Catholic Church: April 2006 Archives

Good Lord, Forgive me

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Here is a reconstruction of the psalm to indicate my particular experiences over at Zippy's and Disputations of recent date:

Revised Psalm 131

1] O LORD, my heart is way lifted up,
my eyes are ever raised too high;
I stuff myself full of things
too great and too marvelous for me.
[2) And I have incited and roiled-up my soul,
like a child unfed and squalling at its mother's breast;
like a child that is mid-squall is my soul.
[3] Nevertheless, I hope in the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.

I don't know why I engage in these ways. I haven't the intellectual wherewithal to do it, and it amounts to mere temptation to pride. But at least the two discussion have been fruitful and I think I begin to understand some things that have never made much sense to me. If you're inclined to do so the comments at ,DNR at Disputations can be quite mind-boggling. The discussion centers around the question of what post-resurrection bodies are/will be/ can only be and whether or not they are the "same" bodies that are present here and now. (I was going to write, that we "possess" now, but that seems rather wrong for a whole raft of reasons I'm unready to reel off.) But the discussion is exemplary of the way an exchange of ideas may take place that helps those attentive to and desirous of the truth to move toward the truth even if its fullness eludes them.

Nevertheless, it would be pure and damnable hubris to claim that I am in any way up to the discussion and that to engage in it is not engaging things far beyond my own capacity. I only hope that by listening and asking questions I can come to fuller knowledge--God will be merciful even as I am not.

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More on the Our Father

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I spent the major portion of my compositional time this morning responding to a comment made by Rick Lugari. Because of my own liturigical ignorance and the need for more light and less heat, I pull both from the Comments box and make of them a separate pot on which those better informed than I am can comment. I will say at the outset that I believe my position to be a minority in St. Blogs, and I am going to try very hard NOT to respond to anything other than a direct question so as not to derail the flow of conversation if any--I will strive to avoid the type of conflagration I inadvertently caused with a previous post--but I will ask pointed questions where something is said that I need clarification on. The truth is far more important than my level of comfort with it. And if this is something that admits of elucidation that comes with conversation, then let it be so. If not, that will probably out as well. (Poor Rick, I literally drown him in a sea of verbiage--but as Pascal said, "Had I more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Hi Steven,

Meaning no disrespect to you or your always balanced viewpoint, as one of the liturgical nazis around town I would like to bring up a couple of aspects of the debate that I think warrant consideration.

First, (and I know you know these things, but I need to state them to make my case) the liturgy is a prayer and an expression of our beliefs. Traditionally every action was to have a meaning.

Our actions and posture are an integral part of prayer and help to convey a meaning (i.e., your example of how the orans seems most appropriate for the Our Father - I understand and can relate to that sense, though would not do it myself). Holding hands conveys a meaning as just as genuflecting, beating your breast, and kneeling does. Many of us rigid types, along with (and/or informed by) many clerics who have spoken on the matter think the meaning of hand-holding gives the wrong meaning to what is taking place at that moment.

It's not that I don't like my neighbor or don't think of ourselves as one in Christ, nor am I a germophobe or anything of the like. During the Our Father we are addressing the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an entirely vertical prayer and whatever posture one assumes should reflect that. Holding hands, IMHO, does just the opposite. The ultimate communion is Holy Communion when we are all united as one with Christ.

In defense of those who would object strictly or primarily from a rubrics standpoint, I will note that if I had my way I'd be kneeling for everything except the Gospel (standing) and the homily (sitting). I don't do it because the liturgy is not something for me to make uniquely mine, even if kneeling suits my sense of piety best. So, I don't feel like a hypocrite expecting people to refrain from doing any ol' posture they feel like doing, and I think it's prudent for the Church to discourage such things.

I don't know if any of this carries any weight, but it is a perspective that I think has merit.

God bless,

Posted by Rick Lugari at April 24, 2006 09:38 PM

Dear Rick,

I read this last night and started to respond and then thought better of it lest I precipitate another "universalism" blowout. Although I did not take offense or umbrage at anything said, and did not see the same cause; because the issue is sensitive, it requires greater thought.

