Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Test of Adversity

A very familiar passage from St. Augustine also found in the 2nd Reading of the Office of Readings for Wednesday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time caught me off guard this morning:

“Is not human life on earth a time of testing? Who would choose troubles and hardships? You command us to endure them, but not to love them. No-one loves what he has to endure, even if he loves the endurance, for although he may rejoice in his power to endure, he would prefer to have nothing that demands endurance. In adverse circumstances I long for prosperity, and in times of prosperity I dread adversity. What middle ground is there, between these two, where human life might be free from trial? Woe betide worldly prosperity, and woe again, from fear of disaster and evanescent joy! But woe, woe, and woe again upon worldly adversity, from envy of better fortune, the hardship of adversity itself, and the fear that endurance may falter. Is not human life on earth a time of testing without respite?”  (The Confessions of St Augustine)

It is indeed enough for most of us to have to face the regular challenges of life, little adversities, let alone contend with genuine hardship or the treachery of others, isn't it? If in the presence of the great doctor, St. Augustine, a person would have replied to his words citing the old adage, "Yes, into every life a little rain must fall", the saintly Bishop of Hippo might have shot that person an exasperated glance as if to say, "You haven't understood at all, have you?" Would it not be fair to say that we don't reflect nearly or often enough upon "...human life on earth a time of testing without respite"? 

We're not that different from Job's close friends who couldn't get beyond the thought that this man must have done something to provoke God's displeasure, that he must in some way have deserved the misfortune which had come his way. Most of us are not far from being adherents to some version of the "prosperity gospel", expecting, if we are good and righteous, then really no more than a little rain to fall into our lives.

No small number of films today go out of their way to avoid what St. Augustine would describe as the Christian life quite essentially. The "dream-makers" of Hollywood and elsewhere try insistently, almost desperately to point out the drama which can exist even in virtual living, letting your "avatar" do the walking or flying if you will. The attraction to the possibilities offered us by a radioactive spider's bite or some other sort of morphing in order to allow the impossible victory captures more than the thoughts of little boys. Spiderman! We seem unwilling to face at all and with dread the hardship of adversity, let alone worry about whether we might falter under trial. Maybe that explains the high instance of alcoholism and drug abuse in society today? 

In principle, no one truly of good will would deny others their integral and inalienable human dignity, but a refusal to accept any share in life's adversity in this our broken world more often than not leads to acts or reactions which go beyond legitimate self-defense and amount to something akin to the famous preemptive strike of modern warfare. Add a dash of retaliatory action for good measure and we have war of one kind or another and in any case the kind of poisoned atmosphere which leaves little room for hope. I really cannot see how it is possible to establish justice in a world without people ready to give their very best to endure adversity.

“Is not human life on earth a time of testing?"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Vernacular, quo vadis?

The Voice of the Church at Prayer
Reflections on Liturgy and Language
Lang, Father Michael (2012-05-08). 
Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

One of the fun things about a "real book" is that you pick it up and flip through it before reading. I suppose you could do the same with any ebook, but I tend to just open and start reading. I like Father Lang's style and was happy to see that Ignatius Press had brought out another study by him, this time on the important/critical and for me intriguing topic of liturgy and language. The site advertising the book gave a description including the number of pages in the book. Moving ahead in my enthusiasm for the topic, you can imagine my surprise when 60% of my way into the work I had already reached the end and found myself with the remaining 40% of the book consisting of bibliography and footnotes. Oh well, I guess I can admire that about Father Lang as well, n'est ce pas?

After reading the book attentively, I am wondering if I am entitled to express my own opinion on two issues, maybe three, depending on how you approach matters: 1) Given the existence of something called "liturgical Latin", what can we say, post Liturgiam authenticam, about the possibility of something like a "vernacular sacred language"? 2) Where is or how is "liturgical Latin" today? 3)  Could a return to the silent recitation by the celebrant of the Canon of the Mass be considered critical to healing the breach in our liturgical tradition? Not a project of a blog post you say? I totally agree. I wish I had the time and talent to research the book in three chapters with substantial introduction and conclusion, less 40% bibliography and footnotes, which these questions deserve.

