26 January 2006

Deus caritas est

Here's the link to the encyclical. It's on my list for an initial read this weekend sometime.

When anger is a sign of health in the body

I'm not the only one to reflect that the Roman Catholic church is showing definite signs of life, in the same way that one can tell when a person's beginning to turn the tide against an illness - they begin to express anger again, instead of just lying there, inert. On many of the blogs people are sputtering with fury about Michael Schiavo's wedding.
Even MCJ, an Episcopalian blogger, notices it:--
The fact that this "marriage" produced this kind of outrage indicates a church with significant spiritual vigor. The marriage of a man and his concubine, by whom he had fathered two children while he was legally married to someone else, would barely be noticed in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada.

(H/T Kathy Shaidle, via open book)

22 January 2006

James Hitchcock writes on Vatican II

This excellent article was published in Crisis Magazine in the June 2004 issue, and which I just now found for the first time.

I've interposed some few comments, but I really don't have anything to add to it. I deeply appreciate Hitchcock's thorough and balanced summary.

Off The Rails: Was Vatican II Hijacked?
By James Hitchcock

Most Catholics in 1959 probably didn’t even know what an ecumenical council was. And yet, here it was. Pope John XXIII announced that the goals of the Second Vatican Council would be “the renewal of the spirit of the Gospel in the hearts of people everywhere and the adjustment of Christian discipline to modern-day living”—a proclamation that was on the face of it ambiguous. How was authentic renewal to be achieved? How should essential discipline be adjusted to modern culture?

John was a relentless optimist, inclined always to look for good in the world, disinclined to scold, and deeply convinced that he had been called to help bring about a new Pentecost in the Church. He further believed that the Counter-Reformation era, characterized both by defensiveness inside the Church and aggressiveness toward those on the outside, was over. The council made only an oblique reference to the fact that the 20th century had already seen a persecution of Christians more severe than any in the entire history of Catholicism.

The Church was apparently flourishing during John’s pontificate. By contrast with what would come later, its members were unusually serious, devout, and moral. But such a Church could be criticized as fostering formalism, a neglect of social justice, and an overly narrow piety, and it’s likely that John XXIII thought that a new Pentecost could build on this foundation to reach still higher levels.

In his opening address to the council, John affirmed the infallibility of the Church but called on it to take account of the “errors, requirements, and opportunities” of the age. He regretted that some Catholics (“prophets of gloom”) seemed unable to see any good in the modern world and regarded it as the worst of all historical periods. The dogmas of the Church were settled and “known to all,” so the conciliar task was to explore new ways of presenting them to the modern world.
Modernism had been repeatedly and explicitly condemned by several previous popes.
The preparatory commissions for the council were dominated by members of the Curia, who were inclined toward precisely such a pessimistic view. When the council opened, there were objections to those commissions, with the result that the council fathers were allowed to approve new schema prepared by some of their own. In some ways this procedural squabble was the most decisive event of the entire council, and it represented a crucial victory for what was now called the “liberal” or “optimistic” party, guaranteeing that the council as a whole would look on its work as more than a mere restatement of accepted truths. There was an officially endorsed spirit of optimism in which even legitimate questions about the wisdom of certain ideas were treated as evidence of lack of faith.
This attitude persists even today. If one questions a decision, or criticizes an outcome, one is "disloyal," "unfaithful," etc.
The intellectual leadership of the council came mainly from Western Europe, the most influential prelates being Bernard Alfrink of the Netherlands, Leo Jozef Suenens of Belgium, Achille Lienart of France, Julius Doepfner and Joseph Frings of Germany, and Franz Koenig of Austria. Those five countries, along with the rest of Europe, possessed an ancient tradition of Catholicism, and they had nourished a vigorous and sophisticated Catholic intellectual life.

As theological questions arose, the council fathers almost automatically deferred to the opinions of these European prelates, who were in turn influenced by men recognized as the most accomplished theologians of the age—Henri DeLubac, Jean Danielou, and Yves Congar in France; Edward Schillebeeckx in the Netherlands; Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger in Germany.

But in many respects the Church in those five nations—with the possible exception of the Netherlands—appeared less than robust (judging, for example, by rates of church attendance and religious vocations). Indeed, the vigorous intellectual life of those countries was colored by a certain sense of crisis—the need to make the Faith credible to modern men. By contrast, the Church in the British Isles, Southern Europe, and the United States, to say nothing of the Third World, lacked dazzling intellectual achievements but appeared to be relatively hearty.

Most council fathers therefore seemed to have felt little urgency about most of the questions that came before them. For many, the discussions involved issues that, before now, hadn’t even been considered, such as making the liturgy and religious life more “relevant.” But an unquestioned faith that the Church would always be preserved from error, along with the leadership of John XXIII and Paul VI, led most of the delegates to support the schema that were finally forged from the debate. No decree of the council provoked more than a small number of dissenting votes. Ironically, in view of the later claim that the council brought about the democratization of the Church, deference to authority was a major factor in determining how most of the fathers voted.