I have always had a problem with the line of reasoning you put forth here and it stems from several sources. First, I fail to see how holding hands in any way detracts from the motion of the prayer. Indeed, I see it as the appropriate gesture when praying to "Our Father." In holding hands, at least in theory, the many separate I's are gathered into one family under God and offer as one the prayer that is said. Now, compare that, on the other hand, to the creed, which, when properly prayed states, "I believe." In fact, that is the most I can say in the Church, because I haven't a clue what the person next to me in the pew might or might not believe. There is a false solidarity there that can have no base because we cannot know the state of mind or soul of a brother, sister, mother, or father, much less a stranger. Were we to hold hands during that prayer, I would find it quite awkward and in antithesis to the meaning of the prayer.

However, when we pray, "Our Father," the case can be made that the many individuals should in some wise be gathered into a family.

What I see in this particular rubric is a virulent fear of protestantism. As I was raised in my house, every important family occasion and prayer was said with the entire family holding hands. The Thanksgiving blessing, the blessing over the food, even the prayer and song after funerals "Let the Circle Be Unbroken." We declare the cohesive unity of the family in this gesture. Still, on every occasion of importance and gathering, we hold hands in prayer, becoming for a short time one unit rather than three, four, six, or eight individuals. There is a true solidarity there.

So, I look at Our Father and say, what gesture, what position, what motion might suggest our unity rather than our separateness. Why, holding hands, of course.

That said, I can acknowledge that this is at best a forced unity, a coerced solidarity, and the symbol may not speak for all; whereas the ultimate neutrality of not holding hands and standing with arms at side during the prayer, at least does not impose anything on anyone. This argument, I can buy and so I do not advance my own with the vigor that I might otherwise do. That some are made uncomfortable, that some are unused to it, that some would see it as specious, is perfectly reasonable and feasible. I have no problem with that--and so the reasonable solution is the neutral solution--one that does not force anything on anyone else.

Nevertheless, I do like the symbolism of holding hands. I even like the slightly uncomfortable notion that is reinforced by this that we are all one family praying as a unity before the Lord, gathered and connected in the body of Christ. I used to be quite uncomfortable with it for all of the reasons that have been suggested--the forced intimacy of it, the forced nature of it, the ultimate non-reality-in-fact in the physical world of it. But through the gesture I have come to accept my own parish and community more and have come to understand the meaning of the body of Christ and of the family of God better.

It is evident from discussions that others would not feel this way. It is for that reason, I believe that my bishop has been mysteriously silent on the topic, even while enforcing all sorts of outré and odd differences as suggested by the GIRM (standing during the consecration portion of the Eucharistic prayer--which later he reversed). It would seem to depend uniquely upon the congregation. It is my opinion that it is so strongly rooted in some communities that undoing it would be a source of such community pain and anguish, with so little to gain, that it would seem unwise. Again, with the recent changes in GIRM, the bishop hand us standing for the Agnus Dei, kneeling for the "I am not worthy" and standing again as we waited for reception of the Eucharist, and then sitting or standing after reception. While people attempted to comply, it just made a huge mess of Mass. So too with the specific instruction on reception of the Eucharist, I see head nods, body bows and genuflections--no one is certain what to do and the head-bowing instruction is insufficient to most--they cling to something else.

I've gone on too long, but you get the point. I'm not saying that you are incorrect, merely that I fail to see the reason of it. I don't understand, and I mean this literally, I fail to comprehend how holding hands in any way detracts from our attention to God--but do keep in mind the background I have outlined for you. I suspect there are a great many protestants who feel this way.

One note I would add though, is that whatever one feels about the matter, one should not make oneself the center of attention and fuss. There are some who do not wish to hold hands while the whole congregation is doing so--that is fine. Fut I have seen people physically move way down the aisles, stare, glare, and fuss until you got the impression that Mass was all about them. The proper way to address any such abuse is to speak to one's pastor, and if that does not resolve satisfactorily, to continue the protest to the Bishop.

My understanding of obedience, however, suggests that the chain of command must be followed, and if there is no satisfaction at the level of the Bishop, then one must pursue one's own course in not holding hands. If, however, a local priest tells me, "Let us join hands as we pray in the words our savior gave us," I will join hands with anyone willing--because that is what obedience calls me to at the time. I will not, however, force this on anyone who chooses not to hear or obey; nor will I say that such obedience is incumbent upon them, because I could understand how one might say that refusal to hold hands is in fact obedience to a higher authority. Rather than get tied up in all of that, I choose simply to celebrate Mass as the local congregation sees fit. If we hold hands, fine. If not, that also is fine. Further I will admit that according to present instruction the latter may be the more perfect way of celebrating at the present time.

