Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Embracing my own rejections

So, usually this blog cheers the Wojtylas, the Ratzingers, and the Extraordinary Form.  TotB (Theology of the Body) and Gregorian chant.  Mt. Carmel and Opus Dei.  Not all of the usual right-wing Catholic stuff, but obviously some of it. ((mitigated by the Trump presidency!)) Oh yeah, and a bunch of 80s hard rock.

This post appeared in draft first during LENT, though, so let's instead this time feast on some of which this blog usually trashes:  polyester pant suited nuns and moms, felt banners, schlocky "spirit of Vatican 2" songs, Communion in the hand, no kneelers, Paul Tillich, LBGTQ and the social construction of gender, bad 80s pop music, and fast food.  In other words, all the things that cause, foment, exacerbate, and sustain spiritual diabetes, not that which, in my view, actually cures this spiritual malaise.

Why?  These, too, are parts of God's creation.  The Creed tells us this.  We ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Both Karl Barth and Romano Guardini remark on the remarkable presumption this request makes.  Who are we--humans, part of creation--to bargain with God, the creator Himself?  It makes no sense, and the extension of responsibility that this forgiveness we desire relies on the same which we extend to others.  Moltmann thought Barth left nothing to say until future eschatology was too reductionistic.

So whether it's mainline Protestantism shrinking though it is with its goofy, inept evangelization:

Source: BadVestmentsBlog

Or its equally inept attempt to recreate meaning after having shorn it all off in the attempt to become relevant:

Source: BadVestmentsBlog

On this last, please allow me one quote from blogger Christopher Johnson:


The Catholics have employed them, the Episcopalians have employed them, the Presbyterians have employed them, somebody sent me a Evangelican Lutheran Church in America link the other day and now we have the United Church of Christ.  We're pretty much across the spectrum here.  So I just have one question

For crying out loud, what in the world are you trying to accomplish?!!  Well, we want to make worship more meaningful.  Really?  The worship of the Creator of the entire universe and the Redeemer of your soul isn't meaningful enough for you?

Indeed, what do they have to do with worship?

All true, but I must say, having grown up Presbyterian in the 70s and 80s, liturgical dance and giant paper-mache puppets do not seem so far out of the ordinary.  It was a different time then, one where mainline Protestants in small communities and larger saw themselves empowered by that heady mix of widespread theological education, American pragmatism, evangelical fervor (because let's be honest--those puppets are there to show others that the worshipers appreciate innovation and novelty), and, hey! faith.  So: let's try something new.

Later on, of course, it became clear that maybe the puppets and the felt banners weren't such good ideas. To wit: a favorite blogger of mine once described another person's vague, inept faith as "a felt banner idea of Him..."  So there's that, but at the time... Check out this post looking back at the time.  So, the overly-happy, naively optimistic, and blithely confident elements of and in life do serve a purpose.  Perhaps these are penitential opportunities, chances for self-mortification that we, while not lovingly embracing them, should not reject outright. 

....OK, so I have pecked away at this blog post since, oh, probably 2016.  I meant to complete it sooner, obviously.  I thought it would lie among this blog's many unfinished posts.  

Then earlier this month (March 2018) I attended the funeral of Sr. Agnes Rose Burton, CSJ. A graduate of The College of Saint Rose and a long-time faculty member, Sister had succumbed to dementia (probably Alzheimer's) after declining for a few years.  She was yet another sister with extensive teaching experience and scholarly research.  She was not the most popular faculty member, but the students knew she cared deeply about them and their successes.  Sister Agnes and Sister Tess (who taught chemistry) were regulars at the Saint Rose men's and women's basketball games.  Saint Rose has undergone several changes lately, so Sister Agnes' funeral was a throwback to an earlier version of that community: different faces, different times, different accomplishments.

And her funeral mass brought back this very blog post.  The funeral took place at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet's impressive motherhouse in Latham, New York (a suburb just north of Albany). The very "Vatican II style" chapel was quite, if not completely, full.  And the entrance hymn was, you guessed it...

Here I am, Lord--almost nothing shrieks "SPIRIT OF VATICAN II" than this song. (And this video captures much of the pace and tone at Sister Agnes' funeral....although I will need your prayers for posting an Anglican video while celebrating an Irish-American sister from Schenectady!)  The Communion hymn: Make me a channel of your peace.  I mean, come on, we're on a roll.  So the concluding hymn?  What else but How Great Thou Art?

At this point several theological friends would have launched into searing criticism:  the architecture, the obvious aging of the community, the sappy music, etc.  Admittedly, much of what I've blogged here would put me right in the middle of that critical crowd.

And you know what? None of that mattered.  The sisters, many of them themselves aging and sick and who've attended plenty of these funerals in the same chapel, nonetheless sang their hearts out.  I think any history of American Catholicism that ignores the reality of religious women singing in community misses an essential narrative.  The graceful power and faith conveyed in their voices escapes exact description, but was unmistakable. I thus spent the rest of Sister Agnes' funeral rethinking so much: the years at Saint Rose, my own father's death this past June (prompting tears during the intro hymn), and of course the community worshiping around me. That which I've spent so much rejecting displayed its own power.  At that moment, who was I to reject it all?  I still appreciate and prefer this blog's standard fare, but as I drove away--past the graves where Sister Agnes now rests--I had to grant the sisters their due.

So, if you've read this far, please pray for the eternal rest of Sister Agnes and all the faithful departed and, finally, for your blogger here.  I am grateful.

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