“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)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Defining Moment?

You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you:  That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.  For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this?  And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this?  Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Mt 5:43-47)

Timing is such a mystery.  Today, at about the same time (give or take a few hours) thousands, if not millions, of people in our country were offering the sacrifice of our Lord for an end to abortion, a gunman was entering a Lutheran church to turn a notorious abortionist into a martyr.  What are you up to Lord?

I often ask that question.  I appreciate the fact that He tolerates such questions from finite creatures.

A few things come to mind.

1.       -- The murder of George Tiller will be manipulated to silence the pro-life movement.  He is now the trump card to silence all debate, today and for the next 20 years.  Here are the “facts” that the pro-death mentality will make the following assumption, which they do in many cases:  Criminals, like this gunman, aren’t really responsible for their own actions.  Sociological elements cause such behavior.  This gunman, therefore, is the product of the groups that promote the idea that abortion actually kills a human being.  So if you oppose abortion, you are encouraging acts like this.  DON’T BE SILENCED!  PUT THEM ON THE DEFENSIVE! It's important to understand that these people have a self-serving agenda, and explaining to them a thousand times over the next ten years that you don’t condone the murder of abortionists plays right into their hands.  Don’t play that game.  “So, are you accusing me of murder?”  Make them answer that question, yes or no.  Don’t let the conversation go any further until they give you a definitive answer.  If the answer is “no”, then they have no business linking your pro-life views with the actions of a terrorist.  If the answer is “yes”, then you need to call a spade a spade.  “Maybe in your Orwellian universe it is murder to support the lives of unborn children, but that stands to reason, since it was similar logic that allowed, and continues to allow, millions of unborn children to die year after year.”  Counterattack the logic in short-order.  Abortion proponents have been waiting for this moment to turn the tables on the pro-life movement.  They wont’ let it pass.  Don’t run.  Meet them head on.  And whatever you do, do not wear this man.  Make the abortion advocate wear their lame attempt to silence and brand you.

2.      -- The murder of unborn children happens silently, while abortionists get front page attention.  By my count, this is 6 abortionists and their staff to be murdered since 1993.  In that same time period, there have been about 20 million unborn children killed in their mother’s wombs by surgical abortion.  Every life is precious to God.  So we cannot simply write-off six lives as insignificant.  But neither can we ignore the disparity.  Being an abortionist is dangerous, but much less dangerous than being an unborn child.  Keep this reality in mind as the media targets the pro-life movement.

3.      -- Do you take our Lord seriously when he tells you to love your enemy?  Well, here He is presenting an excellent opportunity.  Tiller is a particularly egregious foe.  His participation in needless late-term abortions means that this man brutally killed many helpless children at a stage in life when they were unmistakably human.  This is about as cold-blooded as it gets.  Did he die in his rebellion or did he receive final mercy?  We don’t know.  His particular judgment is likely over.  But our God is not bound by time.  We can pray now that this man repented at the moment of his death and was spared eternal fire.  Both God and Satan want his soul.  I don’t think it does us much good to side with Satan on anything.  So please, offer prayer  that Tiller be granted eternal joy, as well as all his supporters in the pro-death camp.  Rosary, Mass or Divine Office intentions would be best, but offer something for this poor soul.  That’s about the only love we have left to offer George Tiller.  But at least it is something, and it may make a difference for him. 

It’s important to remember in times like these to avoid cynicism.  And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” (John 12:32) God seems to be littering our world with crosses.  A person of faith, as we all should be, should gaze out on those crosses and praise God for drawing the world closer to Himself.  That is his promise, and that should be our hope.

As always, act as a Christian should.  The murder of George Tiller could be a defining moment in the pro-life movement.  Will we go forth or retreat?  Stay faithful, and you put the definition on this moment.  Don't let the pro-abortionists and one lunatic terrorist do it for you.

