Sometimes The Bible Makes No #$%& Sense

king solomon

Can I say that? May I?

I’ve been working through the Book of Wisdom for my daily Lectio Divina. It started off really well. If I were doing a book review, I would say that the first eleven chapters were unerringly brilliant and rich. By the time I got to the diatribe on idolatry, I was thinking this is getting as bad as my experiment with Judges a few years ago.

For a father, afflicted with untimely mourning,
made an image of the child so quickly taken from him,
And now honored as a god what once was dead
and handed down to his household mysteries and sacrifices.
Then, in the course of time, the impious practice gained strength and was observed as law,
and graven things were worshiped by royal decrees. (14:15-16)

There is a mythology here, not an authentic history. Is it true that someone once lost a child and made an image? I’d say it’s far more likely that idolatry flourishes when our gods are more based in possession, clutching at things that give us power or pleasure. Not mourning, so much.

Of course, as a parent whose child has avoided an early death, I’m naturally going to register my objection to this passage. And by the way, since when are Jewish wisdom authors such authorities on pagan faiths not their own? Well, I suppose they could be. Maybe I just got spoiled on the lyrical passages that got this book off to such a lyrical start.

I was reading the Ron Rohlheiser profile in Commonweal earlier today. There was something–either from Fr Rohlheiser or the profiler about atheism often being a reaction to bad religion. Bad religion … much of Judges, Wisdom on idolatry … maybe this sort of thing needs an especially graced witness of real faith in the world to counterbalance it.

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Crux Chats Dolan

tim-dolanJohn Allen/Boston Globe‘s new site, Crux, has an extended interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. You know: the archbishop taking a lot of heat this week for the perception he’s caved in to LGBT folks and he’s snuffed the St Fulton cause because he doesn’t want an exhumed corpse chopped up for relics. Hint: this interview took place before these news bits hit the fury known as the Catholic internet.

One thing that struck me in the interview is the concession he’s lost connections in Rome and his influence isn’t what it used to be:

For instance, as a bishop, one of the things you want to do is to get people access to the pope. In the old days, when I had an influential person I wanted to get into the line at the audience to shake the pope’s hand, or into his morning Mass, that used to be easy because you knew who to go to. Now, you don’t. I can write, and they seem very attentive, but it doesn’t seem as predictable as it used to be.

Unpredictability: it’s a good quality for the Church when it comes to dealing with the elder siblings, the ones who are always on the farm.

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DPPL 47-49: A Current Imbalance

STA altar at night smallDPPL 47 ends the glance at history, and turns our attention to the present day:

47. From the foregoing historical outline, it is clear that the question of the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety is not an exclusively contemporary one. Albeit from different perspectives and in changing terms, the question has constantly arisen. It is now time to draw some conclusions from history so as to address the frequently and urgently asked pastoral questions which arise to-day.

The Church does not blame current trends totally–seeds of the current challenges were sown in the long Tridentine period, and some were brought into the modern era from medieval times–unaddressed or unrecognized by Trent.

Sections 48 and 49 address what the Church sees as “Historical considerations: the causes of imbalances,” and so we read:

48. History principally shows that the correct relationship between Liturgy and popular piety begins to be distorted with the attenuation among the faithful of certain values essential to the Liturgy itself.

Attend to this following list carefully. I’ll note where we’ve seen post-conciliar pushback against these “causes.”

The following may be numbered among the causes giving rise to this:
• a weakened awareness or indeed a diminished sense of the Paschal mystery, and of its centrality for the history of salvation, of which the Liturgy is an actualization. Such inevitably occurs when the piety of the faithful, unconscious of the “hierarchy of truths”, imperceptibly turns towards other salvific mysteries in the life of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin Mary or indeed of the Angels and Saints;

I think Catholicism has recently had a strong sense of Good Friday. But the Passion has not always been balanced with the Last Supper, the Resurrection, and the Ascension–not to mention what these aspects of Jesus’ salvific action mean for the Christian or the Catholic in daily life. Or how they can be perceived and encountered in the liturgy. Part of the pushback among traditionalist Catholics is the reiteration of the old language associating the Mass with Calvary.

• a weakening of a senses of the universal priesthood in virtue of which the faithful offer “spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God, through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2,5; Rm 12,1), and, according to their condition, participate fully in the Church’s worship. This is often accompanied by the phenomenon of a Liturgy dominated by clerics who also perform the functions not reserved to them and which, in turn, causes the faithful to have recourse to piuos exercises through which they feel a sense of becoming active participants;

In reform2 circles, we’ve seen criticism of the “Church Horizontal,” or a sense that the ministerial priesthood is less reverenced.

• lack of knowledge of the language proper to the Liturgy – as well as its signs, symbols and symbolic gestures – causing the meaning of the celebration to escape the greater understanding of the faithful. Such can engender a sense of being extraneous to the liturgical action, and hence are easily attracted to pious exercises whose language more easily approaches their own cultural formation, or because certain forms of devotions respond more obviously to daily life.

