Saturday, September 15, 2012

FIUV Position Paper: The EF and Western Culture

Over at RORATE CAELI I just finished another great position paper in the FIUV series. I highly recommend it. My only dubium, if you will, is whether we are still bound to respond to what was a mid-20th Century misread of Western culture, under the heading "modern man and society". Granted, the culture did lose its religious roots or its piety at the latest in the 1970's: the home expressions of God-centered, Christ-centered living succumbed to the external pressures of extra-curricular activities depriving the family even of a common supper table and prayer; TV did the rest.

If at that time there was a flight from the solemn, the Latin, the hieratic and hierarchic, from beauty and refinement within church space, maybe it had less to do with a rejection of ritual and mystery and more to do with retreating to the last bastion, if you will, and claiming it for religious discourse. Maybe sacred space and time, the beautiful places we knew for making a visit to the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, were sacrificed to accommodate religious discourse as it should have continued to happen in home and school. Maybe the ancient liturgy was crowded out by other things, willfully and ignorantly, maybe the iconoclasm of some in those years got the upper hand by reason of a sudden lack of vitality or vigilance in the body Catholic. 

Perhaps all I want to say is that I have no reason to buy the straightforward thesis that at some point Western civilization became disconnected from ritual and the sense of wonder. I don't think that is why the discursive style of liturgy with all its abuses has predominated over the past 40 years. Just the other day, I attended my very first Japanese tea ceremony, served by the 15th generation grand master, age 89, himself. A goodly number of people in that room couldn't be more secularized, but they lost nothing of the stylized gestures, carefully folded napkins, hot water dipped and poured just so, and how to accept the bowl of tea and which way to turn the flower pattern before drinking... Experience a trooping of the colors at any US Embassy anywhere in the world and realize that ritual has its place even in secular Western society.

Born in 1950, I guess you could say I knew the "old world". The faith was lived in the sense that the home was believing space and Sunday Mass a special anchor, with room for regular confession and a discreet devotional life. Those were the days when Father reminded his flock that parents were bound in conscience to send their children to the parochial school, where Sister was truly pious and garb was never misinterpreted as a pretext or pretense but recognized as a fervent pledge to seek the Lord in all things and above all things.

More than anything, I guess I rejoice in the renewed consciousness today of what it means to be Catholic which seems to be coming to the fore in many places around the world, and I hope for all the blessings which Summorum Pontificum can bestow on a Church which not only needs to recover its liturgical roots, but starting with this Year of Faith, needs to rediscover the elementary truths of faith, the basic prayers and practices which bring happiness now and for the world to come. 

 I wonder sometimes if like all those sad moral theologians whose theories were conditioned by wartime traumas, whether we still must not use a little patience until the last of the iconoclasts and hopeless discursives of my generation don't pass from the scene. Let's just say that we let up our guard and lost out for a number of decades. A return to the military metaphors in dealing with the world around us might not be the worst proposal. Lorenzo Scupoli's "Spiritual Combat" is a classic and a notion worth reclaiming.


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