But my codicil is that changes in rubrics and in matters of practice almost always flow from the people and not from instruction imposed from on high. Creole Masses, Drum Masses, Mariachi Masses, Liturgical Dancing and other such things are normative in different parts of the world, and even in different communities in the United States. That is one of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church, her rituals and rites are so plastic that they can incorporate cultural differences without ever losing their intrinsic meaning.

I hope this did not sound either too defensive or too arrogant. I really don't intend it to; but I feel that given the integrity and sincerity of you comment, you are entitled to at least of glimpse of my thought, however incorrect it might be, in the matter. I stand ready to be obedient--if the Bishop tells us to stop doing this, I shall stop; however, as I've said, so far there has been no instruction at all regarding this from him--no correction of perceived abuse, etc. So, I will let it be for now and adapt myself to the local practice. Whatever way it is done, so long as I am in the presence of the Lord, it really doesn't matter to me. The critical thing is God alone.



One note I would add to this already long post is that I could not agree more about the need for some uniformity in what everyone is doing at Mass. I pity the poor priest who will have to predict whether a new congregant will kneel, bow, head nod, genuflect, receive in hand or on tongue, etc. On the other hand, none of that is my business anyway if I am properly keeping my eyes on God--something I really need to learn to do better.

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On Holding Hands

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Okay, after much rumination, it occurs to me that the impulse to write these things is not going to go away, so against my better judgment, I write them and hope for the best. This post and the one that follow are directed to those issues.

One theme that seems a perennial issue with St. Blogger's is the question of what is "right" during the Our Father. Persons who have no problem flying in the face of teachings on the Death Penalty, war, torture, and other more magisterial teachings seem to have conniption fits over complete obedience to the rubrics of the Mass. If the Bishops have ever spoken definitively, it is on this matter of holding hand during the "Our Father."

Frankly, I don't care much one way or the other. I see two extremes--those who fear emotion in religion and those who think emotion is religion. The chief complaint I hear about the action other than the violation of the rubrics is that it "enforces an unwanted intimacy." But then, Christianity demands of us an unwanted intimacy, an intimacy not on our own terms. The Good Samaritan was not given his choice of the person for whom he was to care. We are not given a choice of who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the relationship of brothers and sisters is, for good or ill, intimate. And as there is a communal element of our working out of salvation, there is an intimacy there that goes far beyond the mere holding of hands.

The second argument and to my mind, the weaker is the appeal to authority. The Rubrics don't say it, and if they don't permit it, then it is forbidden, or so some say.

This is not doctrinal, it is instructional. And the reality has ever been that the body of the faithful has always influenced the manner in which things that are merely disciplinary or common practice have been done. For example, at one time in the past frequent confession was not at all the rule. In fact, confession occurred once, very near death to take care of all of those sins accrued since baptism. It was from the desire of the people of God that the practice of frequent confession became the rule rather than the exception.

So hand-holding in Mass--I'm neutral. Where the people of the Church hold hands (this seems to be more pronounced in Churches with a large Hispanic population--though that is merely from anecdotal experience) I hold hands. In churches where they do not, then I refrain from doing so. My inclination tends to favor those that do, largely for two reasons--one is the sense of intimacy and connectedness; the other, and perhaps the more important is that it doesn't allow me the posture which circles in on myself and closes me off from God. Given my own head, I would pray in the "orans" position because it is a meaningful body posture that expresses an openness that traditional poses do not. It is not "just me and God" because I am part of the body of Christ, so I've always been a little disturbed by the folded hands auto-cyclic posture.

On the other hand, because these things are a subject of much debate and much consternation to the masses, I also will not impose on anyone my viewpoint. If I'm in a Church that holds hand and someone near me chooses not to do so--then I will not force that person. I will also not refuse to hold hands with one who wishes that expression of solidarity. Ultimately it will not be rubrics that decide how these things will go, no matter how much the Bishops wish they would--it will be the spontaneous will of the faithful. The worshipping congregation will, for better or worse define this norm.

