Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts from Theology on Tap (10-22-2010)

Warning: I'm writing this, and I'm not a sacramental theologian. My thoughts are somewhat scattered; this should be taken as a slightly frustrated set of thoughts, and not as a well-structured argument. Please do not attempt to engage this as if it were argument.

Went to Theology on Tap tonight. Lots of good discussion. The priest who gave the talk that night was discussing the Eucharist and the Mass. Now one thing he'd said struck me wrong, which was that he almost seemed to suggest that the Eucharist being an object of adoration was wrong. (Someone, much to my relief, asked about this, and I was delighted by his clarification which seemed to suggest that he was more against people going to Mass just to adore the Eucharist and ignoring the fact that (a) it was also to be received, and (b) the Mass is not merely to be observed and wondered at but also taken part in. There was a lot of spirited debate because he said some things (not all of which were correct, or correctly phrased, in my mind) that seemed to denigrate the Tridentine Latin Mass. People of course stood up in defense of the TLM, and there was a lot of debate about things that in my mind don't hold so much water either way--things like how many of the faithful want, or would want, a TLM if it were offered at their parish, etc. Those things are important, but not the most important thing, I don't think. And I don't want to give the impression that I think only the TLM defenders were contributing to discussion that may or may not have been entirely fruitful. Lots of things the speaker said seemed questionable and were very hard to interpret charitably coming from where even I am coming from--and I am no Traditionalist.

At one point I have written in my notebook, from sometime in that whole exchange:

I wonder:
Would this be such a problem if were simply willing to fall in love with Jesus?

By "this" I think most of what I meant was "all this liturgical business about the N.O. vs. the TLM, etc. etc." I'll get back to that later.

Now to give some background, about a week ago a Deacon gave a talk on everyday spirituality. Somehow or other this connected with something G.K. Chesterton once said about St. Francis, in his biography of the same, which I remembered only imperfectly at the time but which I quote in full below:

The practical reconciliation of the gaiety and austerity I must leave the story itself to suggest. But since I have mentioned Matthew Arnold and Renan and the rationalistic admirers of Saint Francis, I will here give a hint of what it seems to me most advisable for such readers to keep in mind. These distinguished writers found things like the Stigmata a stumbling block because to them a religion was a philosophy. It was an impersonal thing; and it is only the most personal passion that provides here an approximate earthly parallel. A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfil the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love. [...St. Francis] was a Lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation [...] as Saint Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. (Italics mine, copied from an electronic copy on this webpage)

Chesterton recognized that the oddity in much of Francis's behavior was that it was something one did when one was in love. So I'm trying to adopt this quality, to make it my own, to cultivate the quality of being in love with God and with the world. Going to Mass is one definite way of doing this, and surely a huge expression. If one believes that Christ is truly and specially present at the Mass, and one is in love with Christ, surely one goes where one's beloved will be? Would I not do this for another human being, if I felt I were in love with her? Why not, then, for God?

Quite frankly, I'm not a Traditionalist. Though I do consider myself pretty conservative, and my ballot will probably wind up backing that up. But I'm not really a TLM kind of guy. I have some Sundays--not all--that I like Holy Rosary's 11:00 AM Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, but that's not the TLM. I'd be lying if I said my reasons for the other Sundays got much holier than "some Sundays I like a folksy Mass" or "some Sundays I want a slacker Mass that lasts forty-five minutes and is said in words I understand immediately." At the same time I know some people prefer to meet Jesus in the TLM, and that's their deal. I'm not going to intrude, and it bugs me when other Novus-preference people want to, because they call it the Catholic Church for a reason. It's universal.

Anyway, I said I'd get back to that original note I made. So here goes:

Is it naive of me to believe that maybe if we all--that means people who are more liturgically 'liberal' and those who are more 'conservative'--simply focused on loving the Eucharist, with only a secondary focus on those technical details which pertain strictly to licitness, that much of this logistical debate would go away? That maybe a Church-wide revitalization of that reverence could be--even if saving the liturgy could help it--part of the process that catalyzes us to save the liturgy in the first place?

Of course, Legitimate concerns about validity of sacraments go strictly under reverence for the Eucharist and for God; an invalid Mass is not proper reverence. Legitimate concerns about licitness are also quite pertinent but sometimes get overstated in my book. Thus, I risk undervaluing them here because sometimes I think they just lead us to legalistic conversations and debates about pastoral needs that nobody in the audience or anyone speaking can verify. Maybe the new translation will help some. I hope it does, and maybe I'm overthinking the debate that happened tonight. It was certainly helpful and informative, and I don't mean to suggest that debates like that are useless. But I'm not entirely sure it was the most productive debate we could have had, and it seems like maybe the one guy's question about whether we should adore the Eucharist was the main point at which the more debate-like questions actually worked towards deepening our understanding of what happens at the Mass.

Of course I have relatively useless theological things I like to debate all the time, so maybe I've got some work do to, too.

Those are some thoughts Theology on Tap brought out for me tonight.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Which I Respond to John Meunier's Question

John Meunier has a good question up which I think is kind of a good one if we're at all trying to navigate the postmodern wilderness that is the world.

I invite anyone reading this to make their own response to my response, or to Meunier's question, here or on their own blog. (But if not here, please let me know where because I want to see it.) I of course invite the other KBT to respond with their own posts if they want.

[Later edit:] The question is "If you had the opportunity to preach to a crowd of nominal Christians or non-Christians in an informal setting – like John Wesley’s field preaching – what would you preach?"

Here's my response:
Ask yourself this question: "Am I good?" And if you answer yes, justify it. Without appealing to grace or any coherent and concrete concept of goodness that does not change with culture and goes beyond just what we think it is. 
If you justified yourself, you probably don't really believe in good at all, at least, not good with a meaningful meaning. Maybe you're good thinking that goodness is relative, something that's not inherent in anything, or something we have to make for ourselves, but I'm not. It's not meaningful meaning if we can change it as we please.
If you couldn't justify yourself, then I guess you'll need some help to be good. Christ can help you with that. Sorry state that I'm in, you should see what state I get into when I close myself off to Him. And if you're at all interested in being good, even if you already think you're justified on that front or that all I'm saying is twiddle-twaddle, you owe it to yourself to see what kind of change Christ might make in you. 
So really, just try and live like Him. Try and fall in love with Him, even if--right now--you don't know what you believe about Him. 
I think you'd be surprised to see the difference.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bad Christians

In my view there are two ways to be a Christian.

(A) Be a bad Christian, and recognize and work to change it.
(B) Be a bad Christian, and deny it or downplay it.

I'm sure all of us do a little of (A) or (B) at some point in time.

I'm also pretty sure that (A) is the road to being like Christ, and (B) is the road to a complacent and dead spiritual life, if not, and we should hope not, an actual spiritual death.