Saturday, November 15, 2014
I want to start off with one bold proclamation: WE ARE THE ONES WITH THE 5 TALENTS!!!!! This is so true on so many levels. We, as Catholics, have been given a deep richness of God's grace especially in the Sacraments. We are given the possibility of an extraordinarily intimate relationship with God, seen most concretely through the Eucharist. We are given the ongoing gift of the forgiveness of sins. We have a God who desperately loves us and wants to have us with Him for all eternity. We have the fellowship of believers stretching throughout time and space, all fellow pilgrims meant to help each other to that Kingdom. We have a massive body of teaching and instructions to help us discern what loving God and loving our neighbor looks like. We have a Gospel which urges us on to excellence and victory! We lack no access to a bountiful spiritual treasure trove.
Furthermore, to my American readers, we enjoy a wealth and freedom in this country that so very many in this world would desperately want to have. No one who goes to worship in this country need worry about arrest or death. Even our poor live better than so very many in this world. We have an embarrassment of riches. We have access to food, clean water, medical care, housing, and work that many in this world do not have. We live in a society that does give us the ability to better ourselves should we decide to do the hand work necessary to that end. The social safety nets we have in place are extensive.
So why is their such discontent in our society? Why are we losing our youth and young adults in such alarming numbers? Why are our worship services so often paeans to mediocrity and banal worship? Why do people get 'nothing out of' our Eucharistic celebrations, as is so often commented? Some will say it is because of entitlement (everything must please me), some will say it is because we do not appreciate or even acknowledge what we have, some will say it is because we have grown more inward as individuals. Some would say it is just a case of we have grown into spoiled rotten adolescents. Maybe it is a mix of all these things. What I believe though is that we have lost our fire and fervor.
Let me explain: Every Mass should be a resounding celebration of "I LOVE YOU GOD!!!" Voices resounding like peals of thunder should be facilitating this. However for this to happen we need to be living lives that scream "I LOVE YOU JESUS!!!", that act as a powerful witness. This cannot be synthesized nor faked. We can have all of the lively sounding music or solemn music we want. We can have all the happy clappy or all the silence we want. Mediocrity of faith will lead to mediocrity in worship. Do we really get what we have?! Do we? I can assure if we did, we would be those voices raised like the peals of thunder in praise of our God! EVERY MASS should be a loud and bold proclamation that we have the 5 talents!
But what do we experience? Mystery? Beauty? Wonder? Awe? Simply overwhelmed at whose presence we are coming into? If we understood even a minimal level that is what we should feel, perhaps we would be connecting with what is happening. But what do we experience? Banality, the commonplace, mediocrity, tepidness...nothing...a void? In the Book of Revelations, Jesus says to the Church of Laodicea through St. John, "How I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth!" Our celebration of the Eucharist is not to be an exercise in mediocrity! As I said before though, our worship will be a reflection of our spiritual lives. It is not about what we get out of Mass, it is about what we give!
I am not saying that we couldn't do better in Mass. I do tire of singing about ourselves in a Christianized narcissistic way. I deeply desire music directed primarily to the praise and worship of our God. I don't want to hear the same stuff I hear outside of Mass...I want to know right away that what we are here to do is radically different. I want mystery and awe! I want to hear from the music, the readings, and the homily a resounding 'I LOVE YOU LORD!'. I want worship to represent the acknowledgement that we indeed possess the richness of God's grace. Why? Because Mass is supposed to fire us up to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ...to invest the 5 talents in such a way so as to draw others to Christ Himself. No fervor in Church will translate into no engagement. This doesn't mean the blare of percussion instruments as much as it means the roar of thunder of our voices in praise of God. That roar is as powerful through chant as it is through more modern styles. It should not be an either/or wargame that so many parishes devolve into (like that isn't immediately perceptible). We have been around for the better part of two millenia...we should quit trying to act as if we either came into existence or ceased to exist 50 years ago!
Mass is the tip of the iceberg. Our lives as Catholics need to scream "I Love you Lord!"...not 'bah, sure, I think I like you, if you actually exist and all.' Pope Francis referred to pagan Catholics a few days ago. That's harsh but pretty accurate. Catholicism isn't a fraternal order to belong to...we aren't the Kiwanas with a lot of statuary. We are the caretakers of a radical faith meant to transform the world! We look at so many of the problems we face as a church. We want to blame the teachings. I say it is the timidity and lukewarmness! I say it is the ago old desire to have a god who doesn't challenge...a doddering doofus who will just rubber stamp our least efforts with heaven. Wake up people!! If in the parable the king grows infuriated with the one who hid his single talent...what will be the response to those who buried the 5?! We need to understand in the most powerful possible way: we worship a God who expects us to use wisely what He has given...not a god who desires nor rewards mediocrity and lukewarmness. There needs to be a restoration of that understanding...and that restoration will breath new life into our parishes, our families, and our world!
