Sunday, March 31, 2013

A New Day Has Dawned

As I ran to the grocery store this afternoon, a program came on the car radio.  A neuro-scientist by the name of Ari Handle was relating a story from this student days when, as part of his Ph.D. program he had to train monkeys to play simple video games in order to learn about how the neurons in the brain respond to particular stimuli.  One monkey, named Santiago, was especially engaging and Ari developed a strong affection for this monkey.  But Santiago was highly intelligent and at a certain point at least seemed to realize that Ari wasn’t just playing with him but was using him for Ari’s own purposes and Santiago’s response was to “go on strike” and refuse to play anymore.  A war of the wills ensued between Ari and Santiago and Ari was eventually to win out by denying Santiago any rewards while at the same time being overly generous with the other monkeys in the lab.  Eventually Santiago began playing the games again—but without the joy and enthusiasm which had previously characterized his behavior.  Ari said that he, Ari, realized that he had won but at the cost of breaking Santiago’s spirit. 
As I was preparing this blog I could not but help think how many of us had felt our spirit cracking and beginning to break over the last twenty years as first Pope John Paul and then Pope Benedict began to “re-interpret” the Second Vatican Council and we saw the pre-conciliar Church being raised from its sepulcher like a ghoulish caricature of what had been in its day a glorious past but now was only a plaid and semi-decomposed faith.  We saw the retreat from Ecumenical and Inter-faith dialogue to the phobia of the world beyond the Catholic Church that underlay that most unfortunate of encyclicals, Mortalium Animos, condemning Ecumenism.   Dialogue was breaking down on the official level but even worse, on the local levels, interfaith and ecumenical prayer and collaboration in social ministry had totally collapsed.  It was bad enough to see the pre-conciliar liturgy springing up in parishes and chapels as an alternative Catholicism, but then to see the liturgical reforms of the Council being undone as the “Ordinary Form” was made to look more and more like the “Extraordinary Form.”  Even more disheartening was to see a reclericalization of the clergy as young fellows rooted around attics and basements for birettas and maniples and Brussels lace by the yard and incoherently mumbled a Latin they never really learned.  To see a twenty-something year old priest scold a seventy-nine year old woman who had been at daily Mass for over fifty years because she insisted on receiving the Eucharist in her hand and standing when he insisted on giving Holy Communion only on the tongue and kneeling made one wonder what was going on in our seminaries today.  And while both Pope Benedict and John Paul had been ardent defenders of the poor—where were the calls to social justice that we heard after Mater et Magistra and Gaudim et Spes and Popolorum Progressio?     Instead we had only vapid ferverinos on why women should keep their heads veiled in Church and how lonely Our Lord is in the Tabernacle when we don’t come to see him every day.  Forget how lonely Jesus is in the Tabernacle: think how hungry he is in the least of his brothers and sisters or how abandoned he is in the kid who is bullied.  But we don’t hear that. 
The election of Pope Francis has been for many of us a breath of fresh air, a sign that the time of sourpuss Christianity is waning and we are back on track to offering the world a faith that brings joy to those who have weathered the long night of religious discouragement.  We aren’t seeking changes in faith or morals but only relief from the negative energy proposed by pseudo-Christians whose Jansenist tendencies have stressed the Divine Justice to the eclipse of the Infinite Mercy that flows from the Cross of Jesus.  Pope Francis has given us hope that the Pharisees who worry about the worthiness of others to approach the Eucharist while they glory in their own supposed “orthodoxy” are not going to control the temple after all.  Pope Francis has given us hope that clergy and laity stand together in the Body of Christ with different functions but without the artificiality of a hierarchy of dignity.  Pope Francis has given us hope that laity will be given access to a full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy as befits a priestly people.  Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air in the Church like many of us had forgotten could be.  God Bless Pope Francis.  Our spirits aren’t broken after all. 


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