Friday, September 14, 2018

The Triumph of the Cross


Today's Feast is especially meaningful because of the Church's current excruciation. We are, at this moment, sharing in our Lord's suffering in an intense, collective, and universal way.

Looking forward, it seems to me that we can even now see some of the elements of our resurrection triumph which the sharing in this cross makes possible.

1. A deep love for the Church's perennial teaching on the Christian call to holiness through chastity, in every state of life. St. Paul called this obedience of faith, the offering of our bodies, "rational worship." To people who are subject to concupiscence, often very badly formed, and swimming in a culture virtually devoid of good example, the Church's teachings seem much more like a series of "thou shalt nots" than a joyfully exuberant path of life. A scandal of this proportion tends to simplify matters into the easy choice of Deuteronomy: life, or death. Choose life for you and your children. Choose life.

2. A renewal of the servant-leader approach to episcopal service. In every profession there comes a point of seniority after which it becomes very hard to be fired: tenure in academia and partnership in law, for example. Redress of complaints made by juniors to seniors after this point is limited. For me, and perhaps for others, the apparent assumption of this privileged status by our bishops in their 2002 agreement constitutes one of the major betrayals leading to the current outcry. Combined with this is a perception that at times some bishops may have used the power of the charter as a weapon against priests who have not committed crimes of this nature, but who are troublesome in some other way. In so many ways, this particular time is a purification for bishops as a group, for their relationships with their priests and seminarians, as well as for their care of their people. This is a moment when all of these things could be rethought and moved forward on an excellent footing.

3. The historical possibility of clearing an enormous worldwide organization of sexual abuse of minors and subordinates. Sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem. It is a human problem. For various reasons, including such practical reasons as deep pockets and such spiritual reasons as hatred of the faith, the Catholic Church is nearly alone in being called out in public regarding abuse. As an example, the Washington Post once ran an article about a school teacher who had sexually abused students. This article was not, as would have been the case for a priest, a major headline above the fold on the front page. It was instead in the local section, several pages back, with a one-inch photo. Every organization that works with young people has this problem of sexual predation, not to mention the many people who abuse the young on a personal level. The Church's time in the spotlight is not fair, in a sense. But it is much more important to note that the terror and pain of victims are entirely unfair, and our crises give us an opportunity to make a safe place for all people. This is a world full of abuse and human trafficking and sorrow inflicted by the strong upon the vulnerable. If that one safe place--an entirely safe place--happened to be uniquely the Catholic Church, that would go a long way towards fulfilling the prayer of Jesus, that the Father's will be done on earth as in heaven, in the place where such goodness should in fact happen, in the Catholic Church.

4. The removal of a problematic group from Church leadership. Ascending on high, Christ gave gifts to the human race. These gifts are people--prophets, teachers, etc. If these gifts, these gifted gifts from the Giver of all good gifts, are to have scope for their exercise and fruition, this would be easier if they were not excluded for the wrong reasons. Probably everyone who has worked in the Church knows about exclusion for the wrong reasons, such as faithful and healthy seminarians who were dismissed for alleged "rigidity." Over and above these sometimes facile condemnations, there is also a problem of falling outside the network of preferment. When, as now, one of the most powerful current networks of preferment exists because of sin, acts to support sin, and self-perpetuates by introducing others to sin, then this situation acts contrary to the gifts that Christ, ascending, gave. If the Church is a ship, this group grounds us at shoals. If the Church is a net, they tangle our exercise. If the Church is a body, we are thwarted in health. Instead of committing itself to strong and healthy forward motion, the Church is weakened and depressed--introspective. We have tangled nets. They must be loosened from those whose dispositions and ambition have made them capable of stranglehold.

5. A time of grace for repentance. If in the past there have been clergymen and even bishops who have live a twisted double life including predation and other crimes, they may have died without ever coming face to face with their sins, and sincerely repenting. This is a horrifying thought. Once someone is conceived, born, and baptized, their eternal destiny is of infinite importance. This is true even if their power was once such that no one dared to confront them until they were gravely incapacitated--like the incapacity that seems to have started the current redress. "In his riches, man lacks wisdom. He is like the beasts that are destroyed." The eternal weight of a human soul, potentially glorious forever, potentially agonized forever, whose destiny is determined not by thought and choice but by almost unconsidered yet wildly destructive malice--this is an unendurable thought. Accountability, among its many other benefits, gives the guilty an opportunity to think seriously about important matters, to make amends, and to plead for pardon.

