Thursday, March 31, 2016

Still Reeling From Holy Week

never ceases to speak to me
Sorry that I have fallen behind a bit here on the blog.  Holy Week got the better of me—I climbed down from my ivory tower and got somewhat over-involved in things in the parish this year—I am not sure how, I was just sort of swept away in the current of what was a magnificent experience of incarnating the profundity of Christian spirituality in the rites and ceremonies of the Christian Pasch.  It really was an opportunity to enter deeply into the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and Resurrection
Palm Sunday took on a particularly rich significance as in addition to the already dramatic rites of the Blessing of Palms and Procession followed by the reading of the Passion, the Mass I attended was a “bon-voyage Mass” for sixteen special needs teens and young adults and their eighty-five strong entourage of doctors, nurses, caregivers, choristers, priests and brothers who were leaving to spend Easter at Lourdes.  The enthusiasm which they brought to the procession and their obvious imaging of the sufferings of  Christ in the Passion lifted the veil between the realms of liturgical symbolism and tangible reality in a dramatic way.  No, there was no solemn reserve in the Liturgy.   Yes, the Mass was noisy, raucous even, with all the idiosyncrasies of those on the autism spectrum but then the streets of Jerusalem echoed with the Hosanna’s of Palm Sunday and the screams to crucify on Good Friday.  To see in the faces of these young people the attention and devotion to what was happening, not regarding their own hardships, was a very moving experience. 
The remainder of Holy Week took on a more solemn note.  We do Taizé prayer here weekly and it is both especially solemn and profoundly tranquil in Holy Week. The focus of the prayer throughout Lent is the Cross—“prayer around the cross”—and it is a haunting mixture of silence and scripture and repetitive music that can transport the worshipper to the foot of the Cross.   The liturgies of the Triduum were magnificent.   All were done reverently but with no show or pomp.  Yes, women were among those having their feet washed on Holy Thursday.  And yes, one of the altar servers for the Triduum rites was a young lady—along with her two brothers.  Everything was very Novus Ordo.  There were three adult baptisms and confirmations at the Easter Vigil.  There were Eucharistic Ministers and Lectors (both men and women).  Communion was given in both kinds—as it always is in our parish—except, of course, on Good Friday when the Eucharist is given from the reserved Sacrament.  The Music ranged from Mozart (Ave Verum Corpus) and Curtis Stephan (Bread of Angles) to John Rutter’s Ubi Caritas.  The schola for the Good Friday Liturgy sang the reproaches as well as old spirituals and it was all done a capella.  Good Friday afternoon the parochial vicar preached the Seven Last Words along with a string quartet from our local Opera Company doing Hayden’s Oratorio on the Seven Last Words.  Easter saw trumpets and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to packed churches for six Masses.  Indeed, the Church was full for all the services.   At the Vigil there were three adult baptisms and one woman received into the Church. One could clearly see the Sacrament of Baptism as a being buried together with Christ so as to be raised with Christ to newness of Life.
All this is, of course, the icing on the cake: the music, the flowers, even the solemn dignity of the rites.  What matters (and what mattered) is just how deeply moved—and hopefully changed—were  the hearts of the worshippers.  People just stayed in the church for hours, deep in prayer, especially after the Good Friday service.  There was a genuine sense, not so much of ritual well done, but of entering into the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Death. 
I have seen the “photo-posts” on some of the neo-trad blogs with their versus absidem altars draped in purple and a superabundance of copes and dalmatics and references to Byrd and Palestrina.  And I am sure they were lovely.  I always found that final scene in the first act of Tosca lovely too—the one where they carry a cardboard host in an antique monstrance.  But it in the end it is not about ritual and rubrics, it is about prayer.  And in the end it is not about tickling the ear with music or eye-candy vestments, but about taking away our hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh. 

I am not saying that the old rites can’t do this, but I am observing that the commentaries I read on their wacko sites indicates that they have traded their birthright of conversion for the pottage of ceremonial.  Beautiful yes, but the opera is beautiful.  The question is: does it change our hearts?  Our worship adds nothing to the Glory of God—our transformation into the Love that fills the heart of Christ is what gives God the glory.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When Faith Is Left a Body Without A Soul