Here's my favorite quote from Father Lang's book:

"The liturgical texts that have been analyzed in this chapter display a distinctive prayer style that is both Roman and Christian. The Canon and the variable texts of the Mass draw on the style of pagan prayer, including its juridical elements, but their vocabulary and content are distinctively Christian, indeed, biblical. Their diction has Roman gravitas and avoids the exuberance of the Eastern Christian prayer style, which is also found in the Gallican tradition. Mohrmann sees in these early Roman prayers the fortuitous combination of a renewal of language, inspired by the newness of Christian revelation, and a stylistic traditionalism that was firmly imbedded in the Roman world. The formation of this sacred language was part of a comprehensive effort to evangelize classical culture." {Lang, (Kindle Locations 1131-1137). Ignatius Press.}

On second thought, my book project would include a 4th chapter as well entitled: "The Formation of a Sacred Language to Evangelize Contemporary Culture". If someone else would like to write the book, I promise not to claim intellectual property, but only to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor and preferably as an ebook.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

On Bended Knee

Benedict XVI's Reform
The Liturgy between Innovation and Tradition
Bux, Nicola (2012-05-09).  
Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

I wish to thank Ignatius Press for the timely publication in English of this new book by Nicola Bux, well known for his stance in promotion of the ideas of the Holy Father concerning the repair of the liturgical breach. "Timely" is the right word not because there is anything particularly new in the book, which might throw the advantage in "battle" to either reform group whether it be to those favoring restoration of the Roman Rite and subsequent organic growth within the tradition going back to St. Gregory the Great or be it to the reform of the reform people. Bux honestly and rightly makes his case for rallying to the standard of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He speaks clearly and convincingly of his understanding of the Pope's will that the usus antiquior find more general use everywhere (in every parish?) of the Catholic Church, thus enabling it to be that mirror to aid the reform of the reformed liturgy.

Bux touches masterfully upon the unquestionable merits of the Mass of the Ages when it comes to fulfilling that which is liturgy's role in the heart of the Church. He argues certain points better than I have seen in the dozen or more books on the topic, which I've had occasion to read and reflect upon over the last few years. Well done! And, yes, timely, Ignatius Press! Thank you!

I find myself particularly sensitive to and in agreement with his arguments, quoting the Pope, concerning kneeling as a posture for both liturgy and prayer (not to limit discussion to the reception of Holy Communion):

"If the Christian liturgy is not before all else the public and integral worship, the adoration, of God, the Apocalypse cannot be the typikon, the normative book. From where else would the various liturgical books have drawn their cogent force? What the liturgy affirms and asks to be observed is a divine law, not a human one: 'The Christian liturgy is a cosmic liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture—the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of the life of the cosmos.' We have chosen this gesture from among all others; it is the most important one, the one that sums up the spirit of the liturgy." (Bux, [Kindle Locations 1345-1350]. Ignatius Press.)

At various points in the book, Bux addresses the importance of recovering a common focus for worship, especially for the action of preparing the gifts and for the Eucharistic Prayer, facing Liturgical East, ad Orientem, toward Christ lifted up on the Cross. From my experience of this last year in Ukraine with the Byzantine Tradition this call becomes ever more urgent and central to what is required for a genuine healing of the rupture provoked by post-Conciliar experimentation in the area of liturgy. Priests and Bishops need to reconsider their attachment to the face-to-face innovation of the last 40 plus years.

