We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, He draws us to Himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.

Bishop Lopes: A Pledged Troth. A pastoral letter on Amoris Laetitia.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Rhapsody on Liturgy, Culture and Competing Narratives.

Catholic identity is or should be firmly rooted in the Apostolic Tradition preserved and conserved for mission. The Faith is not meant to be reserved behind strong doors. The Church is (or should be) constantly storming the gates of hell.

Monastic Gravity

Recall, for a moment, the Benedictine rescue of western civilization. The Order of Saint Benedict preserved and conserved the Catholic story by preserving the Liturgy and conserving truth, thus providing a living resource more than a museum piece to people through the middle ages. While many societies disintegrated politically, the Benedictines, by being faithful to their charism, provided gravity or cohesion by which people could find a moral, legal, theological, psychological, scientific, economic and sociological centre which provided authentic intellectual and spiritual freedom that led to a full rediscovery and development of philosophy (wisdom), art and technology, the engines of a revival we now call the Renaissance.

Society Off Centre

Fast forward a thousand years or so, western civilization—or what's left of it—is still recovering from the devastation of World War II and the Cold War. Having barely risen from the wars against reason and faith, contemporary societies desperately require a centre of gravity by which authentic wisdom and faith, i.e., the Catholic Tradition, can regrow in the world.

What's the competition?

In the mission to save souls, the Church is in an all out spiritual battle against protestant sects and violent muslim groups such as Boko Haram that claim to offer a viable message to modern man. Eager to flee the tyranny of militant Islam, converts to Christianity must contend with a severe threat of persecution by certain groups whose god, it seems, is but a caricature of the God Who is Love revealed in Jesus Christ. The sects are growing rapidly, but they do not have any real depth. Rootless, unable to withstand political pressures and suffering the ever shifting sands of individualistic theology and spirituality, the sects are at least doing some good by introducing people to the Gospel, even if it is a truncated version of the Gospel. Sectarian communities are, without a valid Eucharist however, mere imitations of the magnificent Church established by Jesus Christ Himself.

Liturgical Gravity

That gravity spoken of a few paragraphs earlier is the Divine Liturgy. In every age, nations have been to a greater or lesser degree civilized by how closely they come to the vision of a virtuous society as proposed by the Church and defined by or configured to the "source and summit" of the Faith, the Holy Eucharist. It is in the Holy Eucharist or Mass that man experiences his ultimate dignity in Christ as he receives the Body and Blood of Christ.

What are the signs and foundations of a just society?
  • Respect for the fundamental dignity of the human person. Man is created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed in Christ. Man is endowed with certain inalienable rights: freedom of religion; freedom of conscience formed in the truth; freedom of expression, e.g., the freedom to speak the truth in and out of season.
  • Respect for the family. The family is the domestic Church. The family is the heart of any society.
  • The rule of law. Just laws protect the dignity of man and the primacy of the family.
The rubrics (laws, cultural norms, etc.) of a just society are their best when they are clear expressions of the Golden Rule. However, without the Holy Spirit to inform the hearts of people, citizens will rebel against the Rule. Without the life of the Spirit, the Rule remains a rule as secular societies understand rules, not as the Church does. The rule of which the Church speaks is that which is written in the heart of every person animated by the Holy Spirit. A properly formed conscience is that which has been fully formed by the teaching of Christ and His Catholic Church. Formation necessarily entails full compliance with the commandments of Christ and the teaching of His Church.

For those with the Law written on their hearts, no laws are necessary. The man with a heart formed in the Gospel is a man of charity. He has no need of laws to compel him to civil conduct. By contrast, the lawless man is a man who rejects or ignores the law of love, the love proclaimed by Jesus. For the lawless man, laws contain his propensity to commit acts of treason against God and the dignity of man.

Where is the Holy Spirit to be found?

Answer: everywhere, of course. But where do people learn the way of the Spirit? Where do people learn docility to the Holy Spirit? In the Liturgy, the Mass, of course.

