Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The blessing in disguise of religious burnout, the state of the church, the Ukraine, and more


My parish.


5800 block of Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia.


My new old lamp and souvenir glass (Fourth of July, Roebling, NJ, 1954).

Wishing you a blessed Christmas. Tonight I'll be celebrating la Festa dei Sette Pesci (the Feast of Settling Things Like Joe Pesci), the Italian version of the abstinence vigil feast; tomorrow, Mass at Mater: Puer natus est nobis. By the way, strictly speaking, Christmas didn't begin at Halloween or Thanksgiving; it starts at I Vespers tonight and ends at the Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas) and even then fades out until Presentation/Purification/Candlemas, Feb. 2. (Me as an Episcopal kid: "Why are we singing carols in church after Christmas?") Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo.
  • Jeff Culbreath: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Acts 20:35. In a human sense, that is certainly true, and during the holiday season one naturally becomes mindful of giving. But is Christmas really primarily about giving? Christmas re-enacts a supernatural event. The fundamental message of Christmas is not about giving, but about receiving an incalculable gift from God. And in that sense, receiving the divine gift of Christmas - with a grateful heart - is far more blessed than giving.
  • "My Favorite Things" is NOT a Christmas song.
  • Religious burnout can be good. Because some religion is false, and all false religion is about self, not God. From my experience, and others’, I have identified three forms of religiosity that lead to burnout: religion as a form of self-rejection; religion as a quest for one’s own perfection; and religion as devotion to an ideology rather than to God Himself. The blessing of burnout lies in this simple fact: It is actually an act of mercy for God to destroy these forms of religion. Not to be confused with turning away from sin. It also reminds me of Mark Bonocore giving me the Cliffs Notes version of the Spanish mystics: there's the honeymoon stage (the converts' first five years here) in which you're overjoyed to be free from sin. Newbies think that's the end stage. Then the dark night of the soul, rather like Christ's temptation in the desert, kicks in, which is where most people quit as Satan intends. (Like the icon of the ladder of divine ascent with devils throwing people off.) Get through that and THEN you reach the end stage of real union with God.
  • John Lennon’s "Imagine" is "heart-chilling," says bishop in Christmas homily. Absolutely. By Boomer Jesus himself (a jerk actually a little older than the boomers), an anthem for "the Cathedral," a.k.a. MAG (Media and Government), the Christian heresy that is secular humanism, dangerous exactly because it's a beautiful song.
  • Fifteen minutes for the new homophiles. The Cathedral/MAG narrative is conservative Christians (including the Catholic Church: America never really stopped hating it) want to round up homosexuals and send them to death or re-education camps; actually, when I was growing up, born-agains taught me it's wrong to pick on them. Language is my career: the word they want is "continence" or "abstinence," not "celibacy," which merely means not being married. Chaste gays are nothing new. The kernel of truth here: absolutely be honest with yourself and whoever else needs to know about your temptation. Preached the right way, it can inspire gays to take up their cross and follow Christ. For example, the once celebrated Episcopalian turned Catholic Fr. John Jay Hughes will tell you he's bisexual but never attacks the teachings of the church. Regrettably, unsurprisingly, some in this "movement" are joining MAG in using this to attack the church.
  • The editorial line taken by Le Figaro is that Francis is more popular outside the church than within. It contrasts the standing ovation, “in stereo” from left and right, to the silence offered by local Catholics to the pope’s visit. And it is here that we find the deeper story -- not the one-off account of what happened in Strasbourg, but what is happening in French Catholic culture. Francis has the ear of professional politicians, the media -- the chattering classes -- but not of active Catholics. He's coming to Philadelphia next year but I'm not jumping up and down. As I like to say, we don't "worship" the Pope; he's relatively not that important. A distant figure whose name the priest whispers in the Canon at Mass and to whom I give my Peter's Pence envelope once a year, money he collects for charities. Novus Ordo neocons usually attack approaches like this saying we trads are part of the same problem as the secularists, hurting the church with disloyalty and division. But quasi-official conservative Catholic bloggers have backed off the "Benedict through Francis" routine. My loyalty is to God through the church, the doctrine that's in the catechism, not to Jorge Bergoglio's person. "But if the Pope isn't that important, why be Catholic? Isn't the Pope what defines you? Why not dump that Pope jazz and be Orthodox like they want you to be?" Because for all their faults, the Popes have done nothing but defend the truths of the faith. Caretakers as Benedict the Great has said. ("He can't break anything" essential; that's how the church works.) There is no reason to leave and everything to lose if we do.
  • Hilary White on the state of the church. When you're over the target, there's flak. People are asking me, why now? Why this sudden descent into the absurdities of the 70s for the Church? Why are the ageing "progressives" suddenly so violently resurgent... Well, maybe because: "Outside the SSPX since July 7, 2007, in the 191 dioceses in North America, there are 485 parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass on a regular basis. (Including mine.) 335 parish locations offer a weekly Traditional Latin Mass. 75 parish locations provide access daily..." Out of the billion-odd Catholics in the world, and the hundreds of thousands of parishes, these may not seem like very impressive numbers. But recall that ten years ago, the availability of the Traditional rites of the Church could be counted in Canada on one hand. They were in the single digits nearly everywhere. The turnaround has been under way since John Paul II but thank Benedict for this change. These numbers are also, particularly in the case of Old Europe, the only Catholic numbers that are growing. And how! While all other Catholic statistical indicators are plummeting. All. The old Modernists, hippies and communists know they don't have much more time. The "conservative" Novusordoist compromise has failed spectacularly, and the Faith and Praxis they tried so hard to stamp out turns out, like the Old Narnians under Miraz, not to be so dead and legendary as previously thought... In 50 years we'll be Cardinal Spellman's American church in miniature. By the way, after Mass last Sunday I met a group of people in their 20s who were coming to the Tridentine Mass on their own for the second or third time, having recently learned of it.