Creating Radicals

John XXIII announced Vatican II as a “pastoral” assembly, but there were growing differences of opinion as to what exactly that meant. Pious, instinctively conservative prelates might think of encouraging Marian devotions or kindling zeal for the foreign missions. The dominant group, however, moved the council toward dialogue with the modern world, translating the Church’s message into a language modern men understood.

The council fathers always strove to remain balanced (see George Sim Johnston’s “Was Vatican II a Mistake?” March 2004). To take what are now the most fiercely debated issues, they imagined no revisions in Catholic moral teaching about sexuality, referring instead to “the plague of divorce” and to the “abominable crime” of abortion. Deliberately childless marriages were deemed a tragedy, and the faithful were reminded of the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.

At the same time, the fact that practically every aspect of Catholic belief seemed to be under discussion had results that John XXIII probably didn’t intend. Famously, at one point he removed the subject of contraception from the floor of the council and announced that he was appointing a special commission to study the issue—an action that naturally led some to believe the teaching would indeed be revised. When Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, liberals were outraged that he rejected the commission’s recommendation to permit some forms of birth control and accused him of betraying the council.
This was a serious problem - especially when you consider the cultural environment of the times.
The council fathers each had periti, or advisers, on matters of theology and canon law, and some of them were very influential, both in shaping the thought of the prelates whom they advised and in working behind the scenes with like-minded delegates and other periti. In explaining the theological revolution that occurred almost immediately after the council, some orthodox Catholics speculate that a well-organized minority intended from the beginning to sabotage the council and that they successfully planted theological time bombs in the conciliar decrees—doctrinal statements whose implications were deliberately left vague, to be activated later. But there’s little evidence of this.

It’s characteristic of revolutions that they are rarely planned ahead of time. Rather, they arise from the sudden acceleration of historical change, caused by the flow of events and the way in which people relate to those events. There is no evidence that anyone came to the council with a radical agenda, in part because such an agenda would have been considered hopelessly unrealistic. (Some liberals actually feared that the council would prove to be a retrogressive gathering.)

A major factor in the postconciliar dynamic was the reformers’ own heady experience of swift and unexpected change. For example, in 1960 no one would have predicted—and few would have advocated—the virtual abandonment of the Latin liturgy. But once reformers realized that the council fathers supported change, it became an irresistible temptation to continue pushing farther and faster. What had been thought of as stone walls of resistance turned out to be papier-mâché.

The council itself proved to be a “radicalizing” experience, during which men who had never met before, and who in some cases had probably given little thought to the questions now set before them, began quickly to change their minds on major issues. (For example, Archbishop—later Cardinal—John F. Dearden of Detroit, who was considered quite rigid before the council, returned home as an uncritical advocate of every kind of change.) When the council was over, some of those present—both periti and bishops—were prepared to go beyond what the council had in fact intended or authorized, using the conciliar texts as justification when possible, ignoring them when not (as recounted, for example, by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was in charge of liturgical reform after the council, in his book The Reform of the Liturgy). Aware that the council didn’t support their agenda, they quickly got into the habit of speaking of the “spirit” of the council, which was said to transcend its actual statements and even in some cases to contradict them.
And this is why, when I refer to "The Spirit of Vatican Two," you can take it as dripping with sarcasm.
The Role of the Media

While the council was still in session, it occurred to some that it was less important what that body actually said and did than what people thought it said and did. Thus as early as the first session, in 1962, there was an orchestrated propaganda campaign to present the deliberations and define the issues in particular ways and to enlist the sympathies of the public on behalf of a particular agenda. Certain key journalists became “participant-observers,” meaning that they reported the events and at the same time sought to influence them—the chief practitioners being “Xavier Rynne” (the pen name of the Redemptorist historian Francis X. Murphy), who wrote “Letter from Vatican City” for the New Yorker magazine, and Robert Blair Kaiser, who reported for Time.

Such reports were written for a largely non-Catholic audience, many of whom were unsympathetic to the Faith, and the thrust of the reporting was to assure such readers that the Church was at long last admitting its many errors and coming to terms with secular culture. Most Catholics probably relied on these same sources for their understanding of the council and so received the same message.

The key reason why postconciliar “renewal” often went wrong is the almost incredible fact that the hierarchy in the early 1960s made almost no systematic effort to catechize the faithful (including priests and religious) on the meaning of the council—something about which many bishops themselves seemed confused. “Renewal experts” sprang up everywhere, and the most contradictory explanations of the council were offered to Catholics thirsting for guidance. Bishops rarely offered their flocks authoritative teaching and instead fell into the habit of simply trusting certified “experts” in every area of Church life. Indeed, before the council was even over, several fallacious interpretations were planted that still flourish today.