Monday, September 10, 2018

From the Island of Lost Verses

A parody, and a parable. This has been floating around the internet for a few years. John 6.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Working with Young People

His induction into the NBA Hall of Fame yesterday has brought to mind again Maurice Cheeks' most perfect assist.

It was a playoff game in 2003, and a young singer sang the wrong words to the National Anthem before the game, and got off track. Her confidence failed, and in spite of the audience's support, the song was in danger of implosion.

Cheeks was head coach of a competing team. One might think that he had more on his mind than supporting a middle schooler who was suffering a temporary setback. But that was not his attitude.



This brief video is a snapshot of how billions of adults support young people all over the world. The young lady was doing something very difficult, and the adult helped her to complete her action, not by lessening its difficulty, but by providing structure and time, accompanying her so that she could do the difficult task well.

Charles Cole of the London Oratory and The New Liturgical Movement has published this year's list of Children's Choirs, in which adults likewise support young people in doing something very difficult, not by lessening the activities' inherent challenges but by providing the training necessary to help them grow.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Music for the way home

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Some Helpful Fiction

For those who would like a fruitful way to both think about the recent Church news and at the same time distract themselves from it a bit, I'd like to recommend one of C.S. Lewis' lesser-known works, his Space Trilogy.

The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is an enjoyable read and serves as an introduction to the rest.

The second book, Perelandra, is Lewis' masterpiece. He thought it was worth "twenty Screwtapes." I agree. Imagine a virgin world, a planetary paradise, with its Eve all alone with two Englishmen: one a tempter, and the other a Christian. The book is a long and lavish parable about the choice between obedience and prideful lawlessness.

The third book, That Hideous Strength, is much different and very dark, and engages themes of marriage and the use and misuse of sexuality, professional loyalty and its abuse, propaganda, coercion, and Christian community.  In particular it engages some ideas about professional life that are also found in Lewis' lecture entitled The Inner Ring.

I offer these suggestions in case they are helpful. There are audio versions which are excellent.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Bad advice

Recent events have prompted the following personal reflections of a non-musical character.

A bad advisor is one of the worst things that can happen to a leader. Some people with an agenda get close to him or her and help him strategize, not according to what will benefit the organization or even the leader, but according to the needs of the hidden agenda.

In a complex world that is almost unnavigable, advisors are definitely necessary. But when they are "yes men" with hidden agendas, they must be excluded, no matter how comforting they are. This is a mental and emotional asceticism required of leaders.

On the other hand, there is no need to give these yes men any legitimate cause for complaint. Some would say that the news outlets most responsible for inquiring into the Holy Father's response to sexual abuse are partisan or ideological. To the extent that this is true, it seems to me that this element should be excluded as well. This is an ascesis too: focus on the truth. Focus on the faith.

Regarding partisanship, the U.S. situation is unusual in the world, because of its perpetual division into exactly two major political parties. This admittedly has the effect of demonization of the "other." It also lends itself to an unconscious responsiveness to the other. If the left goes farther left, the right goes farther right, and vice-versa. We've been this polarized before, in 1800 for example. But what makes the national-ecclesial situation particularly tense now is the decision of one of the parties to insist on cooperation with evil on non-prudential, non-negotiable matters such as abortion.

Catholics actually can have a say in this aspect of the polarization. Once in a Q and A, I heard EJ Dionne say that there were districts in Pennsylvania--Pennsylvania--in which the Democrats were forced to promote pro-life candidates, opposed to abortion, because Catholics in Pennsylvania would not vote for a pro-abortion candidate. In order to win elections, the party eased its usual obligatory policy of 100% abortion support.