"Looking upon the Cross: Until the Council, all Christians of the East and the West, including priests, prayed toward the apse, which, at least until the sixteenth century, faced east. In Western churches, as in those of the East, prominent in the apse were the cross, a painting of one of the Christian mysteries or the saint for whom the church was named, and the altar with the tabernacle. The priest and the faithful did not doubt that in praying they both needed to face the same direction. The priest turned to the faithful only for exhortations, readings, and the homily. All Christians celebrated in this way from the first centuries." (Bux, [Kindle Locations 1362-1367]. Ignatius Press.)

I leave it to the reader to discover the other treasures which this book provides, especially concerning the placement of the Tabernacle. Happy reading!

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Marvelous Resource!

In Silence with God, 
by Benedict Baur, OSB, Archabbot of Beuron
Translated from the fourth German edition by Elisabethe Corathier-Noonan, 
Scepter Publishers, 1997.

In 220 pages, I found in this little book, most readable, a vademecum for the spiritual life no matter what your personal calling. Because the chapters average about 10 pages apiece, it recommends itself also for spiritual reading.

Chapter 22, the last chapter, entitled "On the Heights", spoke to me particularly in terms of a description of the contemplative lifestyle as practiced by a saint. His account of the fruits of a life of love is particularly meritorious and inspired.

Happy reading, I hope! 

My Vacation Book

Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). 
Simon & Schuster, Inc. Kindle Edition. 

It used to be that people spoke of a genre called "beach books" (since the appearance of ebooks, I guess they have been rechristened as "beach reads"). When they were still books, they were something you picked up because they were big, paperback and not too demanding to read on your vacation: something to fill the time while you're resting, planing or deplaning, and from content, as I say, not too taxing (no small print editions). It's a genre I can't say as I know or have ever sought out for myself. I think the appellation "vacation book" is more neutral, while certainly not excluding either substance or entertainment. Good novels, classics if you will, are vacation books, but "Bad Religion", by reason of its title has to be one too, at least to my way of thinking, ebook or not. 

Even so, Bad Religion would never have been my choice of a vacation book, if it hadn't been for an appearance of Ross Douthat on EWTN's The World Over with Raymond Arroyo. The two of them sold me on reading the book during their 20 minute segment and Kindle made it too easy to buy. I don't regret reading the book and hope to give it a good review, as it deserves a positive word. The liberal establishment seems to have been quite piqued by the book, and that alone gives it a certain redeeming social value. It is not a history book. Despite some great insights, it cannot escape the genre of journalism. I learned a few new English words, which is what you'd expect from a master wordsmith like Douthat, and that is good.

The redeeming quality or value of the book is that with it Douthat manages to put a finger into some of the Catholic Church's gaping wounds and hopefully thereby will provoke some thought and an examination of conscience among his readers. We're not used to media people (New York Times columnist!) hitting the respect life issue with such clarity and determination. I wish I could help him with a rewrite on his stance concerning theological evolutionism, however. I'll only mention two more hits for which I am grateful: 1) he convincingly hits the Catholic annulment machine right between the eyes, exposing it for what it is, an accommodation and a denial of the unity and indissolubility of marriage; 2) he exposes past (hopefully no more) tolerance for homosexuality in the priesthood for the poison it is and as a clear sign of capitulation in the struggle against personal sin in the lives of priests.

The book, however, is a journalistic piece and neither a theological work nor "black-belt" historical analysis. The underlying premise, despite a profound bow in the direction of beauty and culture in religion, is the stuff of which Napoleon and the Empress Maria Theresia's son Joseph were made. "Pave the muddy tracks with the incunabula wrested from monasteries and put those monks to work!" Sunday sermons in the day were expected to offer pointers on animal husbandry, bee-keeping and growing healthy fruit trees, while keeping your little village whitewashed and clean. This seems to me to be the logic of Douthat's analysis. "Bad Religion" (prosperity gospel and all manner of accommodationism as it has come across in the U.S.) is certainly and rightly classed as heresy by Douthat, but I fear that "Good Religion" for him has all the limitations of somebody's reworked Enlightenment model, as worthy of discard as anything the Arians or Gnostics ever cooked up. I find this harsh judgment on my part to be accurate, among other reasons, given his reductionist view of what the scope of a monastic renewal today, a la St. Benedict, would be. While Latin Mass communities, as he refers to them, may not be a whole solution to the Church's ills, they certainly cannot be dismissed for there small numbers as the author seems to do. The book held my interest throughout, but he just plain lost me on his conclusions.

