Thursday, June 26, 2014

cathedral-ic response

One of Mark Shea's readers inquired about Medjugorje and the apparent lack of authoritative declaration from Rome.  Shea's response hits all the right chords--Rome doesn't rush anything, look how look it took to declare certain Christological affirmations and then there's Trent, the not-so-speedy-response to the Protestant Reformation.  Shea couches all this with language about the Ents, the ancient-of-days, slow-moving tree-people from Tolkien's Middle Earth.  The Ents took their time--slow from the hobbits' perspective, but actually swift from their own--and when they did act, they did so decisively and turned the battle for the good.  Shea's conclusion:

Bottom line: when the Ents finally get past hooming and homming and finally speak, the bishops who referred the matter to them will be totally and completely vindicated.  The trick will be figuring out a way to break this to the honest and good people who have been lied to so that they listen to the Church  and do not, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome, identify with the crooks and liars who have snookered them with this fraud for thirty years.  It’s a pastoral issue, not a truth issue, that is primarily the problem here.

At some point the obligatory "I'm a Catholic blogger so here are my two cents on Tolkien" post will appear.  For now, though, Shea's use of the Ents as an analogy for "thinking with the Church" reminded me of European cathedrals, especially the Roman basilicas (this perhaps because those were the ones I saw first, thanks to a semester abroad in college).  The space, the sheer physical scale, and for Rome the physical and archeological connections to the ancient Roman past, and yet throughout a great attention to detail and personal expression (one example out of a gazillion:  Pope Leo XIII's tomb at St. John Lateran) are supposed to blow your mind.  The Barthians out there will kill me, but this is the one time when I understood Schleiermacher's "feeling of absolute dependence."  But in the bigness there's also all that detail and thus it takes time to digest it all.  Anybody's who's been on a pilgrimage tour to Rome (or Paris or London or Moscow or Prague or Madrid...etc) knows this point:  there's too much to see in one trip.  So you must return.

In like fashion, responses from the Roman authorities take time.  It's as if they, in responding to real pastoral crises as mentioned above as well as all-too-real theological crises, too, need  to construct a "cathedral" in their response.  By comparison, Protestant churches--which by style and theology benefit from a "quick response," or as I've said, a "sugar-high" spirituality (feels good for a short time, then comes the crash)--have the flash response but little depth or sustainability.  True, sometimes the cathedrals need work and restoration and, equally true, we pilgrims don't always understand every nook and cranny within, but the cathedral--space or response--is worth the wait.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mark Shea goes digging

and I'm glad he does because he finds things like this.

subterranean connections

Geez, one blog post about Jesus Christ Superstar and then stuff hits the fan.  Steve Webb, the prolific and flamboyant columnist at First Things, fires a salvo:  Christians, especially Roman Catholic ones, need to ditch their distaste for 'praise music."  Webb:

I suspect Christians dislike praise music for the same reasons as the unchurched. The words are too simple, direct, and demanding, the emotions too transparent. Musical sophistication often means little more than genre compartmentalization, which leads many musically sophisticated Christians to try to keep their listening habits separate from their prayer life.

There is a bias among many rock aficionados against any contemporary music that makes the lyrics audible, indeed, that subordinates the tune to the words. Christians should not buy into that. It is especially sad, I think, when Christians immersed in hard rock turn their noses up (or shut their ears to) any music that is uplifting, as if only dark sounds are authentic.

Webb makes two good points here:  "we" (the sophisticated churched and our cultural counterparts, the equally if not more sophisticated unchurched [hipsters]) detect the sappy and immediately, instinctively, turn away.  Back in the 80s the "college music" crowd adored anything by REM but winced anytime pop music surfaced. "Real" music was, by definition, partially, if not wholly, unintelligible.  The bright and clear was necessarily a lie.  Hence Webb's second point:  it's only good if it's dark and dismal.  Unspoken satire here:  we really do like French existentialist ennui.   Oh, the misery that is life!  This Webb seeks to root out of American Catholicism:

Cynicism is a far greater spiritual danger than naiveté. And if you are Roman Catholic, what’s the worst that can happen to you? You might learn that you actually like singing, and you might take that lesson to the mass.

the essential irrationality of the eschatological type

a phrase from my dad whenever I would come from school wondering about the latest Biblical challenge thrown by the neighborhood evangelicals....

