29 October 2005

Faith, reason and passion

Steven Riddle over at Flos Carmeli writes better than I ever could about The Intellect and the Church. And his thoughts lead me to write out my own.

For me, the Catholic Church's attraction was always as an avenue to communion of all kinds. Historically, as a Roman Catholic, you were connected in a very real way to a world far beyond that of the senses. I loved being able to choose a patron saint to whom I could pray in the conviction that she is alive and able to hear my prayers, guide my thought spiritually as well as through her writings, and able to stand before God on my behalf. The saint didn't replace Jesus any more than one's older sister replaced one's parents. One's sister could provide guidance and shelter in addition to the parents, and was present in one's life because of the parents. It's called "family"... The Rosary wasn't some dry exercise; even in moments when it's hard to pray, it's like going through the photo album of my adoptive Holy Family. And Communion-! Of course, when the tabernacle is hidden, the liturgy is unrecognizable, and the words of the Mass are twisted and altered on the fly by some dude in a tacky looking robe, I pray He's not where the catechism says He is, for the sake of those schooled in indifference, even sacrilege. (I refuse to get into particulars, but, as with obscenity, I know it when I see it.)

"The Spirit of Vatican II" outlawed all of what brought me into the church. Saints became mere "models," the Rosary was pooh-poohed as "pietistic," and we all know what Cardinal Mahony thinks about kneeling during the holiest moment in a human being's life. I believe in God, not in the Church, which I now regard with deep suspicion. I am a recovering child of an alcoholic and I know the signs of toxic dysfunction, and am not going to be sucked into that morass again. I have done with the church as I did in my human family situation: I have detached in love.

In attempting to deconstruct the faith and isolate the "faith impulse" from the warp and woof of the compleat human being, the hijackers of Vatican II controverted the natural, overflowing emotion which was Catholicism's strength. To say that Catholics never questioned whether or not they should attend Mass because they accepted everything the hierarchy told them is grossly insulting and shows a lack of understanding. Lots of Catholics went to church because there was something there which they could not get anywhere else... to be specific, some One.

To explain, I will start by agreeing with Steven that "The reason is a good and powerful gatekeeper. It is necessary, right, just, and required that we cultivate it to the best of our ability." I have no doubt there's a lot of overlap between the folks who brought us "the Song of Songs is only an allegory" and those who recoiled at the overflowing emotions some people, who were convinced that what Jesus said in John 6 is what He meant, displayed in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Certain clear abuses aside, most of the objections were simply that it wasn't "seemly." One is reminded of Michal sneering at David in 2 Samuel 6 for emotionally dancing before the ark of the Lord. But here's the thing: if Jesus' words in John 6 are true, and, by reasoning and logic you accept them as such, to behave uncaringly or unemotionally in the presence of that mystery is as unnatural as a mother saying, "I love my child" as an intellectual statement, while carefully refusing to be moved by its cries and smiles.

If Jesus was speaking allegorically, the traditional Latin Mass is weird idolatry. If Jesus meant what He said, then the "highest" Mass, with ranks of choirs and the best incense and the finest gold on the altar in the most exquisitely beautiful church is but a shabby attempt to show what we feel for Him in His sacramental presence. It is the "worship experience" approach, focused on our feelings rather than on God, which ends up in sterile, concrete churches and sloppy guitar "messes," with the wafer treated with no more dignity and reverence than a saltine.

The "Spirit of Vatican II" is so often cited as the reason for downplaying the deep wordless emotional impact of religious art, denying meaning to soaring naves and staggeringly beautiful reredos. All that kind of thing is taught to be pious emotional treacle which is dangerous to the faith. Then, having deconstructed it all down to verbal concepts, it builds back the superficial emotionalism of "celebration," which is about "community" and "relationship" instead of: that's Jesus on the altar.

When we lose our sense of emotion in connection with our faith, it loses any personal value beyond intellectual assent. When we deny that the Song of Songs can describe the beauty of love between a man and a woman, and that the rapture of adult discovery and union is intended to point directly to the love of God for His Church, a type of His pursuit of her and delight in her and desire to give her all she needs to abundantly reproduce communities which show at once the effects of the loving union between God and His image - the indelible, ineffable mystery of that - we are simply closing the door on Him and what He offers to make us truly human. When the soul glimpses Jesus as John did, it is no leap to breathe the prayer, "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits." Jesus made the garden of the soul, and made it to bear fruit through His love and leading and tender care. He has every right to delight in the good results of His work. However, when we share ourselves with Him, we always end up fed. He gives us His own self via what happened in John 6 and the sacrifice at Calvary. That meditation has nourished and ravished many a soul. St. Teresa of Avila - a doctor of the Church, and one of three women to be given that extremely significant title - experienced something like this, and Bernini faithfully interpreted it in ways which made the "it's only an allegory" crowd very uncomfortable (and likely still do).

I'm no prophet, and most definitely no saint, but I just have this feeling that He wishes we'd quit trying to explain staggering mysteries with mealy-mouthed pronouncements and instead fall to our knees in silent contemplation. God is such an ardent lover, yet, these days, we act as prudish towards love as we used to towards sex. Don't you think He wishes we'd quit playing with the equipment and start thinking about what it all means?

Update: I have pruned this considerably, and here link a Very Good explanation of the Mass, written by Teresa. H/T the Anchoress.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Dear Blogkeeper,

Thank you. This was wonderful and insightful. I am not a cradle Catholic, and my attraction to Catholicism was the way it honored the great mysteries of faith. I've recently shared how distressed I was upon taking my child to sacramental prep and having him filled to the brim with that spirit of Vatican II nonsense.

This keeps a nice balance between honoring tradition and acknowledging the Church today. Thank you.