 I'm grateful for my "vacation read" but it was indeed just that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Can Books be Life-Changing?

A Catholic Assessment of Evolution Theory
Weighing the Scientific Evidence in Light of Thomistic Principles and Church Teachings on Origins
by John M. Wynne of Restoring Truth Ministries, LLC

Without exaggeration, I will be forever indebted to Hugh Owen, Director of the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation (952 Kelly Rd., Mt. Jackson, VA) for sending me a copy of this book and asking me to review it.

Reading is something we cannot really do enough of, as long as the authors are truly approved ones and John M. Wynne has my approval and without reservation. I thank his book for a new vision of our world, of time, and for a load of new personal challenges which I still don't exactly know how I am going to face. I've begun discussing the book here already  (see web links there on the topic ) and hope from time to time to come back to the issues confronted by his book. For now, let me say that what it boils down to for me is new self knowledge concerning the extent to which my own worldview has been tainted by common parlance, despite my own personal rejection of Godless science. I can see that I need to get friendlier with Pope Leo XIII and Proventissimus Deus and long term I hope to read St. Augustine's great work On the Literal Meaning of Genesis. Honest science, serious science with an eye to the Truth which comes from God, as explained by John Wynne and other good Catholics, has swept much more of the false science off the table.

In his 514 page book, a pared down version of a much more sophisticated work, Repairing the Breach, this one written for ordinary folk like me who shied away from calculus and physics in high school, Wynne's debunking of evolution theory, old earth hypotheses, and even carbon-14 dating raises lots of questions, but not nearly so many as it answers for me. I doubt if I'll ever again pick up another National Geographic in a doctor's office waiting room.

Wynne is not anti-science; rather, he would have us well-informed about legitimate scientific findings. Following the instruction of Pope Leo XIII, he would have us not depart from the straightforward and obvious meaning of Scripture unless reason and necessity requires.

The world deserves better than Charles Darwin...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Discerning the Spirit

From the First reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter [Acts 10:44-48], Peter in the house of Cornelius: 

 “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, ‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?’ He then gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.”

When I read these words today I did so with other heavy words full of hopelessness or resignation, from a comment box on another blog, in the back of my mind. There, seemingly, a traditionally minded contributor despaired of reconciliation for himself and the Fraternity SSPX (as he perceives it) with the Catholic Church, and that over the issue of impossible differences seemingly held by the parties involved concerning religious liberty and ecumenism. While this passage from the Acts of the Apostles focuses on the possibility of bestowing life-giving baptism upon the pagans and how this discernment process went for St. Peter, I asked myself, in the light of this direct intervention by the Holy Spirit to overturn a perception of what the first community believed was supposed to be the will of Christ, why would this present day man believe that ecumenism or religious liberty are obstacles to the fulfillment of His Will for His Church? Are we not dealing here with "chapter two or the sequel to the baptism of Cornelius and his household", that is, with an attitude on the part of my commentator somewhat analogous to that manifest in the struggle between St. Paul and the so-called Judaizers' demands that all Christians be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law?

