Are Conservatives In Retreat?

As a parent, I notice avoidance. Laundry piles up. Dishes pile up. Homework missing, the email report cites. The young miss doesn’t seem communicative. Sometimes there are good reasons. Sometimes it’s the blame game. On occasion, she just messed up.

I tend to trust a veteran Vatican observer like John Thavis. When he says a synod is big news, I’m inclined to believe. And since I don’t get most of my news filtered through secular corporations, I also tend to trust what I read in the Catholic media outlets. I also pay attention when people are in avoidance.

On Monday’s “earthquake,” the reading of the relatio, the mid-meeting report, Mr Thavis wrote:

The media recognized in the text a profoundly new pastoral approach to a whole range of marriage and family issues, and in particular a welcoming tone regarding homosexuals. The bishops in the hall recognized the same thing, and not all of them were pleased. That’s why the synod hall quickly lit up like a pinball machine with questions and calls for clarification.

Maybe it was a hijacking. But probably not:

And after the relatio was read aloud, there was strong applause in the synod hall.

Part of the summary:

I think the alarm being expressed in some church circles over the synod’s direction reflects similar unease over some of Pope Francis’ statements during his first 18 months. When the pope said last year: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will – well, who am I to judge him?” we heard the same kind of reaction: “no news here,” “the church is not changing its doctrine” and “pay no attention to those newspaper articles.” By now, it should be clear that the pope is proposing a paradigm shift in the church’s style of evangelizing, one that favors outreach and dialogue over doctrinal identity, and he wants the Synod of Bishops on board. This is news, and it deserves attention by anyone interested in the Catholic Church.

I think this is right.

I think this synod is the biggest church meeting since session 4 of Vatican II. Maybe the USCCB could take notice. All they need is a change in tone on sex abuse, and its cover-up–I think the message would get out.

For many years, conservatives have enjoyed the ability to attach mood and tone to doctrinal pronouncements. But I think we are on the cusp of something different. Few conservatives I know can do joy. Maybe no conservative in the US is left that can tap into it at all. Politically, the message is grandstanding on bad news, conspiracies, and a dark future. Churchfolk are coopted quite often by the tenor of society. They can’t help it. Especially when they engage secular news outlets of choice.

When a kid doesn’t get her way, she might complain. The other parent is attempted. In my household, the young miss knows the rule: two yesses, one no. I am sure we are the occasional topic of conversation with her peers. How unfair! How ignorant! How they don’t understand!

The synod seems no different, according to Catholic bloggerdom. There’s no change in doctrine, but there’s a lot of activity on the net, or on EWTN news pieces. Let’s be heartened by that: conservatives are getting heard. They just aren’t getting their way. And since doctrine has gone untouched, let’s be clear: they disapprove of the change in tone. That’s what’s going on. Disapproval of their private magisterium. Nothing to do with Christ.

My take: let ‘em stay on the front porch for awhile. Clearly, they’re still within shouting distance of the house. But they don’t seem to have much influence on the mood these days, except maybe their own.

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DPPL 95: Sunday

STA altar at night smallBefore launching into Advent, the Church devotes some “ink” to the Eighth Day. First, a reminder that Sunday is primary. Why? Because it is, by definition, a festive observance with Jesus Christ at the root. Each Sunday is an Easter:

95. Since the “Lord’s day” is the “primordial feast” and “basis and centre of the liturgical year”(SC 106; Roman (Liturgical) Calendar (1969) 4), it cannot be subordinated to popular piety. Hence, pious exercises whose main chronological reference point is Sunday, should not be encouraged.

How to interpret “encouragement”? Divine Mercy, one of the most popular innovations of the past decades? We’ll look at that observance a bit later in this series.

It is possible to “transfer” celebrations–including sometimes the Mass–to Sunday:

For the pastoral good of the faithful, it is, however, licit to take up on the Sundays “per annum” those celebrations of the Lord, or in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Saints which occur during the week and which are particularly significant in popular piety, provided that they have precedence over Sundays in the tables published with the Roman calendar(Roman (Liturgical) Calendar 58).

