Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Polar Thinking

A brief dip into C.S. Lewis this morning, who never fails to get me thinking. He was talking about the relationship between the persons of the Father and the Son in the Trinity, and how we can't help thinking of them as two individual beings, though they are really one, yet distinct personalities - a mystery we can't really comprehend.

He went on to talk about our concept of "God is Love," and he said, "What we really mean is, Love is God." That is to say, God embodied love before creation, before there was anything to love.

That got me wondering, was the fall of the angels - the first rebellion against God - really the immanization (is there such a word?)  of polarity? In a way, that would make sense - at one time, everything was one - everything was God, and all his creation was a part of Him. There were no polar opposites. Evil was just the polarity of good, but of course this doesn't explain how - or why - it came to be.

In a philosophical way, it's interesting. Men and women, sexual congress, results in new life. Magnetic poles attract, and we always wonder if happiness would feel as good if we didn't know how unhappiness felt.

Yet aren't we told that if matter and anti-matter ever come together, that would mean the utter destruction of everything?

No wonder people want to put such questions away, and leave them to others to think about, and feed us well-thought-out answers. They stretch the brain into uncomfortable positions!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Big, Bothersome Question

I had an argument with myself last night. It was over the question of whether the idea of God was reasonable.

I started to wonder about a story in which God really  was the God of Abraham, that that God really did communicate with us first through the Jews, then through Jesus, and finally through Mohammad. That he finally just got angry with us and said, fine. You wouldn't believe my rules (the Jews), you wouldn't believe my forgiveness (Jesus), so now you either believe or else (the Muslims). 

It's an interesting premise, if silly. But it does beg a bigger question: who is God? Why does he hide? Is it reasonable to think that he would communicate with us through a book (inspired writings) that are internally inconsistent and clothed in mystery and allusion? Isn't it sort of human to latch onto regular old objects and turn them into magical amulets, so why would we think there is anything any more special about the Bible than about any other old documents from a bygone age?

Then I got into the whole question of submission versus non-submission. This is a tough one. There is something both seductive, and impossible, about submitting. This notion has been explored on a variety of levels, and in many different ways (for example, Lina Wertmiller's Swept Away, a movie about sexual submission). 

On the one hand, how infinitely comforting to simply turn one's life over to a higher power and say, "I can't do this. The unexpected always happens; issues and questions and life events are so huge I feel powerless in front of them. How much easier and safer to say, 'Whatever you want, God. I just put myself in your hands.'" Then you float on the water like a leaf, go where the waves take you, rest in the power that compels you.

But then human nature kicks in - for some of us more than others - and we say, "Hell, no. It's my life, my choices. God, if God exists, wants me to handle things - to take charge. This is my life, my one and only life, and the choices I make, the things that I do, are all there is. I don't want to submit, I'm an adult, and I take responsibility."

We're told on the one hand that we're being children if we simply submit and go with it. On the other, it's explained to us that when we refuse to submit, we're guilty of the sin of pride - the sin of our original parents.

I'm guessing that the answer is, as the Church has taught us, somewhere in the middle. 

We are expected to own our lives; we are given the incredible power of free will. At the same time, we are expected to fight our human nature, and submit to the will of God. And the big, imponderable question is: if God's will were just all happy and positive and easy, it would be easy to submit. If it's that easy, it's not a challenge, and nothing has been proved by doing it.

The difficulty of all of this is why for me, and I suspect for many, faith is a matter of get up every day and try again. There will be good days and bad days and days when you think you're just going to quit. But you get up the next day and try again. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Masses

It's been a long while since I posted to this blog, but the marked difference in two services I attended this Holy Week motivated me to write.

On Thursday I went to the Maundy Thursday evening Mass at my traditional chapel. I got there early, but even with that the pews were packed, there was seating in all the aisles, and still people stood in the back. Little children and babies accompanied parents, even though there was no chance of being out before 9pm - yet other than an infant crying here and there, all the children were well-behaved.

The parishioners were dressed as for an evening out - suit and tie, women in nice dresses or suits, everyone on their best behavior. The statues on the altars were draped in purple, and the atmosphere in the sanctuary was quiet, solemn, and serious.

The Mass and washing of the feet, followed by a processional through the neighborhood as the reserved host was moved from the main altar tabernacle to a side altar, the music - everything was beautiful, serious, reverent, and done with care. We left the service feeling that we had been part of something special - and I know it's probably my imagination, but when the host was carried from the church, I felt the loss in a visceral way. That feeling of "fullness," of presence, was gone. This has always struck me when I enter the chapel - that there is a sense that you're not alone, that something fills the very air around you.

Move on to Easter vigil, which I attended at my sister's church. It's actually a very beautiful church; the statues, painting, woodwork - everything is lovely and elegant. Nothing could be further from the truth about the service itself.

Other than lilies on the altars, there was no sign that this was the Easter, Lenten, or penitential season. The statues were undraped, there were flowers on the altar. People arrived dressed in everything from jeans and parkas to capris and tight shirts to suits and dresses. Attendance was sparse, and few children under about 15 were visible.

Honestly, the beginning of the service was rather nice, if a tad pagan-needfire-esque. (If you have never seen this ritual, it's the modern notion of how our ancestors would sweep the hearth clean and light a new fire on the new year - supposedly Halloween. Participants make a ceremony out of re-lighting the fire.) The "assembly" followed the priests out to the yard where the pascal candle was marked and lit, and then they processed back into the darkened church. Each person had a small taper, which was lit, hand to hand, starting with the pascal candle. The priest gave a short speech - well, ok, he "chanted" it, but in modern English (if you can imagine singing a phrase like "this minister likes the idea of all these candles in the dark" without laughing). Eventually the lights came on, and for the next hour we were tortured with alternating "readings' conducted by a woman who really should not have tried (she simply could not imbue the readings with any meaning, and read in a kind of sing-song that became more annoying with each reading) - and who, after each reading, SAT on the steps to the pulpit, her sneakered feet peaking out and visible to all - and the execrable guitar-accompanied drippy songs, belted out at us by a couple of greying sandalistas in the choir loft.