Even the best journalistic accounts were forced to simplify the often subtle and complex deliberations of the council fathers. But there was also deliberate oversimplification for the purpose of creating a particular public impression. The media thus divided the council fathers into heroes and villains—otherwise known as liberals and conservatives. In this way, the conciliar battles were presented as morality plays in which open-minded, warm-hearted, highly intelligent innovators (Cardinal Alfrink, for example) were able repeatedly to thwart plots by Machiavellian reactionaries (Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office). It was a morality play that appealed to the prejudices of many Westerners of the mid-20th century. It also had a real if immeasurable influence on many bishops, who soon discovered that being viewed as “progressive” would gain them a favorable press, while the opposite would make them into public villains.

For understandable reasons, vastly disproportionate attention was lavished by the media on such things as the vernacular liturgy and the end of mandatory Friday abstinence, since concrete practices could be easily dealt with journalistically and such practices had long helped to define the differences between Catholics and others. Catholics who understood almost nothing of the theological issues of the council came to understand that its “real” purpose was repealing rules that had become burdensome and old-fashioned.

But in another sense the attention lavished on such things was not disproportionate, because in a sacramental Church “externals” are the doorways to the spirit. In theory it perhaps ought not to have mattered whether nuns wore habits, but in practice the modification, then the total abandonment, of those habits marked the beginning of the end of religious life as it had existed for centuries. For many people the distinction between essentials and nonessentials was almost meaningless. If Catholics were no longer forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, why could they not get divorced, especially given the widespread conviction that the purpose of the council and of “Good Pope John” was to make people comfortable with their faith?

Many of the council fathers, after they returned to their dioceses, seemed themselves to be in a state of confusion over what they’d done. Only a relatively few—some orthodox, others less so—had a clear and consistent understanding. For most, the postconciliar period proved to be a time of rudderless experimentation, as Catholics groped to understand what the council had mandated. For many people the one sure thing, amid all the postconciliar uncertainty, was the fact of change itself; in an odd way it seemed safest to do or believe almost the opposite of what Catholics had previously been taught.
Here, kids, take these razors and go play on the freeway.
The Scars of Renewal

Underlying the council were two different approaches to reform—approaches that were not contradictory but that required serious intellectual effort to reconcile. One was ressourcement (“back to the sources”), a program of renewing the Church by returning to its scriptural and patristic roots (DeLubac, Danielou, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar all held to this). The other was aggiornamento (“updating”), by which the supposed demands of contemporary culture were the chief concern (Hans Küng, Schillebeeckx, and to some extent Rahner, were all proponents). Kept in balance during the council itself, these two movements increasingly pulled apart afterward and resulted in the deep conflicts that continue to the present.

A prime example of the postconciliar dynamic at work was the “renewal” of religious life. Cardinal Suenens wrote the influential book The Nun in the World, enjoining sisters to come out of their cloisters and accept the challenges of modern life. Whatever might be thought about them as theological principles, such recipes for “renewal” also promised that those who adopted them would experience phenomenal revitalization, including dramatic numerical growth, and for a few years after the council the official spirit of naive optimism won out over the “prophets of gloom.”

The most famous instance of such renewal in the United States was that of the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles. Their program of aggiornamento had all the ingredients required at the time—intense publicity from an overwhelmingly favorable media, a prestigious secular “expert” (the psychologist Carl Rogers), picturesque experiments with nontraditional behavior (encounter groups), and a reactionary villain (James Cardinal McIntyre) portrayed as the only obstacle to progress. Not until it was too late did anyone ask whether the IHM Sisters, along with countless others, were simply abandoning their vocations completely.

A tragic dimension of the conciliar period was precisely the irrelevance and ultimate failure of the exciting intellectual programs that emanated from what were then the five most influential Catholic nations. For a very brief period, Dutch Catholicism made a bid to give the universal Church a working model of renewal, before “the Dutch Church” imploded and sank into oblivion. Rates of church attendance and religious vocations may have been worrisomely low in Belgium, France, and Germany in 1960, but the bishops of those countries probably couldn’t imagine how much lower they would fall. In ways not recognized 40 years ago, it’s now clear that the strategy of countering secularism by moving closer to the secular culture just doesn’t work.

The partisans of aggiornamento became the first theologians in the history of the Church to make systematic use of the mass media, entering into a working alliance with journalists who could scarcely even understand the concept of ressourcement but eagerly promoted an agenda that required the Church to accommodate itself to the secular culture. Strangely enough, some theologians, along with their propagandist allies, actually denied the Church the right to remain faithful to its authentic identity and announced a moral obligation to repudiate as much of that identity as possible. “Renewal” came to be identified with dissent and infidelity, and Catholics who remained faithful to the Church were denounced as enemies of Vatican II.

This occurred at the most fundamental level, so that the authority of the council itself was soon relativized. The notion that a council would claim for itself final authority in matters of belief came to be viewed by liberals as reactionary. Vatican II was thus treated as merely a major historical epiphany—a moment in the unfolding history of the Church and of human consciousness when profound new insights were discovered. According to this view, the council’s function was not to make authoritative pronouncements but merely to facilitate the movement of the Church into the next stage of its historical development. (For example, the Jesuit historian John W. O’Malley in 1971 proposed that certain conciliar texts could be legitimately ignored as merely reflective of intellectual immaturity, timidity, and confusion on the part of the council fathers.)

