“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Idle Hands

And the book of Isaias the prophet was delivered unto him. And as he unfolded the book, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, to preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward. And when he had folded the book, he restored it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. – Luke 4:17-20

In the above scripture, our Blessed Lord put two scriptures together from Isaiah for his listeners in the Nazarene synagogue.  I’m going to try something remotely similar by putting together two recent blog posts.  WARNING – Do not try this at home.  Only a true mytagogue is qualified for such advanced techniques.

Recently, Adoro provided a witness to the problem with the accepted view of evangelizing the new generation of young adults. 

  [T]hey (we!)  are seeking God. And if they enter a parish and find the theology of the parish to be wishy-washy, they leave. If they find disunity, they leave. If they find outreach without sincerity and REAL understanding...they walk.  They realize their lives are worth far more than a ten-cent smile and a frivolous handshake.  They don't want their singlehood to become one of slave labor to the Church, their singlehood a memory of years spent in weird pigeonholed isolation at a parish that doesn't know what to do with them other than to plug them into various volunteer holes that need warm bodies to fill them.   

Young adults want to get involved, yes. Absolutely. But not without a deeper meaning. Not without God. For their primary search, even if they can't explain it, is God. They are seeking happiness. They are seeking Our Lord, and they don't know where YOU have placed Him.

How true!  All too often, as we look to build our parish communities, we end up chasing a somewhat secular (faithless) model for building an organization.  We can’t reach them unless we get them through the door.  We can’t keep them unless they return.  They won’t return unless our community appeals to them.  They won’t be committed unless we give them something to do.  If we push through all of that, the sacraments will do their thing and our community will become the workers’ paradise that we keep singing about.

While I am knocking this approach, it would be wrong not to admit that there is some secular logic to it, which makes it thoroughly tempting.  The flaws, though, are fatal.  I’m sure its practitioners who pervade today’s Catholic parishes are absolutely sincere in their intention of doing the Lord’s work.  But, to put it bluntly, they are following the ideology of Nimrod, that infamous architect of the Tower of Babel .  They left the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ, behind.  They deliberately ignore Rome, believing that the Holy Spirit can guide us to come up with something better than what God gave us through the Catholic Church.

There are legends that this self-made community works.  There may even be some real-world examples of it.  Yet everywhere I’ve seen it tried, the results are the same.  Efforts to get people more involved inevitably lead to burdening the people who are already too involved.  The stagnant population of the community tend to remain that way.

The bottom line – parishes are putting STEWARDSHIP ahead of CONVERSION.  In fact, there exists a general assumption that stewardship leads to conversion.  It is self-evident that this is entirely backwards.  Did Mother Teresa become a saint because she fed the hungry and cared for the dying?  Or did she feed the hungry and care for the dying because she became a saint?  According to her, and human reason, it’s the latter.

What keeps us Catholics from getting this right?  It’s pretty simple.  If a parish is addressing the needs of souls, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.  A people that is deeply in love with our Lord Jesus will build the Kingdom the way He wants it built, and that’s all that matters.  Sorry, Nimrod.

And what can a parish do to accomplish this?  For starters, let everyone drop his or her pride, pastors and lay leaders alike.  Read the exhortations of the pope, the dogmatic documents of the ecumenical councils, and the instructions from the curia.  Then watch our Holy Father in action.  How does he say mass?  What is he focusing on in his addresses?  Then look at your community.  Where is your parish lagging?  What is your parish disregarding?  (hint: if the Bishop allows it, it doesn’t mean it’s good.  If he demands it, well, that’s another matter.)  Then get to work on preparing the parish to receive the sacraments in the manor set forth by our High Priest, through his Bride.  The deviation from the treasures God has given us through the Church is an exercise in pride.  Souls will suffer, despite the pleasant veneer some will claim.  

As our Holy Father wrote in a previous job (my emphasis):

[The obligatory character of the liturgy] is a guarantee, testifying to the fact that something greater is taking place here than can be brought about by any individual community or group of people. It expresses the gift of joy, the gift of participation in the cosmic drama of Christ's Resurrection, by which liturgy stands or falls. Moreover the obligatory character of the essential parts of the liturgy also guarantees the true freedom of the faithful: it makes sure that they are not victims of something fabricated by an individual or a group, that they are sharing in the same liturgy that binds the priest, the bishop and the pope. In the liturgy, we are all given the freedom to appropriate, in our own personal way, the mystery which addresses us.Feast of Faith, p 67

Fidelity to the liturgy, along with the needed catechesis (see the blog’s masthead for details), will properly dispose the faithful to the sacraments they receive.  This will light the fire that most seem to think will come about through happy songs and passing out sacred vessels.

