Fashionable?

I have seen and been part of many discussions in the past 20 years about how we go about celebrating liturgy.  Great points have been raised and discussed but mostly leading to no definitive answer.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Holy Mother Church is always trying to come to terms with bringing to the people the eternal message in ways that they can understand. The way people think and comprehend ideas morphs as experiences influence society – we need to take that into account.  However, there are deep seated feelings within mankind that some things/events are eternal, have a transcendent paradigm, and when these types of things are changed there is a dissonance within each of us. Certain things are meant to be a certain way, otherwise their ontology becomes hidden and their value diminishes.

In an article on sacred architecture[1] I was struck by something the author wrote; the nature of fashion is that it does not last.  He goes on to say that ‘succession of fashions is in itself a succession of failures.[2] Fashions are meant to intrigue, to create intense reactions and then fade away – it is the reason that the word ‘contemporary’ is frequently used with it.  The etymology of the word ‘contemporary’ is telling, it comes from two Latin words: ‘con’ which means ‘with’ and ‘tempus’ which means ‘time’ and together, in our language, means: ‘characteristic of the present[3]. Therefore, contemporary fashion by its definition is fleeting, changing, ephemeral.  Contemporary secular artwork, secular music, and clothing for examples are fashionable since people feel something that arouses appreciation and desire but after a while the feeling fades away; they are never meant to mean something in the long run – in a way fashion is a diversion until another comes along.

I also hear the word ‘contemporary’ used quite often when it comes to various aspects of the Church. It worries me that many followers desire the ‘contemporary’; I fear that their desire for the fashion of the time will obscure the transcendent reasons for what the fashion is trying relate.  But, as I said at the beginning, this is a tension that takes place when we try to bring people the eternal message in ways that they can understand.

Holy Mother Church has given us eternal ways to come to understand and live within the eternal.  Paramount in these is, of course, the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass where we participate in the eternal sacrifice of the Son to His Father with the heavenly hosts. Another is right now and here; our participation in the Liturgy of Hours. Coming together and praying Vespers is a participation in the eternal Church’s prayer to the Father through His Son.  By participating in the Divine Office we are imitating our Lord’s daily life of prayer. We are obeying His command to do as He did; as He told us in the Gospel of St. John:  ‘he who believes in me will also do the works that I do[4] By participating in the Divine Office we are continuing Christ’s prayer and we are consecrating ‘to God the whole cycle of the day and night.[5] And by praying the Divine Office we are extending throughout the day and night ‘the praise and thanksgiving, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation, the petitions and the foretaste of heavenly glory that are present in the Eucharistic mystery[6]

It is important for each of us to realize the eternal and transcendent importance of what we are doing (especially in Mass and here at Vespers) because we are doing it for not only ourselves but for Holy Mother Church and her members.  Too often we are assaulted by ephemeral banal affectations and accretions on our most transcendent moments and we run the risk of losing their eternal import.  Let’s ask Christ to intercede for us in our desire to fend off these moments of confusion and to be able to participate in the eternal celebrations as we should regardless of whether they seem in fashion or out.

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[1] The Alphabet of Giants, Dale Ahlquist, Sacred Architecture Issue 27
[2] ibid
[3] Online Etymology Dictionary
[4] Jn 14:12 (RSV)
[5] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 10
[6] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours paragraph 12

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Go Out

Many U.S. Catholics (probably most) who try to live their religious beliefs have over the past 20 years become increasingly hesitant in public demonstration of such a faith-life. But to live our Catholic faith we need to follow our Lord both within our hearts and in the public. Today’s readings[1] bring to the fore that God relies on our participation in His mission of salvation.  All three readings revolve around people, like us, going into the world to bring God to those who have never known Him or have forgotten His message.  This can be a scary activity, especially if we think we have the whole weight of God’s plan on our shoulders – but we don’t.  God only expects from us our witness of faith – the rest is up to Him.  But, this is still a scary activity.  What if I can’t live up to the truths I am proclaiming? What if my actions belie my spoken message? What damage will I do to Christ’s mission by failing?