We've just celebrated the mass of Pentecost.  Now is not the time to hide the truth, but proclaim it without fear.  "The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man, alleluia." (Wisdom 1:7, Introit for Pentecost)

Update: Jeff Miller has a roundup of some reactions from Catholic bloggers.  While you're praying for Tiller, remember also his grieving family.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No Greater Love Hath a Man

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

[In Flanders Fields, LtCol John McCrae(1872-1918), MD, Canadian Army]

We often mystagogue about the moral confusion of our day. But we degrade that phrase “moral confusion” when viewed through the eyes of an American warrior, from 1775 to the present day. The same can be said for anyone of any nation who has been cast in the duty of battle.

Victor Davis Hanson, a Classics professor, historian, and farmer, summed this up nicely back in 2003:

Battle also is not merely a logical continuance of politics, but an abnormal event in which thousands of warriors — most often in the past, young male adults — are freed to kill each other for a few hours, a dramatic and strange experience bound to change their lives and the fate of their families and friends for centuries thereafter.

The American warrior, be he a soldier, marine, seaman, or airman, accepts violence and even death so that the our nation and much of the world can live in peace. For those who have never been in battle, which includes me, imagine the moral dilemma. At a moment in your life when you are at grave risk of being killed, you must do your duty, which includes the killing of others. Is this war just? Is this engagement a necessity? Is my target a combatant? Am I killing enough? Am I sending my enemy to eternal rest or fire? Am I still in the state of grace after all this killing?

While warfare has been a permanent fixture in human history, and the warrior instinct remains intact even in our civil society, we all recognize that it is antithetical to the peaceful existence that we take for granted. The free nation that we live in today, flawed as it is, was built on the deaths of men who put their very souls on the line. The calling of battle reaches beyond heroism. Yes, their reasons for being in the battle may not be so noble as I suggest. But regardless, the service was rendered. Our respect and our eternal gratitude needs to be returned.

The piece of the aforementioned author, from his book The Ripples of Battle, begins with this:

On my rare visits to the local cemetery, I am always struck by the unremarkable grave of Victor Hanson. The inscription is as spare as the stone itself — name, state, rank, dates of birth and death, and nothing much more except the nondescript "29 Marines / 6 Marine Div / World War II." Unlike the other impressive tombstones of relatives in the family plot, there are no inscribed res gestae, not even a "loving father" much less a "beloved grandfather." A man who dies tragically, young, and alone does so without capital, either monetary or human. When he leaves behind no progeny, it is evident in the modesty of his commemoration.

But then his mother died in childbirth, his father was blinded in the vineyard by a sulfur-machine accident. He was killed at twenty-three, without wife or children, his body eventually shipped back and reinterred in Kingsburg, California. And because Victor was an only child, when he died on Okinawa, his father Victor Hanson's thin line perished as well. Had his memory vanished as well?

Certainly there are no Hansons left of Victor's direct ancestry to appreciate the significance of his modest epitaph, whose calculus — death recorded on May 19, 1945, serving in the 29th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Company F of the 6th Marine Division — reflected his presence at the nexus of one of the worst days of the bloodiest campaign in the Pacific theater, the final assault and capture of Sugar Loaf Hill and its environs.

Yet without ostentatious stones, lasting works of fame, or any surviving immediate family, had the childless, young Victor Hanson really perished on that godforsaken hill with dozens of his friends on May 18? Surely not. Growing up, I heard his name nearly daily. My father was his first cousin, but the two were more like brothers, given their near-identical ages and lifelong companionship; for a time they lived side-by-side on adjoining farms, went to the same college, and joined the Marines. And so it was that the last half century our parents talked often about this mysterious dead man. "If only Vic had lived," the refrain went, followed by all sorts of counterfactuals concerning the subsequent sad fate of his father, his high school and college prospects, whom he might have married, children reared, partnerships entered with my father, grandparents consoled, college work that presaged future success, farms saved — rather than people saddened, sickened, and cast adrift, and homesteads soon to be sold or lost. I began as a child almost to resent this shadowy moral exemplar, who had died without making a mistake, thus leaving his namesake with the burden of emulating such character.

This is a moving story with a point we easily forget. The sacrifice of war echoes beyond the mere loss of an individual. I guess that stands to reason. If a man is to fight for a cause greater than himself, his sacrifice will also be shared well beyond himself. The bigger the man, the bigger the ripple his death will send.