I had the opportunity some years back to spend Palm Sunday and Holy Week in Seville.  No one does Holy Week like the Spaniards and Seville is the most famous of the Spanish cities for the marvelous processions of the pasos depicting scenes from the Passion and Death of our Savior.  The figures —some centuries old—depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the apostles and others in the various tableaux are made of wood, wax and wire.  They are dressed, for the most part, in exquisite silks, velvets, and brocades with jeweled ornaments set in gold and silver.  The figures are arranged in their various scenes on large platforms that are carried by several dozen men standing beneath the curtained stages on which they are
arranged.  The platforms are then filled in with silver candelabra and magnificent floral pieces.   The carriers can move only a few steps at a time—perhaps as little as two or three yards—before needing to rest due to the weight of the pasos.
Each procession—and in Seville there are eight and nine each day—are sponsored by the various hermandades and confridias  (brotherhoods and confraternities) which plan their processions for the entire year from the previous Easter.  The members of each brotherhood or confraternity wear their distinctive silk and velvet habits—a tunic, mantle, and large pointed hood covering the face but with slits for the eyes.  The different confraternities and brotherhoods are distinguished from one another by the color combinations of their habits.  Each pasos is also accompanied by its own crucifer,
thurifer, and lucifers—carrying the processional cross, the incense, and the candles.  These men—usually young men in their early twenties—are clad in lace albs and tunicles of various liturgical colors.  The confraternities and brotherhoods also hire bands to precede each pasos in the procession.  The most famous and revered of the pasos is La Macarena, Our  Lady of Hope (also Our Lady of Sorrows). Her procession is in the very early hours of Good Friday morning. 
One would expect all this to be very moving—and it is—but not in the way intended.  As hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Seville for the spectacle, it has become something like a weeklong circus parade.  Vendors go up and down alongside the procession selling ice cream and cold drinks and balloons for the kids.  Viewers stand there with hot sandwiches and beers as the processions pass by.  Even some of the “penitents” lift back their hoods and quaff a quick glass of wine or, when their procession is done, sit in the cafes, still in their gorgeous robes, feasting on tapas and beer.   And the churches are empty!!!  I was staying in a monastery where I have some friends—all services were cancelled for the week.  I went to church after church planning where to go for the Holy Thursday and Good Friday Liturgies only to find out that, other than in the cathedral, there were no scheduled services.   At the suggestion of my priest friends, I took a train to nearby Jerez de la Frontera and stayed with the friars there.  In Jerez there were the processions too.  Not as many, but five or six a day.  They were just as splendid with flowers and the silver ornaments and the bands and hooded penitents.  But the crowds along the street were dressed in suits and ties, the women in the traditional high combs holding their mantillas.  They watched in respectful silence as the various tableaux were carried by.  Yes there were people in the cafes and bars—we all have to eat—but the atmosphere was both serene and profound.  The churches were filled for the
evening services.  The music was beautiful and young families were well represented. 

When the processions started—centuries back during the late fifteenth-century reforms of the Church of Spain, they were genuine acts of piety.  The immense amount of gold and silver ornaments, processional crosses, candelaria, processional staffs and other accouterments testify to the genuine devotion of the faithful.  But with the increasing secularization of our culture the soul has been eaten out of so much devotion.  What was once faith is now often reduced to mere show.  The urgency of a new evangelization is cannot be overstated. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Faith Requires Commitment, Not Warm Fuzzy Feelings about the Blood of Jesus!

