Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Catholic Identity...

One of the great misfortunes of the Post Vatican II church is the slow loss of our Catholic identity. How many Catholics out there know that even with the relaxation of the rules on eating meat on Friday, you are still supposed to withhold something on Fridays, be it meat or something else.

Can.  1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
Can.  1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can.  1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can.  1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

However with the relaxation of Friday abstinence most American Catholics especially do not observe the Friday penance or fast. In the UK beginning next month the Bishops Conference has restored the ancient Tradition.  That was enough of a jolt for Archbishop Dolan, the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to blog about it. He issued a think piece questioning the idea of returning to meatless Fridays in the US. 

I say, go ahead Your Excellency. And while your at it, how about ending the US inclusion in the Papal Indult allowing Communion in the hand. On a personal note, my goal is for my own family to begin honoring the ages old tradition of meatless Fridays. With the wife's blessing no less (I was worried about her opinion since she isn't Catholic) and since I will be the one cooking on Friday's at least the family meal will be meatless. She can eat meat if she chooses for lunch. 

It seems that Catholics are losing their identity at a quickening pace. How much can we do to restore some of those old traditions that set us apart. When was the last time you heard Latin at your local parish, not counting the Kyrie.

Catholics used to be identifiable by marks like this, now it seems like we have given way to comfort or ease.  As Archbishop Dolan points out:
"Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers.
The essence of faith, of course, is the interior, the inside life of the soul.  Jesus, for instance, always reminds us that it’s what’s inside that counts.
However, genuine interior religion then gives rise to external traits, especially acts of charity and virtue.
Among these exterior characteristics are these markers that the scholars talk about.
For some religions, it might be dress; others are noted for feastdays, seasons, calendars, music, ritual, customs, special devotions, and binding moral obligations....
What about us Catholics?  For God’s sake, I trust we are recognized for our faith, worship, charity, and lives of virtue.
But, what are the external markers that make us stand out?
Lord knows, there used to be tons of them:  Friday abstinence from meat was one of them, but we recall so many others:  seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; fasting on the Ember Days; saints names for children; confession at least annually; loyal membership in the local parish; fasting for three hours before Holy Communion, just to name a few.
But, almost all of these external markers are now gone."

Indeed they are Your Excellency. Who is in a better position than yourself to help us to reclaim some of those markers. Obviously some of them may never come back. But if we can start somewhere, even slowly, even something small, we might just begin to make inroads. And if we do that, we might just reclaim some of those souls who have fallen away in part because we stopped taking our faith seriously.

As Fr. Z says, brick by brick, friends. Also seen lately on the wonderful clerics homepage stories concerning the decision in Phoenix to restrict service at the altar to males. And a story about the growing number of parishioners in the Diocese of Madison, Wisc. who attend churches which offer the Tridentine Liturgy, the Extraordinary Form, of the Mass.

I have written in this space previously about my desire to attend a Latin Mass. I know of a parish in Couer D'Alene that is affiliated with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. They celebrate the older form, someday I will have to journey that way and investigate. I'm quite certain I would feel lost, but the idea of attending Mass celebrated in that centuries old liturgy is exciting.

One of my new tasks for myself is to learn a few of our more cherished prayers in Latin...I found a great website that has the words of the prayers in Latin along with an audio file so you can hear it said. Which I need seeing as I have been deprived of Holy Mother Church's mother tongue all my life.

My goal is to get the Hail Mary, Our Father, Creed and prayer before meals down. It may take me awhile but I want to know at least those few prayers then work on the others.

So my Catholic readers, what if anything do you miss of our Catholic identity?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Musings on the Blessed Virgin

It seems to me most Catholics I know maintain some devotion to our Blessed Mother. And why wouldn't they, who better to turn to the Mary, the obedient, willing handmaiden of God. She should be and is a model of everything we should strive to be as Catholic Christians.

Her ego never puffed up and got in her way over God's divine plan. She willingly and readily accepted the things that were put on her plate. She told the waitstaff in Cana to do whatever he tells you (John 2:5), but was she really speaking to first century waiters or to 21st century Christians.

See here's the thing, she was almost certainly still alive while the Gospels were taking shape, maybe not when they were finally written down. But surely, Matthew, Mark and Luke all could have talked to her about the life of Jesus. John certainly had access to her as she was his adopted Mother, in a more certain way than she is the adopted mother of us all. Anyway, notice the only times she shows up in the story are important times. I think she was making herself small, willingly undercutting things important to her to showcase things important for everyone.

Much like Peter's smallish role in Mark's Gospel. Many scholars now believe that Mark was Peter's secretary and that the Gospel of Mark is Peter's version of events.

It speaks volumes that there is so little written about the woman who would by giving Christ a human nature become the adopted mother of all Christians. Think hard about the times she is mentioned in the Gospels:

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Birth of Christ
The Presentation in the Temple
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Wedding at Cana
The Crucifixion

So what eight times. Either she was an absentee mother, which we all know isn't true, or somebody soft-sold her importance to the story. One of the most moving moments in The Passion of the Christ is when Mary sees Jesus fall under the weight of his cross, she flashes back to seeing the child Jesus stumble and skin his knee. What a heartrending moment, every parent knows the pain you feel when your child falls and hurts themselves. Imagine watching your only child being led to his execution, not for his own crimes, and falling under the weight of that burden.