In this fallen world of our, war has not ceased to be necessary. Some people simply can’t handle that fact. Peace has never been won in geopolitical terms by using the ostrich approach. But as necessary as it is, it is also dysfunctional. One cannot expect, even when fighting for an ultimate just cause, as we did in World War II, that each engagement is a justified step. As it turns out, our most costly battle of that great conflict remains strategically ambiguous sixty years after the fact:

Given the large number of American dead on Okinawa, I do not believe that the good and experienced men who planned the storming of Okinawa — Operation Iceberg — in the luxury suites of the San Francisco St. Francis Hotel were all that wise in the manner of their war making. Neither do I give all that much credence to the United States Army's official narrative of the campaign, which concluded with the confident excuse, "The military value of Okinawa exceeded all hope." I acknowledge that both traditional and revisionist historians have only scorn for those like me who question the need for or the logic of Iceberg — and I can offer no alternative to the strategy of taking the island that might have ensured fewer dead on either side. Surely I do not know how the Americans could have gone ahead with plans to invade Japan with the knowledge that they either could not or would not eliminate first a veteran army of 110,000 Japanese on Okinawa at their rear. And I also know that others more illustrious died on Okinawa — Ernie Pyle, Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner himself, and several Medal of Honor winners. And I grant that the death of a twenty-three-year-old farm boy I never met from Kingsburg, California, pales besides two hundred thousand combined Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians incinerated, blown apart, and slowly starved to death that summer. Yes, I accept all that, but I also know of the wide ripples of one man's death, and as I look at his ring they have not ended — at least not quite yet.

As we observe the sacrifice of those who accepted the call to fight for our nation, let’s do so with our eyes open to the enormity of that sacrifice. We can’t put ourselves in their combat boots, but we certainly can do more than grill on the patio, read a book, or mow the lawn. We can make their heroism a deeper part of our lives. Remember them. Pray for them. Learn about them. Pass to the next generation the value of duty to country. Live a life worthy of their sacrifice. Fight the political battles for a more virtuous America.

Every Sunday, we are reminded of that perfect sacrifice of our Blessed Lord. Memorial Day should remind us that many have taken His commandment seriously.

Eternal rest grant unto them, o Lord

And let perpetual light shine upon them

May the souls of our fallen men and women in service to the United States of America and all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Victor Davis Hanson’s four part series from National Review Online can be read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. He unearths the mystery under the inconspicuous grave stone and reveals the enormous cost and impact of war.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Progs and Trads Together on TOB?

Here is a very thought-provoking read from Micheal Liccione on his view of the continuity between the old contractual and the new covenantal view on marriage, visited on the occasion of recent news-making statements of Theology of the Body advocates.

This topic is one of the central salients in spiritual combat, as priests who hear the confessions of males know all too well. Its also being the most widely discussed is not altogether unreasonable from any standpoint. If only because of the effects of original sin, the deadly sin of lust is common and even manifests itself in marriages. Like any other deadly sin, lust is incompatible with the love of God and neighbor, even if the neighbor happens to be one's spouse. It doesn't even take faith to know that the line between lust and healthy sexual desire is quite porous. So the notion that one should strive to be both good in bed and an orthodox Catholic seems ludicrous to unbelievers and disaffected Catholics as well as to many traditional believers.

That was just an enticement. The entire posting is loaded. I highly enourage comments on this one, as for me, this is one of the more confusing topics of the day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Millstone in the Living Room

In my continued attempt at burying Andy's post, I want to make a quick comment on another old controversy that I've stayed out of. This one involves the Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean, the young lady who had the guts to answer the question about marriage honestly.

For those hermits who just logged on the last few days, she received a question about gay marriage from a gay judge, and though she stumbled a bit at the beginning of her answer, she gave the answer that she knew would cost her the Miss USA crown. Since then, she's been the scorn of the progressive community, replacing Sara Palin as the new Maria Antoinette.

Let me say upfront that I have deep admiration that this woman would work so hard for this opportunity for many years of her young life and in a blink of an eye knowingly toss it aside to stay faithful to her values. For that, she has been universally praised by many conservative commentators, in particular those in Catholic media.

