Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Of Philosophers and Flower Girls

"Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
  ‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
  ‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”
  ‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’" [Matthew 25:31-46]

Justice, Unity, and the Hidden Christ 
The Theopolitical Complex of the Social Justice Approach to Ecumenism in Vatican II 
Matthew John Paul Tan
(2014-01-06). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

The Last Judgment scene, the Lord separating good folk from bad as the shepherd does his sheep from his goats, finds too little echo in contemporary society as is blatantly evident from the way the world's oligarchs operate with seeming impunity. Don't they ever wake up with a start, trembling for what the Great and Terrible Judge will say when they stand before His Throne? What is at issue is more than coarseness on the part of those who have gotten ahead; one can debate about whether we ever lived in a saved society, but it seems evident to me that solidarity is much less in today's world. The horror, let us say, of living in a secularized world is not that we find ourselves in a space without meaning but rather that it is a space which has been taken by force and which lives by its own rules, with no tolerance for the life-giving message of the Gospel of the Lord of Life. The crowd under the windows of the Upper Room at Pentecost is not asking Peter what they should do in order to be saved from eternal damnation.

At any given time, besides my primary preoccupations, I guess it would be fair to say that I have any number of issues floating around in my head and am grateful to stumble upon books which help me sort them out. Matthew Tan deserves my highest praise for this great little book, which deserves all sorts of attention by people who may be interested in things seemingly far from Ecumenism in Vatican II. It got my "cogs churning and whirling" on lots that has nothing whatever to do with ecumenism.

Two things jump out at me from the book as worth their weight in gold. We are not, could not be, and never in the history of thinking people have ever been to be considered as isolated individuals sufficient unto ourselves. We are and we live in relationship, in society. Tan makes thereupon the case against those who would claim the neutrality of the public square, as if we could simply go out somewhere, do the right thing in favor of somebody and have it work as a witness to the Gospel. His point would be that we can only witness to the Gospel from our own relational space as it relates to some other social space which is not Christian or in this case Catholic.

Many people, if you will, vehemently criticized Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta because her charity did not conform to the principles of the market; among other things, it wasn't efficient enough. I suppose that would be as good a way as any to evidence that the public square is far from neutral ground and does not admit a witness to charity or social justice which departs from its criteria. Tan's point would be that we can only witness as Church, as a visible society, that is, in relationship with each other over and against the public square presently in the hands of movers and shakers who relate to each other out of vested interest, sufficient in their own little trinities of me, myself and I. Beyond charity and proclamation of the Word, Tan underlines how essential liturgy is to defining that space in which we in Christ as Church must live over and against all else regardless of that else's claims to dominate the public square. Our commitment to Divine Worship and identification therein is what makes us something other than a monad out there to choose for oneself. How right he is and how far we are sometimes from St. Justin Martyr explaining to his pagan judge that a Christian cannot live without Sunday Eucharist! Playing by somebody else's rules not only clouds or negates our witness to the Gospel; it effectively negates us as we are and only can be in Christ within the community of His Church.

If you read Tan's book, you might take away something very different and worthwhile, maybe even with regard to ecumenism. I'd just like to add to Tan's valuable analysis that liturgy, with witness and service, this triad must regain within the Catholic Church today that character which St. Justin Martyr testified to as being of the Church's very essence. I suppose there is something to be said for the user-friendly or cuddly strategies which would lure "wild" Catholics and others back to the fold, but it is not enough. Even our more or less faithful Catholics have to come to understand that it cannot be otherwise: I cannot be a Catholic, except in case of impossibility, if I am not a Sunday Mass Catholic, a regular Confession Catholic, a Catholic who embraces the faith which comes to us from the Apostles in its entirety, without ifs, ands, or buts.

The other day an incident from my childhood, regarding the wedding of my Dad's sister (10 years his junior), came to mind. The three older of us children were all still pre-school and my two younger sisters were thought upon for roles as flower girls in matching yellow dresses for the wedding which was to take place in a nice little protestant church not far from my grandparents' farm, Dad's family mostly being protestant as he had converted to Catholicism before marrying Mom. My parents knew full well that as Catholics they could not be witnesses or play any other active role in the ceremony. At some point in the preparations, dresses already cut and fitted, the parish priest was asked whether my sisters could so grace the march down the aisle and Father responded that such was not possible. Disappointment was relative, the new yellow dresses and home perms from Aunt Dorothy were duly sported from the safety of the pew with Mom and Dad and me; most importantly of all, our thoroughly Catholic identity, as per the 1950's was affirmed and respected by the non-Catholic in-laws and blood relations. Being Catholic is relational, not by my picking and choosing; I am in relationship really as bound and that is both real and good.

I don't know if I am doing justice to Tan's analysis, but the world of my childhood, the world of differing societies, was probably less artificial than that of some latter-day philosophers. We understood that we needed to deal with each other, having no illusion of neutral so-called civil spaces, which later somehow or other, thanks to somebody's books and university lectures, got replaced by the naive assumption that an a-religious public square could somehow be neutral and not anti-religious. We are wiser today and know both atheism and agnosticism to be decidedly anti and in most cases in hostile fashion. For some strange reason, however, we still end up trying to play their game, accepting their hobbles. It is like another one of my Catholic aunt's stories about a hospital stay after the renovation of the hospital run by local nuns, when she asked sister what had happened to the Crucifix which used to grace the rooms and sister snapped back not really wanting to say that the choice of mallards over the suffering Christ had been dictated by public funds.

St. Benedict recognized the university and the public square of his day as hostile; he did not immerse himself and play by their rules, but he withdrew into society with God so as to better engage that world and thereby win it for Christ. Whether Matthew Tan would subscribe to my enthusiasm for those championing a Benedictine monastic renewal, a truly living, vibrant, relational Catholic space I cannot say. I liked his book and found there encouragement for the fight against the prince of the air who clothes himself in the darkness of what he calls a neutral civil society.

Join me in reclaiming the public square for Christ. When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? It will be hard to tell without a revival of Catholic culture.


1 comment:

  1. The public square in America is ruled by a false ideal of tolerance, which in effect is not even neutral, but means those that live by the truth with in the Catholic church must sacrifice truth to gain "acceptance" into the square! The public square remains even more hostile in today's world and therefore today needs the impact of heroic Catholics witnessing the truth. Liturgy is where we are in relationship with the one who is the Truth and from there we go out into the community to take this truth to others.


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