After the council, the concept of “the People of God” was reduced to a crude form of democracy—doctrine as determined by opinion polls. The liturgy ceased to be a divine action and became a communal celebration, and the supernatural vocations of priests and religious were deemed to be obstacles to their service to the world.

Nothing had a more devastating effect on postconciliar Catholic life than the sexual revolution, as believers began to engage in behavior not measurably different from that of non-believers. Priests and religious repudiated their vows in order to marry, and many of those who remained in religious life ceased to regard celibacy as desirable. Catholics divorced almost as frequently as non-Catholics. Church teachings about contraception, homosexuality, and even abortion were widely disregarded, with every moral absolute treated as merely another wall needing to be breached.

Off the Rails

Ultimately the single best explanation of what happened to deflect the council’s decrees from their intended direction is the fact that as soon as the assembly ended, the worldwide cultural phenomenon known as the “the Sixties” began. It was nothing less than a frontal assault on all forms of authority.

Bereft of catechesis, confused by the conciliar changes, and unable to grasp the subtle theology of the conciliar decrees, many Catholics simply translated the conciliar reforms into the terms of the counterculture, which was essentially the demand for “liberation” from all restraint on personal freedom. Even as late as 1965 almost no one anticipated this great cultural upheaval. The measured judgments of Gaudium et Spes, the council’s highly influential decree on the Church and the modern world, shows not a hint of it.

Had the council met a decade earlier, during the relatively stable 1950s, it’s possible that there could have been an orderly and untroubled transition. But after 1965 the spirit of the age was quite different, and by then many Catholics were eager to break out of what they considered their religious prison. Given the deliberately fostered popular impression that the Church was surrendering in its perennial struggle with the world, it was inevitable that the prevailing understanding of reform would be filtered through the glass of a hedonistic popular culture. Under such conditions it would require remarkable steadfastness of purpose to adhere to an authentic program of renewal.

The postconciliar crisis has moved far beyond issues like the language of the liturgy or nuns’ habits—even beyond sexual morality or gender identities. Today the theological frontier is nothing less than the stark question of whether there is indeed only one God and Jesus is His only-begotten Son. It is a question that the council fathers didn’t foresee as imminent and, predictably, the council’s dicta about non-Christian religions are now cited to justify various kinds of religious syncretism. The resources for resolving this issue are present in the conciliar decrees themselves, but it’s by no means certain that Church leaders have the will to interpret them in final and authoritative ways. Forty years after the council, serious Catholics have good reason to think they’ve been left to wander the theological wilderness.

James Hitchcock is a professor of history at St. Louis University and senior editor of Touchstone. His book The Supreme Court and Religion is forthcoming from Princeton University Press.

A(nother) reflection on Vatican II

First of all, Lorna, if you're checking here wondering if I'll ever reply to your questions in the comments - I'm working on the answers. It has been a cathartic, interesting, complex journey for me. Dang, girl, you ask good questions!

In the meantime, my wanderings on the topic throughout the blog world have led me to this conclusion:

Some wanted to use Vatican II to destroy the Church. For a lot of years, it looked like they were winning. But, today, I can see they have lost, and Christ has won.

How do I know?

Because we are still talking about it. Arguing over it. Reading the encyclicals, canon law, the writings of the Church fathers - anything we can lay our hands on to buttress our point! We engage one another passionately - and yet, almost always, in charity.

We are Roman Catholics. We are brothers and sisters. And we are so passionate because we have faith - because we love our Church.

If the enemy had won, we would no longer care. Whether in despair or sheer indifference or exhaustion, we would throw down our books and wander away.

The very thing which keeps me at arm's length from the Church is the very thing which has brought me back to her: the give-and-take, the endless caring about doing it right.

Of course, the only problem is, it just consumes the hours. I want to take issue with Mark Shea, who muttered something in a post about people who natter about the liturgy but ignore the theology of the body (very rough casting of what he said - don't take it literally, I'm not going to go get the quote now). I am making notes for my responses to Lorna's good questions. I realize I have to go back and read the conciliar documents again (sigh), because I want to be fair in what I say.

And - because of that - I am involved in the Church. I care about how we worship Christ. It matters to me whether or not our liturgy teaches us well. I care passionately about whether it's more effective to attract new fish into Peter's net by watering down the liturgy, or tightening it up and making it into true art.

As I travel through the 'net, reading what others are saying, marveling at the intense conversations among people of all ages who are wrestling with one another over the issues in the wake of Vatican II, I meet people I love. Just, quite simply, love. Appealing, intelligent, truthful personalities. I don't always agree with the points they make, but I know a sibling when I read one. ;)

So long as we care - so long as we're willing to research and pray and type and argue to preserve God's Church - she will survive.