I sympathize with those for whom this is uncomfortable. I used to be among them. But I've grown indifferent to the matter because it strikes me as much ado about nothing. It is simply an organic evolutionary attempt at change. It may take hold, it may not. Whatever way it goes, so be it, I am content to be in the presence of God at Mass, however that may be expressed.

I suppose that is to say, I can't find myself getting worked up over this one way or the other. But then, I really like Mariachi, Calypso, Creole, and Drum Masses--so I'm not one to judge by.

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Everyone has one and each of them is unique. There, now you know. Now that it's out in the open, we can talk about it openly.

We are all aware of the "vocational sacraments'--ordination and marriage. However, a vocation does not need to be made manifest by a sacrament to nevertheless be a vocation and no two vocations conferred by ordination or matrimony are exactly the same in every particular.

This understanding of vocation was made clear by St. Thérèse when she wrote about her own discovery of vocation. She was a cloistered nun, which is a recognized vocation that is not conferred by a sacrament; but that was insufficient for her. She continued to think about and study vocation to the point where she concluded that her vocation was to become "love at the heart of the Church."

Each vocation is unique because each person is unique. No two cells in the body are identical in all respects. So in Christ's body there are no "carbon copy" saints. This is why it is important to realize where God is calling you personally. Some time back, Tom wrote about third order Dominicans who claimed the vocation of the cloistered nuns. The same happens with third order Carmelites. God does not need another St. Dominic or St. Teresa of Avila, He already has one of each, eternally. Hence, it is improper to attempt to be anything other than what God has made me to be. I cannot be a hermit or cloistered--I cannot pull myself away from the world articificially, and even if I could, it would not be serving God as I am, but as I insist upon being. This is rebellion as much as not doing His will at all though grace be there to support it.

But Lay Carmelites are not cloistered, they live in the world, and by living in the world send a message different from the cloistered nuns and unique to the third order. This is a message of hope to all of the Church--that life in the world does not exclude the possibility of intimacy through prayer--that contemplation and action are not either/or, but rather both/and. As a Lay Carmelite, contemplation that does not lead directly to prophetic and evangelical activity is a kind of illusion, a sort of spiritual pride.

But even identification as a Lay Carmelite does not encompass the definition of my vocation, because as a lay Carmelite I do live within a vocation conferred by a sacrament--marriage. And it is the balance between the callings that defines the tension of the life. But still, that doesn't define the fullness of the vocation. I have certain talents, gifts, and inclinations that are my own and not available to anyone else. It is in the blossoming of all of these gifts of God through His grace that my vocation is defined. Already I have an inkling of it--part of my given vocation is to encourage and to help direct insomuch as it is possible to do so. All Carmelites are called to spiritual direction--some formally, some more informally--perhaps only within the community meeting. But sometimes direction can be more of a group effort, or a general pointing of the way--less direction, more signpost.

Part of "working out my salvation in fear and trembling" is the discovery and proper execution of the details of my particular vocation. In Grace, God will tell me who I am and how I am to function for the greatest good of all. My job is to respond to the best of my ability--to seize the day.

Vocation really is about immolation in God's love--utter abandonment, total surrender, complete reliance on Him and His daily graces.

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There are literally thousands of different ways to be a Christian. I read somewhere that there are something on the order of 22,000 different Protestant Churches with new ones being founded every year. (From what a friend tells me regarding the coming Episcopalian convention, it would hardly be a surprise to find a new Church springing up in that confession in the near future.)

That is why conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church is so important for me. I don't want to be overly-scrupulous--I want to exercise freedom where prudential judgment allows for variation of opinion; however, where the Church is definitive, I want to toe the lie of that definition insofar as I can understand it.

Why is this so important? As with many converts, I sensed something that drew me to the Church. Initially, it was the certainty that the Church was right about the real presence. When I joined the Church, I didn't accept much of Church teaching besides the elements of the Nicene Creed (which nearly every Christian can assent to) and the belief in the Real Presence. However, from the moment of my joining my prayer has constantly been, "Lord, lead me to where you want me to be. I don't want anything less than the Truth."