There are a few of these that come to mind: parish patronal feasts, parish dedication anniversaries, and a small group of Masses for various needs and occasions. As for pious observances that do not rise to the level of a solemnity, I suppose local judgments could be made for observance outside of Mass. A working neighborhood might observe some festivity connected to Our Lady of Guadalupe on a Sunday near 12 December.

St John Paul offered a caution (which we covered here). My sense of the cited document was more along the lines of non-religious “invasions,” things like Super Bowl Sunday, and the like.

Given that popular or cultural traditions can sometimes be invasive of the Sunday celebration and deprive it of its Christian character, “There is a need for special pastoral attention to the many situations where there is a risk that the popular and cultural traditions of a region may intrude upon the celebration of Sundays and other liturgical feast-days, mingling the spirit of genuine Christian faith with elements which are foreign to it and may distort it. In such cases, catechesis and well-chosen pastoral initiatives need to clarify these situations, eliminating all that is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that these traditions — and, by analogy, some recent cultural initiatives in civil society — often embody values which are not difficult to integrate with the demands of faith. It rests with the discernment of Pastors to preserve the genuine values found in the culture of a particular social context and especially in popular piety, so that liturgical celebration — above all on Sundays and holy days — does not suffer but rather may actually benefit”.(Dies Domini 80)

So what about observances like Catechetical Sunday, Priesthood Sunday, Mission Sunday, and the like? Do parishes and dioceses do their best to keep the perspective urged here? Does it make us more ready or more reticent to add future observances in our communities?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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The Jan Brady of Luke 15

jan bradyFoment, perhaps torment, about the synod continues today. One place online quoted someone who said that three-fourths of the bishops opposed the mid-meeting document that got people into an eruption. Of course, the usual blame was laid at the feet of Cardinal Kasper, and the secular media too.

Seems I recall a few Catholic journalists jumping in on the “earthquake” of mercy, too. I bet a few more people might darken the door of a church this weekend than they would if the “pastoral” synod got all dark and doctrinal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI feel like a middle child in the Church these days. Unlike the SSPX, I didn’t go into schism when things didn’t go my way for a third-of-a-century. I didn’t bail when HV came out. I’m not so sure I like the attitude of the elder sibling. I’d like to tell him to sit down, shut the h*** up and enjoy the party. This jack*** doesn’t speak for me, Dad. But Jesus never elaborated that far in his parable.

Maybe I don’t approve of everything the younger sibling did with the inheritance. Maybe I’ll give the dunderhead a kick under the table. But I’m willing to stand with Jesus and give the dude a second chance.

I think there’s a missed opportunity here for the elders of our generation. This is what I think has gotten them trussed up:

  • Clearly, nobody is going to get silenced for advocating mercy. Bishops are freely talking and even writing things down. And the Temple Police, not to mention the Apostolic Signatura, are powerless. Cheers to that!
  • We are not going to get airy-fairy theology from a meeting that is taking a serious look for people on the highways and byways of the world.
  • I think we know why the elder brother never got a calf, really: he has few enough friends. Mark Shea mentioned something this week about traditionalist howlers lacking the social graces or something.
  • I think deep down a few people are getting nailed on the 99 sheep versus the one. Honestly, it seems a lot more like one faithful sheep and 99 lost these days. I miss my friends from the 70’s and 80’s. Even the conservative ones who drifted away.

That’s not to say I don’t have a few bones to pick with the Holy Father. If this synod is really going to have staying power, he’s going to need to summon a shipload of lay people to Rome next October. Too many bishops compared to the rest of the world. I like that a few cardinals are speaking up for mercy and pastoral care. But there are other witnesses that can be heard–including conservative families who have said they need more support. I want to hear more of that from my sisters and brothers in the laity. When Jesus founded synods there was nothing about bishops and clergy being the only ones in the discernment mix.

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Flooding in Honduras

flooding in Honduras 2This won’t shove aside the celebrity news of the media, most likely, but our friend and contributor John Donaghy reports on flooding and landslides in the area he serves as a missionary.

flooding in Honduras 1

We can keep our brothers and sisters there in prayer.

