive" and a "liberal" in some corners. Tell the truth, I think the progs just know how to keep their head down when the whispers are flying. Plus, the self-styled orthodox seem to have adopted the motto: "He who is not with us is against us." (And pity the poor Eldad and Medad that cross us.)
St Patrick's Day falls on a Friday, a Lenten Friday to boot. What do you think? Let them off the hook with permission to down some tradi corned beef? Six years ago I suggested to my then-pastor to give those requesting an "indult" a choice: abstain from meat or alcohol. A nasty smile emerged on his face. I think he's assigned to the Basilica
near the Field of Dreams. Maybe Dyersville Catholics will have the Choice.
Rock mentions Cardinal Krol resisted the Saturday night Mass till 1983. Philly wasn't on my prog radar in those days, so I never heard of that. But let me shcok the St Blog's world by stating I'm not so sure Saturday night Masses are such a good practice.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Desert Monks II
The beginning was hard for me. When I read the Life of Antony during the first month of my novitiate I hated it. The demonology seemed naïve and embarrassing. We were not given much help in understanding the spiritual depth of the text; the focus was historical and literary. I dreaded having to teach it myself. But then something happened. Perhaps I crossed the threshold of experience that allowed me to relate Antony's teaching to my own experiences of obsession, temptation, and despair. I saw the developmental structure of Antony's move into deeper and deeper solitude as preparation for deeper availability to other people. The effort in this text and similar ones to articulate both the internal and external aspects of emotional states fascinated me. The psychological language of "passions" or "vices" underscored human responsibility, while externalizing these forces through demonology was a way to assert the fundamental goodness of human nature without denying that virtue comes through struggle. The ambiguity of these categories reflects attentive awareness of the tension between experience and the claims of Christian faith, the dynamics Paul described in his anguished confession of the battle between flesh and spirit (Rom. 7). Antony and other monastic teachers insisted on that attentiveness (prosoch¯e), and made it the starting point of all asceticism. I could identify.
-- Columba Stewart, OSB, “‘We’? Reflections on Affinity and Dissonance in Reading Early Monastic Literature,” Spiritus 1 (2001)
Fr Stewart warns us against reading early monastic literature with romanticism or a wide-eyed infatuation: “It is not the fourth century, even on the Holy Mountain. And there is not a single good reason why it should be.” Indeed, Fr Stewart notes that the early fathers could be excessively polemical, their asceticism can occasionally come close to being life-denying, and the literature does suffer from a paucity of female experience. But he has always come back, sometimes after an initial reluctance, to these early monastic writings, drawn especially to the unexpected psychological insight of Antony, Cassian, and Evagrius. It is in this spirit that I want to look at early Egyptian monasticism by looking together at an article in the American Benedictine Review by Tim Vivian (56 ) – not because our uncertainty about our times should lead us into escapism, but because the insight of the monks helps illuminate the present.
Fr Vivian tells us that monks have lived in the Wadi al-Natrun (Scetis) for 1700 years and Egyptian monasticism even had a second golden age in the twentieth century (a subject, hopefully, for a future post). The first golden age began in the fourth century, and it was then that Macarius the Great came to the desert. There, as the author of the Life of Macarius pictures him, Macarius would become another Abraham, the father of a people, just as Athanasius imagined Antony and his followers making a new city in the desert. The point was not to live with disgust, dramatically rejecting the world over and over again, but rather to withdraw from the transient to seek the ultimately real, the eschaton. Macarius would be the center of a community of disciples who would come to see him to disclose their thoughts and to get the spiritual counsel of the “Spiritbearer,” as he was known. This was essential; Abba Paphnutius tells us that he went to see his elders every two weeks, walking twelve miles to do so. The young monk’s question to the elder would always be, “My father, tell me a word that I may be saved,” keeping in mind the young man from the Gospel who asks Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life (Mt 19:16). While very few of us will go out into an actual desert, this is a reminder of the importance of what one scholar calls a “hand-to-mouth spirituality.”
The young monks desired single-mindedness and the path to it might come as a surprise to us. It does require a shocking (and, for most of us, unrealistic) amount of renunciation – not because of masochism or to desperately try to gain God’s approval, but in order to dispossess oneself into hesychia, the simplicity and silence that is a space where we can become completely attentive to God. The problem with the passions is not that they exist, but that they are disordered, that, as a recent writer claims, they are atheistic insofar as they displace God. Hesychia, Fr Vivian reminds us, is not “drugged out bliss or apathy,” but rather a place of greater understanding. This is paradoxical, however, since we become aware of our separation from God, so that we might then be healed through Christ. Isaiah of Scetis, in the fifth century, writes:
Silence gives birth to ascetic discipline. Ascetic discipline gives birth to weeping. Weeping gives rise to fear of God. Godly fear begets humility. Humility begets foresight. Foresight begets love. Love renders the soul undiseased and free from the passions. Then, and only then, does a person know that he is far from God.