Now, I will admit, that I am remarkably adept at deceiving myself--thinking that I am following the truth while following something else. But I also am willing to rethink and abandon my errors for the truth when the truth can seep through the pores in my mostly adamantine skull. But, fortunately for me, God is a God of patience, generosity, and love. And when you ask for something as important as the truth God will give it to you. Once again, fortunately, He will give it to you only in the amount you can accept. So I have been extremely slow in my growth as a Catholic. I've come to recognize the pattern by which growth occurs--stubborn resistance transmutes to indifference on a given point transmutes to interest in the opposite view transmutes (often without my active participation) into acceptance of Church teaching. Usually resistance takes the form of asking why such and such a truth is the way it is, what sense does it make? Often at this stage I can't make out the sense--that may persist through the whole journey. The indifference stage (which comes ever faster) is typified by the attitude that "sometimes you have to give up the right to know." In other words the panic over the truth of the matter vanishes and leaves behind a residue of "Okay, it may be true, but I'll leave it alone until I'm certain." At this stage, usually, God sends someone to me who will touch on the matter in unexpected ways. It may be a long-term friend, it may just be someone I meet at a lecture, or perhaps even something I hear on television. Of recent years, it has often occurred in blogdom. I can recall several things said to me by Karen Marie Knapp, Tom of Disputations, TSO and others that have permanently altered my view of things. These are precious gems of consolation and love God sends out--often the sender is utterly unaware of his or her effect.

Encountering the truth is hard. It requires that one be ready to abandon cherished illusions and ways of life that flow from them. Accepting the truth can only be done in the light of grace. Without that grace, I would have arrived nowhere. With it, I hope to arrive at God's truth before I die. If not, I hope to have latched on to enough of it to make the journey afterwards.

But surrender to the truth requires giving up pride; one must be able to admit that one has been wrong on any given point. Abandonment to the truth can be frightening because it leads the seeker into new territory. The grounds of our illusions have been thoroughly tramped through; however, truth is always "the Undiscovered Country." Every step into is a step away from the familiar and comfortable.

And ultimately, as I am constantly reminded, Truth is a person. Getting to know this Person can be exhilarating and frightening. It requires giving up so much that has been cherished so long. It requires giving up small illicit pleasures. It requires giving up licit pleasures. It requires giving up the sense of self that has accreted over the years so that one can stand revealed as Christ sees one. There is an exquisite agony in these progressive stages of revelation--but that agony is the foreshadowing of the ecstasy of Union which may only be had when everything that separates one from God, most of all those cherished illusions of self, has been stripped away and one stands naked and unashamed before the living God, ready to serve without masks, without hiding--ready now to don the full Armor of God and become His work in the world.

That, ultimately, is why growing with and toward the Church is important. I have lived in deception long enough--it is time, Lord knows it is time, to come into the country of truth and freedom and to assume my place in the body of Christ. Heaven help the body if all of the liver cells have functioned as poorly as I have for so many years. Or heart cells, or brain cells, or muscle cells. I am only a small part of the body, but my proper functioning is critical to the health of the whole. By grace I will arrive at that place, by grace all who arrive will draw more to God. By grace, we will all come to know and, more importantly, live the truth.

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Treading the Thin Line

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I don't often think about how difficult the life of a priest can be, but they are constantly called to a certain balance and aplomb. This passage from The Collar makes a case-in-point.

from The Collar
Jonathan Englert

As far as the magisterium went, Don's resistance had been in the area of sexual teaching. The Church clearly opposed birth control, but Don couldn't really accept the Church's position. Somewhere along the way, Don had read Pope John Paul II's Gospel of Life, and it had convinced him that birth control, abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty are part of a continuum. The organizing principle is the sacredness of each human life. To be against one of these principles meant that a person was against all four. He had reflected on his own marriage in light of this and had become convinced that part of the reason for its failure had been that his wife had never been open to the prospect of children. They had used birth control from the start, and Don now believed that taking the procreative possibility out of the act of making love deprived it of a profound and holy dimension and risked reducing it to a selfish pleasure. Done knew how complicated this area was and how carefully one had to tread--especially as a pastor in a nation where a reported 75 percent of Catholics did not hold the Church's view. (p. 108)

The priest is in a teaching position, responsible for educating his flock in the truth of the Catholic faith. To do so he must, first of all, not alienate the majority of them. In addition, no matter how well formed, it is entirely possible that a priest may question the truth of some of these teachings himself.

