Friday, December 31, 2010

The Renewal of the Liturgy, Ratzinger's a Good Place to Start

If you have in any way been following us on Twitter, you can't help but notice the abundance of quotes from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, or Joseph Ratzinger, or Ratzi.  It's because I had been engulfed by his 2000 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy.  If you remember, this book was part of our failed attempt at a summer reading.  This is why I picked up.

I had read parts of it in preparation for a talk on the importance of Mass a few years back.  Then, I gained some insights into the liturgy that helped me participate better.  When I entered into the full breadth of the work this fall, I got to understand the undergirding Scriptural and philosophical base of his theology of the liturgy.  He is honest.  With many things pertaining to the liturgy, many seem to be pushing an agenda, either this or that.  This work wishes to sift through the opinion and pull out the tradition of the Church guided by Ratzinger's now famous "hermeneutic of continuity."

There are those books in one's life that alter your weltanschauung.  For me, this was one of those books.  So much of the Christian life is connected to the liturgy, some may know this and I had unclear suspicions that was the case, but much was cleared, the light of the liturgy shone forth before my eyes.  Symbolism had meaning.  Liturgical actions have symbolism not just utility.  Because of the age in which I have grown up (no doubt the same as yours), liturgical action and indeed liturgy seemed simple, to the point, and utilitarian.  It satisfied a need to make contact with God and fulfill Sunday obligation.  At some points in my life, it was something to endure.  The less there was the better, not just in time but in liturgical art.  Architecture, statuary, painting, and music were extras like the sprinkles on top of a hot fudge Sunday.  They made it taste better, but they weren't necessary for it.

These thoughts were in ignorance, as high schooler.  Entering seminary my confreres and the monks who taught me, had different ideas that clashed with my closed, experiential understanding of the liturgy.    They had more knowledge and understanding of the nature and focus of liturgy.  I knew this implicitly as worship of God, but what I didn't understand is how human ego can get in the way this very easily.  Along with this, I was and still to some extent am ignorant of the richness of the Church's liturgical history.  What I am aware of, is the hermeneutic of discontinuity in which I grew up as a Catholic.  My experience is no different than many of the Catholics in the United States.

One of the main insights I received from this work was the importance of ad orientem worship.  By turning the priest toward the congregation, it turns the focus.  Egocentricity becomes that much more a temptation for the priest now that he prays looking at the congregation.  Does he now have to put on a show?  Now does he have to perform?  From a celebrant's standpoint, it's a nightmare.  Actors face their audience.  Generals lead their armies into battle with their backs turn to their men.  Priests lead their congregations in the worship of God through the sacrifice of Christ, his Son.  They look towards the east the place the rising sun, the image of the Risen Christ, the promise of our own resurrections and eternal life and happiness.  They look towards the Cross which as the crux (pun intended) for the whole liturgical action of the Church, the proclamation of the word, the unbloody sacrifice, all of the other sacraments.  Clericalism disappears when the worshiping body is focused solely on He alone who deserves worship.

Thank you Ignatius Press for printing this in English, thank you John Saward for providing a clear and eloquent translation.  Thank you Border's for selling it to me.  Going into my final year of seminary, the lessons and insights learned from this book will be invaluable, and I'm positive I will return to it in years to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sorry Rivers You Are Not God

This blog was originally written on October 30, 2010.  The reason for postponement is in the update below.

Tonight was a definitive night.  Why should I make such a bold statement about a cool night in late October on the eve of Halloween weekend?  You might expect some earth shattering revelation or some revolutionary idea that will change the way we see the world.  In fact, I simply chose not to worship the music.  My favorite band, a band I've admired, at times I wished to be in, and at other times just plain worshiped plays as I type, in my hometown, for the first time since my knowledge of their existence.  They are not playing an ordinary show, just another stop on the tour.  No, they are playing the Voodoo Music Experience.  Where "spirituality" meets the music on the weekend of all hallows eve.  Ghosts and goblins and witchcraft all come together for the sake of the music.  All come to "worship the music" as the Experience's slogan proclaims.

