Sunday, April 21, 2013

Still More Whys and Wherefores

To continue the previous topic of why I spend time doing this blog, what I had seen over the past twenty years or so was a Church that had been newly energized for its mission at Vatican II begun to lose its focus on mission and become self-absorbed in its own institutional interests. 
It was fne in its day,
but there is no going
As I wrote in the last entry, I remember well the Catholic Church before Vatican II.  It had a somber beauty and a sense of gravitas, but its mission was stilted.  It was an old grande dame who waited in her splendor for the world to come calling at her gate.  Catholics took comfort in the large urban quasi-cathedrals that served as parish churches for multitudes of working-class faithful, in the legions of nuns in their diverse habits, in cadres of “just dial ‘O’ for O’Malley” knockoffs coming each year out of the seminaries.  That was, of course, the American Church but the American experience reflected the uncritical self-absorption that came right from the top.  There is video of the 1958 funeral of 1958 Pius XII that captures this hubric triumphalism.;_ylt=Ase49h0u9jSVWECsa9hgae2bvZx4?p=funeral+pius+xii&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-900 
Vatican II brought a fresh sense of energy to the Church—that is to you and me, to the People of God.  We began to understand that mission is something that belongs to each of us, the baptized, not simply to those who are ordained or consecrated by religious vows.  It was an entirely new way of seeing ourselves as Church—not the old hierarchical pyramid with pope and bishops and priests stacked above us and the laity a faceless army of drones whose only duty was to “pay, pray, and obey.”  Now we came to see ourselves as Church, strengthened by God’s Word and gathered around the Lord’s Table—an organic unity of priests and religious and teachers and civil servants and health professionals and laborers and students and homemakers and musicians and business owners and merchants and the developmentally challenged and the widowed and children and the married and the shut-ins and caregivers and first responders and the terminally ill and young adults and the unemployed and the immigrants, all being knit together into the limbs and torso and hands and feet and heart of the Resurrected Christ.   I—and others—began to see that we each and all had responsibility for continuing the work Christ had begun of announcing the Kingdom of God and the advice of Saint Francis was our guideline: preach the Gospel always; use words only when you have to. 
I found in the seventies and eighties priests and sisters and committed lay people that I could work alongside—people whose view of the Church was collaborative.  There is a popular song in contemporary hymnals “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB.  It is sung to the tune of  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:

     Let us bring the gifts that differ
     And, in splendid, varied ways,
     Sing a new church into being,
     One of faith and love and praise

Radiant risen from the water;
Robed in holiness and light,
Male and female in God’s image
Male and female God’s delight:

Bring the hopes of every nation;
Bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice:
Let it sound through time and space.

Draw together at one table
All the human family;
Shape a circle ever wider
And a people ever free.
I realized, of course, that this is no “new Church”—it is the Church described in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Book of Revelation and in the Letters of Saint Paul.  It is the Church as described in the Didache and by Iranaeus and Hippolytus of Rome and Augustine and John Chrysostom.  This is the Church of Scripture and Tradition.
But things began to go awry in the 90’s.  In 1997 Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles wrote a pastoral letter outlining his vision for what the Archdiocese of Los Angeles should aim in its worship as a new millennium dawned.  It was a brilliant and exciting vision of a Church alive and dynamic in its praise of Almighty God, reflecting the rich cultural variety of the diverse Catholic population of the Los Angeles region.  He was taken to task almost at once by Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare Abbess whose monastery in Irondale Alabama hosted a religious television network with some influence.  Mother Angelica called Catholics in the Archdiocese to disobedience to the Archbishop’s directives—indeed to open rebellion.  This triggered a fissure—or rather revealed a fissure that was already there—between Catholics who wanted to continue the renewal set forth by the Council and those who wanted to retreat either completely or to some limited extent to the pre-Conciliar Catholicism.  Liturgy was only the neuralgic point.  There were far deeper issues which over the subsequent years came more and more to the surface as the two factions grew not only further apart but openly hostile to one another, each claiming to be the legitimate representation of Catholicism in American life.  I obviously espouse the Conciliar plan.  One of the purposes of this blog is to reveal the historic roots of many of our Catholic practices so that we can see that Vatican II Catholicism is a return to our Catholic Tradition, the tradition outlined in the Churches the Apostles established and Church which the Ancient Fathers describe in their writings.   It will differ in many respects from the Church that those of us who grew up in the forties and the fifties remember—but that Church, especially in its American manifestation, though laden with traditions, was the Church out of sync with the Catholic Tradition handed down from the Apostles.  But more on that in future entries. 

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