Through all of the controversy, one thing hasn't been mentioned. Miss Pegean knows that marriage is between a man and a woman, and she knows that not just instinctively, but also because it's in the Bible. Good for her, and for anyone who makes it this far. Now, let's crack open that Holy Bible and dig a little deeper.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house: neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his. (Exodus 20:17)

You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 7:22-23)

And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. (Luke 17:1-2)
Now this may not be the major point of this story, but it does bear mentioning. When I looked up this story on a news service, I saw the article complete with a picture of Miss Prejean on stage in a white bikini. As with any contestant in this pageant, she is exceptionally alluring. The primary appeal of the pageant is to get an eyeful of the finest looking women this country has to offer. And while there is certainly a place to admire beauty, when it is done so obviously to encourage the lust of men, it's a near occasion of sin.

One would think that in all the commentary that this story has had in the Catholic media, somewhere there would be made mention of the fact that this pageant is inappropriate viewing for most men, and all boys. It intends to serve no better purpose.

It's hard to blame Miss Prejean, particularly when she acted with such courage. But it still needs to be pointed out that while she is verbally defending the sacred bond of marriage, she is physically defeating it when she exhibits herself on a stage such as that.

So please, ladies, keep your husbands and sons away from the television when this burlesque show comes around next year. One defense of marriage does not a wholesome show make. Better yet - Men, protect the garden! and not just your own garden.

The Fighting Relativists of ND - Post Script

I'm not really feeling inspired enough to produce a blog post. However, I am motivated to bury the post directly below this one. Despite Andy's well intentioned point, posting videos of such a grotesque nature might be offensive to certain classes of people, for instance, people who breathe.

So, on to Notre Dame. I must confess that as one who was an avid college football fan before becoming an avid Catholic, I have had little regard for the University of Notre Dame, the prima donna of the college football community. Too good to join an athletic conference. Too fawned-over to actually have to have a decent team in order to be ranked. So worshiped by the sports media that they get opportunities not afforded to other teams (like getting a shot an #1 Florida in in the 1992 Sugar Bowl).

Now things are different, and, unfortunately, my attitude hasn't changed much. I'm not at all thrilled that they have a mural of the Risen Lord that they trivialize by calling it "Touchdown Jesus". And they employ on their Theology staff a Fr. McBrien, who's never found a doctrinal error that he didn't want to teach.

In short, Notre Dame did not impress the secularistic or the theistic portions of my life. But three years ago, something happened that made me reconsider. Father Jenkins, the university president, voiced a marvelous critique of Vagina Monologues, and seemed to be signally an eventual ban from the Notre Dame campus. Progress, so I thought, initiated by a courageous priest willing to stand-up for Catholicism in the midst of the antithetical world of American academia. That lasted a few weeks before he folded like the football team did against Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl (or the Insight.Com Bowl, take your pick). Any thoughts of sending my kids there lasted for the same few weeks.

So as far as Obama's honorary degree and his commencement speech go, I have to say that I'm encouraged by the fact that some Catholics put up a fights. Over 70 bishops penned their disapproval! When have we ever seen that? And while the mainstream media avoided the condemnations and protests, noting them only to display them as freakish, the news that Notre Dame won't honor a basic moral principle is out, and they will be damaged goods to faithful Catholics until they clean house.

Father Z followed the story tenaciously, and he seems a little discouraged by the outcome. But still looking forward, he offers a solution to this and other deeply rooted problems within the Catholic community.
We are not getting the fullness of the Church’s teachings from Notre Dame or other, now lesser, water carriers of the secularist agenda. We are not getting it from very many of our leaders in the Church.

And so…

I urge all priests and bishops who read this blog with any slight quaver of resonance or benevolence, to consider this with care:

If you sense that something quite serious and important is going on right now, for the love of God rethink your approach to how you foster Holy Church’s proper public worship.

Do all in your power and through your influence to foster a worship of God which conforms not to worldly goals – as praiseworthy as they may be in a world still dominated by its dire prince – but rather to the real point of religion: an encounter with mystery.