I have experienced the Voodoo Music Experience twice in my life.  First in the fall of 2001, the buddy that came with me fled a sentence of house arrest he received from his parents.  We worshiped the likes of 311, Eminem, a young Black Eyed Peas, and the Stone Temple Pilots.  We left in ecstasy (not drug-related) from such a vast experience of music.  It was the greatest musical experience of my teenage life.

This trend of not fulfilling obligations continued.  My second "worship service" occurred seven years later when I chose to not fulfill some requirements of presence at a certain function.  Instead, I chose to listen and adore the great deconstruction and reconstruction of music that comes from the mind of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco.

Music seemed more important than responsibility, as if music superseded responsibility and became the categorical norm.  If it was musical it was more important.  I was indeed following what had been taught to me by MTV and VH1.  I was so influenced by this worldly concept that it in some ways cause spiritual turmoil in my own heart.

I speak this candidly for a purpose.

I chose tonight to forgo what would undeniably be the greatest musical experience of my life, Weezer playing live in New Orleans.  I chose this for my own virtue.  I have no obligations tonight.  I could have gone and not skipped on anything.  Instead, I chose to not "worship the music."  It is a step of many steps towards freedom from the concept that music supersedes responsibility but more importantly freedom from being bound by a created reality whereby I can more freely worship He who alone is worthy of worship.

Rivers Cuomo is second from the left

Sorry Rivers you are not God.

Update: I have been reading The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  In his chapter, he specifically speaks on rock music.
"Rock," on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. (p. 148)
Cardinal Ratzinger's quote confirms my thoughts that evening.  I previously was a reticent in posting it because of its candidness, but after reading that, it seemed appropriate.

Music can easily become a source of idolatry.  One can worship the creator of the music, as seemed to happen with the overly popular acts like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Elvis to name a few.  As Ratzinger says it even holds worship services, known as rock concerts.

There's a certain rite, if you will humor me.  One pays a tithe for entrance.  After entrance is granted, one either moves to the assigned seat or finds the best place to participate in the service.  There is an entrance rite performed by a local DJ.  This is followed by open acts, who are usually of lesser notoriety and do not deserve full worship.  They are the lesser deities that get you emotional revved up for the deity you came to worship.  Finally, after waiting, the time arrives when the sound waves hit your ears that excite those elemental passions and bring one over edge into musical ecstasy.  This is a communal experience.  Libations are present as ways of preparing for the ecstatic experience.

The cultic character is no doubt present.  No man, or creation, deserves that worship.  God alone.

So I repeat again.  Sorry, Rivers, you are not God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas: The Epic Interruption

The word ‘epic’ is over-used by holiday advertisers. The word ‘interruption’ is mostly avoided. It seems a silly thing to call a cellphone or a car ‘epic,’ just as it would be ludicrous to call a tugboat ‘titanic’ or a shovel ‘earth-shattering.’ Calling them ‘interruptions’ would be more appropriate. Who hasn’t had their enjoyment of a concert or conversation interrupted by the ringing phone, or had a pleasant afternoon destroyed by a car accident? One may argue that advertisers’ unscrupulous application of words like ‘epic’ undercuts the meaning of such words and renders them impotent. I, of course, agree, but as far as I can tell, this isn’t problem with using these words to describe the mundane. Hyperbole is a relatively innocent way of reminding us that the everyday can be transcendent. No better example is there than the case of God’s being born into a stable.

-Wait a second, didn’t you blog about the Nativity already? You mean I read through all that tom-foolery about the Incarnation on Ice only to have you shove it in my face again!

Yes, kind reader, I’m afraid I’m among that number trying to keep Christ in Christmas. As I was saying, the Christmas story is more-than-epic, or rather, it is monumental without being a monument. It is alive. Were it truly epic in the way that the ‘Iliad,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ are called epic, than it would have long since become a relic of academia collecting dust in the Ivory Tower. Obsolescence is the destiny of everything that takes upon itself the term ‘epic.’ A cellphone that claims to be ‘epic’ might very well have amazing speed and revolutionary communicative capabilities, but precisely because it desires to be this generation’s (the 4G or Fourth Generation we are told) epic event, it will be the next generation’s antique.

