Catholic Church: June 2005 Archives


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I just had the most harrowing (and gratifying) encounter ever in the confessional. I had never had a priest accost me in quite the way this priest did. Apparently this man believes in the destructive power of sin. I felt like I was at the inquisition and it was wonderful. All too often, I go into the confessional and I get a priest who will tell me how what I think is a sin is not really all that sinful. This priest harangued me about the horrors of mortal sin and the path to which it led. It was frightening and exhilirating. I walked out of the confessional with a sense that I had actually participated in a Sacrament. More, the ordeal was such that any penance afterwards would be incredibly light.

But what was so nice is that Father made it very easy to step through all the various actions and thoughts and to really make a good confession. I can tell it must have been efficacious because afterwards at Mass I was seized with such an enormous anxiety attack I wanted to run out of the Church and scream. I restrained myself, nearly hyperventilating. As communion came and went the anxiety eased somewhat. I'm convinced this was simply an emotional attack to try to get me offtrack again.

Anyway, thank goodness for this priest who still believes in sin and its prevalence. He even gave a rather Savonarola-like fiery homily against sensuality and sin. This to a Mass of tourists. Very, very nice.

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"Being persuaded that there can be but one true religion taught by Christ, and that the R C is that religion, I conceive it to be my duty to have my grandchildren brought up in it. I feel no ill will or illiberal prejudices against the sectarians which have abandon that faith; if their lives be conformable to the duties and morals prescribed by the Gospel, I have the charity to hope and believe they will be rewarded with eternal happiness, though they may entertain erroneous doctrines in point of faith; the great number in every religion not having the leisure or means to investigate the truth of the doctrines they have been taught, must rest their religious faith on their instructors, and therefore the great body of the people may conscientiously believe that they hold the true faith; but they who, from liberal education, from understanding, from books, not written by one party only, and from leisure, have the means of examining into the truth of the doctrines they have been taught as orthodox, are in my opinion bound to make the examination, nor suffer early instructions and impressions or habits or prejudices to operate against the conviction of what is right. Upon conviction only a change of religion is desirable; on a concern so seriously interesting to all of us no worldly motives should sway our conduct." -- letter to Harriet Chew Carroll, 29 August 1816 (Harriet, or "Hettie," was the daughter-in-law of Charles Carroll)

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Maronite Rite

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Yesterday I was under obligation to attend a Maronite Rite Mass. The Priest at this relatively new Church had been an advisor and a helper to the Carmelite community. His bishop was visiting and he needed to swell the ranks of his members at the early Mass.

I say under obligation, but also under some curiousity about what exactly the Maronite Rite might consist of.

It was an interesting experience. The church was beautifully arrayed. I had half-expected an iconostasis, because the rite is Eastern. There was not one. Overall, the church had the effect of a slightly less ornate Roman Church. This may be because it was relatively new and Father George had to woo western Rite Catholics to make a go of it here. I don't know. But it was a small, beautiful church.

The rite itself suggested the Byzantine in some of its particulars, but that may just be the result of a liturgical tin-ear. Communion was by intinction.

The most interesting aspect of the Mass is that the prayers of instittion (or whatever the prayers are called when we say "The night before He was betrayed, Jesus. . .") were in Aramaic. It didn't sound all that much different from the Syriac of some of the responses.

It was a perfectly wonderful, beautiful rite. I could be at home in this Church, but I am not tempted away from my own parish and its liturgy. As I said, I probably have a liturgical tin-ear. While there may have been a bit more of holy silence about the place than there is in any Latin Rite church I've attended, that may also have been the result of a smaller congregation. While the prayers and responses in syriac were interesting and mysterious, they did not inspire me to heights of devotion, nor did they particularly perturb me. I got lost in the missal a couple of times, but was easily able to find my way back.

I am grateful that the Church embraces such a diversity of traditions--22 in all, I'm told--21 Eastern, the bulk of which are in the Patriarchate of Constantinople so they vaguely resemble the Byzantine Rite, and one Western-Latin or Roman Rite.

