Monday, September 9, 2013

One Voice: Concrete Catholicism

One of the many things I've appreciated about Catholicism as I've grown up is how it concretizes Scripture. For some this may seem like a strange thing. With respect to atheists I believe in a “bronze-age myth” and the only value Scripture seems to have for most of them are some bland platitudes or fuel for a fire. Protestants, on the other hand, are fairly adamant that we are unbiblical hypocrites, whores of a man-made Babylon.

Being cousins in animosity they seem to not only hate what we believe but also how we live our faith. It turns out that many things they hate are what cause the most wonder in me. I'm not talking about their caricatures such as worshiping Mary, being blind adherents to medieval ideologies, or anything like that.

Catholicism embodies “I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18b). I'll offer a few examples that struck me as particularly inspiring:

One day at mass, with some 300 people present, we were all singing. 300 voices united as one voice—not for some rally, not for the new drm-free PS4, and not at some concert—but every voice singing in order to praise God. 

Video game conferences: the new Megachurches

In this particular Church, built to receive such praise, the sound rose up and when we paused you could still hear that one voice continuing. The same was true when we responded: “and with your spirit” and “Our Father, who art in heaven....”

(but video games, such as Civilization IV, can also give us some great music, such as Baba Yetu, the "Our Father" in Swahili)

My voice was indistinguishable from all those present. Indeed, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another … that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rm 15:6). It's one thing to read it. It's altogether different to experience it.
(another example, in a different style)

Secondly, at my candidacy mass we were using incense, another thing that isn't just a distraction, but a reflection of Scripture. The time to incense the altar had passed. The cardinal, the other bishops present, and the priests lined in unity behind the altar of God. The one who held the thurible knelt before the altar. As I looked on the altar, the sanctuary, and the priests were covered in the slightest haze. “May my prayer stand as incense before you” (Ps 141:2).

From the floor to the ceiling everything was covered very slightly with a cloud of incense. Again, it was not only my prayers but the prayers of all of us present rising to heaven.

“And the Lord descended in the cloud” (Ex 34:5). All the same it was symbolic and concrete of God's presence among us, in our gathering and in the Eucharist.

The incense served a dual purpose: the joining of ourselves to God—our prayers rose and he descended.

These are just two things that struck me. Many other things, such as praying the Psalms daily, teaching, and the like bring Scripture alive. Service to the poor, the sick, and so forth are still far superior ways to understand what Catholicism really is. There are others who have dedicated their lives to service whereas my life has been more one of study. They certainly deserve more praise for their silent, word-less work than myself.

That being said, in mass both our voices, when united in purpose and heart, are one voice, the voice of the Church.

I, like so many today, grew up thinking of mass as something you go to and something you sit through. It's this passive way of thinking that drains the mass of meaning and destroys unity in the Church. The mass is not a theater where one is entertained. One goes to mass to give. Some can give money to further the ministry of the Church. Those who cannot give money give their prayers to those who suffer. Those who come give their time to God because it says, “God, you're worth my time.”

Church and mass is not so much a place to receive as is it to give. All the same we receive the consolations of community and the graces of prayer. The mass is something you give to the world and to God. The prayers that God desires from us and the prayers the world so sorely needs. Do not deprive yourself or the world prayer.

A Hebrew Rabbi wrote in the Midrash tradition (Rabbinic commentaries on Scripture) this: “Fear not, O worm of Jacob, O men of Israel' [Is 41:14]. Just as the worm can smite the tree only with its mouth, so Israel's only [weapon] is its mouth. That is: Israel's only weapon is prayer.”