-Not that I’m complaining, but I thought that you were going to talk about the Christmas Story. All this cultural commentary is almost as repulsive as your apologetics.

O good reader, an excellent point. Thank you for your patience. I was hinting that the Christmas Story is a ‘transcendent epic.’ The term is strange so I will lay-out some common charactersistics of an epic.

1) Epics begin ‘in medias res,’ a good translation of which would be ‘in the middle of things’ or ‘in the thick of it.’ In short, an epic is a glorified interruption! Having already established that other epic-titled things are indeed interruptions, let’s stress that St. Luke’s gospel makes it clear that the Nativity was one too. Mary, Joseph, the Wise-men, Herod, the Chief Priests and the shepherds were all quite busy. They had their own set of expectations. It certainly wasn’t a very convenient time for God to bust-up into their world. Even the faithful characters of the gospel narrative have to be given visions and miracles to be pushed in the right direction. St. Luke’s opening lines make it clear that the world was in the midst of several other reigns-of-kings when the King of Kings arrived on the scene.

2) Epics are sweeping. There are journeys, adventures, plots, councils and heroism. In this department, the Nativity Story carries its own weight. Only the drama Christ’s death can outdo the drama of Christ’s birth. There are twists and turns that contrast well with the somewhat ponderous sermons and healings populating the rest of Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels.

3) The setting is romantic. Robes and royals. Insurrection and Incense. Exotic cities and angel’s singing. The Christmas pageant has more authentic pageantry than all other pageants put together.

-That was rather redundant.

See how tempting it is to interrupt. This brings us to a fourth point that applies only to the Nativity:

4) Most importantly of all, the Christmas Story is a real story. Therefore, it was a real interruption. It threw human history out-of-sorts. Time is measured in relation to IT. As a result nothing else that claims the adjective ‘epic’ can hold a candle to the advent wreath. Hector never really ran laps around Troy. A car’s state-of-the-art fuel injection system will never bring about the revolution in society that it can bring about in mechanics. But Jesus was indeed born. Anything that rightfully or wrongfully claims the name ‘epic’ is destined to pass that torch to something else. Jesus, however is still alive. And this Christmas is his 2010th birthday party. He is epic still.

-Now I see where you’re going with this. It’s another one of those ‘True-Meaning-of-Christmas’ bits. Well, if you think I have the time to incorporate any more pious drivel into my holiday schedule, you have another thing coming. I’m already going to make it to church on Christmas day: that should be enough for you and God.

You know, honest reader, there is more in common between our feelings than you would guess. But we were talking about the epic-ness of God, and you seem reluctant to accept the concept. I don’t blame you either. Compared to super-fast cars, movies and cellphones, what chance does a first century Jew born in a stable stand? But there is this final trait of epics:

5) Epics implant meaning. They interrupt the follow of an already-proceeding storyline and provide it with the twist necessary to render the whole event plausible. Voldemort is around before the Harry Potter books begin. The Ring exists long before Frodo is even born. Christ comes into an already doomed world to give it new life. But because His is a real story, there is no way that it can be robbed of its value.

The choice before us, you and me both kind reader, is whether or not we’re willing to celebrate the Nativity over-and-above the holiday-hijinks that are now claiming to be as epic as the Word-made-Flesh. The Reality of Christ keeps Him in Christmas. It’s whether or not we bother to invite Him into our own messy, stinky, cluttered stable that will determine whether own Christmas will be epic or anti-climatic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

We were Recommended

Christopher's Apologies gave us a shout out on his blog. Thanks Chris for recommending the blog.

Mission and Emmaus

I am currently on a mission trip. This is one of my reflections on traveling to the country.