Mary, is the saint I turn to most often. Whenever I am feeling lost I almost immediately hear myself whispering "Hail Mary..." Perhaps because she was the Mother of God, perhaps just because she was a mother period seems to almost encourage a sort of homey, comfortable relationship. I find myself praying to her for guidance when I don't know what I should be really praying for, or how to pray for it if I do.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh referred to her as the milk and cookies of Catholicism. I like the imagery and the thought at work here.

Who better to turn to then your mother with a big plate of cookies and a glass of milk to help you talk through your problems.

One of my all-time favorite "Catholic" jokes tells how Jesus was walking around Heaven one day and saw a lot of people who didn't belong. So he went to St. Peter and said hey Pete why are all of these people here. Peter tells him he has no idea he didn't let them in. So Jesus continues walking the Kingdom and sees his mother sneaking them in.

With the feast of the Assumption having just passed us by, do you talk to your mother often. She wants to hear from you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WWE Looks Like It May Return to Edgier Days...

I don't indulge the wrestling fan in me too much on my blog, but that is going to change...for today at least. The WWE is looking like it might be in the middle of another renaissance. The company's hottest star is an anti-establishment lightning rod, promising to be a "voice for the voiceless." He is antagonizing the power structure and promising to continue to do so.

It's been a few years since the big stars in the WWE, then known as the WWF, were anti-heroes. That era was known as the Attitude Era and featured some edgy story-lines and was much more provocative. And to be honest I didn't even realize I missed those days until Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock started showing up at WWE events and being their usual badass selves.

CM Punk and the current story line at the top of the Federation looks and feels a lot like the second coming as it were of the Attitude Era. Fans aren't quite sure how to handle Punk, he draws a fair amount of cheers but he is also getting some boos. Meanwhile his opponent for this feud is a guy who draws his own share of mixed reviews in John Cena, loved by the women and children, nearly universally despised by the men.

I could be wrong but I think the creative team at the WWE sees the right way to take this angle. Cena, the monster face, has to become a heel. He and Punk have to switch roles with Punk becoming the face of this new Attitude Era. This needs to happen for several reasons:

  1. Cena's character is stale. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect are great, but the line is tired and he really needs a new direction. Besides as a heel he would be amazing. 
  2. Cena with the title is boring, this is coming from someone who is a Cena fan mind you, we need to see some new blood at the top. Whether it's Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Punk, Alex Riley, R-Truth, or John Morrison, Cena needs to drop the strap and go other directions with his character. 
  3. Fans of a certain age, read my generation, remember the Attitude Era and want to see a return to those adult themes, not as outlandish perhaps as they got at the end, but let's return to some more grown up content. If for no other reason than so we never see a wrestler cut a promo saying "baloney, fudge and mustard." 
  4. Having the Rock waiting in the wings for Wrestlemania next year just makes those of us who are old enough want to see a return to the things that made his era stand out. 
 All that said I think Punk is the perfect guy to hold the title for now. His constant criticism of the powers that be in the WWE is entertaining and does in fact give a voice to those of us who watch the neutered WWE and wonder when or if it will ever throw itself wholeheartedly back into the things that helped push the wrestling boom of the 1990's and early 2000's.

Maybe the WWE can't get all the way back to that because they have no real competition any more. During that last boom period we had the Monday Night Wars, we had the WCW as a real counterweight to WWE. For a couple of years anyway, until their poor booking and management led to their downfall.

But this storyline has had a little of everything, from palace intrigue (Mr. McMahon being replaced by his son-in-law (Triple H) after a vote of no-confidence), threats of termination, attempts at stealing a victory, worked shoots. What's not to like. Although I am not sure how much I like Triple H being in charge, watching Monday's Raw he no sold Punk's promo, it makes me wonder if WWE has the stones to do it the right way. Vince would have at least reacted to Punk's word's, Hunter's ego may just be the thing that kills this storyline. I almost wish that Linda McMahon had been the one put in charge. I think it could have been better that way, all these big, musclebound jerks at the direction of a woman.

I think they could have put Mrs. McMahon in charge and had Hunter upset it wasn't him and then had him and Cena team up turn heel and steal things from Punk and Linda.

Either way here's hoping that the creative team at WWE doesn't fail us this time. I imagine Cena who has been a huge face for a long time doesn't necessarily want the heel turn. But they need to convince the fan in him that it's the right thing to do for the company.

Think about that for a minute Cena, the company man heel, it could be awesome if done right. Especially if they push the whole Punk thing toward a labor/management angle. Punk could be like leading the workers against the management (i.e. Cena, HHH, Mr. McMahon, Laurinitis).

All I know is I can't wait to see how this thing ultimately pays off. I hope it pays off in a way that moves the story forward and perhaps returns WWE to having a little edge to their product.