And, speaking of happy songs, let me get back to the promise of joining together two blog posts.  Music is a major problem with liturgy today.  Parishes actively seek what they consider attractive music to please the people in the worship space nave.  This form of superficial evangelization plays right in to the misguided attempt to lure young people that Adoro blogged about.  True to form, this attempt to occupy minds and hearts during “silent” periods not only misses the point, but counters the point in so many ways.  Jeffry Tucker wrote a manifesto of sorts on the sociology of Church music, and in doing so covers why this attempt to entertain the people fails miserably:

In light of this, special demands are placed on Catholic musicians to use music that embraces what unites us and allows Catholic communities to thrive, understanding that anyone who is choosing their religion by social considerations alone is not likely to be interested in the Catholic faith to begin with. If we attempt to jump into the existing rivalrous market of demographic stop-'n'-shop, we are surely going to lose. There is always a body of believers out there who can do this better than we can.

And there is another factor here to consider. To seek to appeal to a certain group, we necessarily alienate other groups. We've all had the experience of car pooling or riding in the car with someone who has the radio tuned to a station we find egregious. So it is when we choose this over that form of secular music for our worship. We cannot and will not agree so long as we are choosing on subjective grounds alone.

This is the great error made variously in the history of the faith, mostly recently in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. when Catholics attempted to tailor-make their liturgy to blend in with a slice of time in order to win the hearts of a certain age demographic that temporarily believed its wishes were more important than anything else. To do this ended up creating massive division, and we still face the consequences today.

What do Catholics have as a primary concern that others put lower down the list? It is that most unfashionable idea of universal truth, a body of belief and practice, that transcends politics, community, nation, and even time. That is something so precious and wonderful, so appealing in the long run, that we should never turn away from it but rather embrace it completely. In that same way, sacred music challenges us to leave aside our tastes, to bury our egos, to turn off our iPods and digital subscriptions, to look outside our own group identity, and sing a new sing unto the Lord (the text to the Introit in the 5th Sunday of Easter).
I have found myself more and more attracted to a mass that appreciates sacred music.  What a difference from the busyness of the typical performance-style music provided today at most parishes!  I’ve spent many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament simply making up for the prayer I missed at mass because the entertainment was so distracting.  As efficacious as it is to be in eucharistic adoration, it is no substitute for the mass, where offerings are always accepted and multiplied.  There’s a noise compulsion that is clearly at odds with the mass, as if active participation means we need to keep people’s attention occupied for fear they might have a prayer encounter of their own.

Recently, while commuting home, I heard a Protestant service on the radio.  It was very evangelical, with a charismatic preacher imploring his flock to spread the gospel.   That was followed by a cover of a praise and worship song (guitar, bass, drums, a lot of “I will do this” and “I will do that”) I’d heard before at mass.  But there was a huge difference when I heard it this time.  The music was a perfect fit!  It belonged in this direct style of worship.  There was no mystery to contemplate.  There was no awe in the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord.  It was simple, it was emotional, and it was motivating.  And with the adrenaline rising through the body, the music was seamless.  Thus, praise and worship music has a place.  That was an epiphany for me.

And what purpose does it serve at the mass?  For that matter, what do the emasculated show tunes, jingles, and hippy songs in our modern “song” books accomplish?  At best, they relieve us as we endure the boredom of our weekly liturgy.  At worst, they dull the encounter with our Lord.  They rob us of the, “… freedom to appropriate, in our own personal way, the mystery which addresses us.”  They create noise which deflects our minds and hearts from the fullness of meeting the one whose death makes eternal happiness possible.

It basically changes the mass into a sing-a-long communion service.  As one wise blogger put it, it’s like preparing a prime rib eye steak with a blender.

The result?  Deep conversion is much more difficult as people miss the opportunity to have the fullness of grace which was offered to them.  This is no small matter.  This is a self-inflicted cap on spiritual growth, not to mention a source of theological confusion.

To sum up this entire post, busyness is not the answer to call of the New Evangelization.  Jesus is the answer.  That hasn’t changed in 2000 years.  If someone thinks he has a better idea than the Catholic Church, you know, the one guided by the Holy Spirit, then that someone has his own need of a deeper conversion.  We can’t offer anyone, young or old, something that we don’t have.  Yes, we do have sacraments.  But our vanity can, and does, diminish the work of those sacraments on our lives.  When we truly make the effort to surrender ourselves to His authority and assist at mass to our fullest capacity, no ministry scheme and no liturgical customizations would compare to the attraction we would possess. 

Just to be clear, I am all in favor of innovation and ideas.  But they must first be checked against the directions and advice of Church authority.  All Catholics of good faith want the same thing.  We just need to remember, Nimrod isn’t going to get us there.

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