And if it took Vatican II, with its ambiguous documents, ham-fisted implementation, the spectacular bungle of the handling of Humanae Vitae, and the apparent triumph of the deconstructionists over tradition to wake up the Roman Catholic laity enough to care - then it was just the Holy Spirit doing His thing again, inscrutable and mysterious as it is.

21 January 2006

A vocation to pray for

"Moneybags," he who has been connecting bloggers with their saints for the year, has disclosed his discernment of vocation to the priesthood. He sounds calm and filled with joy. Let us pray for him.

16 January 2006

More NAB vs. NAB discussion

Over at Bettnet, Dom and Melanie noticed the insipid translation of 1 Corinthians 6 used at Mass the other day.

As I was listening to the second reading at Mass today, something was nagging at me. It just didn’t sound right.

Brothers and sisters:
The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord,
and the Lord is for the body;
God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?
But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.
Avoid immorality.
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,
but the immoral person sins against his own body.
Do you not know that your body
is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been purchased at a price.
Therefore glorify God in your body.

Wait a minute, isn’t all sin immorality? How can we say that immorality is a sin of the body? There is immorality that isn’t physical, like things we say or fail to do. Something wasn’t right here.

Then Melanie, who was thinking the same thing, pointed to the Spanish version of the reading. (Our parish has bilingual missalettes.) Now, I don’t read or speak Spanish, but when it uses “fornicar” for the English lectionary’s “immorality” I think I can figure out what the word is supposed to be. When I got home, I picked up my Greek New Testament and sure enough the word is “porneia,” which according to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament means “fornication, prostitution, unchastity, or every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.”

The keepers and guardians of the New American Bible must have decided that “fornication” is too coarse a word for our tender ears or that it might be too judgmental of those who are, you know, fornicating.

Instead we get some kind of mush that tells people nothing really, and that could even mislead them. “Huh, only things we do with our bodies are immoral. Great! Now I can lie and hate and all kinds of other things.”

Some people say that the Church has a hang up about sex. What about those who have a hard time letting God’s Word talk about it unfiltered?
As mentioned before, I recently rediscovered a 1971 first edition of the NAB which was given to me as a gift before I was received into the church. Of late I've been comparing passages, finding significant differences from today's version. The 1971 version of verse 18 of the passage reads: "Shun lewd conduct. Every other sin a man commits is outside his body, but the fornicator sins against his own body." Quite a change over 30 years.

Our evangelical protestant brethren would not stand for this. They pounce on every new translation and nitpick it to death. I'm really concerned that we Catholics are just sort of drifting along, not paying attention, while the meaning of our liturgy and scriptures are being "translated" (read: twisted) into something quite different from the original meanings.

You would think that those shaping the direction of the Episcopal church these days would be the first to do something like this - subtly retranslate the Word to fit their agenda. They can't, however, because they use the RSV or NRSV, and the Christian community would be all over them in a jiffy. (What they have done is simply omit the "difficult" passages - imprecatory Psalm verses, for example, or teachings against homosexual behavior - from their daily liturgical readings in the Book of Common Prayer. It's sort of amusing, in a sick, sad sort of way.) The situation with the NAB is different. In the first place, most Catholics are not Bible readers in the sense that many Protestants are. Those who are, often abandon the NAB for more mellifluous or accurate translations such as the RSV or the Jerusalem Bible. I am a Bible reader, but then, I was out of the Church for a long time. ;) The NAB these days is the most wooden, awkwardly reading thing I've ever encountered. It's so bad, it's embarrassing. When combined with what's happened to the liturgy and the music at Mass, it's a catastrophe for art. Anyone who disagrees needs to listen to the Mozart Requiem. Get back to me after you've recovered from that experience, and we'll talk.

Seriously: by watering down an important passage like that, a basic Christian teaching is being obscured. I really am concerned. It was deliberately changed to read that way. In charity, we should put it down to cluelessness until proven otherwise. However, when you read the writings of someone like Pope Benedict and look at your neighbors at Mass, you know that the church is not made up of the knuckle-dragging, childlike, preliterate hominids for whom the liturgists and musicians seem to be writing these days. What happened??

13 January 2006

The Anchoress on the NY Times leaks

Maybe some Americans forget what 9/11 was like. It’s easy to do; we don’t like to dwell on what is sad and tragic, and we don’t like to feel insecure. And perhaps because our president and his team HAVE managed to keep us safe, HAVE managed to prevent another attack on our soil, using these (what the left would call) “impeachable” tactics, perhaps we are feeling a little too safe, a little over-confident. That must be true for some, particularly many Democrats, who would like to “kill the Patriot act,” as Sen. Harry Reid crowed, or leak every covert measure we are taking, (hello, New York Times, hello James Risen) or who seem to wish to tie the hands of the government at every turn in the War on Terror.
Feeling pretty safe, are you? Pretty secure? Has 9/11 become a faded memory for you?

