Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The majesty of the package

Don't be put off by the way this starts. It has its origin, you will see, in the comments board below somebody else's writing; so I had in my mind the same material everyone else was addressing, and I could plunge right in, having come to some of the same conclusions and naturally taking up the same aggravated tone they did. This is what we moderns call an "online community." I began to type ...

I notice the drumbeat of prayers for migrants at Mass has stopped, at least in my parish for the last few weeks. Coincidence? The effect of a new pastor? The hierarchy somewhere in a Chicago high-rise, deciding for a while not to rub the wounds of a conquered people, just while the newest homosexual abuse scandal now reaching up to the cardinals' level unfolds? But if migrants needed prayers last month, don't they still? Do you turn off God's attention and power based on a sort of Lenin-style assessment of who is more useful when?

"Conquered people" is a strong term, perhaps unfair. It occurred to me because of an unrelated issue, namely music. Once again on Sunday we were permitted only the "traditional Caribbean folk melody" for the Alleluia, which is all we ever get, and which sounds just like the preschooler's foot-stompin' beach dance tune you would expect. Holl-lay, holl-lay, holl-lay, Looo-oooo-yah! The recessional was a "traditional South African" song which no one knew, neither the good (Ugandan) priest nor the deacon nor the people nor, I think, even the man playing the piano in the choir loft. Interestingly, he had played Panis Angelicus during communion, when it could be safely hidden as background noise. The recessional therefore proved a mostly silent fumble. This is what conquered people are made to do: sing songs not their own. It's a natural and an age-old political move. Whereas at the close of a blessedly silent weekday Mass the celebrating priest, or even a member of the congregation, has only to begin the Lourdes hymn ("Immaculate Mary") and everyone joins, with no guidance from the piano at all. We react naturally to our own music. I might almost dare say ... we are ready to be led home, by and with our own music.

I chronicle and I express crabbiness about all this because [here we go] I am still thinking about Elizabeth Scalia's article a few days ago at the Word on Fire blog. I don't think it's worthwhile my being the fortieth commenter on a piece that is, very naturally, already being bumped down the roster of the blog's main page as new things are published there. But it got me to thinking in terms of natural and unnatural.

It was natural for almost all the thirty-odd commenters there to come up with simple, strong responses to it. The man in the street tends to do that. Never mind, they scoffed, Ms. Scalia's advice to the laity to form "investigatory panels" and "become the Church you want to be by being a conduit of love." Being a conduit of love (I scoff) won't stop the propagation of cheap music for example, which affects far more of us personally than whatever went on at a cardinal's beach house decades ago. And by saying so I do not dismiss that for a moment. But to stop that, I mean bad music, takes power, and after fifty years of other people's folk tunes, it looks like no one has that much power. "I'm not giving the Church any more of my money" was a natural response too. So was the great call, the frightening call, the repeated call throughout the comments board, which perhaps cannot be answered in the man in the street's lifetime, or yours or mine -- "The bishops need to say homosexuality is sin." For it is not natural that a man should lie with a man as with a woman.

It's not very natural that Catholics, buffeted now by witnessing a resurgence of '90s style immorality among their priests and bishops plus the Pope choosing this moment to change the catechism, -- it's not natural that they should be comforted or strengthened when they walk into a Mass of bad off-Broadway music, of a dozen "extraordinary ministers of communion" including young girls in miniskirts and hairy-legged middle aged men in shorts and t-shirts, and of the whole congregation reflexively adopting the hands-upheld "orans position" when the priest does, because no one has ever told them not to. That was new to me when I walked into my parish church last summer for the first time in thirty years. I thought it made everyone look like ecstatic, village idiot snake-handlers. Then I did some of my usual crabby research and found out you're not supposed to do this "orans posture" wheeze at all. All I can figure is that our good bishops, who don't dare call out a fellow who preys on boys, are certainly not going to speak out on something so minor in the face of people and offertory-makers far too culturally Protestantized to accept rebuke. And who can always now rejoin, "Really? You're upset about this?"

Ah, to rejoin. The rejoinder -- the come-back. The coming back. The answer to all this mess is not investigatory panels, or being a conduit of churchly love, or even fasting as such. The answer is to make the Church and its Mass seem like something that is above and outside and truer than time or the world or men or sex or anything. We cannot do that, our leadership must. They do that by returning somehow to the majesty of what it was, to the package it used to show to anyone who walked in the door; the package unchanging no matter where it was found or no matter what poor sinner or downright creep briefly kept the door. The package used to say: "we have to do this, and say this, because it is true and our 'colossal Master' (G.K. Chesterton's phrase, about Whom Joan of Arc obeyed) -- because He commanded it. Yes even of us sinners." Returning somehow to the majesty of the package ... what, shall the College of Cardinals (minus McCarrick) admit it is all really dreadfully traceable to Vatican II? Shall they say, sorry, we lowered some bars there and it was a mistake? That really cannot be. If the Holy Spirit presides over other Councils it must have presided over that one.