It mystified me at the time, but I've since come to appreciate the insight fueling the remark:  arrogance.  That and self-righteousness.  Eschatology--that part of Christian doctrine dealing with the "end times,"  the Final Judgment, when God calls in all the chips and settles the score.

And along comes some individual or group insisting that they know the infallible, unmistakeable, guilt-free, easy path to negotiating that event.

One time, when I'd really pushed Dad about the confidence with which my classmates insisted on their own rectitude, Dad waved his hand around the sweltering hot southwest Missouri farmland, looked me right in the eye, and said:  "Do you really think that Jesus would pick to come back here first??"  The old man always did have a way of ending arguments....

just wow

Wow, so much going on but here are two utterly riveting stories.

First, Rod Dreher points us towards an Omaha-based blogger reflecting on the recent double-funnel tornado that ripped apart Pilger, Nebraska.  Everybody should look at that photo.  THAT, folks, is a tornado's end.  Not the wild footage on The Weather Channel.  Not thrilling car chases in the 1996 flick Twister (although, for reasons to be mined later, that movie puts forth a lot of neat dichotomies).  No--just a town destroyed and a little five-year old girl dead.  "Some day" won't come.

Pilger lies about thirty miles south of the equally small town where I was born.  When I was three we moved to southwest Missouri where I went through my share of tornado warnings.  (For the uninitiated, a "watch" and a "warning" are two very different alerts.)  I only saw one tornado, and that was one swirling above in the clouds that later killed somebody in nearby Springfield.  Now for the past few years The Weather Channel and meteorologists from the rest of the country descend on the Midwest for the thrilling chase.  And for the upstate NY readers--why leave?  Times are so bad--and the region is so starved for attention--that this foolishness is not only tolerated but encouraged.  They should look at Pilger, or Joplin in 2011, or any number of other places, to remind ourselves what those storms can do.

And in the midst of despair, Dreher notes, 5 times the town's entire population showed up to help Pilger rebuild.  Stories like this abound--the willingness of folks to help out others--and we need to remind ourselves of this goodness AND its calling forth by inexplicable disasters.  Too often we fixate on the next impending disaster.  Through God's grace, though, charity abounds.

And then there are stories like this where a Capitol District native does good--great grades and Columbia Law School and public service--and then inexplicably descends, ultimately, into death. I won't pretend to understand post-partum depression, but it is important that this sort of psychiatric illness needs help--and intervention--just as much as the Adam Lanzas of the world.  Yet again, we focus so insistently on individual freedom and self-expression that we often lose the opportunities--often few and far between--to bring about some change.  And even here, though, grace--however inexplicable--abounds:  her son lived to walk.

We are so accustomed to congratulating ourselves for having it all figured out, and then stories like these reveal the hubris generating that satisfaction.  Obviously prayer helps, but the enormity of either story leaves us shaking our heads.  And that's probably a healthy reaction.

Friday, June 13, 2014

unified theory: everybody is scared

And in that anxiety we make decisions that affect others as well as ourselves and boy howdy, are there consequences.

First, as predicted on this blog several times, Pope Francis makes it clear:  Catholic theology is not a democratic process.  You can't construct belief structures through cost-benefit analysis.  Yes, attentiveness matters--but come on, there's a limit, people.