Don's journey describes in part of its arc, my own journey into the truth of the Church, and I cannot but suspect that even for someone raised within the Church, the encounter with these truths often takes some time. I can conceive of a man called to the priesthood in all good conscience who might have some difficulty wrestling with this issue in view of all the problems in the world. Nevertheless, as a man of integrity and as a personal representative of the Church and as the local "official" spokesperson, it is necessary for the priest to try to teach the Catholic truth, even where his own convictions may differ. I know that there are a good many priests (probably all of them) who fail in this in one field or another. Where they are orthodox on sexual teachings, they may have problems on social teachings, or ecumenism, or any number of other areas. Nevertheless, the priest must teach.

Assume for a moment that the priest does hold to the truth of the sexual teachings of the Church. He could walk up to the ambo one day for the homily and harangue his congregation about the evils of birth control. In so doing, he might convince one and alienate a hundred. He must convey the truth, but he must do so in a way that can get through the defenses and bring the people he serves to their own knowledge of the truth. The messy fact about the truth is that it can only rarely be taught, often the best one can do is summon up the arguments and wait for the person one is speaking to to experience the truth. Because, after all, the truth is a person.

The priest finds himself in this delicate situation with regard to nearly every revealed truth the Church has to offer. As one obliged to lead his flock to the truth, it is a difficult responsibility. There is a passage in the book of the prophet Ezekiel (EZ 33:2--see extended entry) in which God says something like, "Woe to the watchman who does not keep his watch and whose people are destroyed because of it, for their sins shall be upon his head. But woe unto the people who do not attend the watchman. . ." You get the point. As appointed watchmen, it is incumbent upon the local priest to reveal the truth as taught by the Catholic Church. And as pastor of souls, it is his duty to try to capture the greatest number possible in the net--so a harangue from the ambo may not serve as the best means of convicting the majority.

I honestly don't often think about this. But in a microcosm, we are all in the same position. If you have a friend or friends who you know are practicing birth control, you can stop your conversation to inform them of the grave sinfulness of their practice. That will be received differently depending upon the degree of friendship, but it is likely to have a souring effect. One must be as "cunning as serpents and as innocent as a dove." Thus, we find ourselves addressing these wrongs in ways that can be heard by the people we love and hope to help. It may take months or years to convey what there is to know. That is the duty and responsibility of each person to the extent they are capable. Each person needs to stand for the fullness of the truth that resides in the Catholic Faith. My approach, more often than not, is not to attempt to correct the error directly, but to express my doubts about a given proposition and suggest where one might find some elucidation on the matter. If someone asks me questions indicating a certain affinity with a position of moral relativism, I might nudge them in the direction of Veratatis Splendor explaining that while I have not the intellectual wherewithal to engage in such a high-level discussion, here is one who has addressed it far better than I could. And so on. I suppose it is a way of copping out, but it is also a way of turning someone on to the truth as the Church teaches it.

Next time you're tempted to ask your priest why he doesn't produce thunderous sermons on the nature of sin and its punishments, pause and think about the make-up of your local Catholic community and imagine how it might be received. There was a time that such sermons were a mainstay of Church life, but today, there are any number of places a person can go, including merely to another parish, to escape the unpleasant reality of Church teaching. It is the job of the priest to convey those truths in such a way as to guide the greatest number of his entrusted soul on to glory--the rest he must trust to providence. At one time, no one would gainsay anything a priest might teach--sometimes this had disastrous consequences. Nowadays, it is not unusual to see a parishioner berating a priest in the Narthex after Mass. There are "champions of orthodoxy and purity in ritual" who don't think twice about upbraiding a priest in public for any abuse, liturgical or homiletical, real or imagined. Given these truths, it is not hard to conceive of why a priest might be somewhat more toned-down than we might consider right and proper. In truth, the position of a priest can be a most unenviable situation somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

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Seniority at the Seminary

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Reading The Collar by Jonathan Englert and found this rather interesting observation:

from The Collar Jonathan Englert

Seniority at the seminary was curious and certainly not the kind of thing found at schools with age-based grades. The diversity of ages and experiences at Sacred Heart turned this sense of the word "seniority" upside down. Nevertheless, a distinct sense of seniority existed at Sacred Heart. The men close to ordination tended to be looked up to and deferred to. More than that, they actually seemed to be more mature than the newer men. Indeed, some men who had been married and had children and grandchildren could seem younger than others who were decades their junior. It was as if upon entering the world of the seminary, bereft of the usual markers of a life, each man somehow betrayed his spiritual age and the distance he still had to go to become a parish priest. A man like Don Malin, a consummate example of the formation process, provided a yardstick again which these "younger" men could be measured and also could measure themselves.