Perhaps what will prove to save everything will be that great Council's rumored exaltation of the laity and our responsibilities and rights. I don't know, I'm the man in the street, I never read the documents. Anyhow what previous Council ever insisted that the faithful, busy at loom and plow, should bestir themselves to "read the documents"? But suppose the laity now do take that responsibility, given from the Holy Spirit, seriously, and do read and do find their power, and start asking for old things? It may be that with my thirty years' absence I am insufferably behind the times. It may be that in fact the new and the young, starved of Catholic meat, have been asking for old true things and getting them, long since. It may be they are now middle-aged and making waves themselves. There are jokes on crabby online forums about early middle aged Ugandan and Nigerian priests, doing missionary work among the suburban soccer moms of the U.S.A., pronouncing words like magisterium. Our own dear Father G. makes the sign of the cross after his homily, which is just what you can hear being done at traditional Masses on YouTube, Masses celebrated even sometimes by priests of those mysterious stern "Societies of St. Peter" (or Pius). They sign themselves before and after. Perhaps it had a meaning once. Wonderful Bishop Robert Barron comes to mind of course, talking of young clerics feeding the starved.

But he's got these bloggers working for him who still seem to bar the gates, even emotionally, against the fuming man in the street, and the man knows it and that's why he responds with comments not remotely assessing her ideas, but simply brushing them aside. As if he is a force of nature, and knows that too.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What an amazing set of responses to Ms. Scalia's article at Word on Fire. They mostly utterly ignore her points, every one of them, and speak instead with almost one voice in what amounts to the writing of another article: whose theme is, "dear bishops, can you gather up your courage in both hands and say something less-than-glowingly-'accompanying' about homosexuality?" For if it's not to be said, because that's hateful, then what did ex-Cardinal McCarrick actually do -- besides predation maybe -- that was wrong?

I read the article partly because I do believe Ms. Scalia has developed a following of readers who read her to ignore her, and to play among themselves in the quiet sandbox of the comments board below all her pieces, and I wanted to judge -- after a hiatus of a few months -- whether that is still true. I think it is. They see through her, and find themselves more interesting than she is. She is a talented word painter, but after a strong start at Bishop Barron's website about six months ago, turned rather anodyne.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

If I were texting my (adult) kids about organic wine

My adult children and I do group texting. Today, if I were to give them my news of the day, it might go like this. 

"SO I'm at a seminar and the nice man is talking about his organic winery and how they used to farm 75 acres with evil Monsanto pesticides and the vines all got crappy roots because pesticides wreck the soil and now they farm 35 acres with egg-laying wasps to kill the leaf-hoppers (bad insects -- and I'm thinking, how long does THAT take) and now the soil is all lush and they have sheep and cows to eat the grass, and poop for fertilizer. And I'm thinking ooohhh-kay, who collects all the bull shit (literally) and how long does THAT take. 

"And the winery now has gardens inside the rows of vines, taking uup a lot of space that used to be for grapes but that now provides habitats for the good wasps that eat the bad insects. And I'm thinking, ooohh-kay, what if some of the bad insects still survive and cause a problem? And how are you staying in business when you have cut your productive land by more than half, plus use payroll to maintain the gardens? Plus they spray pulverized amethyst crystals on the vines every spring, because that's what the peasants of old used to do. It helps focus the light on the grape leaves and leads to desired nuances of flavor.    

"So I was going to ask what the hell BUT then somebody else asked 'oh don't you make Wine X, also?' And the nice man said Yes. 'And is that organic?' Um, no, but they hope soon it will be. 

"Ooooh-kay. So you have a Plan B winery that makes wine (and money) in the usual way, so you don't go bankrupt while you are slowing production to pre-modern levels, adding gardens and experimenting with cool, Pleistocene-looking bull species and amethyst spray.

"THEN I get back to work and my co worker who has been in the business for decades asks about the seminar and then says, 'Oh, I wish I had gone! I know them. Such a nice family. They sold the winery for sixty million dollars a few years ago.' 

"And I'm like 'OOOHHHHH-KAY so this is how you afford your Marie Antoinette Hameau farm with the egg-laying wasps and the cows and the sheep and the gardens taking up space in the middle of the vineyards. I totally get it. And I'm really glad you totally don't control actual farming of food products, because if you were in charge we would all starve. You wouldn't, but we would. And it turns out old Strom Thurmond got the sulfites warning label attached to wine, as tit-for-tat because the crusading lefties got the death label attached to cigarettes! (He was a Senator from tobacco-land, North Carolina.) I say good for him." 