As I reflect upon this experience I discover that I am likely a ritual indifferentist. So long as Jesus is there it doesn't matter to me if we pray in English, Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, or Aramaic. I am not persuaded to greater heights of devotion by mysterious foreign languages or clouds of incense (which, during allergy season only aggravate my respiratory troubles). It is for this reason that it may take me a while to work up the desire to wander out to a Tridentine Mass. I'd like to see what so many hold so dear, but it isn't a burning, overwhelming desire, it is mere curiousity. Perhaps I would be transported with new joy over it, but I suspect, protestant-raised as I am, that it will have minimal effect. On the other hand, if we really have Gregorian Chanting--I would find that moving and interesting and I hope reverent and awe-inspiring.

I suppose this is to say that if the entire Church were to return to the Tridentine Mass tomorrow, I'd adjust and go on my way, hopefully toward God. I don't think it would perturb me, but I'm also uncertain it would particularly inspire me.

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Orlando Has the Indult

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At long last, the Orlando diocese has the indult Mass. It is now celebrated at two different parishes in the diocese. Unfortunately, the closest to me will be about 45 min to an hour away. However, I can manage that once in a while. I have no intention of leaving my parish, but I would like to experience what everyone seems to be raving about. I have a suspicion that it might not be my cup of tea--but we'll see.

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Loving Scripture

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Over at Disputations, I prevailed upon Tom's hospitality to compose an very long answer to a gentleman who objects to the Catholic Church's "interpretation of Scripture." In reading his comments I (perhaps erroneously) inferred that he seemed to think that the Church hands down a line-by-line interpretation of the Scripture. Here is my response to him;

You say the Rock is Peter. I say the Rock is the truth of acknowledging Christ as the Son of God and Lord of my life and a promise Christ gives to all Christians. Catholics then say, thatís why we have the authority to interpret all scripture because thatís how we interpreted this verse of scripture. [A quotation from my correspondent]

Need it be one or the other? Can the rock not be both? Is it not possible that Peter was chosen as the rock upon which the Church would be built because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and we each are expected to have that faith, and yet, just as at the Cross we are given a mother, in this moment we are given a shepherd.

I don't see the two as contradictory. I see them as mutually supportive. The Church teaches that this verse is what established the Church, but she does not limit the meaning to that.

What people outside the Church do not thoroughly understand is that there is remarkably little scripture that is authoritatively interpreted by the Church. And even when so, it is more often than not that the meaning is not circumscribed, merely elucidated. That is, the meaning that is important to central Church doctrine is enunciated without prejudice to other possible meanings.

The Church gives definitive guidance in how to read and how to interpret scripture, but only very rarely does she pronounce on THE meaning of a passage. She leaves the faithful to read and interpret within the guidelines she offers. And these guidelines, the fruit of centuries of work and experience, are such that they do not so much circumscribe meaning as they give meaningful help in guiding the conscience so that we do not get the multiple schism of the Protestant Church.

What you fail to acknowledge in all of this, is the sheer chaos that comes from unbounded personal interpretation of Scripture.

I've regaled a great many with the tale of how my Grandfather's fundamentalist Baptist Church split into two new Churches over the question of whether women should wear panty-hose or not.

Given my choice between the two systems, I would prefer to interpret scripture in accordance with Tradition and with the understanding that Scripture has held through the ages.

For example, presently, many would have us read the scriptures prohibiting homosexual congress to mean a very isolated instance of a specific problem that is more related to temple worship than to homosexuality. The Church definitively teaches that homosexual congress is a sin. There are few others who do so, and those that do, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention, has no authority to do so by their own understanding of the Scriptures. That is, if all personal interpretation is equally valid, then the "authority" of the Church has no right to a definitive interpretation. Believers must accept the guidance of the individual conscience and cannot conclusively state that the Bible prohibits homosexual congress.

There are those in the Catholic Church who would like this to be the way we operate. But we do not. The Magisterium definitively interprets the scriptures to say that homosexual congress is illicit, immoral, and sinful.

I have faithfully sat on both sides of this fence, and I can tell you that the freedom that comes from not having to know everything about the Bible and the languages in which it was written and what was meant by this phrase and that, is exhilarating.

My experience has always been that the self is a tyrant, and that tyranny is often forced on others, even when the Churches are hammering away at Sola Scriptura.