Isn't this true of how many approach a priest in real life? Men who are decades or years younger than oneself are fonts of wisdom and those we go to to solve problems. From the description provided here it would seem that the formation process is a finishing school, a place where vocations are discerned and persons refined and "polished" to a high gloss. There are, of course, as many different kinds of priest as there are kinds of people, quiet, boisterous, wise, foolish, smart, and not-so-smart. From all of this one can discern what differentiates them all from everyone else--if properly formed, they have discerned and nurtured a vocation, a calling from God, in such a way as to prepare them (although I'm sure many would wish for even greater preparation) to support the people of God in all of their wanderings.

Or so it would seem from the course of the book. I don't know how many priests plan to read it. Although as professionals in their fields, I would suspect a great many would look at it as I would a book about palaeontologists--just to see if the author got the details right--whether or not it rings true. There are certainly things here that seem very sound and very well-grounded.

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Easter Vigil


I have a great many reservations about some of the things that go on in my local parish Church. But about last night's vigil, none whatsoever. After years of going to Churches that truncate the readings (outside of the rubrics) or pick two or three of the OT readings, I have arrived at a parish that does all seven.

Now this does come with a "down side" sort of. Last might's service was bilingual, meaning that about half of the readings were in Spanish and about half of the prayers between the readings. Half of the Exultet was in Spanish and the Gospel was read twice in English and in Spanish. As people came forward for baptism (38 of them!) we alternately heard English and Spanish depending upon the person.

Now, I've indicated this as a "down side," but I have to be honest, I was riveted by it. I had a sense of the participation of the whole Church that I often don't get English-only. Admittedly, there were only two languages (three if you count some of the Latin responses), but still, it seemed to deepen the mystery of the involvement of the entire world in this event.

At first, I was frustrated, but it gradually turned to a deep awe. When the litany of the Saints occurred, I could almost see the "cloud of witnesses" gathering to welcome 38 new souls into the gates of heaven. Think about it! For a few moments at least, we had 38 souls that were completely clean of sin, newly baptised and rejoicing in their journey to the Church. 38 living saints in our midst, and the crowd of the Holy that pushed into the Church to help us celebrate. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I have much to be grateful this morning as I think on the events of last night. God is so good.

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What the Church Says

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Last night there was a comment to the effect that Universalism is heresy, undefined, but heretical nevertheless. For those for whom the Catechism of the Catholic Church is meaningful, we can settle the issue of Universalism definitively.

1821--We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved."

Now, it is clear that if the Church prays for an end that end must not be impossible in itself--it may be improbable or unlikely, but to pray for that which is impossible is to lie to yourself and to God. We don't pray that night be made day or that black be made white--there's no point to it. Here we learn that the Church prays for "all men to be saved." It is clear, she believes this to be a possibility.

Now, that said, while the Church prays for this, I do not think that any individual is bound to think precisely in the same way. That is, the Church prays in HOPE, not in knowledge. She does not say that this is the way things are, only that this is a way things MAY be. Hence, if one is disinclined to the concept of universalism, if one holds reservations against it, I don't think that there is any harm there, so long as the prayers follow the HOPE of the Church.

I want to keep emphasizing, the Church has NOT said that all will be saved. In fact, I do not say this. I say only that I hope that all will be saved. I have no assurance, and indeed, I have many of the doubts expressed by others. It's just that I do have a vibrant and lively hope because of the God I have come to know and love.

The Church has not stated that universalism is a fact. She has anathematized certain forms of universalism in the past (a nod to Mr. Sullivan to acknowledge that the authority of that is questioned by some.) BUT she has not bound us all to believe that this is the end which all will come to. Instead, she binds us to the hope that it may be so--however improbable, however unlikely, we have the hope. And when we consider our God, the God of the improbable and unlikely, is it beyond Him who parted the sea and made dry land to walk on, or Him who with the consent of a Virgin brought forth the savior of the world, is it beyond this God to effect this possibility? I would say that it is not. Is it probable? Here I will simply demur and keep in my heart the hope I have--there's no point in trying your patience further.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from April 2006.

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