Knowledge is available. But the fact is that people clearly don’t think they need knowledge, or they don’t want it, or they have other concerns overwhelming their lives. As a liturgist, I would certainly want people at “my” Masses to be fully informed and engaged. But I’m also a realist. I know that is not the priority of the people I serve. So I must adapt and adjust.

49. Each of these factors, and both in certain cases, not infrequently produces imbalances in the relationship between the Liturgy and popular piety, to the former’s detriment and the latter’s impoverishment. These should therefore be corrected through careful and persistent catechetical and pastoral work.
Conversely, the liturgical renewal and the heightened liturgical sense of the faithful have often recontextualized popular piety in its relationship with the Liturgy. Such should be regarded as a positive development and in conformity with the most profound orientation of Christian piety.

Note “catechetical and pastoral” work. I think this is largely a pastoral issue. Liturgy must be well done, and executed locally with a consistent openness to people. Gnosticism is one of the biggest challenges–especially in traditionalist circles, but certainly in many mainstream parishes as well.

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

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Fulton Sheen: From Venerable To Limbo

derailed trainSomewhere between New York and Peoria, a train to sainthood has derailed. Central Illinois blames the Big Apple.

There was high optimism:

There was every indication that a possible date for beatification in Peoria would have been scheduled for as early as the coming year.

Rome backed Peoria:

The Holy See expected that the remains of Venerable Sheen would be moved to Peoria where official inspection would be made and first class relics be taken.

The finger points:

Subsequently, the Archdiocese of New York denied Bishop Jenky’s request to move the body to Peoria.

Take the toys and go home:

After further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.

But a certain jovial cardinal had promised …

Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time. New York’s change of mind took place as the work on behalf of the Cause had reached a significant stage.

A sobering reminder there will be no jubilation in 2015:

Efforts for many causes have sometimes taken decades or even centuries.

Conclusion and promise:

No further comment will be released at this time.

Bishop SheenWhat the heck do you make of this? Fulton Sheen was born in Peoria in 1895. He was ordained a priest for that diocese. He taught at Catholic University and served as a parish priest. He was made auxiliary bishop in New York  in 1951. Radio and television personality for nearly four decades: you all know that. He served my hometown diocese as ordinary for three years in 1966-1969.

His feud with his archbishop, Cardinal Francis Spellman, is the stuff of legend.

My work study position in grad school involved the archives of his materials–press clippings, talks, and such. I learned of his opposition to the Vietnam War in 1967–think about that. A bishop whom we all knew had no love for Communism: it was like an ecclesiastical Nixon to China move. It did not play well in buttoned-down Rochester. Neither did his efforts to improve race relations.

Is the man a saint? Should he be?

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DPPL 46: Pius X and the Last Century

STA altar at night smallThe DPPL wraps up its look at history with the twentieth century. A momentous and often-overlooked shift:

46. At the outset of the twentieth century, St. Pope Pius X (1903-1914) proposed bringing the Liturgy closer to the people, thereby “popularizing” it. He maintained that the faithful assimilated the “true Christian spirit” by drawing from its “primary and indispensable source, which is active participation in the most holy mysteries and from the solemn public prayer of the Church”(“Motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini (22.11.1903), in Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, I, Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1971, p. 77). In this way, St. Pope Pius X gave authoritative recognition to the objective superiority of the Liturgy over all other forms of piety; dispelled any confusion between Liturgy and popular piety, indirectly clarified the distinction between both and opened the way for a proper understanding of the relationship that must obtain between them.

In one context, it makes sense for early and frequent celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The witness of the first half of the past century is that popular piety and devotions remained strong in many quarters, as the age of First Communion was lowered and more lay people were open to the grace of frequent Communion in their lives.

In academic and some experimental circles, a movement crystallized:

Thus was born the liturgical movement which was destined to exercise a prominent influence on the Church of the twentieth century, by virtue of the contribution of many eminent men, noted for their learning, piety and commitment, and in which the Supreme Pontiffs recognized the promptings of the Spirit(Cf. Pius XII, Allocution to the participants of the first International congress on pastoral liturgy, Assisi-Rome, (22.9.1956), in AAS 48 (1956) 712; SC 43). The ultimate aim of the liturgical movement was pastoral in nature (Among those involved with the movement mention must be made of Lambert Beauduin (+1960), Odo Casel (+ 1948), Pius Parsch (+1954), Bernard Botte (+ 1960), Romano Guardini (+ 1968), Josef A. Jungmann (+ 1975), Cipriano Vagaggini (+ 1999), Aimé-Georges Martimort (+2000)), namely, to encourage in the faithful a knowledge of, and love for, the divine mysteries and to restore to them the idea that these same mysteries belong to a priestly people (cf. 1 Pt 2,5).

Knowledge and love for the liturgy: yes, certainly. Where we have yet to grasp is what moves beyond the intellect and the affect. I’m thinking an internalizing of the liturgy. Living it, if you will. Worship as a way of Christian life, not just an aspect of it, not just one more piece in a busy and cluttered puzzle of possibilities.

