So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, July 20, 2015

Storytelling in the street: religious parades.

Western societies are becoming increasingly bereft of religious flavour. This we all know.

Let's consider the idea that, in order to shape a community's story, we have to tell our story in a way that invites people into relationship with all the beauty and full flavour of Catholic diversity and unity in the Truth. The Catholic mission is ultimately an invitation to wisdom, the wisdom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Who informs and redeems souls. The Catholic mission is to invite all to intimate communion with Jesus and His Church, to propose the Gospel for the salvation of souls.

How do we Catholics share our story?

In the aftermath of the Council, catechists have avoided the topic of evangelization for fear of accusations of attempting to induce triumphalism. Eager to fit into the world and to be "nice" according to the spirit of the times (think Kennedys), Catholics in the comfortable West abandoned the missionary spirit. Catechesis neglected to include the Truth of the Faith and the confidence which comes from knowing the Truth. Whether or not this neglect is due to timidity or a some heresy held by more than a generation of teachers of religious education, the fruit is
the faithful are religiously and culturally illiterate, unable to speak the creative language of evangelization which employs methods and means that are intrinsic to the formation of the whole person: body, mind and spirit.
To whom shall we go?

We should look to Africa, not North, South nor Central America, for a model of evangelization. The African Church is bold, faithful to the liturgical heritage of the Latin Rite, faithful to the Magisterium. The result: the Church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds! Tired Europe and the Americas should stop their feeble experiments and look to the African model for inspiration. An African pope will have a lot on his hands to correct the accelerating drift.

India, Sri Lanka and South Korea, too, have much to teach us. There is no disdain for the Church's heritage in these communities that send missionaries to the West. In the Diocese of Victoria, BC, we have long benefited from the loan of priests from the East who are often perplexed by the limp witness of Canadian priests who, among other simple yet important ways of communicating the Church's loving presence for the sake of attracting souls, seem reluctant to wear clerical attire in public and give only fleeting mention of important moral issues in loosely prepared homilies.

Contrary to (additional) messiness heralded by pope and pastors alike, the Church needs to collect herself and recover her liturgy. Her liturgy must be a clean window through which God can reach lost souls. As it is, the Mass is commonly an opaque or shuttered window that is more a muddled mess than magnificent Mass. The last thing we need is any kind of messiness. We need a soldier like St. Ignatius Loyola—organized, acquainted with the enemy, a foot soldier of Christ. The language of spiritual warfare is lost on those who have surrendered to the enemy in order to retain their comfy lifestyles.

Banal is as banal does.

The Church has at her disposal many gifts to evangelize which, unfortunately, have been hidden or neglected or marginalized by the same fear or antipathy one finds among far too many who ignore or practically detest beautiful art, music, architecture and liturgy. A preference for weak music and weak art has made Latin Rite Catholics in the West for the most part inept at evangelization because we assume that beauty has little or no role in the transmission and reception of the Faith. The vehicles we've been accustomed to using are at once sterile and shallow, unable to bear the robust details that entice the soul into relationship with Christ and His Church.

If we want to succeed in reconditioning the public square to be a more humane place and at reaching people with the Gospel, we had better employ the vehicles which avoid the liabilities of methods that are merely rationalistic or are little more than cheap attempts at religious entertainment.

What's past is present.

Public processions are public professions of the Faith that announce the Gospel and shine the light of the Gospel into culture. Processions draw on the vast spiritual and artistic resources of the Church which is, as Catholics well know, comprised of a symphony of cultures, languages and artistic modalities that are robust vehicles for the transmission of the Faith.

Faith parade: the religious procession.

The Corpus Christi procession, for example, is a robust way to literally bring Christ to the heart of the public square. Marian processions are equally exciting and engaging ways to pay homage to the Mother of God who always points to her Son, Jesus Christ.
The procession represents a non-confrontational way to confront society with the reality of the Faith, the reality that Christians are present at the heart of every community.
Prayer, music, colour, ritual, vestments, incense and, most importantly in the case of Eucharistic processions, Christ's Presence held aloft for all to see and encounter—perhaps with curiosity and maybe even disdain (by those who really do hate the Church)—together constitute an opportunity for encounter with a real Person, Jesus Christ, and His people. Encounter can be an opportunity for crisis, an opportunity to confront one's own biases, an opportunity to examine one's understanding and evaluate one's convictions.
The religious procession has the potential to appeal to many kinds of "learners".
Art leaves a lasting impression that worms its way into the heart. Authentic beauty bypasses a stubborn mind.

The religious procession is a celebration. In a world that more and more elevates tawdry public displays of gaudy costuming and pornography as the norm, what better way to purify the public square than a celebration of love, hope and joy with dignity to shift the conversation from said public displays of debauchery and lewd behaviour.

The Church has retreated. Why should we be surprised that society has fixated on flesh-fests when a vacuum has been created? The Catholic Church is an incarnational church, not some timid body-hating gnostic robot. Society needs a robust Catholic witness to inform the cultural intelligence of the community so that a vital point of view is made available to remind people of their dignity and how to act in accord with that dignity.

It's time to leave behind the safety of the parish hall and march into the marketplace, to bring the light of Christ back into the public conversation. The common good demands that we add the public procession to every community's dialogue of culture and wisdom.

In our fair city, rainbow flag pedestrian crossings have been painted on campus and city streets. Negative associations aside, the idea is a clever one. Surely we can do better, however, than a mere crosswalk painted with candy colours by instead providing a living witness, a religious parade with banners identifying the Church's many corporal and spiritual charities: Saint Vincent de Paul, help for pregnant mothers, hospitals, schools, etc.

Have we been hiding our lamp under a bushel? Have we surrendered our love of celebration? Have we abandoned our robust Catholic confidence in the Incarnation for puritanical restraint and Canadian "niceness"?

Party on!

There is an earthiness to religious processions that many people, too comfortable in their sanitized armchair religion, are unwilling to embrace. The hand sanitizer units located in vestibules are more symptomatic of a fear of contamination from piety than from bacteria in the holy water font or on your fellow pewsitter's hands.

In many ways, we in North America have reduced the great feasts of the Church to two dimensional celebrations as flat as the paper upon which their record is printed. The Church's feasts—memorials, solemnities—are about real life, real events, real people. The Church's feasts are a celebration of divine revelation—the Nativity, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit... man's salvation in Christ!

The Church's feasts often recall the lives of the saints who inspire us by their example and who continue to pray for us. Should not the Church's feasts, which are public celebrations, be more convincing events that more resemble the character of a celebration? If we're hosting a party, shouldn't we take it into the streets? Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not a polite event conducted by librarians (Apologies to all librarians!). Think shouts of 'Hosanna!' and other joy-filled exclamations. Jesus' procession was about as in-your-face as one can imagine, which is why His arrival provoked concern among the powers that be. "Hosanna to the Son of David, the King of Israel!" That's a claim to a throne that some were not eager to concede to Jesus.

When we celebrate His kingship, we should not be surprised to encounter persecution as Jesus suffered for His witness to the Gospel. To be sure, the lords of this world will feel just as threatened by our open-air celebrations of the Lord of Hosts, and we will suffer for proposing Jesus in such a manner. The question is, will we meet our persecutors in the street where all may see and learn from encounters, or will we allow ourselves to cower in fear and self doubt behind closed doors waiting for the sturmabteilung to lock us out of our churches, shut down our schools and hospitals and run us out of our jobs? Even if we lose everything, let us lose it for Christ, for living the Faith whole and undefiled in a way that witnesses to Him alone Who should be our life and hope.

So, let's get the parties (processions, festivals, pilgrimages) started!

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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.

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