Friday, December 16, 2011

All We Want for Christmas

To every thing there is a season, including maxims. Here are three:

Better late than never.
It wasn't a pretty goal, but we'll take the point anyway.
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine that have no need of repentance.

After the past few weeks of spending much more time than we should have to deliberate over one of the most ridiculous decisions ever made by a national conference of Catholic bishops, we have finally been let off  this annoying assignment by the bishops of Alaska. This is not to say that much in the way of damage control has actually been exercised in Canada, but the news from way up north indicates that it's only a matter of time, and we probably don't have to worry about it very much from now on. An example is an example.
I speak, of course, of this novel practice of making an entire congregation stand after receiving communion until the last parishioner has got his wafer. In actual fact, of course, nobody can actually make anybody do this, and we get regular reports of people who have the sense to do what they've always done: kneel and say a prayer of thanks, and perhaps offer their communion for another soul or two, as soon as they get back to their pews. Any Catholic who believes this standing around wrinkle is a matter of obedience and unity within the community is only telegraphing the poverty of his individual spiritual life. If there was ever a clear cut instance of where, when, and how to offer fraternal correction to a bishop or priest this is at the top of the list.
And speaking of lists, where are the Guiness Book of Records people? In this time of growing interest in making Mass more and more of a circus act, is there going to be a prize for the congregation which has to stand the longest? The record so far, that I have heard of, is fifteen minutes. But that should be topped come Christmas.
But the really big prize should not be given out for this small marathon. The big prize should go to the most idiotic sermon justifying the innovation, with a special bonus for the silly oaf that speaks the most abusively of 'individual piety'. Tape the moron, and send a copy to the Pope. It will make a nice subject to discuss at the next ad limina session of the Canadian bishops. The severest tongue lashing I've ever read in L'Osservatore Romano was John Paul to the bishops of Western Canada in 1988, but perhaps it will be outdone by Benedict this time around. You'd think they'd learn.
Believe it or not, Alaskan Catholics have actually been enduring this heresy since 2005, when Roger Schwietz became archbishop of Anchorage and its 400,000 souls. And more incredible, a lot of American dioceses started inflicting it back in 2002 or so. We'd never heard of that, to tell the truth, until now, when we were sent to a Net interview, with Cardinal Arinze, then head of the congregation that governs worship practices, that he gave when he came to the States in 2003. He assured his audience that such nonsense had not come from Rome. (He also assured his audience that if he were Pope he would not allow altar girls.)
But now, the majority of American sees have taken their brains, at least in this regard, and because Alaska gets a huge tourist inflow from the lower 48, confusion has reigned supreme in visiting season for these half-dozen years and Schwietz and his fellows have finally seen the light. They actually saw it in the month of November, which I wish I'd known, for the sake of my good night's sleep, and got the change going for Advent. Joyeux Noel, Alaska.
May your thinking spread as quickly as possible. The round red fellow with the reindeer couldn't bring us a better Christmas present.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Appointment Number One

Remember the Michael Keaton film Dream Team? It has a wonderful opening that occurs to me as the perfect image to identify the fantasy life of, apparently, the majority of Canadian Catholic bishops.
The movie opens in a mental hospital, with Christopher Lloyd, white-coated like a staff member, carrying a clip-board as he moves from to room taking notes on the patients. It's all very serious for a little while until a real doctor shows up and we realize that good old Chris is actually a patient. A roaring great laugh from the audience, and once again we enjoy the blessings of the talents of a great comic actor.
By now, there are a lot of bishops, priests, religious and grossly undereducated but nonetheless self-confident parish assistants in Canada who are trying to convince themselves and each other that I am just like the character Mr. Lloyd plays in that movie. After all, did I not use the term for one of our cultural high priests, the psychiatrist, in opening post for this series? I call it series because I suspect it's going to take considerable time and effort to bring so many unfortunate minds to their senses, if not their knees. And if I can actually think of myself in a psychiatric capacity without actually having taken a degree, must I not actually be somewhat off my rocker?
Frankly, I have to admit, I have been moved to wonder the same myself. But that was decades ago, and anyone who is by any means a student of John of the Cross, possibly even without actual experience of the dark night, understands that such thoughts are simply the work of the devil, because the mystical life itself is the prize of all spiritual gifts and no just God is going to allow it to be easily won, or easily retained, and is thus obliged to test those to whom it is given. Wondering if you're crazy is only one of the abuses to be suffered.
One of the learned - and experienced - of these souls was the recently beatified John Paul II, my spiritual student from 1984 until 1994. He was not in the Seventh Mansion, but I was, so he was open to conversation, and became, they say, the wiser for it. But not quite wise enough to excommunicate bishops who cluttered their altars with those tedious and spiritually very unsightly young females, mind you, and for this I had to resign my office. All the Vatican knows that the day he got my letter, more or less, is the day he broke his hip.  But the beginning was very, very good, and offered some future hope for the Church, if only because it also led to perhaps the more important result, my becoming known to the man who is Pope now. Benedict and I go back to July of 83, and the imagery I was moved to use even then has a remarkably current relevance: the throat-slitting of the 400 false prophets on the slopes of  Mount Carmel.
In 83, however, I assumed that the image - symbolic rather than literal, of course - applied only to certain Catholic leaders only in Canada. I was aware of some troublesome johnnies in the US, but did not really consider them my business. My principal concerns were Canada and getting a novel finished. (It was then far from being even half done.) Also, even a mystic can take on only so much, and the sex abuse situation of those days, especially in our diocese, was a big enough burden to labour with, or so one would think.
But then it became increasing obvious that even Rome was part of the abuse problem: it gravely lacked a suitable machinery for dealing with the offenders in an expedient manner, clearly a travesty of justice. Those failures have been corrected.
And now it may be possible that it is faltering on the questions of liturgical practice, by insisting, perhaps because of certain lacks of detachment on the part of John Paul, on a power in the liturgy it cannot have in this earthly sphere. Heaven on earth exists only the souls of those granted perfection at the highest practical level. John of the Cross has ceased to become a theory: he is the norm of discernment for questions at this level, and if necessary, Christ may show up in various ways to make sure the Church uses that norm.
The Pope has been warned.
This means everyone else should take heed.