 And then I thought, all along at this seminar I had been gazing at a multimillionaire. In the flesh. I don't think I have ever really seen one. God bless him, may he and his family live and be happy for a thousand years. But let us be honest, too, I was in the presence of a multimillionaire, -- and a delightedly confident missionary priest. From his perspective, why not?

Earlier in the day the nice host on Relevant Radio played an old tape of (atheist) Penn Jillette talking about a fan who had given him a Bible, and of how he, Jillette, was touched and impressed by the man's sheer goodness, his exemplary concern for someone else's eternal welfare. He said believers, if they are serious, should do more of this. Even though their doing it means nothing because there is still no God.

Now the host of the show, the graceful and excellent Patrick Madrid, offered the old tape as something for all of us to think about. At first I was impressed by it, but as the day went on, I found myself less so. The main "pull quote" from it was Jillette complaining, 'How much hatred must you [the Christian] have for someone, to not tell them of eternal truth, of the fate of their souls, if you really believe what you say you do and you really believe the atheist is in danger?'

From a person who is less completely hostile and belittling ("the man giving me a Bible doesn't change the fact that there is no God"), the pull quote would have been more meaningful. In that case you would have had a pull quote from someone perhaps willing to hear. It's true we should all preach more in daily life, somehow. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have said, "preach the Gospel -- if necessary, use words." But Jillette's leaping to the use of the word hatred struck me, as the day went on, as disingenuous to the point of hatred itself. Do I hate the people all around me, many of whom, I can fairly safely bet, are not believing "enough" for me or for the strictness of the Catechism?

No, I don't hate them. What I feel -- and mind you I am a newcomer myself -- is a sense of what Christ told the Apostles: I send you out among wolves, so be ye wise as serpents and guileless as doves. We already live in a world governed essentially by the likes of Penn Jillette, what with his contempt and his easy announcement of what a believer's "hatred" is and how it ought to be corrected if we were really serious -- yes, imagine the fun he would get out of more people who really took him up on his challenge in some cartoonish, schoolmarmy way (talking hell, or giving him more Bibles for instance), he would define that as hatred, too, and that would only be the beginning -- people like him have most of the microphones and the stages and the Supreme Court decisions and the just plain coolness. We have, it seems, a crumbling mud redoubt around a little laughable camp, and the great white towers of the overlooking civilization, ready to haul us up before comedians' stages or the law variously, to answer questions and be made absurd and to be unheard, and we know it and they know it, in almost all circumstances. That we too often never even approach the Penn Jillettes in daily life is not hate. It's a kind of bewildered, bitter exhaustion I suppose. And it is the fruit of a long faithful experience in history that example counts more than anything. That he should claim failure to harangue is hate is his hate.

Which is hard to care about and to counter with love and a message, true. But we should. Send him more Bibles maybe. Pray for him certainly. The poor man, his fame now seems to be all about his dramatic weight loss; he tweets about not having consumed a single calorie in the last 81 hours. As for others, like the nice millionaire who believes in organic wine, as Marie Antoinette believed in her lovely Hameau? I said he was essentially a missionary priest. Did I walk up to him afterward and counter-offer a Bible, or a little fake-leatherbound copy of Day by Day with Augustine? I did not. I did ask about the insect population at the winery, and about whether he uses the "natural" copper spray called the Bordeaux mixture, which is pre-modern, non-synthetic, non-evil Monsanto, and toxic to everything. "That's illegal," he answered.

I wish I were faster on my feet, more aggressive. I could have replied, "Oooohh-kay, but where is it illegal? Are you using it anyway?" And what about the certifications from all the right committees and societies overseeing winery compliance with all the right rules about organic farming? Is everyone involved, sinless? See, that's the trouble with our current missionary priests of the new religion. Not only are they kind and charming, which makes it difficult to know how best to address them. They seem to need so little, certainly not a daily quote from late antiquity's Bishop of Hippo. They seem also not to need to present a public face of truth, still less of humility, to the world. Imagine standing before a group of people and not acknowledging "we can afford to transform the winery into a small, pre-modern villa with a grape garden, because we already sold the brand for millions." Imagine being a famed comedian and choosing to preach "those of you who don't give me Bibles like this man are full of hate -- and that's the bulk of you."

Of course deceit is a human failing, a sin, but I don't know if even the ancient pagans and barbarians were this distant from truth in their own beliefs and in their own heads. Maybe yes, toward the end, when historians tell us the urban sophisticates knew they were offering incense to an imaginary "Diana" or "Apollo," but followed through anyway. This was when Christianity was, of all things, growing.       
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