After the seventh reading, I leaned over and asked my sister, "Is it ever going to stop? Did we do something bad and get sent to purgatory?"

The priest sang every word he said, including the consecration. I don't know if this invalidated it, but it sure seemed wrong.

After the whole spectacle was over, the priests thanked the choir for all their hard work; everybody clapped. The main priests thanked the assistant priests; everybody clapped. An assistant priest thanked the main priest and said, "Not every priest can sing like our own (so and so)." Everybody clapped, and some hooted and whistled.

We left.

Our conversation on the way home was not about Easter. It was not about how lovely the service was. It wasn't about Jesus, or our faith, or even mundane topics. It was about how horrible, horrifying, irreverent, silly, and self-serving the service had been. How very "not Catholic."

But of course, I reminded my family, anyone under 40 will have never known anything else - for them, this is the Faith.

It breaks my heart.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Worm By Any Other Name

I get a daily feed from the New Oxford Review, a traditional Catholic publication.

Admittedly, this publication has a very strong point of view: while it is traditionalist, it is also decidedly anti-SSPX. So it seems to walk a fine line between opposing many of the innovations within the post-Conciliar Church, and also opposing outright defiance of them.

Lately, there have been a number of headlines in my daily feed about scandals that reach the inner sanctums of the Vatican.

Now, this has long been the fodder of fiction - just read anything Dan Brown ever wrote. In his book, all puns intended, the Vatican is the one and only villain in the world, its tentacles reaching down and out and into the very fabric of the Universe.

But when the New Oxford Review passes along these headlines, it makes me cringe, and it makes me worry.

But then, traditionalist Catholics have been warning for a long time that there is a worm in the rose of the Church, and that that worm is closely related to the "pinking" of the seminaries in the sixties and seventies -  perhaps even earlier. Whether this was a deliberate plot, or simply a sign of the times, I can attest to the fact that the nature of the priesthood changed. Now, granted, I would not have known, as a young child, whether my priest was gay or not. But I can assure you, there was no "funny business" going on in our parish. Our priests acted like priests, and were very much involved with the kids on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

In fact, the boys used to talk about their experience as altar boys, and there was never anything but bragging about how much they had learned, and complaints about how difficult it was. Being an altar boy was definitely something to be proud of, and I can also attest to the fact that the girls never felt jealous of it. We had our own thing, namely, the choir. Choir was its own challenge: we sang the Missa Cantata, and had to learn the Latin and the chants. And some girls got involved in decorating the altar with the seasonal changes.

Today, I personally know three gay priests. One, while clearly gay, also seems to be reverent and living a life dedicated to the church. The others - I'm not so sure. But I guess the point is, what are the odds that I, who am not particularly involved with the mainstream Church, would know three gay priests? If the numbers are accurate, 2% of the American population as a whole is gay. That would make the odds astronomical that I, who know about six priests altogether, would have encountered three gay priests. Three openly gay priests.

Let me back up a bit and say that I don't have an opinion about being gay. I have no idea why people are gay. But I also know that the "pedophile" scandal that rocked the Church and delighted anti-Catholics was not  a "pedophile" problem at all; it was a gay euphebophile scandal. Older men with adolescent and young adult males. As compared to the population as a whole, fewer priests, predictably, were preying upon children (of either sex). For the most part, what was going on was priests initiating young boys into gay sex.

There is a whole other question of whether this is "wrong" in the bigger picture. What is indisputably true is that a) this is wrong from the standpoint of the Church, for a whole host of reasons; and b) it is not well-tolerated by the public as a whole.

We have a very conflicted view of this, and there has been an active campaign to try to make what was going on be about adults using children for sex, rather than it being about adult male priests getting involved, whether consenting or not, with pubescent boys. On the one hand, the PC position is that there is nothing "abnormal" about gay sex, and there is nothing abnormal about adolescent sex. We're not even sure how we feel about young female teachers having sex with their pubescent (male) pupils.

So, we want to be sure that what we're incensed about (publicly) is the adult-on-child nature of it.

A larger problem for Catholics is what appears to be an undeniable fact that the Vatican needs a good house-cleaning. This isn't the first time; it won't be the last. There have been periods of time when what's going on now would probably seem like blips on the radar rather than wholesale corruption. Somehow, the Church survived, righted itself, and continued on.

But it's also clearly the case that there are some pretty vile people deep in the heart of the power structure of the Church, and they need to be identified and weeded out. Sooner rather than later.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Magical Mass

We have a new priest at our Chapel.

This is the first Mass he's offered that I've attended; he's an older man (in his late 60s, I would guess, based on some comments he made during the sermon), and at first I was a little disconcerted by the way he conducted the service.

He hurried through parts that some other priests usually performed with great ceremony (such as the censing of the altar); he did not wear the cope when performing the asperges; the choir sang the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus without the rest of us (though I doubt he had anything to do with this, it was a loss to me - the music was lovely, but it feels more like the typical modern Catholic "performance" Mass.

But when he got to the Consecration, his loud (and granted, electronically amplified) whisper had a magical quality to it that surprised me. Normally, there is little if any sound from the altar during the Consecration, except perhaps for the few words, "hoc est corpus meum," and the equivalent for the Consecration of the wine.

In this case, the entire prayer was whispered loudly, though not loudly enough to be made out word for word. It had an odd, magically invocational quality to it. I was not exactly sure what I thought: was the "magic" quality a good thing, or a bad thing?

I'm still not sure.