My only personal contact with a family which left its Catholic parish for an SSPX chapel goes back over 30 years and consists of a sympathetic description I received after the fact from others of the parents' decision to take themselves and their young children out of harm's way after they received no satisfaction concerning their well-founded protest to legitimate authority over the egregious behavior of an assistant pastor who was to everyone's mind simply out of control. With courage, back before 1988, they did what they thought best to preserve their children in the faith. We know and we have always known that we must pay for the folly of not just a few in the Church over the last 50 years. But it would be wrong, however, to abandon the "ring" so to speak and the fight for the Faith as it has come to us from the Apostles. The good fight has always been carried on within the community of the Church and sometimes at incredible odds (think only of the fight against Arianism). Whatever has happened over these last decades, the urgency is now to pick up and carry forward the discourse within the community of the Church and for the sake of all those in "Nineveh" who don't know their right hand from their left "not to mention the cattle", as the Book of Jonah tells us. How can one refuse the call to "prophesy over the dry bones"?

My own personal scandal over the above mentioned commentator's despair of reconciliation by reason of the Church's teaching on ecumenism and religious liberty does not seek to deny the false irenicism which has been abroad since the publication of the pertinent Vatican II documents, but it demands a hearing for efforts in recent years to accompany others back to the fullness of Catholic Truth. Caution on the part of Peter in Acts 10 is not lacking, but neither is a genuine respect for the other also created in the image and likeness of God.

While error has no rights, we have marvelous examples in St. Norbert of Xanten and in St. Francis de Sales of the warmth and respect accompanying the missionary task which indeed have borne rich fruit. Slavic Orthodoxy's steadfast refusal of religious liberty for others has never borne the desired fruit, nor will it today. Neither the secular arm nor the "christian emperor", the defender of the faith, necessarily open hearts and minds to Christ. Better that we should pray for open hearts and minds for ourselves to identify just where the Spirit is moving as it did so long ago in the house of Cornelius.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Persecution as our Portion and Cup

The 2nd Reading for the Office of Readings on this Wednesday of the 5th Week of Easter, “From a letter to Diognetus” and entitled “The Christian in the world” is one of my favorites. I know that a lot of good people are shocked by news articles about the persecution of Christians world-wide and specifically about the attacks on Catholics here in the U.S. (this morning’s paper carried notice of the vandalism to one of the historic Mission Churches of California) and we often respond or react by asking “why, Lord?” I think it important not to forget that here we have no lasting dwelling place. This reading from earlier times helps me keep things in perspective today. I’d like to draw a couple things from it for a brief comment:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs…  And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives… They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again…  To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body… The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments… The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

Simply stated, if the world were not persecuting us we wouldn’t be doing our job. Simply stated, Baptism implies more than a symbolic physical cleansing. Dying with Christ in the waters of Baptism in order to rise with Him in the glory of the Resurrection binds us to His path to Easter Sunday along the way of the Cross.

We balk at the shunning and the violence against us and all that is dear to us simply because our memories cannot give us the perspective we need to put these acts of aggression into context. At 61+ all my memories are of being mainstream, starting with childhood's pride in a bright and ever-so-Catholic bishop like Fulton J. Sheen. The point would be, however, that in terms of what our 2000 year trek has been, well, maybe this hiatus, let's call it a sort of honeymoon, is over and we're back to what most generations of Catholics before us have suffered.

If we would profess our love for Christ, we cannot be other than faithful sharers in His glorious Passion. We need to get over the idea that we deserve better than the blows and spittle they reserved for our Savior. By the same token, the world needs to get over the idea that we might fail to voice our opposition to their folly: "... the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments."



Saturday, May 5, 2012

Remaining in Christ the Vine

When in the Gospel (John 15:1-8) for this 5th Sunday of Easter (Year B) Jesus exhorts us to remain in Him as branches in the vine, there are a multitude of points for meditation and more than one challenge for us to change, grow or move from wherever we might happen to be stuck at a given point in time. The Gospel is an essential statement about where true and everlasting life is to be found and namely anchored in the Vine Who is Christ.

As much off on a tangent as the thought may be I couldn't help but reflect on how clearly the words of Jesus are an exhortation to us personally to examine ourselves as branches and to see that we are truly grafted in tight, solidly to the vine. The Vine-dresser alone, of course, can judge whether the graft has taken and whether the life of sanctifying grace courses through us or not, but the urgency in Christ's words to each of us branches, that we strive to remain firmly attached, is unmistakable.