Monday, November 3, 2014
It is worth noting that our Christian faith is founded by a man who possessed nothing. Jesus embraced radical poverty. He, being the Son of God, could have been born into great power and wealth. When He comes into the world, it is the Father's will that Jesus be born into the lower classes. He died owning no earthy possessions other than the clothing he wore, which was gambled for as he was being executed on the cross. Even his tomb belonged to another. Why? Why does the Son of God come this way? What is the larger point? His life points to the Kingdom of God/Heaven. He comes to establish it. In John 18:36, when in front of Pilate, he declares His Kingdom is not of this world. He is not attached to the things of this world. he encourages His disciples and apostles to do the same (Matthew 5:3, 6:19-21, 6:24, 28-32, 10:9-10 for examples). Is he saying wealth is inherently evil? No. He is saying that we should concern ourselves with higher goals. In Timothy 6:10 reminds us that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. We look at these passages and see that the consumption and ownership of worldly goods can not become an ends in themselves. For the powerful, regardless of their political bent, this preoccupation with worldly wealth and power can become all consuming. History shows that this wreaks havoc on humanity.
Unrestrained capitalists can have very thin skins. The envious, a driving force in both unrestrained capitalism and communism, also are thin skinned. Unrestrained capitalists like to hide behind the tiresome words 'whatever the market will bear.' This is to act as if the market were its own philosophy of morality. Let's be honest, though, the market will bear slave labor, child labor, low wages, outrageous compensation packages for elites while laying off employees, bonuses for work that should have the person fired, and cronyism. This same list is alive and well among socialists and communists as well. This is problematic and sinful. When we love things and use people, we wander from from our human dignity and abandon any pretense of a relationship with God. When the pope points this out, and he does frequently, this does not make him a communist, it makes a follower of Christ. That pointing out these aspects of the Gospel makes people uncomfortable is more a reflection on them than him.
We, as followers of Christ are not engage in the class warfare that is at the heart of either extreme of the spectrum. For most of you reading this, even if in American society you may not be among the wealthy. but odds are you are part of the upper 1% of wealth in this world. Luke 12:28 reminds is to whom much is given, much is expected. The accrual of wealth for its own sake is problematic and even condemned in Scriptures. In Luke 20:28 ff the rich man is condemned for using his excess wealth to enrich himself instead of helping those in need,a violation of Deuteronomy 24:19. Inasmuch as we do not engage in class warfare neither do we hoard. Of this the Church has been clear for her entire history (not always lived up to, but certainly never taught to hoard) and has placed an onus on those of means to look after the needs of the poor. That Pope Francis says any of this is neither novel nor revolutionary. It certainly does not make him a communist! If anything, it makes the life of detachment from wealth that he has chosen throughout his life a living witness to the life of Christ Himself. Is this way every single person should do it? No. Nor is the pope saying it should be. As the successor to the Chair of Peter, he is saying nothing more that what the Church has taught for 2000 years.
So why all the hubbub? Politics. We live in a society polarized on a plethora of levels. The atmosphere is toxic. Witness the unrelenting amounts of speculation and outright nonsense surrounding the synod. There is no topic anymore that does not rally people around a cause to which they will destroy others who disagree with them. Anyone with a sense of history and a modicum of faith knew the synod would not change one iota of Church teachings; because we might want to be more gentle, kinder, or loving does not necessitate a caving in on moral issues. What bigger prize than the leader of the largest institution on earth?! The pope is on my side!!! No, he isn't and nor should he be! He is the spiritual leaders of 1.1 billion people of every possible bent and description. It is isn't his job to favor one over the other. I look at the predecessors he had...they didn't either (as much as some want to say Pope Benedict did...read all of his writings sometime). The pope is not the grand prize in the battles of ideologies.
Many call him communist because he questions the practice of some forms of capitalism. Any form or any socioeconomic theory is not without its abuses and malformations. If being unrelenting in my capitalism means I hoard for myself and take a Darwinistic approach to others, I cannot be authentic about being a Christian! Doubt that? I would invite the reader to go to Matthew 25:31-46 and take a good long look at how we will be judged. Perhaps the pope saying what he does about wealth distribution and economies has absolutely nothing to do with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and lot more to do with the King of Glory. Because I might belong to a certain economic theory means neither treating that theory as gospel nor of being unwilling to admit its flaws. To point out said flaws does not make one a enemy as much as it does a purveyor of truth.