In the context of the liturgical movement, it is easy to understand why some of its exponents assumed a diffident attitude to popular piety and identified it as one of the causes leading to the degeneration of the Liturgy. They faced many of the abuses deriving from the superimposition of pious exercises on the Liturgy as well as instances where the Liturgy was displaced by acts of popular worship. In their efforts to restore the purity of divine worship, they took as their ideal the Liturgy of the early centuries of the Church, and consequently radically rejected any form of popular piety deriving from the Middle Ages or the post-Tridentine period.

And perhaps this was too cold and calculating to have a desired effect. One cannot subtract without offering a better addition. In a way, there were elements of post-Tridentine magicalism at work–doing Vatican II  in a Vatican I way as my wife would call it. In many places, the Low Mass and its inheritor, the quickie four-hymn sandwich were simply insufficient to bear the load previously offered by Catholic devotional life. Say-the-black, do-the-red is a fine formula for cooking out of a book. It gives a busy or even a negligent priest some creature comfort. But it is not a formula for authentic renewal.

This rejection, however, failed to take sufficient account of the fact that these forms of popular piety, which were often approved and recommended by the Church, had sustained the spiritual life of the faithful and produced unequalled spiritual fruits. It also failed to acknowledge that popular piety had made a significant contribution to safeguarding and preserving the faith, and to the diffusion of the Christian message. Thus, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Mediator Dei of 21 November 1947, with which he assumed leadership of the liturgical movement, issued a defence of pious exercises which, to a certain extent, had become synonymous with Catholic piety in recent centuries.

If Pius XII was defending piety in the 1940’s, clearly the move against devotions was gaining traction long before Vatican II. Chalk it up to a modern rationalism independent of the Council?

The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council finally defined, in proper terms, the relationship obtaining between the Liturgy and popular piety, by declaring the unquestionable primacy of the Sacred Liturgy and the subordination to it of pious exercises, while emphasizing their validity(Cf. SC 7, 10, 13).

Vatican II brings us to the present situation, and we’ll cover that in sections 47 through 59 of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, which is online at the Vatican site.

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Aparecida 73 – Migration

Not too many years ago, most of the Latin American population lived in rural areas. Currently almost 80% live in urban areas.

There are a few exceptions, including Guatemala (50.5% rural), Honduras (48.4% rural) and Haiti (47.9% rural). But Brazil has only 13.5% living in rural areas.

The change reflects many factors – including changes in agriculture, the growth of industries in urban areas, and rural poverty. People go to the large cities seeking jobs, fleeing the poverty of the countryside. Others leave their countries seeking a better life.

Thus the bishops consider both internal and external migration, which they address in terms of “human mobility.”

One of the most important phenomena in our countries is the process of human mobility, in its twofold expression of migration and itinerancy, in which millions of people migrate or find themselves forced to migrate inside or beyond their respective countries.

The bishops mention several causes and consequences. (To facilitate understanding, I’ve put these in list format.)

The causes are diverse and are related to

  • the economic situation,
  • violence in its various forms,
  • the poverty affecting people,
  • and lack of opportunities for research and professional development.

In many cases the consequences are extremely serious at the personal, family, and cultural level.

  • The loss of the human capital of millions of people, trained professionals, researchers, and extensive small farming sectors, is impoverishing us more every day.
  • In some instances, exploitation of labor actually creates conditions of real slavery.
  • There is also a shameful trafficking in persons, including prostitution, even of minors.

Included among migrants are refugees:

The plight of refugees merits special mention, and challenges the capacity for hospitality of society and the churches.

This paragraph closes with a note on one positive economic consequences of some migration – money sent back to families from abroad, often referred to as remittances:

Nevertheless, remittances in foreign currency from emigrants to their countries of origin have become an important and sometimes irreplaceable source of resources for various countries in the region, promoting the welfare and increased social mobility of those who are able to participate successfully in this process.

Issues related to the pastoral care of migrants will be treated in paragraphs 411 to 416 of the Aparecida document.

A very important document on migration by bishops of the US and Mexico was issued in 2003: Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, which can be read here. A pdf copy can be downloaded here.

Here is the USCCB translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Parading in NY

st patrick windowSo, an LGBT group will march in New York in 194 days. An archbishop seems fine with it. The word is still out in Boston, where similar groups cannot march. Is Cardinal Dolan trying to get a “who-am-I-to-judge” leg up on Cardinal O’Malley?

I didn’t know that Guinness withdrew a sponsorship over recent controversies. At first, Bill O’Donohue suggested a switch to Coors Lite or something:

That prompted conservative activist Bill Donohue of the New York-based Catholic League, a vocal opponent of gay rights, to launch a boycott of the brewer. “They have really made a serious mistake, Guinness, in trying to stick it to Roman Catholics,” Donohue said.

On Wednesday, Donohue struck a different tone: “One would hope that all the new entries will conduct themselves in a manner that honors St. Patrick, lest another round of controversy emerges,” he said.

Maybe people are genuinely tired of controversy. Maybe people just want to wear green, enjoy a parade, and drink some fine Irish beer–no matter who made it.

Cue the complaints another culturewar battle has been closed down.

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