Saturday, July 14, 2012

Being Christian, an all-encompassing vocation

Lately I have had several things on mind. A few days ago, as I was thinking on these things, I achieved something of a synthesis, which I will attempt to write out in this post.

The first thing has to do the on-going battle for religious liberty here in the United States in light of the unjust HHS mandate, which, among other things, seeks to reduce religious freedom down to mere freedom of worship, to what actually goes on in the Church, to what we do on Sunday. Any authentic form of Christianity is all-encompassing and can never be reduced merely to going to Church. Of course, this is in no way to denigrate Sunday Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, but merely to insist that our participation in the Mass, which comes from a Latin word meaning "dismissal," for it to be authentic and in accord with what the Lord intended and commands, must have consequences in the world by having consequences in the lives of those who participate. It seems to me that many Catholics have already voluntarily reduced "being Catholic" to going to Mass. For many, this does not necessarily mean going every Sunday.

The second issue that gave rise to these musings and that dovetail from my first thought, especially as later this year we will observe the fiftieth anniversary of start of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is the collapse of Catholic devotional life after the Council, which was surely an unintended consequence of the far-reaching reforms. Let there be no doubt, by calling for the Church's liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular, it was hoped that the reform would facilitate the full, active, and conscious participation in the liturgy by everyone. This was bound to have the effect of impacting the Church's devotional life in some manner, especially regarding devotions to the Eucharist, which very often had nothing to do with the eucharistic liturgy. However, the practical ways that Catholics lived their faith everyday were never the target of authentic conciliar reform. Take for example Friday abstinence, which was a hallmark of Catholic identity, so much so that it led to such derisive names as "mackerel snapper." It never occurred to anyone, let alone Pope Paul VI, to abolish the ancient Christian custom, or tradition, of observing Friday as a day of penance. It was desired that people would practice their faith in a more mature manner, that is, without all the positive law and its punishments and penalties. I wrote a fairly extensive post about this way back in 2006- I'll have the filet o' fish with no tartar sauce, please. But way better than anything I have written is Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy's article, "Fasting, our lost rite," which appeared in The Tablet back in 2004.

So, how Catholics is various parts of the world were to observe Fridays as a weekly day of penance was left up the different conferences of bishops, but not whether Fridays were to be observed in this manner- this remains a given. It was decided by the U.S. bishops that the only obligatory days of abstinence are Fridays of Lent (by "obligatory" is meant something like "on pain of sin"). The only two obligatory days of fasting and abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, to this day the normative way that Catholics in the U.S. are to observe all Fridays of the year as days of penance, excepting Fridays on which a solemnity may fall, in which case the solemnity "trumps" the penitential day, meaning you observe the solemnity as a feast day, like a Sunday, is by abstaining from the meat of warm-blooded animals. If one should choose not to observe Friday in that manner, one can choose to perform a conscious act of charity, meaning doing something for someone else that requires going out of your way, requiring a real effort on your part. Recently, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales re-instituted obligatory Friday abstinence. It is also good news, at least in my opinion, that the new English translation of the Roman Missal has retained the section on Rogation and Ember days (for an explanation of these see Shawn Tribe's article On Rogation Days over on New Liturgical Movement).

To wit: the ways that days and liturgical seasons were formerly observed in Roman Catholic homes, truly making them the domestic Church, have by-and-large been abandoned. A home is no more of domestic Church than a Church is a Church if no liturgies are celebrated in it! While there are many ways of interpreting the oft-quoted witticism "Going Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car," I take this to mean that what I say and do outside of the sanctuary matter a lot. After all, the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ are the lives of those who partake of it. This line of thinking is also what prompted me in a post last week, Jesus of Nazareth, the revelation of God, to discuss some practical take-aways from my Christological reflection on Cardinal Schönborn's writings.

The third thing leading up to my synthesis is the recent, very live, discussion of women deacons. I am not going to make any pronouncements on this subject because I am not theologically or ecclesially qualified to do so, which is not to say I don't have my opinion on the matter. I will be content simply to note that this issue cannot be reduced to a historical one, as many try to do. It is an issue that involves what I call fundamental ecclesiology as well as no small dose of theological anthropology. For the former I would refer the reader specifically to Monica Migliorino Miller's Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church.