As surprising as that might sound, what will most provoke us, I think, is the focus on God as philanthropos, as compassion. There is a very moving story about a weeping antelope coming to see Macarius because of her deformed young; Macarius prays to Jesus Christ, remembering his “numerous treasuries of mercy,” makes the sign of the cross, and heals the animals. But God’s compassion isn’t just about smiling at delightful stories (not that the antelope story reduces into that): philanthropia must move us to non-judgmentalism. The Apophthegmata tells us that Macarius’ divinization (theosis) occurred because “just as God protects the world, so too did Abba Macarius cover shortcomings: when he saw them it was as though he did not see them and when he heard them it was as though he did not hear them.”
The combination of renunciation (we have no illusions about our nearness to God) and non-judgmentalism (we have no need to assert our virtue) would mean that, while the withdrawal into the desert might be necessary to free oneself from the passions and come closer to one's true self, the desert was not to be held apart from the contaminated world in splendid isolation as some sort of special “protected” space. The monks would return to the world to offer healing and salvation. And, strikingly, there are many monastic stories about monks finding holiness in the most unexpected places or discovering that the path of heaven is wider than they might have imagined or unconsciously desired. Here is one:
As Abba Silvanus sat one time with the brothers, he had a mystical experience (en ekstasei) and fell flat on his face. After a long time he got up and wept. The brothers entreated him, “What’s wrong, father?” but he remained silent and continued weeping. When they forced him to speak, he said, “I was carried off to judgment and I saw numbers of people dressed like us in monastic habits going away to punishment and I saw numbers of people who were not monks going away into the kingdom."
In another story, an old man “who served God for many years” learns from an angel that a gardener pleases God more than him. Naturally, he goes and finds the gardener, who does seem to be a holy man. The gardener even prays at the beginning and the end of each day that “this city, from the least to the greatest, will enter the kingdom because of their righteousness, but I alone will inherit punishment on account of my sins.” But the old man, a veteran of the desert, is still not convinced. Then, they happen to hear people in the street singing the songs that people sing in streets. The old man asks, “Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these [scandalous] songs?” The gardener says that he is not troubled. The old man asks what the gardener could possibly conceive in his heart when he hears such songs. The gardener responds, “That they are all going to the kingdom.” Then the old man finally understands: “This is the practice which surpasses my labor of all these years.” The earliest monastic traditions do not give much emphasis to the miracles and wonders that impress us; we must emulate the gardener’s virtue.
A later Egyptian holy man, Daniel of Scetis, would encounter a holy fool that is really a chosen vessel, a blind beggar doing great things, and what appears to be a drunken (and despised) nun who is really a person of great sanctity. These strange figures have performed a withdrawal that is comparable, even superior, to going into the desert because they have left behind their social identities (even, in one case, sexual identity). Fr Vivian says that “Daniel appears to be holy precisely because he has the humility and discernment to see holiness in others.” He does not fear strangeness, even if the outsider status of the eccentric is implicitly a critique of the exclusivity of the monastic tradition. Fr Vivian writes, “Daniel, as it were, instead of merely performing the duties of law-abiding abbot, goes outside the enclosure to welcome these atypical ascetics inside, knowing full well that their presence within will initially provoke consternation and resistance but that such friction will eventually wear at the accumulated rusts and lazy habits and comfortable traditions.”
“It is not the fourth century, even on the Holy Mountain. And there is not a single good reason why it should be.” As Fr Stewart reminded us, we should not use early monastic literature to retreat into an imaginary world. But the early monks do place us, here and now, under question: Do we seek self-renunciation? Do we imagine God as philanthropos so that we are moved to refuse to judge our neighbor? Can we bear to find holiness in unlikely places, willing, as Fr Vivian says, to “bulldoze the narrowly self-constructed gates of heaven that some Christians, in imitation of gated communities so popular now in suburbia, build for themselves and against others”?
Gaudium et Spes 20
Gaudium et Spes
continues its analysis of atheism:
Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives (people) freedom to be an end unto (themselves), the sole artisan and creator of (their) own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in (humankind).
