Monday, November 28, 2011

The Faithful Receive New Instructions about Prayer: Back to the Future and the Abdication of Moral Leadership

I've been reading and thinking about the commentary of English-speaking Catholics who went to Mass yesterday and partook of the delights Rome is now offering the faithful through the new liturgical translation.  A smorgasbord of such commentary is on offer right now at the Commonweal blog.

And I've decided none of this is for me.  Literally so.  My fellow Catholics who continue to go to Mass and fret over whether the liturgy should say "for all" or "for many," "with you" or "with your spirit,"  "cup" or "chalice," "through my own fault" or "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" (à la Ellen Robillard O'Hara in Gone with the Wind), and so on: these fellow Catholics are not consubstantial with me and do not intend to be consubstantial with me.

Literally so: church-going Catholics to whom these things matter have, or so it appears to me, long since written off those of us so alienated from the church (more precisely: by the church) that the question of whether to say "consubstantial with" instead of "one in being with" seems akin to a query from a faraway and fairly insignificant planet, and not a question of moral and spiritual import for any planet on which real human beings live.

We do not matter to these fellow Catholics--not nearly so much as cups or chalices or consubstantiality with the Father does.

And from where I now live and move and have my being (and, I suspect, from the space many fellow Catholics occupy as well), none of this matters much at all in turn.  It can't matter, when our primary challenge is to salvage or recover a few scraps of faith in the God with whom Jesus is consubstantial, no matter what language one uses to describe said God.  Or in the church which graciously dictates to us the proclamation that Christ shed his blood for many and not for all.  In the church whose leaders like to remind us now and again that they reserve the right to tell us how, when, and where we shall pray officially to God--in what precise language we shall formulate our prayers.

Just because.  Because we occasionally need to be reminded of who owns the language reserved for approaching the Deity.  And who doesn't.  We need occasionally to be reminded of who belongs among the pro multis destined for eternal bliss and the reprobates headed to eternal darkness.  

(And those who continue to go along with all of this liturgical retuning and the men engineering it are clearly among the blessed multis, while the rest of us, for whom the retuning is now about as significant as is the question of whether a Model A trumps a 1905 Daimler, must accept our consignment to the outer darkness.  Where no one can ever be consubstantial with one of the elect.)

I keep trying to put the finger of my mind on what's simply so plain wrong with all of this--with the totally-beside-the-point archaism at a time in which anything but a return to the archaic is indicated if it's sanity and healing we seek; with the in-your-face refusal to engage the present and build a viable future, while we tinker with fantasies of returning to an ideal past; with the implicit snobbery (and downright cruelty) of Catholics who remain consubstantial with the hierarchy but who have renounced all consubstantiality with the brothers and sisters the hierarchy has designated for damnation, etc.

Obviously, part of what's wrong with all of this is the astonishing attempt of the current leadership of the Catholic church to convince those who follow it that we can walk backwards into a meaningful and bright future--when the Jewish and Christian scriptures are entirely framed from start to finish by a viewpoint that is ineluctably future-oriented, in which the promises of redemption stand forth only for those who have the courage to keep walking the path of faith into an unknown future with the conviction that God owns the final act of history.  For me, as someone who chose to become Catholic just as the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were underway in the 1960s, what's happening now has a very eerie and very tired ring of déjà vu about it--as if the half century that has elapsed between then and now never took place at all.

As if it--which is to say, my entire adult life--simply didn't matter at all.  Some fifty years gone, and we've decided it remains, just as it was when Vatican II wound down, a question of absolute spiritual momentousness to announce that we are not worthy that the Lord come under our roof.  

A half century, and this still matters above all.  This matters above all now, when an American Catholic bishop faces court action for criminal behavior in Kansas City, and a top diocesan official faces similar court action for criminal behavior in Philadelphia.  Whether to say "I am not worthy" or "I am not worthy that you should come under my roof": this matters now, momentously, as one of our spiritual leaders after another faces criminal indictment for complicity in acts endangering the well-being of children.

I somehow don't see it.  And perhaps I can't see it, as one of those excluded from the multis who remain consubstantial with the men whose cadre contains both criminals under indictment and spiritual adepts who alone know the verbal keys to unlock the divine heart.

Fifty years, in which many fellow Catholics and I and have received theological and scriptural educations in Catholic institutions that have convinced us that the church is called to remain in effective dialogue with the culture around it, that the church is called to be an effective sacramental sign of the values it proclaims to the surrounding culture, that faith is all about pilgrimage to a future yet to be made which remains in God's hands, but in whose building we collaborate with people of good will everywhere: fifty years of a theological and biblical education once considered sound, which is now entirely beside the point for the back-to-the-future men ruling the church.

Who clearly want us to be so mesmerized by the magic tricks of their liturgical tinkering that words like "consubstantial" become more significant to us than words like "criminal" or "indictment" or "authentic moral leadership."

I don't get it.  But I do get it, of course, all too well.  I get that morally and spiritually bankrupt charlatans for whom politicking counts more than moral and spiritual leadership will always resort to crude, diversionary magic tricks for as long as they can, to shift the focus from their inability to lead.

What I think I don't get and can't ever get, however, is the willingness of educated, morally sensitive human beings, of the intellectual leaders of my church in the U.S., who should know better--the willingness of the church's intellectual elite and cultural spokespersons to keep going along with the charlatanism, not to challenge it.  And the willingness of those at the intellectual center of American Catholicism to participate in the hierarchy's evil-spirited consigning of questioners and dissenters to the outer darkness, in which these rebellious souls are said to have a humanity that is no longer consubstantial with that of true believers.

No matter what the scriptures say about such evil-spirited behavior and no matter what the term "catholicity" really means in its core sense, which requires us to imagine and acknowledge our consubstantiality with every fellow human being who ever lived, if we truly expect to be among those whose feet are on the path to salvation.

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