Jesus, the principal Actor in the Liturgy, is the divine centre, the sublime point of reference, the living hub of the Liturgy around Whom turns all life and from Whom pours forth life eternal. He is the Giver of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. The Spirit is Christ's Gift to give. The Spirit Who is the Love-Gift to the Son from the Father is the same Gift given by the Son to all people who respond to Jesus' invitation to intimate communion with Him and in Him and through Him to the Father. In this community of Divine Persons and  communion of love, the Love of the Father for the Son, we who are God's children receive the Gift that we may live in loving service for others. The perfect citizen, then, is the Catholic Christian who lives according to the whole (kata holos) of revelation, one who invites others into the Church, the society of the loving disciples of Jesus Christ united in the Faith by the Holy Spirit. In this blessed Communion, the Church, all people are united, one in Christ, a harmony of voices in the Symphony of the saints. In this Eucharistic society of the saints there is only charity and, when charity fails, there is Penance (forgiveness of sins) wherein the dissonance of sin is resolved for the good of souls and the entire Body. Penance is the sacrament of mercy. Charity comes in many forms. The Sacrament of Penance is the charity of mercy.

The Catholic Church: harbour of souls.

There is no rivalry in this blessed society of charity and mercy called the Church. Satan, the adversary, who has declared himself a rival of God, still intrudes in the earthly society of charity, but holds no definitive sway over the hearts of the redeemed, for Satan and death are defeated.
The Spirit in the Eucharist gives a foretaste of the future Kingdom. From the beginning, the Eucharist was seen as the "medicine of immortality," as the power which frees human beings from the worst enemy—death. The idea of the Eucharist as a source of immortality is already found in John's Gospel (see: John 6:50-51, 54), then in Ignatius of Antioch, for whom the Eucharist is "the medicine of immortality, antidote preventing death and providing everlasting life in Jesus Christ" (Letter to the Ephesians, XX, 2).—The Holy Spirit in the Liturgy, p.110. The Holy Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life. Catechetical Text in Preparation for the Holy Year 2000 prepared by the Theological Historical Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Crossroad Publishing Company.
Losing the story; losing religion.

Contemporary western society is losing its bearing because people do not take the time to sit with (embrace) the story of civilization. Instead of venerating our elders from whom we could learn this story, those who have lived the Faith with fidelity, we shut them up or away in closets where their wisdom rots in silence. In many lands, our elders must now face the scourge that the Nazis wanted to impose, i.e., euthanasia. So-called progressivists attempt to shout down such a comparison by insisting that Nazi euthanasia was involuntary, whereas the progressives claim their project admits only voluntary participation. Despite all the state regulations where euthanasia is practiced, the innocent are put down like dogs. The great irony is that dogs in animal shelters are treated with more respect than the sick and suffering who are put to death in state hospitals and state sanctioned clinics. States refuse to better fund palliative care that treats the whole person simply because it costs more than dispatching people or permitting them to commit suicide with the assistance of physicians who, playing God, have long abandoned their mission to save lives and do no harm. Euthanasia, to the mind of the penny pinching bureaucrat, is cost effective. People are reduced to two categories: benefit or burden. Sound familiar? The idea that modern euthanasia, and eugenics for that matter, is any different than the practices advocated by the Nazis is mere sophistry.

The blind bleeding the blind.

Instead of taking time to learn the story of civilization, people frantically rush about and become fragmented in their many preoccupations, their quest for security, affluence, independence and self affirmation. Blinded by their desire to see only what they want to see, they cannot possibly see themselves in that foggy bathroom mirror in the morning. Because they are self enamoured, neither will they see the beggar in the street as a person beloved by God.

Narrationists

We moderns tend to use the word 'narrative' a lot. Politicians speak about shaping the narrative. They are really talking about creating propaganda, most often propaganda that attempts to disguise their attempts to reengineer society in ways most people would find injurious to man's dignity and the primacy of the family if they learned the truth of the outcome planned by certain politicians. This shaping or manipulation of the narrative by the secular media, liberal-progressivists and by liberal religionists (modernists) is done most often to manipulate or misshape the populace in order to further an agenda that not only avoids the common good but destroys it. The common good has been severely marginalized by a narrative that promotes individual rights and freedoms beyond what is reasonable and morally acceptable. The elevation of individual rights above responsible citizenship and concern for the common good has led to a complete distortion of human relationships that, in the West at least, have been defined down to include relationships which bear little resemblance to the natural family that grounds every healthy society.

Save the Liturgy; save the world.

The New Evangelization should be nothing less than the restoration of authentic Liturgy and its celebration at the heart of culture. If there is any doubt that the territory being fought over in the culture wars is the Liturgy, one need only review the recent Synod of Bishops. The Synod was largely fought over the question of who can and cannot be admitted to Holy Communion. That is, should people who have divorced and remarried (without benefit of a decree of nullity regarding a former union) be admitted to Holy Communion? Should those living in same-sex unions be admitted to Holy Communion?