The last chapter of Luke gives look at travel. The road to Emmaus can provide multiple reflections with regard to this trip, but I will look at just one right now. The Risen Christ walked with his two disciple as they returned home from Jerusalem. They were unaware of his true identity; he was hidden to them while being present with them. Notice also they traveled in two. One can possibly infer that they traveled together in twos in a previous time maybe as part of the 72 that were sent out by Christ. They might have been on mission previously. Christ walks with them who had gone on mission and lights on fire they're stony hearts that were unable to perceive the depth the Scriptures held in proclaiming Christ and him crucified and risen, which indeed became their mission after Pentecost. In a sense their hearts burn because they wish to continue the mission of the Scriptures and proclaim Christ crucified and risen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mary's Womb

Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul. - Blessed Isaac of Stella

Advent: Charity, an Advent Virtue

Not soon after Mary heard she was to be the mother of the Son of God what did she do?  She traveled in haste to her cousin Elizabeth.  Mary lived in Nazareth, which was about 50 miles north of Jerusalem.  Elizabeth lived in “a city of Judah” “in the country,” (Lk 1:39).   This was most probably about 5-10 miles west of Jerusalem.  That means a young teenage girl, newly pregnant, traveled around 60 miles to visit her aging and pregnant cousin.  That’s a great distance, and the terrain wasn’t flat either.  It was hilly and maybe even slightly mountainous.  Mary began her waiting for Jesus, then, in a selfless manner.  Getting up and traveling rough terrain to offer assistance to her cousin.  She didn’t say to herself, “Self, I’ll wait till she has the baby.  That’s just way too far.”  Nor did she neglect her cousin after hearing such extraordinary news.  Such a pregnancy as Elizabeth’s would probably be a dangerous pregnancy, one that needed additional help and support.  Hence, Mary traveled in love and selflessness to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

As we await the coming of our Savoir, God gives us opportunities to take care of Elizabeths.  He gives us opportunities to travel great distances, sometimes physical, as in Mary's case.  Other times we gives us the opportunity to travel a great distance relationally and minister to someone whom we despise or with whom we are angry .  Once we receive Christ, we don’t just sit at home with Him.  We go out; we proclaim His greatness.  I emphasize "just" because he calls us to sit with Him in prayer each day, but the fruit of prayer is charity, hence going out.  

He dwells within the womb of our hearts.  Our bellies don’t show the trimesters; our actions do.  One can see that Christ was about to hit full term in many of the lives of the saints. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent de Paul, are just a few.  Our hearts must dilate and grow for Christ to be born in them.  This is Advent, and indeed, each day of our lives provides opportunity for the dilation of the heart.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent: Becoming a Worthy Vessel of the Coming Christ

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I figured it would be a good day to continue the series on learning from Mary how to wait for Jesus.  We hear in the Gospel the Annunciation.

It was here at the Annunciation, the Church understands, that Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary (this is not the Immaculate Conception, mind you.  The Immaculate Conception was Mary being conceived in the womb of Anne).  The Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her.  She became a virgin mother.  This image of a virgin mother is very important in her waiting. 

If we look in the Old Testament, Israel was seen to be the spotless bride of God.  She was his beautiful and magnificent bride adorned with costly jewels and fragrant perfume.  We hear in the prophets, especially Hosea and Isaiah, how Israel prostituted herself to other gods.  Idolatry was connected with adultery.  Here we have Mary, a virgin mother, who is singularly devoted to God.  She is “his handmaiden," (Lk. :38).  Her singular focus to God prepared her to receive Christ in her womb.  No other god was before her.  She was His alone.  She was not divided or distracted.  She was ready to give herself as the Bride of the Holy Spirit.

Where is our focus?  Do we solicit ourselves to things, worshipping our car, or our computer, or our smartphone?  Do we prostitute ourselves out to false ideas like Communism, which denies the dignity of each individual or an unchecked free market that canonizes greed?  Do we set ourselves up to be worshipped, trying to direct all attention toward ourselves while neglecting the needs of others?  No longer are pagan gods the objects of idolatry, like they were in Israel.  The aforementioned things are our modern day ‘gods.’  Our focus and singular devotion, should be like Mary, on God alone.  Advent is a time we can rid ourselves of these idolatries and be singularly focused on making our house ready for the coming of our king, preparing the womb of our hearts.  Confession provides us with an opportunity to start anew, alive with God’s grace and His indwelling.  After confession, He dwells in a more worthy vessel.  If we could only mirror the vessel that Mary provided for Him!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What a Christian Is?