What I have found most heartening over the last week is the number of times I have heard people say they are praying and fasting. What a beautiful and biblical response to a situation that is in many ways frightening.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Between the porch and the altar



Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep, and shall say: 
Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant?

From the Gospel of the day:

"Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.

But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is long delayed,'
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant's master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Peaceful music for a whirlwind Sabbath

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Is this a crisis?

Since some commentators on the recently revealed scandals have reached the meta- stage of asking whether this is a crisis, or the largest crisis, I thought I would add my 2 cents.

Crisis is an old word with various connotations. I think two examples are helpful here.

In John 16:11, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, when He comes, will convict the world in regard to judgment--krisis--because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

This seems applicable here, because, as St. Paul wrote, our battle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. Our bishops are asking us to apply to this situation the methods that Jesus said drive out the worst of demons: prayer and fasting.

Seeing our enemy as the evil one also gives us some distance from and traction against the problem. My brother is not my enemy, but insofar as he is giving the enemy a foothold, I do not have to cooperate with his efforts. I don't have to try to find a "bridge" to "common ground" with the wrong he espouses. What I have to try to find is a way of helping my brother out of error so we can both flee the enemy.

Another connotation of crisis is its long medical usage as a point in a serious disease at which things either become much better, or much worse. Thankfully the patient, the Church, cannot be destroyed. And interestingly enough, her ailments are not new. Those currently afflicting US Catholicism are only now coming to light, but they are not new.

For me, the news of the last few weeks has been, besides horrifying, an explanation. I would guess that I am not alone in having had the sense for a number of years now that something was wrong. Perhaps it's the sort of ailment that you might hardly notice until it gets really bad, because the descent is so gradual.

One problem that I've noticed is an apparent satisfaction with mediocrity in all aspects of Church life, from art (our particular concern here), to theology, to religious education. If it weren't for our considerable care for the poor and sick, I don't know if the Church would have many signs of vigor.

In fact, a lot of ecclesial institutions seem aimed towards an entrenchment of mediocrity. The Church Music Association was nearly destroyed at one point decades ago by someone who deliberately tried to make it mediocre from the inside. This does not make sense. Of course there is a perennial tension between charism and administration in the Church, and not every half-baked idea is worth implementing. But there are really great ideas and a lot of apostolic energy that could be used to spread the Gospel.

Instead, what seems to have happened over and over again is that the worst ideas are ascendant. Heterodoxy flourishes in Church-affiliated institutions. This does not make any sense. It's the institutional equivalent of self-harm.

What I'm hoping, then, is that we are at a crisis point regarding whatever tedious disease it was that was continually dragging us down. From what has been said lately, I think it has to be at least possible that the toxin has been persistent, unrepented mortal sin among some of the men who make decisions for the Church. The concomitant loss of the theological virtue of charity would seem compatible with the sort of dreariness of purpose that has seemed to swamp the institutions. Hopefully this means that once the toxin is removed, we'll remember what flourishing is, stretch our limbs and run for joy to God. Because in the hierarchical structures of the Church, there is no substitute for the episcopacy.

Again, this is a perennial struggle. Jesus said that if you sweep one demon away you might get him back with seven companions who are even worse. The Church is always being reformed and will never be able to set aside its vigilant attitude of self-reformation, always beginning with personal repentance. Charity begins at home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

St. Peter Damian on the Assumption


Just like the morning’s dawning bright
She rises to the heav’nly height,
Maria, splendid as the sun,
Just like the moon, most lovely one.

Today, the queen of all the earth—
Who to that Son has given birth
Who is, before the daystar shone—
Ascends unto her glorious throne.

Assumed above the angels, higher
Than every heav’nly angel choir
This single woman has outrun
The merits all the saints have won.

The One Whom in her lap she fed
And laid within a manger bed.
She sees as Lord of everything,
Now in His Father’s glory, King.

Virgin of virgins, intercede,
And with your Son with fervor plead.
He took up what is ours through you.
May what is His come through you, too.

Praise to the Father and the Son
And Paraclete, forever one,
Who in the saints’ and angels’ sight
Have clothed you in Their glorious light.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

From the depths I cry