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.