I haven’t forgotten.
Her recollections are moving, and poignant, and I agree with her when she writes:
If it happens again, if after we’ve been safe for nearly 5 years only to find - after these “noble” leaks - that we are safe no longer, I will know where to look. Most Americans will know where to look.
I write best when I'm sad. The Anchoress writes best when she's mad. This piece is one of her best, and a must read.

08 January 2006

A hidden Epiphany

I've been trying to post about the amazing things which have been going on in my spiritual life of late, but for many reasons it all just gets too involved and way more personal than appropriate at this stage.

The basics: I fulfilled my first resolution for the liturgical year, and on December 30 went into the church where I was baptized when I was received into the Catholic church at the age of 15. God be praised, it hasn't been wreckovated!!! It was late in the afternoon on the Friday before the New Year. The church smelled wonderful from all the evergeen hangings. There's a new baptismal fountain in the back (yes, you read that right; it runs constantly), and of course it has nice wide edges at waist height, so its beautiful green marble is all plastered up with signs telling people to not put things on the edges. Clues? Anybody?? It's nice, though.

I knelt in front of the tabernacle and thought about all the times I knelt here thirty-some-odd years ago, when I was a new Catholic, the church was going completely daft, my parents had divorced, my mom's alcoholism was in evidence, and my dear one had left me.

Over the weekend, I learned that Sts. Joseph and Martin de Porres had chosen me. Participating in that custom, and having two such high-yield saints take me on, gave me a delighted and awed feeling.

Then, on Tuesday, my friend disclosed to me "by the way" that he was baptized into the Catholic faith in the 1980s. He was such a cynic when we were kids. I was just blown away. He was pleasantly surprised that the discussion in the formation class was so intellectually challenging. He made the decision to go ahead and be baptized.

To my soul, this is the answer to my anguished prayer, "Why, God? Losing my friend... having to go on without him... was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to me. I don't mean to be superstitious about it, but if that's what it took to bring him to the font, then it was worthwhile.

I have known such peace since he told me that.

However, when it comes to feeling at peace in the Church... well, I've had my share of hurt at the hands of those who've worked tirelessly to eradicate any hint of devotion or piety from the Catholic experience. And this is where I end up typing and deleting ... let's leave it that my experience of The Changes in the church was remarkably similar to what I went through as my mom descended into the dregs of alcoholism: Last week, to do such-and-such was a grave sin; this week, it's commanded. And if you DARE to protest, you're a disloyal, ungrateful daughter! Case in point: communion in the hand. The practice is the result of Pope Paul VI's reluctance to confront flagrant disobedience. I was following it at the time and remember it well.

I'm with the Curmudgeon and Elena of My Domestic Church: The Council of Vatican II is one thing; the Spirit of Vatican Two is something else entirely.

In the end, I had to detach from both "parents." My mother had to quit drinking due to health reasons, so she and I could reconcile before she died. It would seem that the Church is recovering, too, led by its wise and loving Papa Benedetto. I'll keep on praying, asking for light and strength to find my way back to the practice of the faith. I suspect some of you have been praying for me. [mock scowl] Seriously: thanks. Being able to be part of this community of writers and thinkers - and pray-ers! - has been so helpful to me.

And it's only January 8... what can the rest of the year hold?

02 January 2006

The New American Bible

In 1970, my dear mother, knowing that I was preparing to be received into the Catholic Church, gave me a wonderful Christmas present: a beautifully bound first edition of the New American Bible.

I was reading it the other day, and it "sounded" different from what I remembered in readings at Mass. I thought to compare it to the most recent version. I used John 15:12-17.

12 This is my commandment:
love one another
as I have loved you.
13 There is no greater love than this:
to lay down one's life for one's friend.
14 You are my friends
if you do what I command you.
15 I no longer speak of you as slaves,
for a slave does not know what his master is about.
Instead, I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father.
16 It was not you who chose me,
it was I who chose you
to go forth and bear fruit.
Your fruit must endure,
so that all you ask the Father
in my name
he will give you.
17 The command I give you is this,
that you love one another.

12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. 17 This I command you: love one another.

The new version is undoubtedly as correct as it can be, given the pitfalls inherent in translation; but its reading is pedestrian and labored, with short, stubby sentences and a "see Spot run" feel. I feel sure it's meant to be accessible to all English speakers, meeting them at their level. However, isn't there a place for beauty of expression?

Therein lies a long argument, one which will never be settled. For the record, I come down on the side that says it's good for people to have to think a bit; we do not have to spoon-feed people. They are not zombies. They have brains; and the patterns of beautiful words will stay with them, even if the meaning doesn't sink in right away.

It's the difference between loveliness in a church, and the utilitarian approach of bare walls, felt hangings, gray carpet, and a hidden tabernacle.

Thank God there's an approved alternative. ;)

The New Jerusalem Bible:
This is my commandment:
love one another,
as I have loved you.
No one can have greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall no longer call you servants,
because a servant does not know
his master's business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.
You did not choose me,
no, I chose you;
and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit,
fruit that will last;
so that the Father will give you
anything you ask him in my name.
My command to you
is to love one another.

