Sampling Some Bitterness

I see the Chant Cafe commentariat is excited about a new sheriff bishop riding into Portland. There’s a good bit about which to comment about this move.

Careerism, first. I remember feeling hopeful about Pope Benedict’s early episcopal appointments in Marquette and Nashville. Wasn’t Nashville’s bishop even baptized in the cathedral? In my thinking, it’s about more than tradition for tradition’s sake. There is a serious pastoral disconnect in the episcopacy these days. That’s not to say that skilled bishops are achieving success or fruitfulness in a third, fourth, or even fifth diocese. But the serious matter is the jockeying for plums, rather than contentment in serving one’s local church. I could understand a bishop being appointed from outside a troubled diocese to bring a degree of healing and order. But the pipeline of otherwise good candidates from small cities to larger doesn’t benefit those smaller communities, and seems to perpetuate a certain insular subculture, separating bishops from the laity. Not to mention the clergy.

Canon law, second. Bishop Sample is a canon lawyer. Ho hum. Is the Church well-served by having so many bishops with such similar resumes? If music is so important, what about a singer, a conductor, or even (gasp!) a person with a liturgy degree. Personally, I’d say the route from abbots and spiritual directors would be more fruitful. One doctor of the church came to us from the catechumenate. And consider: the main interface between canon lawyers and the laity are through marriage cases. What else do we need them for? Appealing to the Vatican on closed parishes? Maybe that’s the idea from the Congregation of Bishops: appoint an episcopacy that knows how to dot its ecclesiastical i’s and cross its episcopal t’s. Fair warning: lots of lay people have canon law degrees, too.

Music. Wow. A canon lawyer from Upper Michigan is going to “clean up” OCP? Are music publishers really, and still, on the list of the Church’s biggest problems. Declining inner city and rural parishes. Not enough pastors. Sex abuse and cover-up settlements. Priests in non-sexual bondage. Bishops have enough on their plates–I doubt they are aiming for church music publishers.

Some of the more humorous comments, especially from people who live nowhere near the Pacific Northwest:

This news makes me feel like when the lights go on at the Easter Vigil!

Really? Christ brings light to the world, rises from the dead, and frees us all from sin. I don’t usually make connections between ideology and the very stuff of salvation.

They had 1700 years of Christian art to choose from (for the Breaking Bread cover), and they chose a picture of an explosion in a confetti factory.

Nice. Not only does the music suck, but the bishop will reform the graphic art department.

Going to Portland is to go to the heart of the issue. Fixing this fixes nearly everything.

I suppose it fixes even the art department.

Speaking for myself, I was never into heroes so much. When I was in Catholic high school, I noticed a minority of teachers were petty gossips, or who had affairs with students, or who had little sense of the self-control, dignity, and honesty my parents tried to instill in me. I listened to teachers I disliked, and I learned from them. But I didn’t emulate them. And I didn’t have really high expectations of them.

I never expected such people to come to my rescue. I prayed to God. I relied on a Savior, not a savior.

If things weren’t working well in my parish, I would look to my own failures and fallibility. I would try to change the things I could: my own attitude, my deficiencies as a musician or a pastoral person. I didn’t need to blame Father N for being a bad pastor. I can’t control Father N. I can make an effort to reform myself.

Likewise with the situation of church music today. Like my friends at the Cafe, I find many aspects deeply disappointing. I don’t affirm everything I see in the major publishers. But I also don’t think they’re colonies from hell looking to seduce the faithful, even the orthodox, into pelagianism or Wicca or such.

When it comes to art, I don’t expect quick fixes. Especially from a canon lawyer-made-archbishop. You can’t legislate quality. You can’t persuade with a fist. Music, like any kind of ministry, is darned hard work. There are no short cuts. It requires prayer, persuasion, passion, and tenacity. It doesn’t happen because a human being has suddenly been transformed into a savior. Hoping for it is a sure path to disappointment. And with that disappointment, I see the bitterness of the Catholic Right continuing to deepen.

So I wish Archbishop Sample the best on the left coast. I think it would have been better had he stayed put. But that’s not something I’m looking to the next pope to remedy. It will remain, in my view, a serious flaw in ministry. But at the end of the day, I think about what I can control: loving and serving my family and engaging my sacramental life there and in the Eucharist, loving and serving my parish community by being the best liturgist and campus minister I can be. Such a life allows me to focus on personal reform and renewal, and bringing Christ (when I can get out of the way) to a relatively small circle of people. Which is as it should be.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in bishops, Commentary, Liturgical Music, Liturgy, Ministry, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sampling Some Bitterness

  1. John Drake says:

    I have a one word response to your wish to see a musician appointed bishop. And it is not meant as a positive. Weakland.

    • Todd says:

      Not a surprise his name would be mentioned. Does his moral failure, or even his unpopularity stem from his musicianship? Does Cardinal Law’s moral failures taint his studies in medieval history or his work with absorbing Episcopal priests into Catholic ministry? Are these good questions to ask, or do we need others?

      • John Drake says:

        Perhaps his musicianship did not inform his moral lapses. But one might have hoped it would have informed the music in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in which I have spent considerable time, and where I find most of the parish music pretty sad,

      • Todd says:

        If we judge Bishop Sample by the overall quality of music in Upper Michigan, would that be cause for rejoicing in reform2?

        Archbishop Weakland was a chant scholar, true. But his primary ministry after graduate school was in the upper echelons of Benedictine governance. I’ve visited his archdiocese during his tenure–a few suburban parishes, including two interviews. One had a fine pipe organ and 40-voice choir. Another parish had a pianist playing a delightful Debussy piece on the piano, and otherwise competent music leadership. In my limited experience, I wouldn’t have expected more or less from St Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, or other midwestern cities. Does that put darlings Burke, George, Dolan, etc. on the chopping block?

        Are music programs the responsibility of the bishop, the pastor, or the director? That question impacts the good news/bad news/indifferent news factor of this assignment, no?

  2. Sr. Lynn Marie says:

    Yes. It would be nice if bishops were local and interested in good liturgy. But the real problem lies in the training, or lack of, that priests receive in seminary. If the liturgy they are exposed to in their formation is poor and does not build real men of prayer who realize that when they say Mass they are leading us in prayer, then we are sunk. What happens so often is just dictatorial behaviour with no real liturgical knowledge behind it and the priest just running the whole show (because for many of them that is what it is, a show and they are the main act). It’s not about paying to have the best it is about education. First of the priests and then of the people in the pews. Look to the Orthodox liturgy and the willingness of the faithful to stand for hours and sing the same thing year after year. I get the feeling in some communities that they just want a good one hour show with lots of happy, comforting music and a few jokes by the celebrant. We’ve lost the sense of the Holy in our liturgy and in our music and that is where we need to start.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    Perhaps the city of Portland is unnecessarily maligned because of its association with OCP. This past Christmas my wife and I visited our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren who live in Portland. On the Sunday after Christmas we attended St. Patrick’s in northwest Portland, the parish closest to our hotel. Expecting the worst, we were surprised by not only the beauty of the building but the tastefulness of the music – led by a small group of singers accompanied by violin and cello. The congregation sang well and, this was the real shocker for folks from the Boston area, the Mass was concelebrated by two articulate priests who were probably still in their thirties.

    It had been a long time since we left a Mass feeling encouraged.

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