If, indeed, a Church truly operates on Sola Scriptura then one must grant that the only legitimate approach to scripture is the individual encountering the word, and therefore, tradition, authority, or other extrinsic factors count for nothing in the mix. You cannot have sola scriptura and yet expect others to read the same words and come to exactly the same understanding as you have.

When the Church interprets scripture, she does so in a limited sense to clarify and to assure the unity of the faithful. If you read through the Fathers and the Saints, you'll find dozens, hundreds, thousands of different interpretations even of key scriptures. Only in a rare event are these problematic, usually when they lead to a significant misunderstanding of the nature of God or of Jesus Christ.

The Church does not authoritatively offer a line by line understanding of the Bible. Rather, she provides guidance for the reading of Scripture AND clarification of those scriptures on which our Doctrine and Dogma defend. Without the Church we have no doctrine of the trinity (no where explicitly spelled out in the Bible) we have no "of the same substance" with reference to the Godhead, etc.

So I would respectfully submit that you may have some misconceptions about precisely how the Church handles and interprets scripture and what she demands of her children with respect to these interpretations and with respect to reading the Bible. You do not abandon freedom upon entering the Church--you are shown the true outlines of freedom. There is greater freedom in knowing the boundaries (and greater safety) than in wandering the fields dependent only upon ourselves (even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit) for not falling off a cliff. The multiplicity of Protestant faiths speak clearly of the dangers of a lack of central authority in understanding faith.

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Where I Stand

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(for those who care.)

While I am fascinated by disputations and controversies in doctrine, dogma, and practice, I have to admit to not be terribly interested in the things that divide us as Catholics. That is not to say that these issues are not important, they are. However, I know what I believe, when what I believe is challenged or proven to be incorrect, I take steps to correct it, and that is as much as is required of me. The truth of the matter is I haven't the wherewithal to correct the errors of others. Moreover, I often find myself in sympathy with the motives of those who hold erroneous beliefs, if not with the belief itself.

On issues of practice and discipline, I hold no fixed belief. I was not raised Catholic and so I do not revere the celibate life the way those born to the faith might. It little matters to me whether a priest is married or unmarried so long as his first and overwhelming love is the Lord.

On issues of doctrine, I am somewhat less flexible. I will continue to hold with the Church that the ordination of women is not licit until such time as I hear otherwise. However, I have no intention of or interest in trying to prove this to anyone else. It simply doesn't matter. I don't believe that when one approaches the gates of heaven after living life in a state of grace, helping God's poor, and partaking of the sacraments that one will be excluded on the basis of believing that women should be ordained.

I hold to the truth and I pray for those who differ--not for fear of their souls (in most cases) but rather in respect for the truth. If what I believe is true, then it is the only thing worth believing. If it is false, then it should be excised. I leave to finer, more honed minds than my own the excision, submitting myself to the correction of the Church. However, I am not a surgeon. My part in the body is not to excise error, but to encourage love and devotion. This is something I feel equipped to do. This is something I can understand and which requires no great grasp of the intricacies of the faith, but rather a desire. Truth supports this desire, which is why it is always necessary to be in touch with truth; however, truth isn't necessarily the desire itself.

I cannot correct error. I don't think in the ways necessary and at this point have no desire to think that way. I'm afraid I tend to be on the side of Unapologetic Catholic in these matters--many of the apologists for the faith have personalities that would send St. Thérèse into screaming tantrums. The truth need not be abrasive, nor need it be present caustically. In fact, the truth can be presented in any number of ways outside of argument--and that is where I am called. I love God and I can share God's call to His love in my own inadequate fashion. I leave to other, differently attuned minds the defense of the faith. As their honed arguments and presentations bring the flock in, I will feed and water and care for them as best I can. My position is not that of master, but servant and most appealingly as servant of all God's servants. My rule is love. It can lead to excesses and there is the danger of indifferentism, but not so long as prayer informs everything I do. I cannot be indifferent to the Truth, because the Truth is what I love and what I desire others to love. I may not be able to see and articulate the fullness of the truth with the skill of some others. But what I can see, I desire to make known as clearly as God can make possible for me.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from June 2005.

Catholic Church: May 2005 is the previous archive.

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