Ahh. That's better.

Papa comforts me

In his December 22 speech to members of the Roman Curia (h/t Maxima Culpa), Pope Benedict seemed to remove the (elegant, probably fur-trimmed) gauntlet and toss it, courteously, but accurately, at the feet of those whose choices and requirements in certain archdioceses betray their serious need of A Clue. (Please note: all emphasis in the following quotes is mine.)
Adoration precedes action or change in the world. It alone can truly free us; it alone can give us the bearings we need to act. In an increasingly rudderless world, threatened by a do-it-yourself attitude, we must focus on adoration. All those who attended World Youth Day will never forget the striking silence that united and inspired the million or so young people when the Lord of the Sacrament was placed on the altar. Let our hearts retain the images of Cologne for they continue to make themselves felt.
Adoration. You know, like, on the knees, sometimes. And silence. Remember silence?

I love how he gets down to the heart of the matter:
When the liturgy was being reformed, worshiping during and outside mass was seen as unrelated. At the time, some said that the Eucharistic Bread was not offered for contemplation but to be eaten. Yet, in the Church’s experience of prayer this opposition has become meaningless. Did not St Augustine himself say: “. . . nemo autem illam carnem manducat, nisi prius adoraverit; . . . peccemus non adorando (Let no one eat this flesh before adoring it; . . . we would sin if we did not adore it” (cf Enarr. in Ps 98: 9 CCL XXXIX 1385). In fact, we do not just get something out of the Eucharist for it is where people meet and come together. But it is the Son of God who wants to meet and be with us—such union can only occur through adoration. Receiving the Eucharist means adoring He whom we receive. Only this way can we become one with Him. Hence, the development of the Eucharistic adoration in the Middle Ages was the most coherent consequence of the Eucharistic mystery. Only in adoration can the Eucharist be truly received.
[.. snip ..]
The problems of reception [of the Council of Vatican II] derived from the fact that two contrasting hermeneutics found themselves face to face and battled it out. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit. On one hand, there is an interpretation that I would like to call "hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture"; it was frequently able to find favour among mass media, and also a certain sector of modern theology. On the other hand, there is the "hermeneutics of reform", of the renewal of the continuity of the single Church-subject, which the Lord has given us: it is a subject that grows in time and develops, remaining however always the same, the one subject of the People of God on their way. Hermeneutics of discontinuity risk leading to a fracture between the pre-Council and post-Council Church. It asserts that the Council texts as such would still not be the true expression of the spirit of the Council. They would be the result of compromises within which, to reach unanimity, many old and ultimately useless things had to be dragged along and reconfirmed. It is, however, not in these compromises that the true spirit of the Council would be revealed, but instead in the drive toward newness that underpin the texts: only this would represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from it and in conformity with it, it would be necessary to go forward. Precisely because the texts would reflect only imperfectly the true spirit of the Council and its novelty, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts, making room for the new, in which the more profound, even though still indistinct, intention of the Council would express itself. In short: it would be necessary to follow not the Council texts, but its spirit. In this way, of course, a huge margin remains for the question of how then to define this spirit and, as a result, room is made for any whimsicality.
It's a good thing I wasn't there. I would've been whooping and stomping - "Sing it, Papa! You rock!"

[snip ... ]

I would like to quote Pope John XXIII's well known words in which this hermeneutic is unequivocally expressed when he said that the Council "wishes to transmit doctrine pure and whole, without attenuating or falsifying it", and continues: "Our duty is not only to watch over this precious treasure, as if we were only concerned with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with active will and without fear to this work, which our age demands... It is necessary that this sure and immutable doctrine, faithfully respected, must be deepened and presented in a way that answers the needs of our time. One thing is in fact the deposit of faith, that is the truths contained in our venerated doctrine, and another thing is the way they are enounced, maintaining nevertheless their same meaning and scope" (S. Oec. Conc. Vat. II Constitutiones Decreta Declarationes, 1974, pp. 863-865). It is clear that this commitment to expressing a particular truth in a new way calls for fresh reflection upon it and a new relationship with it; it is also clear that the new word can mature only if it derives from an aware understanding of the truth expressed and that, on the other hand, the reflection on faith also requires that this faith is lived.
It feels like he is gently, firmly, gradually guiding the huge barque of Peter back into port after its extensively silly harbor cruise.

Pope Benedict is earning my trust. I almost hate to admit it. I had just about decided I'd never be able to persuade myself to set foot in a Catholic church again, but he's got me watching, daring to approach a bit closer before I jump nervously away. He's so loving and so wise. If he'd been the liberal some were hoping for, my choice would've been easy. But the Holy Spirit guided those cardinals, and they elected Papa Benedetto, and now I'm running out of excuses. And, like so many of these things, it feels like it was done just for me... like God knew my heart and the state of my soul, and what it would take to convince me to try just one more time... and He did that one thing.

