Sunday, June 26, 2016

When we were too cool to be pious...

So, in the quest to figure out why so few, especially young people believe this stuff we have already seen one major reason: there are not that many young people due to artificial birth control.  Perhaps, the larger reason is we clergy. Again, there are many of the clergy, especially those who remained in the business, who are devout and exemplary. The problem is that we were taught to despise traditional piety. The devotional life of the faithful was made an object of mockery. I never once saw a priest/professor in my seminary days on his knees in chapel, except perhaps old Father George, a sort of old fashioned fossil.  We were not taught to be pious and so we were impious. We laughed at the things of long ago.

I have a wonderful book. It is hilarious. It is blasphemous. I am sure it is no longer in print. It is titled “St. Fidgetta and other Parodies.” It was published by an avant garde Catholic magazine. One part of it is titled, “The Moist Heart, a Compendium of Devotions.” One of the prayers in this mocking parody reads. “O Sweet Fidgetta, smallest candle on the sugar cake of eternity…” And so the piety of the simple was mocked and we the aspiring clergy were taught to laugh at the faithful. To this day, mention, Eucharistic Miracles, Weeping Icons, Healings, many clergy will roll their eyes or move on to another topic pretty quickly.

Fr. Brannigan of St. Armadillo’s once told me that there are only two types of people in the church, not conservative or liberal, but those who believe in supernatural realities and those who don’t.  Some priests go to the altar and claim every day to turn bread and wine into flesh and blood, and then they sneer at reports of visions and miracles. We were taught to believe in Christ as Christ the Reformer, Christ the Social Activist, Christ the Sandal wearing Long Haired Hippie. Never just in Christ.

I remember endless chatter about the Christ Figure in literature. Billy Bud, Cool Hand Luke, the protagonist in Easy Rider, just about anyone in the professor’s favorite movie or novel was a Christ figure. Again, this was perhaps only my experience in the seminary here in Frostbite Falls, but I suspect the same cynicism prevailed in some other places too. We were told that we didn’t really have to believe all this stuff literally, so we told people that they really don’t have to believe it either, and guess what? They stopped believing it.  Why are we surprised?  We, the clergy, or at least me the clergy were told to put more “pizzazz” in our sermons.  One would think that more truth would ultimately be a better thing.  I suppose to be fair, the whole thing was a reaction to the arrogance of the Church of the 50’s, but really, is it a reaction that we want?

I may sound like someone who wants to turn the clock back, but don’t be mistaken. I am going to make a frank admission. Though I taught Latin for 25 years, though I say the Latin Mass once a month, though I think that Mass facing the people is liturgically peculiar, I still like the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary form, the new Mass or whatever we are calling it this week. I like praying in my first language which happens to be English. I just wish that the celebrants would realize that this is the Mass of the Latin Rite pf the Roman Catholic Church and not the Father What’s-His-Name Show.

Do it by the book! Which of course assumes that you are facing the Lord with the people for a large hunk of the Mass. The Mass, Father, is not your vehicle of self-expression. Forget the Pizzazz. Give them the Lord. In my long years of priesthood, I have come to realize that the people are a lot holier than I am. Their devotions are the very essence of the Catholic faith. The candles, the prayer beads, the icons, the bread, the wine, the oil, the incense, the stained glass, these are all things that speak to the human heart and the mind as well.

Art in the twentieth century was meant to shock, to shock people from their bourgeois complacency and we having dumped St. Thomas Aquinas for Sartre and Marx thought that shocking art was true art. Humanity is hungry for beauty, especially poor humanity. The beautiful old gothic or Romanesque church was the palace of the poor.  We gave them spaceships from the planet ugly, because it was good for them, something that would bring them into the modern age. Beauty is quite possibly one proof for the existence of God, we did our level best in our ugly liturgies and ugly churches to prove that God did not exist, and you know what? They believed us. 

I was better than the simple in the land; the truth is that I was simply arrogant. The simplest of the faithful turns out to have been far wiser than the theologian.  They have loved God. We were taught to talk about God, never to Him. As I have already said perhaps my experience was aberrant, but I suspect that it was not.

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