Monday, March 9, 2015

We Want It All.

[The following apologia/meditation comes from our friend, Diane, and could have the title Why I am not leaving the Catholic Church. It echoes my mind precisely and I couldn't have put it better myself. Thanks, Diane.]

Jesus, I Want It All!
by Diane

Years and years ago, I worked at an ad agency in downtown Winston-Salem. Every Advent, one of my colleagues there used to don a sparkly red graphic sweatshirt with the message: “Santa, I want it all!”

I hereby claim a variation on this message to sum up my allegiance to Catholic Church: “Jesus, I want it all!”

I want the fullness. Both-and, not either-or. Both East and West. Icons and statues. Iconostases and stained-glass windows. The Eastern Fathers and the Western ones, too. All the saints – every single one. Seraphim of Sarov and Francis of Assisi. Pre-Schism. Post-Schism. The whole enchilada. Byzantine chant and Gregorian chant. Russian choral music and Renaissance polyphony. And, yes, even the operatic Masses of Mozart, Verdi, Gounod, and Saint-SaĆ«ns. Not to mention the immortal Western religious art: the Annunciation frescoes of Fra Angelico, the bas reliefs of Andrea della Robbia, the Madonnas of Raphael. How impoverished life would be without them!

And there's the rub. That's why I could never, ever be Orthodox. Especially not Convertodox – a member of the vocal, polemical online convert community.

I cannot believe that Jesus was incarnate, crucified, and resurrected for a small part of the planet composed of Greece, Russia, and a few areas in the Middle East. I cannot believe that East Is Right and West Is Wrong. I cannot believe that the “phronema” is limited to one spirituality, one cultural expression or one theological perspective. Or even to just a few.

It has been said that the West can accommodate the East better than the East can accommodate the West. In my experience, this is abundantly true. Personally, I know no Catholic who doesn't love icons or who feels weirdly out of place during the sanctuary tour at the local Greek Festival. We are open to all that stuff, the icons and iconostases and Pantocrators, the Jesus Prayer, the mysticism. We love it all. We just don't happen to believe that it's all there is – or that everything else is wrong.

Moreover, we want the “everything else”. The rich diversity of Catholic spiritualities. The countless ways to pray, from Rosaries and Novenas to wordless contemplation to charismatic praise and worship. The endless variety of religious vocations – from the austere ascesis of the Carthusians to the baroque mysticism of the Carmelites to the charity-in-action of the Franciscans. Not to mention the varied charisms of the many Catholic women's groups, lay and religious.

Jesus, I want it all. I don't even want to exclude the best of Protestant culture and spirituality. I've lived here in the Bible Belt for 25 years, and I've come to appreciate the gifts our separated brethren possess, which we would do well to emulate: evangelical fervor, zeal for souls, ardent love of Jesus, intimate knowledge of Scripture, fearless willingness to preach Christ Crucified. I love much of Protestant hymnody, from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal (still the gold standard in my opinion) to Southern Gospel (black and white) to the Sacred Harp “shape-note” tradition.

Moreover, as a Catholic, I am free to appreciate these authentically good elements of Protestantism. I don’t have to reject them all out of hand as hopelessly heterodox or as rife with “prelest”. As a Catholic, I believe that our separated brethren are incompletely—yet genuinely—joined with us Catholics, and that what is true and beautiful in their traditions is true and beautiful for us as well. This does not mean that I accept everything indiscriminately or that I blindly adhere to anything that contradicts Catholic Church Teaching. No way. But, as the Decree on Ecumenism states, many elements of Catholic grace and truth exist outside of the Catholic Church's visible bounds. I rejoice in this.

Jesus, I want it all. I reject what von Balthasar called the “anti mentality”: us against them; East versus West. The great sin of schism is the lack of fraternal charity, and the anti mentality epitomizes this. In my experience, the typical polemic employed by Online Convert Orthodox is indistinguishable from the old saw about olfactory fatigue. Thanks, but no thanks.

Jesus, I want it all. Sun-bleached Greek monasteries and French Gothic cathedrals. Ancient chants and baroque Masses and even shape-note fuguing hymns. I want everything that is true and good, everything that comes from You, in this whole big wide world (East and West) in which You were incarnate and for which You died.

Jesus, I want it all. I could never join a communion that would force me to reject my statues and Holy Cards and Rosaries and stained glass and Benediction hymns and Renaissance Madonnas. You would have to pry that Rosary out of my cold, dead hands. Or drag me away from that statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. In the immortal words of the old Gershwin song, “No, no, you can't take that away from me.”

Jesus, I want it all.

And that is why I am Catholic.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Apology Melodramatics

If you are at a Justin Bieber concert and you spy a young lad and lassie making out furiously in the aisle, let me be the first to acknowledge something. It is possible that these two sincerely love each other and in ten years will be happily married with three kids and a nice house in the suburbs. But let me also be the first to point out that no one would fault you if you thought these two were at least to some degree just using each other and were dispensing with any self-respect they might have, trading it for stimulation in the passion and heat of the moment.

Likewise no one would fault you if you doubted the sincerity of a quadruple apology made publicly on a blog by someone who was virtually unknown to four better-known people for unspecified offenses. Even if the apologizer uses the strongest terms for himself in order to appear self-flagellatory — demonic and satanic, for instance — the fact that one of them didn't even know he had attacked him might detract from the perception of seriousness on the part of third party passers-by. I hope that no one who really feels the need to apologize to me ever decides to just throw me into a category of people-I-may-have-offended-if-they-knew-who-I-was-and-what-I-said and then thinks they've done something unburdening and praiseworthy by making an impassioned public apology, chewing the scenery like a starved chihuahua. Just say it to me directly and privately; email is fine.

I should point out that this is by no means the first public apology which sounds somewhat phony. The whole public apology industry is problematic even if you can afford speech-writers.

I imagine you might hear a security guard at that Bieber concert whisper to another, "See her over there, making out with that dude? She's that hate-mail chick who's trying to get back-stage." Then you hear the other one nod and say "Got it. I'll keep an eye."

Weekend Warrior

This is just a notification that I'll probably be mostly a "weekend warrior" on the blogging front for the foreseeable future. I have made a major change in my "day-job" employment which should be an improvement in the long-term, but the adjustment period will most definitely see a drop in posting. My mates might pick up the slack, who knows. We may be headed toward a heavy news season on our favorite topic. April showers supposedly bring May flowers, right?