Second, Catholic theologians, well, sometimes I wonder if the less that's said is better.  However, this is not a Zen/Catholic blog.  The American Catholic academy desperately seeks relevance, thus it routinely claims space (usually from bishops) from which theologians can then speak expertly.  That way, the Church's theological development--because blessed Cardinal Newman was right, doctrine does develop--will include voices other than the bishops.   Charlie Carmosy's careful reflections on the recent CTSA presidential address (delivered by Paul Griffith) reveals these tensions.  When you come from Catholic social justice, who's the bad guy?  Easy:  f@#$%&*g Paul Ryan.  Who's your bae?  Easy, but more numerous:  Pope Francis (of course) and your fellow theologians.

To riff on Carmosy, the reality is messier than the preceding (re)construction.  But why?  Because a theological dialogue that includes both bishops (who possess and express the Church's teaching authority) and theologians thus creates space to where theologians can explore provocative--and messy--questions.

Blogging all this, of course,will guarantee my expulsion from the theologians' guild.  More on that later.  As the man once said, "quiet, numbskulls--I'm broadcasting!"  Besides, if given the choice between bishops and my faculty colleagues I have come to wonder if academic freedom is the utopian freedom I've been told it is and offers.

Third,with Father's Day around the corner, here come articles about fatherhood and masculinity.  Some good--we need to find some way to move beyond clownish stereotypes of "being a man"--and others more fretful, that somebody somewhere is going curtail our freedom.

Fourth, recent reversals in American foreign policy have the usual sane-and-calm voices starting to wonder if this really is a time of change-not-for-the-better.  Here at home some have pointed to the disturbing increase in school-shootings.  Catholics are becoming used to parish violence but also violent, uninvited protests which seek their own "shock and awe" effect. We  readily accept the outrageous before we think about what's being offered.

God made us and in so doing gave us freedom.  In exercising that freedom--part of our very selves--we most often choose actions which feed our fears instead of increasing one of the other gifts God gave us:  love.  This, though, requires us to move outside and beyond ourselves and, as Pope Francis notes, that proves very difficult to do.  We will not be perfect, but we nonetheless are called to be perfect like Christ.  That's why we need help--GOD'S help.  St. Augustine understood the point;  God doesn't help those who help themselves, God helps precisely those WHO CANNOT help themselves. (a h/t to Bill Placher for the wording)

Which is all of us.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

let us all go back to the old landmark

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of Pope St. Pius X's death.

And therein lies a tangle of narratives.  First, perhaps no other pope fosters such strong reaction, not evenly the recently canonized Pope St. John Paul II.  While he was not the first to combat theological modernism, he minted the phrases by which modernism has identified ever since.  His 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis labeled modernism as "the synthesis of all heresies" and forecast dire circumstances if the cancer was allowed to metastasize.  Hence the Church embarked on an anti-modernist crusade that lasted, depending on the sources you consult, until the Second Vatican Council.  That landmark event in turn has been viewed, again depending on the sources you consult, as an explicit rejection of Pius X's ham-handed authoritarianism.  True to form, the reaction itself sparked a counter-reaction;  in 1969 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, fed-up with conciliar reforms, established the Society of St. Pius X.  Remaining in schism since 1988 (and Lefebrve's death in 1991), the Society regards itself as not sedevacantist but rather the true (and sole) defender of Catholic orthodoxy.

Twenty years ago, just after Lefebvre's death, I started my doctoral studies in Catholic historical theology.  I found the Lefebrvist story fascinating, largely because their Latin Mass devotion and frank rejection of Vatican II seemed so foreign and exotic.  Also, as a new convert I had already noticed the varying degrees of fervency Catholics exhibited.  The SSPX always occupied the outermost 'fervent' position;  nobody outdid them.  Or so it seemed--more on that in a bit.  Meanwhile, my doctoral faculty regarded them with utter disdain and/or distaste.  How could any sane person find them interesting?  The Church's theological tides had clearly shifted elsewhere.  The prudent theology student would expend her/his energies elsewhere.  Forget all that "both/and" Catholic stuff;  this was truly "either/or"--and both sides endorsed.  EITHER you're with "us" OR you're against "us."  For those who get it, profound irony lurketh there....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

slaking the CATO thirst

CATO:  Catholics Addicted To Outrage.