To judge from the stream of reverts and converts I've been reading about lately, it would seem that I'm not alone.

And it feels right. Pope Benedict is not breathing fire or taking names; he's being as gentle and courteous as he can about this. However, one cannot pretend to miss the point: courage is not defined by doing daring things like using glass on the altar and issuing a document requiring people to stand during communion as a sign of "unity." Courage is shown by living upright, chaste, and loving lives in submission to the teaching authority of the Church, sticking to the actual texts of the Vatican II Council and interpreting them in light of all the Fathers who went before us in this journey since Christ walked the earth. That's courageous because it's not easy.
... the plan proposed by Pope John XXIII was extremely demanding, just as the synthesis of faithfulness and dynamism is demanding. But wherever this interpretation has been the guideline for the reception of the Council, there new life has grown and new fruits have matured. Forty years after the Council, we can ascertain that the positive aspects are greater and more vibrant than they appeared in the years around 1968. Today we can see that the good seed, even if it develops slowly, nevertheless grows, and our profound gratitude for the work carried out by the Council grows along with it.
One of the things which drove me from the Church again and again in the years after Vatican II was the harshness and inflexibility of those who imposed on us "the spirit of Vatican Two." Benedict is neither... and he's no lightweight when it comes to theology or liturgy! However, he is, in every sense of the word, a gentleman. He does not put himself forward. He lets Augustine and John XXIII fight his battles for him, in their own words.

He doesn't talk about the fallout from Vatican II; he says that "the positive aspects are greater and more vibrant than they appeared in the years around 1968." Whatever else that may be, it's tactful. I've had quite enough of being made to feel like a leper because I benefit from using prayerbooks and praying the Rosary in a quiet church, and have real problems with standing to receive communion, much less standing after communion - and let's not even go there about communion in the hand. I respect Papa because he does not employ the same tactics towards those who upset me so badly. He is better than that. If they had been half so gracious after the Council, I might not have run away... but that is for another post.

Thanks again, Chrysostomos, for the link.

01 January 2006

My Saints for the Year

At A Catholic Life, Moneybags passed along an invitation to request a Saint's name to be drawn for 2006. I had never heard of this custom, but felt led to put in my request. As so many others have expressed in their comments, I'm surprised and humbled by my selections: St. Joseph and St. Martin de Porres.

I knew virtually nothing about St. Martin de Porres, so I just now read the article about him at Catholic Forum. I have been working to make good housekeeping practices part of my life's routine, so I laughed when I saw that St. Martin was known as "the Saint of the Broom"! This is also a selection surely guided by the One who knows me best: I have always been attracted to the Dominicans (and, in fact, spent quite a bit of time last night reading the websites of Dominican contemplative nuns, before I even knew of St. Martin's selection); devotion to the Eucharist contributed to my conversion in my teens; care for the sick is one of my gifts; and I'd already planned to contribute to a dog rescue! I look forward to getting to know St. Martin better this year, and letting what I learn about his life improve the way I live mine.

And St. Joseph... wow.

My natural father and I were estranged from the time he divorced my mother through the end of his life. His birthday was March 19, St. Joseph's day. "Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me." (Ps. 27:10)

St. Joseph is the patron of workers. I've already been deeply blessed by God by an assignment which I start next week which assures me that I will do work which is perfectly suited to my gifts, for the first time in my life. I'm excited and grateful, but I still need to cultivate the discipline of just doing what needs to be done, and not wasting time. St. Joseph was willing to immediately get up and do what God told him. He is also a patron against doubt and hesitation.

I live in solitude. It comforts me to think that I can invite St. Joseph to watch over me as he watched over Mary and Jesus.

St. Joseph is the patron of protection of the Church. One of my resolutions for this year is to quit indulging in uncharitable thoughts and words about those members of the hierarchy whose choices and teachings give scandal and seem to be so detrimental to the Church. Instead, I shall pray to St. Joseph, and let him take care of it for me. That's a big weight off my mind! ;)

There are other, even more personal, reasons why it's evident that St. Joseph chose me, and not the other way around.

Oh, and get this: a bit more research reveals that
The Josephite Fathers and Brothers or more properly, the Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart (abbreviated post-nominally as S.S.J.) is an American Society of priests and brothers, founded in 1892, when priests who had been members of the English Foreign Mission Society of Saint Joseph (also known as the Mill Hill Fathers, and abbreviated post-nominally as C.J.) decided to work permanently in the United States as an apostolate dedicated to newly-freed black American slaves after the Civil War. (emphasis mine) (via Wikipedia)
In his homily given at St. Martin de Porres' canonization, Pope John XXIII said, "For the poor he would provide food, clothing and medicine. He did all he could to care for poor farmhands, blacks, and mulattoes who were looked down upon as slaves, the dregs of society in their time."

As a final, small connection, my dear maternal grandmother was born in 1892, when the Josephites were founded.

This has been such a meaningful exercise. I'm so grateful to Moneybags and to the woman who kindly selected the names. I'll remember them and their families in my prayers.