I think there is the lure of technology, yes. I wonder how much reliance on human independence is a staking out of personal independence in response to the experience of injustice. In other words, "Now that I'm finally free of my ... abuser/corrupt government/the people who tried to keep me down"--fill in the blank--" and God wasn't with me in any of this, why should I lean on him now?"
Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of (people) especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing ... hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental rower they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.
They're talking marxism, right?
The marxists certainly hammered away on the passive approach to life's problems: "Just wait till you die and heaven awaits in the next life." Of course that would be unsatisfactory. Not necessarily from a selfish view, but even from the view of wanting a better life for one's neighbors, friends, and even one's children.
Prayer That Can Be Born Only in Silence
In Fr John Garvey's regular column in the current Commonweal (alas, not online), the Orthodox priest writes that, after many years of busy parish ministry, he now has a good deal of time to read and write and be alone. Reflecting on his childhood in Springfield, Illinois and his love of one particular tree (like John Muir, he would climb it during storms, "getting as close to the top as I could, holding on when the tree began lashing back and forth"), Fr Garvey remembers grasping the mysteriousness of the tree - "Only God could really know the tree as it was; only God could know the final thatness of the tree." His present solitude is, in a way, "a return for me to the day when I first saw the tree as full of mystery." He concludes:
To a certain extent it is also a necessity, for at least some of our day, to spend time alone and in silence. A certain amount of silence and solitude is necessary for any appreciation of the sacred. There are times in life when this is nearly impossible ... for example, when you are a young parent. My fear, though, is not that some people find this impossible; the problem is rather that most of us flee from it. I know that even when I am alone, I like music in the background, or the sound of the radio. I have to force myself to turn it off and simply sit down. But it is only when we go against the grain and force ouselves to do this that we begin to see the usual noise our minds make, that we begin to let that clatter settle down and to sense the real world around us. This is necessary for any serious prayer or meditation. Otherwise the words of prayer are not listened to in any depth, and the silence that is necessary as the place into which the words are spoken will not be real for us.
It is less and less possible to do this. No, it is almost always possible to do this, but we live in an age when the temptations not to experience solitude in any way are all around us. I often get up very early, and I am amazed when I look outside our apartment and see someone walking down the street at 5:30 in the morning will a cell phone to the side of his head, talking away. The sight of all those people chattering on cell phones all the time is the clearest recent sign of how terrified we are to be alone.
The problem is not only that it is good for us to live with a sense of mystery and the sacred, or that we are deprived of something good when we do not. The effects of this constant noise and distraction are deeper and even more ominous. It is not as if the sacred were a luxury we can turn to if we are so inclined, an optional good thing. Rather, a sense of the sacred is necessary if we are to become truly human, and we are twisted away from what we are meant to be when we ignore the sacred. Although too much emphasis can be put on felt experience, where prayer and the Christian life are concerned, we must have an experience of the sacred to really be able to believe in it, and it can't be experienced without the kind of prayer that can be born only in silence.
can be a snappy writer sometimes. But occasionally, he's just clueless. And not enjoyable. Like this headline:
16 States Have Citizens Sensible Enough to Think that Experimenting on Children with Gay Adoption is a Bad Idea
34 States say, "Hey! What could it hurt?"
If only the question centered on those nasty gays stealing children from nice, well-mannered, suburban straight couples.
Thing is, that about 127,000 kids are waiting to be adopted. Right now. No legal entanglements. No stalking birth parents. No overseas trips. No foreign red tape. C'mon people, pony up in line.
There's about three to four times as many kids in foster care.
If the hierarchy wants to make determinations about the moral quality of prospective parents when overseeing the adoption of children, that is within their privilege. But unless 127,000 kids start disappearing off the adoption rolls next week, protests against gay people adopting children will fall under one of two categories:
- ignorance of the adoption need in the US
- immorality in promoting the abandonment of parentless children
Who Speaks For Religious Orders?
I saw Archbishop Rode's comments on religious the other day. I almost commented on it, but I often ask myself, "Why would I?" I'm not a vowed religious. I'm not a formal associate of an order.
One of CNS's paraphrases
Since the Second Vatican Council, he said, some orders have abandoned their traditional fields of apostolate, only to lose themselves in uselessness or unproductive activities. The result is stagnation, (Rode) said.