H/T  Greg Kandra and the Te Deum laudamus blog cited by Deacon Greg.

Yep, that pretty much nails it.

First, I should acknowledge the admonishment from Ms. Korzeniewski about the (mis)use of "porn" in blogging!  A very good point I will seek to follow.

Second, with some different language these posts discuss the foundational themes here at Spiritual Diabetes:  the binge/purge cycle--in this case spiritual, not merely physical or appetitive--which is self-fueling and by which we feel better about ourselves. "Look at this awful situation--share my anger at it/them!"  Te Deum laudamus:
Outrage addiction, which some refer to as outrage porn (a term I prefer not to use2) is where we seem to get our "fix" by getting fired up over something. By it's nature it is addicting, so the more we get through reading, watching, and discussing, the more we seek.  Anyone can suffer with it for a period of time. Some eventually pass through and are purified of it, while others seem stuck there for many years.
Those who pass through the first phase of outrage addiction might suffer from a second phase where they become outraged with everyone else who is chronically outraged (think: ex-smoker syndrome).  Others skip the first phase and have their only experience with it in the second sphere.  In reality, such behavior changes nothing.

In either case, outrage addiction becomes a sport, giving rise to adrenaline. Perhaps that is what makes it so addicting.  Often, the outrage-addicted yield to imprudence by shooting first and asking questions later. Things are seen in black and white and the subjective becomes objective for them.

 That's a brilliant connection to ex-smoker syndrome;  it could also be called 'convert zeal' "Why doesn't everybody see the importance in this issue as I do?!?!?!"  (this coming from a convert....) In fact the faith's newness (either discovered or rediscovered, as Korzeniewski notes) sparks the initial outrage.  Often another's rigidity becomes the target of such ire, but we are admonished, rightfully so, to realize that more than just the "traddies" suffer under such ailments.  The flush of outrage perpetuates its own return as we not become accustomed to, but actually come to desire, the presence and heat of self-righteous anger.

Monday, June 9, 2014

a little recovery work

...on Pope Pius XI over at the St Joseph's Online Theology blog.

who DOESN'T love show tunes?

Confession time, part I:  my parents are not baby-boomers.  They came from the generation just before;  born just before World War II or just after the United States entered.  They graduated from the college in the early 1960s, far too young to go to war in Korea and a bit older than the traditional draft age for Vietnam.  Their households had television, but only one and it was black and white.  They had seen the Civil Rights movement unfold.  My mother had a riveting story of her college class being cancelled when they learned of JFK's assassination. (That came back to me when John Hinckley tried to assassinate Reagan in 1981 and when the Challenger blew up in 1986.)  Meanwhile, traditional "60s rock" simply did not compute for my parents;  Elvis was still a bit edgy as far as they were concerned.  They really did prefer the acoustic folk music so often ridiculed in blogs and press like here, here, and here.

So Confession time, part II:  the two "rock" albums (yes, 33.5 speed--the real deal, y'all) I listened to growing up were Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar.  While my elementary and middle school friends grooved to disco or rocked out to Led Zeppelin or Nazareth, I memorized the words to "Keep the Customer Satisfied," "Cecelia," "What's the Buzz?" and "This Jesus Must Die."  The Southern Baptist kids in our little Missouri Ozarks town never quite got used to me singing, usually unprompted, "CEEEEEELLLLya, you're breaking my heart..." or, much worse, "Ah gentlemen, you know why we are here.  We've not much time, and quite a problem here..."  <<OTOH, I now realize why my dating life was nonexistent.  LOL>>

Confession time, part III:  I recovered in 1983.  Def Leppard's Pyromania will do that. Ditto for Van Halen's 1984.