Our worship must become more and more focused on the one who is Other. Seek what is truly above in your rites and raise people to encounter mystery.

You will be challenged and reviled, blocked and attacked as you do. You will be worn down and afraid under the weight of resistance.

But I think that to save the world we must save the liturgy.

Sunday reaffirmed this for me.

They can’t compete with the fullness of Catholic liturgy and sound preaching.

Reforming the liturgy along the lines Pope Benedict has proposed may be the most loving and effective option we have in these ever hotter times.

People will have to keep working very much in the sphere of the secular. Of course! Our inward Catholic Christian identity must find outward expression and bring concrete fruits.

But I think the real work now – where we will make some effective headway – must be done at the level of our public worship.
It always keeps coming back to that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Things Could Be Worse

Sometimes I complain about the music at church. There's one song we've dubbed "The Gloria Hoedown" and a version of the memorial acclamation (Christ has died, Christ has risen...) that sounds like a ripoff of the Beatles' "Come Together". And then there was the time when our extremely talented organ player was forced to bang out a song that sounded strangely like the theme from Gilligan's Island. Yet with all of that, I can still be thankful that I have yet to witness something like this at church:

Maybe that version will be in the next edition of the hymnal, possibly between selections from this album (H/T Ironic Catholic's blog):

Right now, it seems that only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Best" Practices in Parish Stewardship

Here is an excerpt from a book recommended to me recently, called "Best Practices in Parish Stewardship" by Charles E. Zech. Let's see if you can spot what is missing:

Best Practices in Parish Stewardship
1) Be a Welcoming Parish
2) Have an Active Stewardship Council
3) Make Stewardship a Critical Component of the Parish Plan
4) Emphasize Stewardship in all Parish Formation and Education Programs
5) Provide the Opportunity for Lay Witness Presentations
6) Communicate with Parishioners about Stewardship
7) Encourage Parishioners to Pledge
8) Good Stewardship Starts in the Parish House

The magical formula has been revealed: act like we really like people when they show up at mass, butter them up with food and games, hammer stewardship into their heads at every opportunity, regularly interrupt the words of Jesus (speaking through our priests) with presentations by lay witnesses, give people an easy way to donate without having to think about it too much, and then tell them exactly where their money is going, and create a stewardship council to make sure it all happens just like we planned. Now sit back and let the money roll in.

Did you catch what is missing? God! No mention of prayer, internal conversion, fasting, penance, or even outreach opportunities that make people feel good about helping others. Last time I checked, "Greeting the parishioner" was not among the corporal works of mercy. And these items are the result of a "comprehensive survey".

Now I know of no panacea for causing people to open their checkbooks and support their church. All I know is that Jesus' sermon on the mount wasn't cut short by a guest speaker cajoling the disciples to fork over the dough.

I think my brother Jack was on to something when he said that we need conversion first, and stewardship will come later. I know that my personal conversion brought about great fruits. Before, I hardly went to church, and when I did, it was at best a couple of bucks in my pocket that ended up in the basket. Post-conversion? Wham! Attempting to tithe, weekly adoration hour, internet apologetics defending the faith, daily prayer, and on.

As I was thinking about this last night, it made me think of our faith, and how we are justified. We are justified by grace through faith and works. The key though is that faith comes before works, always. As a baby, it is the faith of our parents that empowers the work of baptism. As an adult, it is an 8 month period of discernment.

Where this "best practices" list goes wrong is that it puts works before faith. None of these "best practices" help increase faith (except possibly faith formation, which I agree with). And I believe that I have seen the result of following them - a parish culture where the word "stewardship" gives parishioners a headache and quickly becomes background noise. If they don't love their Catholic faith, chances are they aren't going to love up their parish and their world with being good stewards.