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DPPL 94: The Liturgical Year

STA altar at night smallChapter Four, the longest of this document, is titled “The Liturgical Year and Popular Piety,” A brief introduction:

94. The liturgical year is the temporal structure within which the Church celebrates the holy mysteries of Christ: “From the Incarnation and the Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and to the wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming”(SC 102).
In the liturgical year, “the celebration of the Paschal Mystery [...] is the most privileged moment in the daily, weekly and annual celebration of Christian worship”(Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Mysterii paschalis, in AAS 61 (1969) 222). Consequently, the priority of the Liturgical year over any other devotional form or practice must be regarded as a touch stone for the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety.

For the curious, Sunday is covered in DPPL 95, then:

  • Advent 96-105
  • Christmastide 106-123
  • Lent 124-137
  • Holy Week 138-139
  • The Paschal Triduum 140-151
  • Eastertide 152-156
  • Ordinary Time 157-182

That last section covers mainly feasts of the Lord and of Mary, though Mary is also treated in detail in Chapter Five (183-207) outside of the context of the liturgical year. The saints follow after that.

I think you will see a number of interesting aspects for liturgy in the weeks ahead. I was mildly surprised the CDWDS was attending to this level of detail. Our examination here is timely for those responsible for preparing the liturgy for their faith communities. The advent(ure) awaits.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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Who Brings Communion to a Priest?

new low gluten hostA priest friend of mine, retired, underwent knee replacement surgery today. Our associate pastor went to visit. I’m not sure if he brought the Eucharist. But it struck me that a priest might be alone in a town, perhaps isolated from his brother clergy if he were to fall ill or be hospitalized. Maybe FrMichael and a few others can weigh in.

How often does a sick priest receive Communion from a lay person, if there is no other ordained person available? Just curious.

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Damage Control

I assume it was a plan to release a mid-meeting document from the synod. Why was it a surprise? Josephine McKenna at RNS reports on admitted “damage control,” or at least that’s what it looks like to Cardinal Wilfrid Napier:

The message has gone out, it is not what we are saying at all. Once it is out there there’s no way of retrieving it. It is not a true position. Whatever goes out after looks like damage control.

Cardinal Dolan:

It’s not the final word and we’re going to have a lot to say about it. And there were some that said we probably in our final statement need to be much more assertive about the timeless teaching of the church.

Wait. Don’t we already know “the timeless teaching of the church”? A lot of people are aware the Church also teaches about love and mercy. Are participants looking at catechesis as a whole, or just favorite teachings they like to repeat and feel comfortable repeating?

Maybe some of the rest of the Church will have something to say about it all, too.

My understanding is also that this month’s meeting is a preliminary event to the full synod which gathers next Fall. October 2015 will have a significant word. Whether or not it will be “final,” is likely not under the control of any prelate or group of prelates.

Personally, I think it would be good to take several years to explore marriage and family by the people who practice it. I think that lay theologians would also have some significant things to say. I’m sure the bishops would get somewhat nervous if lay people suddenly took over seminaries and diocesan vocation offices. Maybe I would too. I’ve worked closely with priests for over three decades. I might have something constructive to say here and there. But I’m largely content to let clergy take responsibility for recruiting their own.

FrMichael’s insistence on keeping lay Catholics as breeding stock points to the poverty of “traditional” understandings of marriage and family. That would be true whether he has somewhat misrepresented Catholic teaching–which I think he has–or if his writings here constitute the state of theology. There has to be something more, otherwise Church legislation is a tangle of misconceptions (so to speak) and tortured justifications and just plain incomprehensibility.

Some synod commentators have mentioned there’s not enough being said on the couples who have been fruitfully married for decades. I thought those were the token two dozen invited to present to the bishops. But otherwise, yes: I think it would be worthwhile to gather significant input, and not just surveys online.

My own suspicion is that many married couples, both troubled and fruitful, do not recognize competence or credibility in many clerics, especially bishops. As for the October 2015 ordinary synod, my suggestion is that no prelate be permitted to speak or vote unless he has prepared a non-relation for marriage and witnessed at least one marriage. And if the synod is really about families, I think it’s time for more lay people to speak. We might also have something to learn from spouses who were abused, abandoned, or otherwise harmed by a partner.

Meanwhile, I’m fine with an open discussion. I have no problem, even, with letting bishops and cardinals speak up, even if they struggle with a perception of the topic. Even their ignorance tells us something, and might point in a good direction.

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