You can also listen to the recent episode of Catholic Answers Live on which Dr. Migliorino Miller was the guest. While the topic of the program was "Why Only Men Can Be Priests," due to the questions she received from callers, she ventured considerably further afield, namely into the fundamental mystery of the Church as the Bride of the Christ. While we must be careful and not conflate and confuse issues that arise from priesthood with those that stem from the diaconate, I think her comments have some bearing on the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller's, position on women deacons, about which Deacon Greg posted: Muller and deacons: “Only a man can represent this relation of Christ with the Church.”

As to the best, meaning the most accessible, not the most technical, setting-forth of theological anthropology, I recommend Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, by Bl. Pope John Paul II. The specific portion of the book I would draw attention to is Dr. Michael Waldstein's ninety-nine page introduction.

Someone who is well-qualified to comment on this issue is Dr. Bill Ditewig. He has done so recently on his blog, Deacons Today. I don't mind noting that I am the friend who emailed him concerning the indisputable fact that Phoebe is the only person in the New Testament specifically referred to as a "deacon." Referring to some cursory research I did on the exegesis of Romans 16:1, the verse in which she is designated as such, I wrote that no matter where various New Testament scholars stood with regard to the question of female deacons, "it was not clear what [sic- should be "that"- mistake in my original email] the term 'deacon' in this context referred to holding an ecclesial office. Most [scholars] noted that it was likely too early to attribute to her an established office in the Church, let alone one received by ordination." All of that being said, I have yet to read the new book on the female diaconate, Women Deacons: Past, Present, and Future, or to read Martimort's dialogue partner, Gryson. I am, however, quite familiar the patristic and other early Church sources on the subject. For those who pay attention to this unfolding discussion, if you must categorize me, put me in what has been described by Ditewig himself as "a kind 'fourth order' for deaconesses" camp.

Before I move to my synthesis, it is necessary to add a caveat up-front, namely that I don't see the argument for women deacons as necessarily flowing from what I have outlined in my first two musings, it just happened to be the catalyst, though for some people who employ some lines of argumentation what follows applies. Arguably, one result of voluntarily reducing our faith to what we do on Sundays is that it becomes increasingly important for many people to have a prominent part in the liturgy. This brings me back Waldstein's articulation of the theology of Bl. Pope John Paul II, especially regarding his comprehensive work on carrying out the renewal called for by Vatican II, in every session of which then-Bishop and later Archbishop Wojtyla was a partipant, written before he became pope, Sources of Renewal. According to Waldstein, for Wojtyla "[b]eing a member of the Church means having faith." In order to be clear, I always it is necessary to note when the context calls for it, as it does here, that authentic faith can only be faith in Jesus Christ. For this reason, according to Wojtyla, "the implementation of the Council consists first and foremost in enriching that faith." Waldstein's concise comment in light of Wojtyla's assertion cuts to the chase of what I am trying to get at, "enrichment being understood as the reception and realization of faith in personal subjectivity, in conscious experience" (emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

In my estimation, Vatican II was a long overdue response to certain aspects of the Reformation, specifically the reformers' focus on the necessity of personal faith, practice, and holiness. Due to Wojtyla's being influenced mainly by St. John of the Cross, Max Scheler, and Immanuel Kant, in that order, Waldstein cites something very relevant by Von Balthasar to make the necessary connection: "What was challenging and scandalous in the Carmelite response to Luther was the manner in which it integrated the entire monastic tradition from the Greeks through the middle ages into the new Christian radicalism and gave to that tradition a hitherto unknown radicality by the modern turn toward the personal, the experiential and the psychological."

The take away to all of this is to re-focus us on the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's universal call to holiness, which each of us is given in baptism, has reiterated, renewed and strengthened in confirmation, as well as each time we receive communion, and restored in penance. After this we have our primary and, for most of us, our secondary vocations. Our primary vocation is the state-of-life in which we live out our baptismal vocation- married, celibate, ordained, lay, consecrated, etc. Our secondary vocation is what we do for a living. All of these are means of holiness, through which we cooperate with God in the on-going work of our sanctification. For my money, this too often gets lost and the issues of power and authority in the Church tend to predominate, reducing the Church to a body politic instead of being the Body of Christ.

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