Rode is the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He is a Vincentian, so perhaps he speaks with somewhat more credibility than a diocesan priest. But I confess my weariness of non-religious attempting to frame the debate in terms of the liberal/conservative divide or the flashpoints of dress and charism. Or men defining what role women are to have.
Throughout the history of the church, religious orders and congregations were always the ones pushing forward, bringing dynamism and a call for holiness. They were always on the front lines.
And religious orders, especially women, were certainly at the forefront of Vatican II reforms. It might be argued that some lost their bearings in the process. (Of course, some Catholics would say that everybody with the exception of the SSPX lost their bearings.) Compared to the lukewarm renewal in the Liturgy of the Hours, or Catholic education, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, women religious were considerably less fearful in implementing Vatican II.
Joan Chittister is not St Blog's favorite daughter, but I didn't care much for Amy's comment on her thread treating this issue
But Sister Joan's stance towards the present situation is just odd. She writes of how healthy her community is now - why? Not because it's, you know, growing, but because the individuals within that community are free, creative and led by the Spirit where ever. It's one of those examples of how making your definitions clear is so important. Most of us would define a healthy community as one which gives life to others, and, to put it bluntly, reproduces.
I've visited the Erie Benedictines. I would say that their community seemed healthy to me. You can tell a lot about it from its liturgy, and I saw more than just liturgy during my visits. Is reproduction not going on there? I saw younger sisters there. And I've known a number of women about my age and younger heading into non-traditional orders. Taking Chittister's definitions out of context doesn't do the discussion justice. I could just as easily surf SSPX web sites and come up with out-of-context photos and commentary that shows that for schismatic clergy, it's all about finery, privilege, and narcissism. But what would be the point?
So I posted:
(S)elf-determination has always been a hot spot for religious orders. What's the role of the local bishop? Rome? superiors? All that stuff
The question of self-determination is not about women saying, "It's about me, me, me!" It's about a community defining its own charism. Not having well-intentioned folks from outside the order or community imposing someone else's view.
If the liberal orders have so little to offer, to less attractive to young people, and have so little future, why is there so much ink expended on them? Wishing the orders will die out -- especially actively rooting for it with a knowing smirk -- strikes me as greatly uncharitable. The future will tell.
To this comment, the usual paranoia in reply:
Because before they die out they're responsible for forming the next generation of young people, many of whom won't only avoid joining their liberal religious orders, but having been steeped in their liberal view of Catholicsm won't actively join in the life of the Church in general.
Last time I looked there were quite a few Catholic liberals. You'd have a hard time saying we're dying out. The blogosphere seems to have an endless run of frustrating stories on how the Church has too many liberals involved in parishes.
... because they still have a lot of money and a lot of control over Catholic institutions. I am somewhat concerned that some of the few "late vocations" to these orders are single people who see a lot of money and power for the taking.
I think I see. No people, but lots of money. Somehow, the USCCB has been duped by this. Why else would they foster a religious retirement collection?
One of my mother's friends once let loose with a bit of profanity in the church restroom. A sister, not in a trad habit, made a comment to her. When relaying the story over their morning coffee, our neighbor asked my mom, "How do they expect us to know how to behave if we can't tell who they are anymore?"
There's a convenience in seeing women religious as Hollywood portrays them. Most of all, they're absolutely non-threatening. I won't say that I've always had smooth sailing with sisters. I'm a product of Catholic schools and I've worked in parish ministry for almost twenty years. I've met women religious who have been petty, condescending, bitter, mean, unjust, and just plain unreligious. They tend to stand out from the usual run of women who embody a sense of sacrifice, commitment, tenacity, and best of all: faith.
Some religious need no habit to distinguish themselves from the ordinary believers. And if women religious have somehow missed the boat by becoming lawyers, college presidents, campus ministers, diocesan bureaucrats, nurses, psychologists, spiritual directors, and peace activists, then I haven't seen it from my experience of the many sainted people I've known.
Some of the anger toward religious has roots in bad personal experiences. And some of it is no doubt a function of preferring women religious to be safe figures. You can see a trad habit at several paces away. But usually, real holiness is within, and a person needs to get closer to encounter it.
Pluto Makes a Case for Planethood
Not even the sun's inner planets have rings. It seems Pluto may have them
, according to a research team from the Southwest Research Institute.
Not even the solar system's inner planets (all much larger than Pluto) have rings.
The controversy in astronomical circles is whether or not Pluto qualifies as a true planet. It seems there's not such a cut-and-dried boundary, especially since an object larger than Pluto has been discovered orbiting the sun a bit farther out. If Pluto is a planet, then this other body certainly deserves the classification. But what if dozens of Pluto-sized orbs are found in the cold orbits beyond Neptune? Do they all get the designation?
