05 May 2008

The beneficence of Benedict

His influence is remarkable. He is bridging the gap between the factions in the Church brought about over the last 40 years.

Fr. Z's wide-ranging blog highlights two examples.

First, the Transalpine Redemptorists are clearly mellowing in light of Summorum Pontificum. I recommend you follow the link to read the posting, which includes Fr. Z's comments and emphases. However, I find my self in strong agreement with a couple of passages:
These forty years of crisis, the empty convents, the abandoned presbyteries, the empty churches and the sad state of Catholic education has finally awakened the realisation at the highest level of the Church that we are in a period of crisis. This realisation has produced a visible change in the will of Rome: no longer are the orientations of the 1960’s and 70’s to be imposed with the uncaring absolutism of "that period with all its hopes and its confusion." Rome is ready to admit that "omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of the blame…"
I have said before on this blog that whatever requires harsh treatment of people who, with good will, want to engage in reverent, joyful worship is wrong.
Also, there is the visibility of the Church that urges us. During these long years of crisis our position – we feel – has not harmed the visibility of the Church because there were visible problems to account for the apparent visible break in unity. We in tradition were the object of visible injustice and of visible abuses of power. But now that the successor of Peter has diplomatically apologised and has extended his hands to us, welcoming us simply as we are, what further visible justification will we find to refuse communion with him?
There are those who vehemently oppose traditionalists who maintained the traditional Mass and recognisably Catholic way of life in the face of the harshly imposed reforms, saying that they were schismatic and scandalous, etc.

Have you seen this bumper sticker?
If you can read this, thank a teacher.
If you can read it in English, thank a vet.
Well, if you can attend a Latin Mass - in either form - thank a traditionalist! Because there were those who were determined to eradicate everything that was pre-Vatican II - especially the use of Latin in the liturgy.

But the miracle that is Benedict appears to be mellowing some of those folks, too. Fr. Z posted Archbishop Mahony's reflection, which closes with, "I return to Los Angeles a different disciple of Jesus than when I left a week ago. Thank you, Lord, for sending us not only the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter, but also a brother and friend who knows Jesus personally and gave us six extraordinary days of grace and hope!"

As for the wandering sheep... my story is perhaps typical. My conversion was to the pre-Vatican II church, but I was baptized in 1971, so my experience was disorienting and baffling from the first. By 1980 it was pretty clear I was simply out of luck. As the Church's discipline fell apart, so did that at home. It got so that going to Mass was an occasion of sin for me... and, on at least one occasion, when I tried to confess it, the priest showed open contempt for my need for some kind of structure in liturgy and a sense that the bishops and clergy had some level of respect for Rome ... even if they'd just pretended. I finally just packed it in. The bishops and priests didn't have a monopoly on viewing people's preferences with contempt; I could do the same, and I did. I trusted my soul to Christ and let Him lead me to other pastures, keeping me fed and alive and near to Himself while I traversed the valley of the shadow of death in my personal life.

During that time of great loneliness and confusion, I married. It would not be right to say I even attempted marriage, as the Catholic Church puts it. It was a superficially Christian act on my part, mere legal formality on my husband's. God protected me through the 20 some-odd miserable years that followed. I was maintained chiefly by pride. When I surrendered that, and was willing to relinquish my disordered concepts of myself and God, He was able to intervene.

Miraculously, as He restored my personal life, He restored the Church as well, providing for the election of Joseph Ratzinger and the declaration which, as the Transalpine Redemptorist letter puts it, "...makes possible the return of the entire mindset and life associated with the traditional Mass."

When I came into the Catholic faith, my guide was a Manual of Prayers from the 1920s. That book was beautifully printed and illustrated, and contained a wealth of information and inspiration. One needs to remember how vehemently such books were denounced in the years after Vatican II, and how any attraction one might have to the "mindset and life" so clearly set out was characterised as just this side of sinful, to understand the bewilderment and sorrow felt by those for whom the Church was The Guide to Life. It wasn't just liturgy, although that was certainly a major part of it... it was the laissez-faire attitude towards marriage and political belief; the relaxation of discipline in priestly life, and such seemingly laudable changes as that to the Friday abstinence. The message was clear: "we don't care, so long as you come to church and give us money."

In fact, it was exactly what the reformers accused the pre-Vatican II church of. And they were wrong. (The Monsignor at my church stayed outside after the beginning of Mass and greeted the latecomers, and those who expected to be praised for showing up at all were in for a disappointment! But there was nothing of contempt in his manner! He was obviously concerned for one's soul, and that due reverence be shown to God. I felt chastened when he did it to me - he was right to do so. When Bishop Tod Brown scolded the communicant who had the temerity to kneel to receive, and made her stand: that was contempt, and I felt the same towards his degrading actions, as well.)

My dear one is like me: could not reconcile what led him to the Church with what was taught and modeled "at the local level," so to speak. I think he might one day be open to reconsidering, as would I... but we would both need to submit our previous attempted marriages to the tribunal before we can be fully reconciled with the Church. It may be too late for us... but I trust Christ. It would be only a little miracle, compared to the big ones He's provided of late!

In the meantime, I watch from the sidelines and rejoice for those who can now experience the liturgy the way it was. They are fortunate to have the choice. Those who want feathers and guitars are welcome to them, if that floats their liturgical boat. But those innovations sink mine. I need to love God and worship only Him. If I know and love God, then I can properly respect and love my neighbour. Loving my neighbour will not lead me to love God. It just doesn't work that way! And Benedict knows that and, superb teacher and thinker that he is, he helps us all understand it, wherever we are in the journey. Saint or sinner, traditionalist or reformer, we all can perceive him as being God's servant first of all, and our leader as a natural consequence of his calling. People remark upon his humility; it is precisely because he gets out of God's way that so much can happen on his watch - and is, and has, and, if God graciously permits, will continue to do so, for many years to come.

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