Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pre-Baptismal Exorcism, Post-Baptismal Penance

On his feast day today, thinking of St. Thomas, the Apostle, in his bold profession of faith, "My Lord and My God!", just like St. Paul, blinded by the light of Christ, on the road to Damascus: both offer us powerful assurances of the "then" of conversion in and for the life of the Church, which cannot be without consequences for the "now" of our conversion and discipleship for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus, Risen and in Glory, breaks in where He wills; He chooses us for Himself out of boundless love. None of this happens outside the context of the Church. Except in God's unbounded mercy, salvation really doesn't take place outside of Christ's Church and that Church generates a culture which fosters and sustains both near and far. What was true for St. Thomas and St. Paul is no less so for us today, as the Lord bids us to follow Him in faith, hope and love.

Since sharing some of my thoughts into what I believe to be at stake in Chapter 1 of Sherry Weddell's book: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,  Our Sunday Visitor, (2012-07-05), my plan was to read her whole book and then write a review as I do with most things I read, like and hope others might pick up and read as well.  I did that first reflection because I was already dealing with the topic from another source expressing reticence and even rejection concerning the notion of the key role in ecclesiology yet today of Volkskirche or Catholic culture, as regards what we mean by Church and for the destiny of Catholicism in the modern world. We cannot do without a cultural context for Catholicism, because popular culture, in the Catholic sense, cannot be excised or radiated away from Church, which only is if it is incarnational. Church as an invisible spiritual something is a heresy. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. The bond which His Bride the Church shares with Christ is concrete.

Much to my surprise, what I wrote moved others quite strongly, some in negative fashion (Criticism on my part does not exclude appreciation and esteem) and others in a positive way. I'm still in a bit of a quandary as to why the notion of "Catholic culture" sets off bad vibes for so many. My fear is that, as most of my interlocutors are younger, they may be confusing our culture when healthy, better or at its best with the hopeless parochial wasteland all too often experienced over the last 40 years (Cultural Catholicism is another phenomenon, not to be confused with Catholic culture). I fear that too little attention is paid to the exalted nature of Christ's Church in the concrete, which per force is played out within a cultural context. I don't think most of those who dismiss the notion of "Catholic culture" really know what they are dismissing; they seem to be jousting with a straw-man or a windmill and not the real thing. One of my reasons for suspecting this derives from a quote in Sherry's Chapter 7, which insinuates as much:

"One of the biggest things our community lacked was an experience of the supernatural dimension of the Christian life. It just wasn’t on our radar. They had “unintentional” encounters in the liturgy but never something that they felt or experienced as having an impact. Eucharistic Adoration with teens and adults has been a powerful experience of the presence of Christ. Eucharistic Adoration gives them an experience of encountering God." (pp. 164-165. Kindle Edition.)

I have said it before and I will say it again: the present malaise in parish life is not the norm for Catholic culture, but a perversion of the culture, the nurturing environment, if you will, which we have always fought to maintain in our parishes, as the outward manifestation of the inexhaustible mystery which is Christ's Church. People find refuge in the Adoration Chapel from the typically abusive situation of banal parish liturgy and worse; Divine worship is not meant to be so but rather better. Most Adoration Chapels present a genuine oasis in the midst of life's turmoil: they display a universe properly ordered to God and inviting; they have a pretty gold monstrance to display or enthrone the Bread of Life and they have the homage to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of flowers and candles; they are places of quiet: they are a remnant of what once was in the parish church and was once not confined to a small chapel, but was all pervasive. Would it really be too much to say that Adoration Chapels are the places where the peace of Christ reigns supreme? Please, don't count me hysterical if I ask, looking at lots of church buildings and how they are employed today, "Where is beauty? Where is genuine worship of the Living God to be found today?" 

Couple this with errant calls for a non-judgmental treatment of defections from Catholicism by some "seekers" going over to other groups in order "to be fed" (they say). But call defection, please, by its right name: call it such based on a false irenicism or on an outright denial of the true nature of Christ's Church. I don't know how one can ignore the divisive spirit which has invaded the temple, the looming shadow of that old American "Gospel Holiness Tradition" of condemning the other and separating oneself off from sinners so perceived. While it may be wrong to be cranky or mean-spirited, hard on those who waver, it is still just plain wrong to cater to types who refuse grace, or demand it on their own terms, or set off on their not-so-merry way, damning everyone else.

Pre-Baptismal exorcism is an integral part of the celebration of the first of the sacraments of initiation. It is not only descriptive of the state of the soul without grace, but answers a real need, because without the life-giving waters of the font, people are in Satan's grasp; he must be driven out. What is the basic kerygma? "Turn away from sin!" We are baptized into Christ's death and saving Resurrection. His life is bestowed upon us through the Sacraments, seven of them, which He entrusted to His Church. Post-Baptismal Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great need. Woe is me, if I don't kneel before the priest for penance and absolution for my faults, yes, my most grievous faults (thanks be to God, we hear those words again!).

Truly, I fear that those who so lightly dismiss Catholic culture don't understand that it goes far beyond certain quaint customs and is for us today just as, if not more, important than the synagogue was as a foundation for spreading the Gospel in apostolic times. As "discipled" as I may be, I am not the locus of the Church, treated as if it were something diaphanous cloaking me like the fog from which a ghost ship suddenly appears on someone's movie horizon.

Am I saying more than that I think "Catholic culture" has gotten a bad rap in some quarters? I think yes. I am saying the New Testament documents the conversion and commitment of true disciples, but leaves it to the Lord Jesus Himself to raise them up. We work hard to spread the Gospel, as St. Paul admonished us, but we do so while clinging to Mother Church. Tradition has its big "T's" and its small "t's"; they don't always let themselves be so easily sorted and the same could be said of "culture". Unintentional anything? No, call it rather "tepidity" and brand it a sin. The strategy of the culture has never been to foster tepidity and hold people bound in ignorance to the Church, but to light the way to Christ. 


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