Rings or not, I still think the better case is to demote Pluto from
planethood. Look at the size over to the left. The moon is about one-half bigger than Pluto. If we do find dozens of buddies for Pluto, where would we draw the line between planet status and big comet? Pluto is about 1300 miles across. Is the dividing line 1000? 500?
Charon, named for the boat captain who ferried the dead across the river Styx to Pluto's underworld realm, is a bit bigger than Texas. The new moons are about the size of a county: 36 and 30 miles across each, as far as we can tell. It will be interesting to see what they are named. Proserpina, the consort of the underworld god, will probably be reserved for that larger body. Moons are always named for people, and Pluto
has some associates: Sisyphus (condemned to roll that stone up the hill), Cerberus, the three-headed hound. Maybe Orpheus and Eurydice. Any would be better than P1 and P2.
More of a concern will be the aim of the New Horizons
probe when it arrive at Pluto in 2015. The moons P1 and P2 are farther out from Pluto than the large moon Charon. The four rings systems of the outer planets are all contained around and inside the orbits of the largest moons. If Pluto has rings they might be in the path set for New Horizons.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
North Americans Iced
The Canadian and US men's hockey teams lose in the Olympic quarterfinals
. This side of the
Atlantic, the blame game commences.
I'm looking forward to seeing some hockey, though. Meeting up with my bro for a game
next week in Des Moines.
"I Will Awake the Dawn"
I'm reading What is the Point of Being a Christian?, the new book by Fr Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master General of the Dominican Order. Fr Radcliffe tells us, "This book will not try to trace the special ingredient of Christianity, the secret of its savour, like the mysterious special ingredient of Green Chartreuse or Pepsi-Cola." Instead, he wishes to draw our attention to certain "puzzling aspects" of Christianity, through which believers might point to God as the meaning of their lives. One of these is hope (the psalmist sings "I will awake the dawn" when he struggles with despair):
I first went to Burundi during the renewal of the ethnic conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis, which crucify that beautiful country. I wished to visit the community of Dominican nuns in the north of the country. It was really too dangerous to go by road, and so we planned to fly in the little UN plane that went from time to time. Because of the growing violence, the UN withdrew from the country and so we just had to trust that all would be well and go by car. It was a tough trip. We were stopped by the army who tried to prevent us from going ahead because there were battles on the road. We found a whole busload of people killed. There were shots, I think aimed at us. All the country was brown and dead. All the crops were burnt. And then in the distance we saw a green hill, and there was the monastery.
Six of the nuns were Tutsi and six Hutu. It was one of the few places where the two ethnic groups lived together in peace and love. They had all lost nearly all their families in the slaughter. Only one, a young novice, had been spared family bereavement so far, and while we were there we heard of the annihilation of her family too. I asked how they managed to live in peace with each other. They replied that besides their common prayer, they always listened to the news altogether so that they could share all that happened. No one should be alone in her grief. Slowly people from all the ethnic groups learned that the monastery grounds were a safe place, and gathered in their church to pray and grew their crops beside it. It was a green place in a burnt land - and a sign of hope.
When Pope John Paul II went to Jerusalem many Israelis were sceptical, according to Rabbi Jonathan Sachs. What different might this visit make? More words. But he transformed the situation when he went to the Wailing Wall and took his silent place there with Jews lamenting the destruction of the Temple. He shared their desolation. They were moved 'by the sight of that frail, lonely individual standing by the wall of what was once the Temple, carrying with him the weight of centuries of estrangement, determined to repent of the past and chart a new way forward' (The Times 9 April 2005). Signs that speak, work.