The greatest obstacle to the liberal-progressive (LP) agenda is the Church strong in her identity. There is no need for liberal-progressivists to attack the mainline protestant communities. They capitulated to the LP agenda decades ago. Liberal progressivists and their allies in various protestant communities removed opposition to the progressivist agenda by undermining the very identity of those groups. The LPs have sought to inject themselves into the Catholic Church, and where they have gained a toehold they have wreaked havoc among the faithful, resulting in: a loss of the sense of the sacred; acceptance of the militant gay agenda; acceptance of artificial contraception; etc. The LPs, however, have not been able to shout down the voice of the Catholic Church. Solidly orthodox bishops and laity well formed in the Faith have reshaped the conversation,... and have suffered because of it.

The LPs know they must destroy the Liturgy and empty the Church of her focus and foundation in order to undermine opposition to their agenda. Where that has been achieved, in Canada, for instance, opposition to the LP agenda has been nearly silenced or rendered impotent. We in Canada are still suffering the consequences of the actions of Catholics who once identified more as members of the Federal Liberal Party under Trudeau—Pierre Elliot, that is—who conditioned in the Church an identity crisis not unlike that experienced in the USA among Catholics who have chosen the agenda of the Democratic Party over the binding authority of the Church.

The Liturgy has been a pawn in the hands of liberal religionists for some time now. The liberal religionists know that if they can win the liturgical war all other obstacles to their agenda will simply melt away. That is why the Liturgy must be defended. The integrity of the Liturgy is the first and last obstacle which prevents the devil from enveloping the earthly sanctuary of the Lord. If we get the Liturgy wrong, we get everything about the Faith wrong. If the Faith is wrong, civilization is lost. The truth of the Liturgy, the repository of the word of God and the tabernacle of the Real Presence of Jesus among His people, must be defended and communicated without compromise.

Infiltrators

The strategy of Satan and his minions has been very effective in culling the Catholic herd of many citizens:
  1. Empty the Gospel (and Holy Scripture) of meaning to empty souls of meaning and dignity and empty culture of its true centre in Christ;
  2. Destroy man's sense of dignity in Christ to destroy opposition to "alternative" views of man, and thereby destroy care for the common good;
  3. Destroy the priesthood to destroy the authority to guide souls in healthy ways;
  4. Destroy the Liturgy to destroy man's identity in Christ which then allows others to replace man's authentic dignity with an evil design that permits every kind of sin: fornication; marginalization of the poor; destruction of marriage and the family; etc.
  5. Destroy man's dignity, destroy the family and destroy the Liturgy and culture and civility are destroyed.
Church Militant

The strategy of the Church to win souls for Christ should be as it always has been:
Preservation, not reservation, of the true nature of the Liturgy. The Liturgy is the repository of the Gospel, the wellspring from which the Church in her mission to claim souls for Christ and his heavenly Kingdom draws on the very life of her Master Who offers Himself freely for the salvation of all, the love of all people, a love that commands obedience to God Who is love. There is no true love without sacrifice. Without obedience to the truth found only in Jesus Christ, man is adrift on an ocean of distractions constantly approached by false prophets peddling false promises.
  • By preservation is meant a reassertion of continuity with Tradition. In that sense, we can also speak of conservation. The Ordinary Form does not lack continuity with Tradition, though its celebration these days, generally speaking, leaves much to be desired. What is required is a celebration in keeping with the Catholic ethos concerning worship, which necessarily includes: reverence in the Presence of God; dignified action(s) to invite appreciation for order that reflects the order of redeemed Creation; detail and nuance to communicate orthodox theology (truth/dogma); beautiful ritual (and music) to emulate the beauty of God and His creation to give hope to those starved of beauty, truth and goodness.
Preserving the story, conserving the Truth, serving the poor.
  • The poor deserve beauty as much as anyone. By 'poor' is meant both the materially and spiritually impoverished. Modern man (progressives, liberals, socialists) pits the need to create and offer beautiful liturgy (art, architecture, music) against social justice where no dichotomy need exist. Deprived of the truth of beauty, goodness evaporates like water on hot pavement. Mankind, without the full story of his suffering and redemption, becomes imprisoned in the fruitless quest for an identity apart from God and the need for approval. Without knowledge of his dignity, man is reduced to a caricature of himself. He is one more animal among others fighting for survival. Rivalry, conquest, domination of the weak, self loathing—man without the Gospel becomes another satan.
In the wasteland created by liberal-progressivists and their religious counterparts, the Church must bring the water of authentic liturgy to parched souls thirsty for the Gospel undefiled, souls hungry for the true Bread of Heaven.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.