For the sake of a friend I repost my first ever blogpost, originally written January 30, 2008.

"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." Deus Caritas Est 1

There is this idea in the world today that Christianity, Catholicism in particular, is no different than every other religion (to each his own). That is not true. In fact, it is a lie. Pope Benedict shows us in the aforementioned quote why. You can't reduce Christianity to an ethical choice. Christianity is not solely an ethical system wherein the Ten Commmandments set up guidelines and boundaries to live our lives. It is not a group of people who casuistically tell if you've sinned, and, therefore, need redemption. Although some of these things have their part, they are not the core of Christianity.

Christianity is about Christ. It says so in it namesake. As St. Paul says, "We preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified." We are not Ten Commandmentians. We are Christians. Our focus, our meaning, our lives are centered on the person of Christ and the decisive event of the Paschal Mystery, His death and resurrection.

There's an interesting point here. In the quest for the "historical Jesus" there has been this drive to find out who Jesus really was. Was he just a liberal Jew stirring up things in an already chaotic time in history? Was he a just a rabbi with followers who got some crazy ideas that he rose from the dead after he was crucified for plotting an uprising? Luke Timothy Johnson, a Catholic Scripture scholar, wished to put his two-sense into this empirically driven quest. He bases his claims on the New Testament just as the rest of the scholars did. He said that these scholars tended to separate the gospels as individual entities without any correlation except Luke and Matthew using Mark as a source. Johnson, however, finds a continuous thread throughout not only the gospels but even many of the Pauline epistles. In all of them there is a "story of Jesus" as he calls it. "It expresses the meaning of Jesus' ministry in terms of its ending: Jesus is the suffering servant whose death is a radical act of obedience toward God and expression of loving care for his followers," (LTJ The Real Jesus 165-6). In other words, the common thread among the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, the Pauline and Petrine letters is Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Now I'll return to the previous train of thought

The person of Jesus and the event of the Paschal Mystery opens new horizons of eternal life; opens the new horizon of union with the Creator, opens the new horizon of communion.

Finally, Christ gives decisive direction to our lives. No longer are we nomadic wanders looking for the next unsatisfying meal. No longer are we lost in the jungle of uncertainty and lies. No longer are we in fear of the future. Christ satisfies, certifies, and is the future of our very beings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent: Prayer as Preparation for the Coming of the Lord

The Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne
We are coming to a close on the first week of Advent.  I thought I would share some insights I had preparing (pun not intended) for an Advent mission focused on learning from Mary how to wait for Jesus.

Most images of the Annunciation have Mary kneeling and praying when the angel Gabriel appears.  This is most curious since Luke never mentions either prayer or kneeling.  He just says, “he came to her,” (Lk. 1:28).  These artists’ imaginations are guided by the Tradition of the Church, which says Mary was a woman who was often in prayer.  From whom do you think Jesus learned how to pray?  Especially in the Gospel of Luke, one can read Jesus going off and praying.  It seems likely that she could have been praying at the time Gabriel appeared. 

Gabriel came to her to deliver the message that she would be the mother of the “Son of the Most High God,” (Lk. 1:32).  She was not prepared for his presence nor his message.  He came to her suddenly and without warning, and startled her so much so he had to say, “Do not be afraid,” (Lk. 1:30).  Yet, in the images the Church has given us she is praying, humbly kneeling before the God she cannot see.  Her prayer prepared her heart to say, “Let it be done unto me according thy will,” (Lk. 1:38).  Prayer prepares our hearts to say yes to God, to answer his call.  I heard my call to the priesthood in prayer, but that is another story.  Indeed, prayer should a great part of our day.  It builds up for us treasure in heaven.  It prepares us for the coming of the Lord, which will come like a thief in the night.