In the West the Church faces its own betrayal which it must embrace, the sexual abuse committed by a small percentage of the clergy. Many church leaders appear to have hoped that they would wake up one morning and find that this nightmare had passed and that we could carry on as before. We must dare to believe that this pain can also be faced with clarity and hope. Just as Jesus embraced the betrayal of Judas, so we can dare to face the betrayal that this represents, with the confidence that it may bear fruit. Enda McDonagh asks whether we dare share the despair of those who have been abused. 'Are we destined for despair, for the despair which has dogged these victims [of sexual abuse] for decades as they sought a loving, pastoral hand to accompany them through their darkness? That's where we all need to be now, as brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to share the pain and the darkness and the despair.' With them we may discover a new, vibrant hope. If we run away then the moment will be barren, as if Jesus were to have scuttled out of the back door rather than face this dark night of betrayal.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey celebrated together an ecumenical liturgy in St Paul Without the Walls, in Rome. They signed a common declaration affirming their desire for unity. And then Paul VI took the Archbishop aside to show him some frescoes. Suddenly he asked Ramsey to remove his ring. Ramsey was deeply puzzled but eventually did so. The Pope slipped on his finger his own ring, which he had worn as Archbishop of Milan. Ramsey burst into tears and wore the ring for the rest of his life. It is the ring that Archbishop Rowan Williams also wore when he went to visit John Paul II. It has often been pointed out that there is an incoherence between this gesture of recognition and the official Catholic refusal to recognize the validity of Anglican orders. But such a gesture is not so much an expression of what is the case as a reaching to the future. By expressing a hope, it brings it nearer. Our Churches may still be divided, we may still not be in communion, but here is a gesture that reaches forward to what is to come. The reunification of the Churches may not be Paradise, but at least it would be the end of a scandalous counter-sign.
A feature from CNS
Dan Schutte, Tim Manion and Jesuit Fathers Bob Dufford, John Foley and Roc O'Connor were St. Louis Jesuits before they were "the" St. Louis Jesuits who created a new kind of Scripture-based contemporary music for use at Mass.
But a series of e-mail conversations among the men starting in 2003 resulted in a reunion in a recording studio in Portland, Ore., last year. Even Manion came for a few days to add guitar and vocals to a new collection, "Morning Light." "It was an amazing experience. ... It was like magic," Schutte said. "It's like we were whole again."
Their Feb. 18 concert in Washington was one of five reunion appearances the group planned for 2006. Manion was scheduled to join them for a concert in St. Louis this Friday.
Lest detractors of contemporary sacred music think it's all about old guys (How old is my hero Claudio Monteverdi, anyway?) these people put a young face on liturgical music. (And they're not going away.)
Those Jesuits guys appear to have aged gracefully, anyway.
More Faith at the Olympics
on guys from the US bobsledding team:
Curt Tomasevicz, a Catholic "acolyte" from Shelby, NE, and Brock Kreitzburg, a Christian chaplain from Akron, Ohio, said that sharing a strong faith in God has acted as a special bond between them as they prepare to go for medals with their Olympic teammates Feb. 24-25.
"There aren't too many Christians, especially, who are authentically living out (their faith), in the world of athletics," Kreitzburg said. "I think it's because athletics is very self-centered, a self-motivated world."
Acolyte? Not being snarky; just asking.
Conscience, Examination of
Archbishop Forte gives one
at the end of his pastoral letter. It's based on the Ten commandments. Part 4
of the letter is up today, too. It's well worth reading.
Armchair Liturgist Part 6
Seemingly in keeping with CS's theme of the week, Zenit's weekly liturgy question is on the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
Please, I should like to know if it is correct to give general absolution to, say, a group of 15 elderly people living in a nursing home and brought together for Mass in a small room. Please note: (a) It is impossible to hear their confession individually as they are placed very close to each other in their wheelchairs. (b) When asked how many are going to receive Communion (to consecrate the necessary quantity of hosts) they all want to receive. Could I prepare them with a good act of sorrow and then give them general absolution, making it clear to the nurses and relatives that this absolution is not for them. And if general absolution is permitted in this case, what about the obligation of confessing grave sins later on? H.D., Melbourne, Australia
If you want to see Fr McNamara's reply, go here. But feel free to weigh in from the armchair, if you care to do so.
Musician Placement in Catholic Worship
Amy's pondering it. I have more to say than might fit in a reasonably-sized comment, so let's kick off the discussion here.
I think the origins and motivation of the Catholic Cantor Placement deserves more analysis. It's not going away any time soon - in fact, the determination of music groups to be placed in the front, along with their cantor, doesn't show any signs of slowing down - most church renovations/new construction feature that front position, which is just really too bad.
If all it is is repositioning in the "front," then I'd agree. I do think people did give the matter a lot of thought in the 60's and 70's. Lofts were a problem for a number of practical reasons:
- Sometimes the organist and choir didn't want upstart groups there.
- Sometimes there wasn't room
- Most old churches were wired for sound amplification in the sanctuary, so that's where groups could make use of existing technology.
- Up front was also closer to members' families, and facilitated the group sitting in the pews and paying attention during the readings, the homily, etc..