I haven't commented here on all the news of late about the status of efforts toward the achievement of full reconciliation between the SSPX and the Catholic Church just because it is not my place to comment. I think it is great that a much more general urgency about this hoped for reconciliation seems to be abroad in the Church. If only we could bring everyone who claims to follow Jesus home to the fullness of life and truth in communion with the successor of St. Peter! Apart from "anonymous christian" theories propagated by dead theologians, I think it more than safe to say that, leaving Final Judgment to the One seated upon the clouds of heaven, I can judge my own rootedness in Christ, my firm attachment to the Vine, from my integration into His Holy Catholic Church (How does the Latin go? "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus est"?).

Although the Church certainly has the power to bind and loose, I wish to give pride of place in this little meditation to Christ's exhortation to all who hear Him to remain in Him. I think it important to be an encouragement to all genuine or honest hearers of the Word, who seek to conform themselves to the Will of Christ and seek an ever deeper and more faithful rootedness in Him. Once before at least I expressed the wish that we could get to a point where we could express our differences on matters not defined de fide and do so in the grand old tradition of the lively controversies of the theological schools of bygone days. I know from the research for my own doctoral dissertation that much of what the Council of Trent affirmed was a repetition of efforts by earlier Councils, but which didn't seem to take prior to Trent. As a proud canonist, I believe that post-conciliar legislation was a big part of Trent's success, read "its reception into the life of the Church". We continue to mine those older Councils for their riches, but the living patrimony which carried us for nearly half a millennium has the Council of Trent as its keystone. Fifty years after the opening of Vatican II may still be too soon to judge if its documents will be a keystone or, more modestly, one of many vital sources for the Church's life and teaching. Let the debate or analysis continue within the living tradition of the Church, which like the good steward certainly knows how to bring out of the storehouse good things both old and new!




Thursday, May 3, 2012

Three Cheers for St. Jerome!

Don’t miss the “FIUV Position Paper 5: The Vulgate”. I read it at RORATE CAELI.  It is indeed a masterful piece in every way, but I want to quote a couple paragraphs in particular:

"6.     While the Old Testament of the Neo Vulgate is based on the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Vulgate and the ancient Latin Psalters depend upon the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The Instruction Variatates legitimate (1994) describes the Septuagint’s production as ‘an enrichment of the Scriptures’ ‘under divine inspiration’,[9] a judgment which reflects the consensus of the Fathers.[10] It reflects both a more ancient Hebrew manuscript tradition and a more developed theological understanding, than the Hebrew versions directly available to us. It is noteworthy that it is used in the New Testament, in some cases precisely because of its variance with the Hebrew.[11] It was the Septuagint which was the basis of Scriptural commentary and exegesis by the Greek Fathers, and by using Latin translations based on the Septuagint, Latin Fathers and Doctors were able to work in continuity with them.

7.      In short, the Septuagint translators’ own reading of the Old Testament forms a key link in a tradition of interpretation adopted and developed further by the New Testament authors and the Fathers, Doctors, and scholars of the Church right up to modern times. It is this tradition of interpretation which is reflected in the liturgical use made of the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, in the ancient Latin liturgical tradition.

8The importance of the ‘entire tradition of the Latin Church’ is referred to in the passage of Sacrosanctum Concilium quoted above, and is reaffirmed emphatically in Liturgiam authenticam:
       'The effort should be made to ensure that the translations be conformed to that understanding of biblical passages which has been handed down by liturgical use and by the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, especially as regards very important texts such as the Psalms and the readings used for the principal celebrations of the liturgical year; in these cases the greatest care is to be taken so that the translation express the traditional Christological, typological and spiritual sense, and manifest the unity and the inter-relatedness of the two Testaments.'[12]"

I cannot remember ever seeing such a succinct and eloquent explanation of the importance of the Septuagint in the life of the Church and its liturgy. This Position Paper adds much to what we need to mean when we are talking about the hermeneutic of continuity.