I believe that there should be no such thing as a "Total Stewardship Parish". Instead, preach the faith, preach it boldly! Introduce the Traditional Latin Mass and let the graces flow. Convert people, teach them the truth, start a fire in their soul and their heart. Show them Jesus! Stewardship in all its forms will flow from within. Might a parish lose parishioners? Probably - but Jesus was not interested in the lukewarm. In John Chapter 6, thousands turned away from him and he did nothing to stop them. The book of Revelation tells us that He will "vomit us out of His mouth" if we are neither cold nor hot. I say, better to preach the truth and force everyone to be cold or hot. It is the hot that give the most anyway - they are the ones carrying the load. And if we can entice some more to become hot, souls are saved.

Let us pray for our priests, for our parishes, and for each other, that we may come to know the full truth and have it set us on fire. Our parishes, our communities and our world will be better and stronger for it.

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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Prayer Rationing

I haven’t quite mystagogued this one out yet. I welcome anyone’s advice. Holy Mother Church recommends that we pray for the suffering souls in Purgatory. I have taken that recommendation lightly in my own life. Our family says a quick prayer after dinner for the souls of the faithful departed. In November, we extend that prayer from one line to two! Yep, I’m sure we’re popping souls out like popcorn in an iceberg.

Still, I guess it is something. St. Catherine of Siena, one of the greatest religious mystagogues of all time (I love tossing that word in, can you tell?) says that no suffering on earth compares to what the suffering souls are undergoing in Purgatory as I type. It is of course an act of charity to relieve suffering, particularly when it is so extreme.

However, looking at this from my lazy boy seat, I think there is something more imperative that the relieve of the suffering souls. You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. As bad as Purgatory is, I think it is better to be in Purgatory knowing the Beatific Vision is just a few centuries away than it is to be on earth with a chance of being condemned. Would it then not be better to spend our finite time in the Church Militant with a prayer focus strictly on those who’s salvation depends on prayer?

It is so difficult to contemplate eternity. All I know is that it is a lot longer than I can put into thoughts. But Purgatory is not eternity. Hell is. Every day for eternity is a new beginning of torment. It is so terrible, I’m not going to try to put it in words. The souls of Purgatory must take great consolation in that their torments will pass and they will see God. No such consolation for the souls of Hell.

There are people out there, ones whom you know, but most whom you don’t, who may be one offering away from salvation. Why then give that offering for someone who’s already all but made it?

Just curious. I will still pray for souls since the Church instructs us to do so. But I am curious as to the logic since there is an infinite chasm between landing in Hell and landing in Purgatory.

By the way, Andy, if I pass away while this blog is still active, please erase this post. Thanks Buddy!

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat eis – Introit, Requiem Mass, Roman Missal (1962)

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Sky is Falling!!!

This unresting anxiety is the greatest evil which can happen to the soul, sin only excepted. Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin a commonwealth, and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an old proverb) in troubled waters.

Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing tends so greatly to enchance the one or retard the other as over-eagerness and anxiety.  - St Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, Introduction to a Devote Life, Part IV

Light blogging this week.  Well, make that no blogging until now.  Why?  I have to admit that my attitude this week would have been something very wrong to share.  Anxiety has been hard at work on me.  Work has been about as stressful as I can remember.  And the news lately?  I know it can get worse, but this steady drip of death news is sucking the atmosphere dry of hope.

Let’s see, where to begin?  Everything Obama has been bad news.  Thanks to the chance discovery of uncounted ballots in Minnesota (and those chance discoveries always seem to favor the party of death) and the betrayal of a pro-death Republican in Pennsylvania, the president now has the rest of this congress to alter the fabric of America for generations.  And not just our country.  He also wants to export modern American family values to countries that just aren’t aborting their kids fast enough.  Kathleen Sebelius gets in without a wimper thanks to a potential swine flu epidemic.  And now we have a vacancy on the Supreme Court that will be filled by someone even more radical than Obama, not that Justice Souter was any picnic (thanks a lot HW). 

And what’s to turn the tide?  Obama is in the oval office thanks to a growing electorate of the unmarried.  In 2007, 40% of the births in the United States were illegitimate.  Courts are dictating gay marriage, and no one revolts?  This nation has forgotten that the primary purpose of marriage is for the procreation, support, and education of children.  Now marriage is all about self.  So even though the people still instinctively know something is wrong with gay marriage, they can’t argue why without sounding like a bigot.  In two generations, who will be left to explain the purpose of marriage?  Two generations ago, people instinctively knew abortion was wrong.  Four generations ago, people instinctively knew contraception was wrong.  Slowly, sometimes not so slowly, this Culture of Death is claiming our country, a nation that was once portrayed as that “shining city on the hill.”