GK Chesterton, the great English apologist for the faith wrote: "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."  I recently received this comment in response to my posting: “Bringing False Christianity Into the Public Square:
You have shown well the shallowness of our commitment to Christ. Your own commitment could be deepened by ceasing to use abortion as a foil to the rest of your argument. It shows that you haven't really taken to heart the realization that abortion is the taking of an innocent life. How else could you describe as 'sanctimonious veneer' the countless hours spent by thousands fighting for the pre-born, helping the newborns and comforting those recovering from the horror of abortion. When using the "what if Jesus walked in" standard, you could speculate on what He would say about the killing of huge numbers of innocent children and its comparative importance to health care and other important needs.
Now the curious thing is that in the postng while I mentioned universal access to health care, immigration, the death penalty, warfare, on the poor both here and abroad, violence as entertainment and weapons of violence, care for the environment, and the gross disparity of wealth in our society, I did not mention abortion.  If I did not mention, it I can hardly be accused of using it as a “foil.” Moreover there were other issues I did not mention, some of because there is no question that evangelicals embrace them.  They are not the contentious issues that can provide a litmus test of fidelity to the preaching of Jesus.  There is no doubt that evangelicals—authentic and phony—oppose abortion.  My denunciation is that opposition to abortion is no guarantee that a person is evangelical.  People are opposed to abortion for many reasons.  Some are opposed for religious reasons—including Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.  Some are opposed for philosophical reasons—including many atheists and agnostics.  Some—indeed many—are opposed because they see the links between abortion and the collapse of traditional social values: same sex marriage, divorce, pre-marital sex, changing attitudes on gender.  Some even see it as a woman’s health issue and view abortion as potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of women.  All that is well and good.  But all I say to them is “Good luck with your endeavors;  I hope we have some mutual success.”   The only reason that counts in my book for being opposed to abortion is that it undermines the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospels, God alone is the author and giver of life and God alone can directly take a human life.  Life is totally within the authority of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ must be committed to that principle.  In the same sense just because a person is in favor of providing refuge to immigrants or health care to the poor doesn’t mean he or she is an evangelical.  I am happy to see people working for goals I believe are central to the Kingdom of God regardless of their personal religious convictions, but my passion lies not with the issue but the motivation. 
Now I am not going to get into the “seamless garment issue” though I firmly espouse it.  What I am going to say is that the principle of protecting the Life of the Unborn is one jewel in the Catholic Magisterial Crown, it is one jewel and we have to buy the entire package.  If we are authentically Catholic—and for me the person who is fully Catholic is fully evangelical because the teachings of the Catholic Church, though not yet perfect, enshrine the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must accept the entire magisterium of the Church.  This is neither liberal nor conservative.  The magisterium of the Catholic Church says that the direct taking of an unborn life is a grave sin of injustice.  The magisterium of the Catholic Church says that the sacrament of Matrimony is between one man and one woman for the duration of their lives.  But the magisterium of the Catholic Church also speaks about all God’s children having a right to education.  And it speaks of all God’s Children having a right to migrate to seek better and safer lives.  And it says that the salaries of workers and managers should be in reasonable proportion.  And it says that all life—even the life of the criminal—must be protected, explicitly citing the United States as a particular example where the death penalty is being abused. 
You can be opposed to abortion—that does not make you a disciple of Jesus Christ.  You can be in favor of liberal immigration policies—that does not make you a disciple of Jesus Christ.  It is the whole ball of wax, embraced not because it fits our political agenda or because our friends think that way but because when I encounter Jesus in the Gospel and the community of the faithful that adhere to the Gospel, I realize it can be no other way. 