And I'm sure that some people were nightclub or coffeehouse refugees and craved the attention of a Sunday morning audience in addition to what they had the night before. But that's little different from musical performing hijinx that often go on in choir lofts. Most upfront musicians in the early days after Vatican II had a significant difference from performers: they didn't get paid--sometimes the parish budget didn't even provide expenses.
I've been to a couple of Masses this past year in which there was, indeed a cantor, but he (in both cases, different parishes) was in the rear, in the choir loft. Very nice, and no one in the congregation seemed to mind.
If one accepts the notion that ministry implies a relationship, the American expectation might be that one would see the person. The psalmist should certainly be seen, preferably at the ambo. On hymns that everybody sings, I don't see why the music can't be announced, then led by the organ (or whatever instrument) without a singer on the mic. Granted, many parishes, including my own, are so used to a singer on mic they are actually loathe to sing the very few times they don't have a songleader. My cantors know to back off from the mic after the hymn or acclamation starts.
If a congregation is trained to follow the organ rather than arm waving, then yes, they shouldn't mind not seeing a person singing the songs they know they should sing.
What's missing from the discussion, however, is a frank appraisal of the rationale behind this. What contemporary Catholic music groups and cantors are attempting to emulate, it seems to me, isn't the classical Protestant structure in which the choir was, indeed, in front, but the more relaxed, mostly evangelical praise-band-group model. And why are they seeking to imitate it? Because it seems, in their eyes, to work.
I think Amy misses the real reason here: good ol' fashioned American pragmatism. If you don't have enough people for a choir, use a single singer. If you can't hear the person, get them a microphone. If you don't have mic jacks anywhere but in the sanctuary, use them. If your parish and neighbors have been using altered pre-conciliar churches as models for the past decades, you imitate that when you build a new building. Trust me: we're not getting ideas from Joel Osteen or Jerry Falwell.
When I arrived at my current parish, the renovation debate was raging: where will the musicians be? It was presented as a two-option deal:
Go to the loft.
Go up front.
And all I could think of was, "What a damfool way to run a renovation!"
Go to the loft? Go up front? Which one? The obvious answer is neither one.
We have a cross-shaped building, so neither the loft nor upfront provide any particular advantage. Lofts do facilitate hearing a choir because of elevation combined with being at the long end of a building. Singing around corners is another matter.
The choir and cantor/songleader/psalmist are part of the assembly. They lead music when it is time to sing. Otherwise they are just plain lay people, not performers, not paid professionals, not showpieces. If the acoustics don't break the deal, a choir belongs as a part of the assembly: neither in a loft, not "up front."
In my mind, two traditional layouts are ideal for finding a middle ground that satisfies the requirements for good liturgy. On the left is the antiphonal layout. People sit on both sides of a wide aisle facing the altar, ambo, font, and one another. Put a eucharistic chapel on one end, a pipe organ on the other, leave room for lots of processions, and have at it.
On the right is the most traditional liturgical layout: around a common table. Just like at the Last Supper or at the Passover table.
In each case, the musicians are not banished to a loft nor are they put up on a stage. For that matter clergy are no longer on the performing stage either. It's not about individuals or groups. It's about worshipping God, and facilitating the service needed at common worship.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Even More on Reconciliation: Confession as Healing
Todd has wisely directed us to the topic of reconciliation. I have learned a great deal from a lecture by the Orthodox Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, delivered at a retreat in Vézelay in 1999. He gives us three reasons for going to confession. First, the person making the confession externalizes what had been internal, bringing something hidden within him or herself out into the open, so that it now has an objective presence and can be dealt with. As Bishop Kallistos writes, “Yes, I can confess my sins alone in my evening prayer, but there is great power in the uttered word.” Second, the priest is present at confession as a representative of the church community – through him, we see a concrete reminder that there are no “private” sins and that we must seek forgiveness from our brothers and sisters. Third, Christ is active when we confess our sins: the priest’s exhortation at the beginning of the Russian rite of confession is, “Christ stands invisibly before us, I am only a witness, bearing testimony before Him of all the things you have to say to me.”
Bishop Kallistos recommends that we envision (or re-envision) going to confession as a sacrament of healing. After all, the Epistle of James tells us, “Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). But, of course, any process of envisioning (or re-envisioning) must first listen to the past, and the bishop takes us to the two historical origins of our rite of reconciliation. The first of these origins has its beginnings in Jesus’ granting of juridical power to the apostles: “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whosoever sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). The exercise of this juridical power was at first public, exceptional, and frighteningly severe. For fornication, St Gregory of Nyssa assigned a penance of nine years without communion. St Basil, Bishop Kallistos notes, was more merciful. For him, seven years was enough. Repeated falls led to lifelong excommunication: the second century Shepherd of Hermas had told early Christians that sinners would only receive a second chance. Needless to say, penance was not meant to be part of the rhythm of everyday life.