  • Clerical Vesture of the Patriarchate of St. Stephen. Of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, which is neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic but their heart's in the right place. Actually it seems to be a guide to my traditional Roman Rite's clerical choir habits (mostly not liturgical vestments), with different details for different ranks and situations, just like the military's service dress uniforms. Interesting early form of the clergy suit. The biretta's missing. (Cathedral canons in Europe dress like one of the ranks of monsignori and I think outrank them.) I don't know how accurate this is. My parish isn't a cathedral and we're staffed by friars, not monsignori. "The ARRCC is made up." Yes but still a resource; kind of ironic they're teaching me about my own church. God works in mysterious ways. And to be fair to such, although I wouldn't join, they have a claim to the episcopate, believe the creeds, believe pretty much the same thing about the sacraments as I do, and even love my own rite's high churchmanship as much as I do. And "where two or three are gathered together in my name" (often literally true with independent Catholic churches): if you're going to church every Sunday, you are in some sense real, even if I don't agree with you.
  • Cardinal Raymond Burke said in an interview this week that it is “amazing” that those who have defended Catholic teaching and practice on withholding Communion from those in publicly “irregular” sexual situations, are being accused of “being against the Holy Father, and of not being in harmony with the Church.” Burke for Pope: Pius XIII or Benedict XVII.
  • Why you should watch old movies. Golden-era America: Those films were made by men who remembered what it was to work in the fields or in the mines or on the girders. They were made by women who remembered what it was to till a garden, to patch a dress, to put up fruit and vegetables, and to make life sweet in poverty more materially severe than what the poorest among us now have experienced or perhaps can imagine. They were made by Jews who could chant prayers in Hebrew, and by Catholics who made the sign of the cross whenever they passed by a church, and by Protestants who had the sentences of the King James Bible ringing in their memory. I'm not saying that the actors and writers and directors were pious. Many of them were, and many were not. But they at least remembered these pieties. And their films are therefore often pious without intending to be so. Amen. I VERY selectively watch new movies and often they're set 50 or 60 years ago. I watch them partly to go back there, if they're well made, or to critique them if they're not. Recent favorite: Jersey Boys, not a sermon (they weren't always good boys) but a true story, about tough-guy music with a heart (the show and movie are the official continuation of the Four Seasons, approved by Frankie Valli). Also, not a period piece: The Wolf of Wall Street, because it's a story of America, definitely for grownups.
  • On that note, It's a Wonderful Life. I like it very much. Its history is interesting. I think it was released at the wrong time of year (summer?) and maybe audiences then thought it was too corny, so it either lost money or barely broke even. So it was forgotten for decades until its copyright ran out around 1974, which was right around when nostalgia became socially acceptable again. TV stations starting running it at Christmas because it was free, so boom: "holiday classic." I love The Family Man, the modern movie with Nicolas Cage that's an inversion of this story (Pottersville's the real world). I've seen an article defending Pottersville: Bedford Falls was a snooze but Pottersville was a swinging 1946 boom town, full of fun that seems only mildly naughty now. "I don't get it": A Christmas Story, cutesy but not very interesting.
  • Opening Cuba. Of course I'd like to see Havana remain in the '50s but get out of poverty, but the first probably won't happen. Somebody's said if the Cuban government's smart it will buy up and sell the country's many '50s American cars (still there thanks to a 50-year-old ban on American imports) to foreign collectors. I'm undecided. On one hand the Popes have been asking America to give Cuba a break for humanitarian reasons since the fall of global Communism (Cuba was subsidized by Russia when it was strategically important), since they're not a threat anymore. On the other I sympathize with the Cuban exile community in Miami (Gloria Estefan and her husband: Republicans; I'll bet they're furious) about not caving to petty tyranny, the Castros' government.
  • The Sony/The Interview/North Korea story. Why can Kim Jong-Un push a Western company around? We've lost our honor. North Korea's a badly run monarchy (hereditary) with Stalinist trappings.
  • The Ukraine:
    • Patriarch Sviatoslav's Christmas message, political while sort of pretending to be above politics. On one hand, the man loves his country and obviously wants "the freedom and exaltation of holy mother church" in order to live peacefully in the eastern Ukraine if it wants to and even to passively missionize among the Orthodox and the many secular people. On the other, it strikes me as being as crassly political, Erastian, nationalistic, as the Orthodox he opposes.
    • The Ukrainian parliament votes to end nonaligned status. Which I think means the new government, the one Sviatoslav is so crazy about, is the West's b*tch. What's next, gay weddings in Kiev?

1 comment:

  1. Re: The Patriarchate of St. Stephen. Of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church... it looks like a church that exists only on the internet. Their list of parishes seems to be Anglican and Roman Catholic. They claim to recognize both as sister churches and specifically include the Episcopalians in that list. No where do I find any discussion of concrete doctrinal issues though they include some of Rome's condemnation of modernism. But when you are calling a sect that purports to ordain women and marry sodomites a sister church, then we have a problem.

    As Perry Robinson used to observe "You are who you are in communion with." To the extent that anyone actually belongs to this fantasy church, they are heretics without orders or sacraments.

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