Now not everyone can equally invest himself in one facet or another of working for God’s Kingdom.  Some will put more of their energy in one cause or another than a third.  What is important is that Jesus’s disciples work together in harmony.  And so when I refer to “the sanctimonious veneer” of those who spend “countless hours fighting for the pre-born,”  I am not referring to true disciples but to those who pick and choose the unborn but turn their back on the immigrant or the person without health care.  I can also speak of the “sanctimonious veneer” of the pants-suited 80 year-old-nun with a pro-choice button protesting at Fort Benning GA.  It is not enough to be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.  And the end of the day we have to be disciples, pure and simple, nothing else.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Glorious Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is a figure about whom much has been written but very little is know—in other words most of the stories we tell about Patrick are more legend than history.   Indeed for several decades many historians disputed the historical reality of Patrick or thought he was a combination of several individual persons.
Christianity had come to Ireland before Patrick.  Possibly as early as the late third century monks from Egypt and Syria sought the greater solitude of islands on the western coast of Ireland.  In addition trade routes from both western Britain and northwestern Spain would have caused some Continental Christians to settle in Ireland.  Some scholars maintain that Christianity had, in fact, taken a strong hold in the southern parts of Ireland by the earl fifth century, decades before Patrick arrived.  By the third decade of the fifth century there were sufficient Christians in Ireland for Pope Celestine I to send his deacon, Palladius, as Bishop there.  Unfortunately Palladius ran afoul of the King of Leinster, the south-east portion of the country and was sent back to Britain, his mission unsuccessful.
Palladius cannot be blamed for his failure.  Christianity was not an easy match for Irish society.  In the first place, the Irish had no towns or cities and Christianity is essentially an urban religion, or at least is organized on an urban plan with dioceses and deaneries and such.  And where do you build your churches if you don’t have towns?   And your schools?
But the complexity grows beyond that.  The Irish are a tribal society.  Every person belonged to a clan and the head of the clan ruled supreme.  The clans themselves were united by blood and marriage into super-clans or tribes. The heads of the various clans and super-clans each claimed for himself the title “king.”  Over this myriad of families and clans were four regional kings: Munster, Leinster, Connaught, and Ulster.  And over the four great kings, was the High King who made his capital, such as it was for a somewhat migratory people, at the Hill of Tara. No king, even the High King, really had any authority (except possibly force) over another king    Every time you turn around you have to deal with a new king.  And if King A likes you, his enemy, King B won’t.   In other words, there was no political infrastructure. 
Irish religion, like that the ancient Britons, was Druidism which was a combination of magic and spiritism.  The Irish saw the sacred everywhere—in certain groves of trees, in mountains, in holy wells.  They were convinced they lived in a world inhabited by spirits—the spirits of the dead as well as the spirits of nature.   They did practice human sacrifice, though not on the extensive scale as the Aztecs and some other societies. 
Under Brehon Law, women were equal to men and wives could divorce their husbands.  The law was harsh in its punishments, especially for thievery.  There were ten different types of marriage recognized by Brehon Law, depending on the various social standings of the partners and most marriages were easily dissolvable
Patrick himself was from an upper-class Romano-British family, probably located on the south-west coast of Britain.   His father was Calpurnius, a deacon and Decurion in the Roman Army. His grandfather had been a priest.  Yet Patrick as a young boy showed little interest in religion and was somewhat of a wild teenager. 
We have two authentic sources for Patrick’s life—both written by him.  The first is his “Confessions,” which he wrote to answer charges against him by the British bishops who were upset that he would not accept their authority over him and the Irish Church.  (It was heavily a matter of the British bishops wanting to get “their share” of the tithes of the Irish Church).  Patrick was determined to maintain the independence of the Irish Church.  In part this determination was based on the fact that Patrick had to make a lot of “adjustments” to make Christianity adaptable to the peculiarities of Brehon Laws and customs, including turning a blind eye to some of the irregular customs surrounding marriage. 
The second and shorter document which can be considered is Patrick’s “Letter to Coroticus.”  Coroticus was a Christian British chieftain, who regularly ran pirate raids on the east coast of Ireland looking for booty and slaves.  In a recent raid, Coroticus’s soldiers had come across a band of Patrick’s newly baptized converts, raped and enslaved the women and children and killed the men “still in their baptismal garments.” Patrick excommunicated Coroticus and his soldiers which enraged the bishops of Britain who saw his actions overstepping onto their boundaries.  
We are getting a bit ahead of our story, however.  Patrick as a youth of about 16 was kidnapped by Irish pirates, brought back to Ireland and sold into slavery.  He spent about seven years as a sheep-herder in Antrim, in the north of Ireland.  During the long, lonely nights on the Irish hillsides, he rediscovered his faith and developed a life of deep prayer.  One night he heard a voice: “Your ship is ready.”  Patrick, at great risk to his own life, escaped and traveled as a fugitive 200 miles to Wicklow where he was able to talk a group of sailors to take him back to Britain.  While home he had a vision of an Irishman saying: We appeal to you, holy youth, come and walk among us once more.”  Patrick felt a vocation to return to Ireland with the Christian faith. He studied under Saint Germanus of Auxerre and was eventually ordained.   Returning to Ireland Patrick did not have an easy time of it.  If his mission was to succeed he could not afford to tie himself into the clan system as being identified with one clan would alienated him from others and yet, without being part of the clan system, he had not patrons or protectors.  He also faced tremendous opposition from the druids who saw him destroying the old ways on which they depended.  At the same time the bishops of Britain were very jealous that he would not accept their oversight of the Irish Church.  They were more than suspicious of his accommodating Christianity to the Irish ways and customs. 
A major part of Patrick’s strategy in winning converts was his appeal to women.  Winning the mothers to the faith, guaranteed the children.  He also made a point of aiming for slaves and did much to better their lots.  By the end of his life vast numbers of the Irish had been Christianized but it was a somewhat unique version of Christianity, differing from nearby Romano-Britain and from Rome itself.  The Church in Ireland had a different way of calculating the date for Easter than that followed by the Roman Church, meaning that the actual dates varied from one another from year to year.  The Irish monks also did not shave the crown of their heads in tonsure, but everything forward from a line from ear to ear.  Most disconcerting to the Roman authorities, was that the Irish made their confession to priests privately rather than to the bishop and did not perform public penance but ironically it is the Irish, not the Roman form of the Sacrament of Penance that has survived.  Because the Irish did not have cities and towns, Patrick organized the Church in Ireland according to the clan system.  Each clan had its monastic establishments for men and for women.  The religious head of the family, directly under the family’s chieftain or king, was its Abbot.  The bishop was a mere functionary to ordain and perform those actions limited to bishops.  All jurisdiction was given to the Abbot.  At times, such in the case of Saint Brigid of Kildare, the Abbacy was held by a woman and thus a woman directed the Church in and among her clan.   Roman Law gave no legal recognition to women or their authority but Brehon Law had no scruples.   The Irish church was also pretty sloppy on its canon law of marriage, tolerating divorce in many cases and following the Brehon Law that accorded validity to marriages in respect to the ten different types of marriage recognized in the Brehon Law.

It was only in the twelfth century through the ecclesiastical services of Saint Lorcan O’Toole and the political skuldullgery of Stronbow, King Henry II, and Pope Adrian IV that the Irish Church was brought into conformity with and canonical union with the Church of Rome.