There is a second source for the sacrament of confession – and, in contrast to public penance, this was a practice that had to be regular (even daily), not exceptional. Monks in the desert would visit their spiritual elders to disclose their thoughts. And the spiritual elder would then give counsel. One might imagine this to be preventative medicine. This spiritual elder did not have to be a priest (or, for that matter, male). Bishop Kallistos describes the principle behind the disclosure of thoughts by pointing us to the Gerontikon:
If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.
This is the power of the uttered word. Regarding our two models, Bishop Kallistos writes, “Confession as we know it today represents a growing together of these two tendencies.” After all, public penance would be destructive in very large and impersonal Christian communities, even if might still make sense within the intimacy of a monastery. So, by the fourth century, the power to bind and loose sins would be exercised in a personal and secret meeting between the sinner and bishop, and, then, between the sinner and the bishop’s delegate (an appointed priest). With such a private confession, aspects of monastic spiritual counseling could be grafted onto the sacrament: it would natural for the priest to offer guidance after imposing a penance. Of course, there was never a complete merger between the binding and loosing of sins and the practice of spiritual counseling. As far as I know, despite an earlier practice of ordaining so-called simplex priests (the most famous example is Solanus Casey), all Roman Catholic priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation, even if they are poor counselors. Unlike the Greek Church, the Roman Catholic Church has no special recognition and appointment of priests who are to hear confessions and give spiritual counsel. And you do not have to go to a priest for spiritual counseling – you can visit a monk, nun, or layperson, who, despite their gifts, cannot grant absolution.
So are we torn between two approaches? Bishop Kallistos asks the relevant questions, “Do we emphasize mainly binding and loosing – or healing? Is coming to confession like going to a law court, or like going to a hospital?” Obviously, as he concludes, there is truth in both possible answers. And our emphasis will vary on our personality, or even, perhaps, on the nature of our sin. There is no need for exclusivity. But Bishop Kallistos prefers the image of healing. And so do I. Many Catholics, as Todd has mentioned, need to separate a sense of guilt for situations in which they might not be culpable from a sense of sin. We are also deeply aware of our potential for insincerity, manipulation, and making empty gestures. There is always the possibility of the confessional turning into an “assembly line” – and this image is not completely grotesque, for, as the historian James O’Toole has written about pre-conciliar days, “All the statistical data I have seen, supported by anecdotal evidence, shows that the average confession took two minutes or less.” All of this means, I think, that, while we should not abandon the metaphor of the “law court,” we might want to generally consider confession as a longer, difficult process of healing that closely resembles spiritual counseling. Bishop Kallistos writes:
If you stress the element of healing, confession is less abhorrent. It’s a time for a true opening of hearts.
What we bring to Christ is not a laundry list of sins, but we bring ourselves. We bring not just our sins, but our sinfulness, because often there is a sinfulness that is far deeper than the specific acts we mention. But again, we do not isolate our sinfulness from our total personhood. What we bring to Christ in confession is ourselves, and we may need time to do that.
If we think of confession in terms of healing, we also have to remember that healing takes time. Normally it doesn’t happen suddenly. We shouldn’t think of each confession in an isolated way, separately from all the others. We should recognize that confession is a process as well as an event. In going to a series of confessions, if possible to the same priest, gradually we change, even though we may feel that nothing very remarkable happened at any specific confession. Yet over time we realize, yes, we have been healed.
How many of Christ’s parable in the Gospels speak of slow, gently, secret growth, unseen by us but seen by God? Think, for example, of Mark 4:26-29. That’s one of the very few passages which is only in Mark, and not in any of the other Gospels. And Mark, speaking there of the harvest, says that you were first the blade, the tender stalk, then you have the ear, or head. And then gradually the full corn in the ear, the head full of grain, but it happens very slowly, and we don’t see it happening though after time we notice the difference. Is not that true, very often, of our own spiritual lives? Certainly it was true of Mark himself, who got off to a rather shaky start. Paul was displeased with him and wouldn’t have him on his second missionary journey. But at the end of his life, Paul tells us that “only Mark is with me,” so evidently Mark made progress.