Saturday, March 12, 2005

Monstrance madness--at least silliness

These are the kinds of things I just don't get. The U.S. church is still trying to get out from under the sex-abuse scandal and improve the church's public image, and what do the bishops do? For the Year of the Eucharist, they get a monstrance blessed by the pope (one of six, one for each continent) so people can adore the Blessed Sacrament for vocations (to the priesthood and religious life, that is).

This is what I mean by "ritual fetish." So what's getting "adored" here, Jesus' presence in the eucharist, or the celebrity monstrance?

I have a better idea for the Year of the Eucharist. How about every eucharistic community starts a food pantry this year, or a homeless shelter, or takes part in a refugee resettlement program? Why not make this a year of being transformed by the eucharist, to become bread broken for the world, a people poured out in service of others? After all, Jesus never said, "Worship me." He said, "Follow me."

If I was thinking about ordained ministry, I think I'd be more attracted to service in a community that looked beyond itself than to one committed to navel-gazing. Making a big deal about a monstrance blessed by the pope is just that.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Calling all young lefty Catholics

No, I don't mean left-handed.

If you read the newest books, the biggest blogs, the secular and religious newspapers--with a few exceptions--you would think Generations XY & Z are all rising up and demanding an immediate return to Latin Mass, chastity belts, and public excommunications. On my desk at work is a new book by a 20-something who needs to tell us (on the dustjacket no less) that he and his wife not only "waited" until marriage, but even abstained four days longer because of the possibility (danger?) of conception.

Bully for him, but why did we need to know this? Is that how one proves religious credentials? I'd be more impressed if he and his wife went spent their honeymoon on a service trip. Now that's countercultural!

Thing is, I know piles of folks my age, born in the '70s and '80s, committed Catholics all, socially engaged, many who spent two and three years after college in (usually Catholic-sponsored) volunteer work, who struggled with life in community, drank deeply of the church's social justice tradition, and are doing their best to stay Catholic despite clerical scandal and hypocrisy and the rest.

And yet they get no press. None. And why?

Because they're not newsworthy--they're the norm. This means, of course, that the ones with book deals are the exception, the outliers. These "new faithful" are in favor among some bishops, of course, because they push an agenda of return: "See," says Bishop A, "the young people want to go back to the good old days."

So, you lefties, why aren't we out there telling our stories? Too busy feeding the poor? Teaching in inner-city schools? Other general do-gooding?

Don't hide your light under a bushel basket!

You can be on the left and still be right.

I'm never sure if it's a good idea to put one's thoughts online nowadays, especially when one is a Roman Catholic talking about the church and the world, theology and doctrine, faith and prayer. There's too many grouches out there--people, I think, not so much in love with the world as trying to control it, and using Catholicism for that purpose. These people, I'm afraid, are missing the beauty of Catholicism in the search for certainty.

But, what the hell, why not?

And so, welcome to Catholic to the Left--a polemical title, to be sure, but for I what I mean to be a contrary voice. To my mind there are too many brittle, hard-edged Catholics roaming around out there, too many triumphalists, too many newly "converted" evangelical Christians who became Catholic so that they could have an intellectual certainty to accompany their emotional one.

I also feel duty bound to offer an alternative voice to those in my generation who long for a return to a previous form of Catholicism--usually one less than 100 years old. I am 31 years old, a cradle Catholic, a veteran of Catholic education (K-12), of undergraduate seminary and graduate theological study (MA in systematic theology), as well as an author of articles and books on prayer and a teacher of theology.

I list these credentials only to stake my claim in the conversation; call me what you will if you read me, but I know well this tradition--my love for it exceeds my knowledge--and I simply can no longer tolerate the way it is presented and perceived in the world, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is a rich heritage, and it deserves better than reduction to mere ideology, to communion politics and single-moral-issue thinking, to sexual obsession and obscure eucharistic devotion.

As you may already have guessed, I am no fan of the liturgical restorationists, the moral reductionists, and the papal authoritarians. If I had to identify myself, I'd say I was a conciliarist in the Vatican II mode and a lover of the liturgy at heart--not of rubrics or ritual fetish but of a Catholic liturgy that takes itself seriously as a "work of the people," the baptized people who know that if they could get "it" right--in liturgy and in life--the world would indeed be transformed.