What’s to turn the tide?  The institutions that saturate our secular culture and influence minds and behaviors are all on the side of this brave, new America.  Entertainment media, news media, corporations, education at all levels – how is one to avoid the groupthink that sex, materialism, and uber self-esteem is the key to happiness?

So I think you get the gist of my anxiety this week.  Bleak prospects at work, bleak prospects for the future of this country (not to mention all the other countries unfortunate enough to follow our lead) and, not mentioned previously, an inordinate number of friends, family and co-workers are going through tough times with employment, sickness, and other tragic circumstances.  Anxiety.  That doesn’t make for an interesting blog post.  Nor a beneficial one.

The Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Heart will prevail.  I know that, with all my heart I know that.  Christ is the victor, and I’m on His side most of the time.  But it is such a challenge to see the decline of goodness in our time and have faith that God will bring about a greater good.  My faith is weak, therefore, I fear.

But the Lord’s mercy is never exhausted, even for those of weak faith.  Today, I have a reprieve.  I failed to pray for it.  In fact, my prayer life slipped mightily during the last week.  Nevertheless, He’s granted a reprieve, and it came though my marriage and the fruit of that marriage.  It came from a child.

I usually say a rosary or chaplet in my car or listen to talk radio on the way home.  I really didn’t feel like praying today (**Alert – I am aware that this is the best time to pray.  Thanks for thinking that anyway**), nor did I want to increase my anxiety by listing to other people complain about what’s going on.  That might alert me to something I didn’t know, and ignorance is preferable in my situation.

I’m weak, so I turned to a source designed for people in my state.  Pop music.  While commuting home from work, to take my mind off the misery of this week, I turned to the music that has made a considerable contribution to the Culture of Death.  To my credit, I dialed away from most of the songs that were too ME ME ME ME ME focused, but a few of them slipped through, like Jesse’s Girl, and Tonight and the Rest of MY Life (I only know the chorus to that song, and listening to the rest, I got the impression that Nina is signing about being a demon.  How’s that for the soul!).  I got to sing along to one of the great sap songs in history, “Honey you!  Are my shining star.  Don't you go away.”  (Don’t worry, that song ain’t going away from any of the heads of you blessed readers.  He he.)  You just have to sway along with that one.  And I got to chill to a Counting Crows song I’d never hear before, but yet I had, if you know what I mean.

And then I had to gasp as I’m sort of singing along to Man on the Moon (“sort of”, meaning my ears cannot discern what Michael Stipe is singing most of the time) and discovered, for the first time, that the song takes silly cheap-shots at organized religion, modeled no doubt by the Catholic Church.

Well, at least it ended on a high note.  A song about anxiety came on the radio.  It’s a song called Overkill, one I used to sing along to in my adolescent years.  This was a version I’d never heard before.  This was Collin Hay solo, just him and his guitar.  Very nice, and very apropos for the mood.  I sat in the driveway until it ended.

Then I entered the house singing.  Don’t worry, my family is used to it.  “Day after day, it reappears.  Night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear.  Ghosts appear and fade away.”  My daughter, bless her, hugged me as I walked in, and listened to me sing as I made my way to the kitchen toward my wife. 

“Daddy, what song is that you're singing?”

“It’s an old song called Overkill.  It’s by a group called Men At Work.”

“Are we going to sing that at Mass?”

My wife and I just about died laughing.  Anxiety gone!  And it hasn’t returned.  Thank you Lord! You truly stoop to conquer. 

(For those of you who don’t get the irony of a five-year old asking if we will be singing a pop song called Overkill at the mass, you obviously aren’t on the All Are Welcome-Gather Us In-City of God-Canticle of the Sun-We Are Called five-week cycle.  You didn’t get it, but that’s okay, because you already have so much)

In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. – Roman Missal