But today’s readings show us that these fears are unfounded as long as our heart embraces Christ’s message.  These people in the readings are normal people. Amos tells us that he was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores (which, by the way, was someone who went around and punched holes in an edible, but not very tasty fruit, days before harvesting). St. Paul of course was educated but was a tentmaker. The disciples were mostly fishermen and tradesmen.  They were not great men in the eyes of their society – most were limited in their ability for discourse – and yet they accepted God’s calling and went out to proclaim.  They were not afraid of messing up as much as they were afraid of not living up to the Lord’s commission; they trusted in the Lord. They understood, very well, the words of the prophet Jeremiah ‘But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’[2]

Brothers and sisters, it is time to put down our fear of going out into the world and evangelize.  Fear is the tool of Satan.  Our words will suffice if we are united with God.  So what if we make a mistake – we are not perfect. It is less the words than it is the conviction of our faith that will move hearts.  It less clever arguments than the love we radiate that will spark a desire to know more about God.  If you need more persuasion let me end with a comparatively current example from the great twentieth century British evangelizer Frank Sheed: He related a story about his fear to go Hyde Park in London and evangelize.  It wasn’t that he was afraid of public speaking, but that he was afraid he would damage the Catholic Church by saying something wrong.  The priest he was talking to replied (and I paraphrase) ‘There have been many men in the past two millennia smarter and more powerful than you that tried to damage the Church and her message and they failed.  You will do fine if you keep God in your heart.

As Amos, St. Paul, the apostles and Frank Sheed did so should we; speak the gospel message clearly, humbly, with love, and God will do the rest.

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[1] AM 7:12-15; EPH 1:3-14; MK 6: 7-13
[2] JER 1: 7-9 (RSV)

Familiarity

Today’s Gospel[1] brings to mind many insights.  But, today, I can’t help but think about a more human aspect; one that directly affects our ability to appreciate our Lord; one that affects our being able to interiorize His message; and because of it can damage society.

In the Gospel today we see Christ enter His own country – the place where He was raised. He had already begun to proclaim the gospel and back His words up with miracles; and now He comes home to do the same.  But the people were of another frame of mind: ‘many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.[2]

They knew Him; many knew Him well. They grew up with Jesus the boy so they couldn’t see or accept the greatness because of the familiarity.  They couldn’t recognize wisdom coming from just another one of them.  They couldn’t elevate past the immanent to the transcendent – the ordinary to the sublime.  They were numb to the importance of Jesus – many were extremely annoyed.

So, as I reflected on this scene I had to ask myself and now all of us – have we done the same? Have we, faithful followers who live a life of prayer and adoration of God, missed the greatness and newness of His message.  Though in an abstract sense, it is easy to gauge the receptivity of God’s message by whether we live the radical life of Christ and His apostles or not. It is hard to apply that metric to ourselves – we are great deniers and sophists.

At least for me, I can see that I have missed the mark in recognizing the importance of this one person I supposedly know so well.  As I take a deep look I fear that my life is not one of surrender to God; I have failed to truly live the radical life that Christ calls His followers to. I sit back and review my inaction in the public discourse when I should have gone forth as the apostles did and proclaim the good news.  I sit back and notice the times I came up with easy justifications for not standing in the public square and discuss a better way, a better idea.  I can see those times that I didn’t practice in public what I believe in my heart.  I can see the damage done by wallowing in the comfort of inaction by looking at the bad decisions made by public figures that might not have been made by them if only I (and every other catholic) had exercised my calling as a Catholic apostle; and my obligation and right as a U.S. citizen to engage in the great public discourse.

This current round of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court has shown what happens when we don’t continually live a life centered in Christ and participate in the public dialog.  The ramifications of the decision concerning marriage haven’t even started to appear – but dark clouds are starting to form. The dark clouds on the horizon are not figments of unrealistic minds, no matter what Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision to assure us otherwise.  As was the decision absurd, so was his statement within it assuring us of religious protection[3].  This reflection is not the place to dissect the future. But we now have seen painfully, once again, what happens when we don’t live a life totally centered on Christ; when we view our faith as so familiar that we don’t understand Christ’s message and our responsibilities.

At the end of today’s Gospel we see just what we have just reflected on. Jesus was so affected that: ‘he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.[4] – Christ’s effectiveness was limited by the receptivity of those He ministered to and with. Brothers and sisters let’s not make the same mistake over and over again of allowing our closeness with Christ to cloud our view of the message He gives us. Let’s not withdraw to a familiar and comfortable hole of interiorized faith. The world will be a sicker place if do.

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[1] Mk 6:1-6
[2] Mk 6:2b-3 (RSV)
[3] Obergefell v. Hodges majority opinion. ‘The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage.’ Needless to say, this statement is glaring in its complete omission of what the First Amendment guarantees: the freedom to exercise religion.
[4] Mk 6:5 (RSV)