What could be more reasonable?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Pilgrim's Progress

My niece's graduation announcement came in the mail today and got me musing. I remembered quite some years ago helping one of my bosses pack to move when we stopped to look at a class poster with all their pictures which his father's class had printed a good 80 years ago now on their graduation from Columbia University or its medical school. The poster imaged the progress those young grads saw in the world of their day and which they hoped to share as they went out into the world of work. The picture's backdrop was a huge factory with all sorts of billowing smoke stacks! For them, I guess, back before World War II that, smoke-spewing, unshackled industry, looked like progress.

This morning there was a short filler piece in the newspaper about economic recession in Spain and the danger stagnation in the Spanish economy represents for the whole Euro zone. Here in the U.S. you still hear (we seem to have forgotten Fanny Mae?) about economic recovery as involving increased consumption of all sorts of goods, of more money being spent on homes, cars, phones, electronics, vacations, and what all. "Shop until you drop" would seem to have replaced the smoking factory as the emblem of progress? There must be some school of philosophy out there which is built on the notion "I consume, therefore I am". It's hard to believe just how blind, passive or indifferent we can become. I read a book review recently where the author was raging against all the money spent on advanced education, preparing people for useless or consumption oriented careers. As bright young Columbia graduates of 80 years ago didn't see the danger in industrial pollution, it would seem we now have a world oblivious to the fact that it is on the verge of burying itself under the packaging of its unbridled consumption.

As bad as all that might be, since getting into a book by John M. Wynne, entitled "A Catholic Assessment of Evolution Theory", I have become much more sensitive not only regarding the use of evolution theories to deny the existence of God and His creative and saving will, but to all that more which would tie us still to 19th Century Protestant historical critical methods for interpreting Scripture to spite the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, methods for a time embraced by Catholic scholars but now judged both passe and harmful, as well as to the folly surrounding material gains and living on credit which continue to be passed off as progress, regardless of the lessons we should be learning from the ongoing world economic crisis.

On the one hand, it would be illusory to think that people would embrace the kind of subsistence farming my grandparents knew without being forced to do so. On the other hand, it shocks to think that people so readily live beyond their means indifferent to predictions as to when in the next 5 to 10 years both medicare and social security will no longer pay. The neighbor next door tells us he is moving to a new neighborhood in town where he'll have to go on a waiting list for internet service... they've reached their limit. What is progress? Is it a value? 

Society's love affair with a silly notion of progress as more and flashier consumption is, well, bad enough. My worry has to do with the abandonment of faith in the living God, regardless of whether that abandonment is ideological or practical. Let the horrible notion behind the word "creationism" stand for the whole and challenge us to think about what is happening to our world! We may soon be deprived of the word group "Creator, create, creation". How did a two-bit propagandist like Charles Darwin with his unsubstantiated stories from a trip to the Galapagos Islands ever gain such a hold on our world? Why should I be shackled to the babbling of a long dead bigot like Charles Darwin? What do I owe to a man whose wicked heart was set on destroying my universe as created by God, Who created me to know, love, and serve Him, so as to be happy with Him forever? Our world might gain more from a return to some early 20th Century smoke stacks (unfiltered).

If only we were as alarmed by some of the propagandists who distort God's world, depriving it and us of our Creator, as we are of polluting smoke stacks or radioactive fallout! "Creationism" is not an honest word; it is a slur on the way to denying Truth itself.

What would I put in the background on my niece's graduation poster today? It certainly wouldn't be smoke belching factory chimneys nor would it be the glitzy world of Marvel Comics and the endless possibilities of material opulence. Maybe "progress" is a dirty word in search of a new definition? Maybe the hopes and optimism of a graduating class can be depicted without reference to that word.