Friday, November 25, 2011

What the Church should do.

Yesterday I went to my final Mass in the old (it's old) translation of the Novus Ordo (it's novus). For the last time, I responded to the priest's "The Lord be with you" with "And also with you." Tomorrow evening, at sundown, the Catholic Church in America rejoins the rest of the world: "And with your spirit," "my most grievous fault," "on earth peace to people of goodwill."

There are many more changes--some small, some great--and we are blessed to have them. It is always good to be reminded that the Church in America is not the center of salvation history, but rather only one, small place that is home to a small number of saints among the vast throng of the saints throughout time and the world. Our words can be more closely joined to theirs and so our hearts and minds formed to be more like theirs. (Note to Catholics who haven't been to Mass in a long time: You may feel confused and alienated if you come home this Christmas. Don't worry--everyone else is a little lost, too!)

The "change," which is more specifically a reform, has been in the works for decades. Along the way, at every mention of it, in every social, academic, and liturgical circle I've walked, I have heard the invariable phrase, "The Church should..."

"The Church should..." is often followed immediately by, "The Church has not..." or "The Church isn't doing it right." Then--if the conversation continues--we hear that "the Church burned the heretics." "The Church persecuted Jews." "The Church has failed to listen to its people (meaning, to me)." "The Church never explained that very well."

All change inspires such a litany of accusations and complaints.

The missing element of these litanies, however, is this: I am a piece of the Church. What I find the Church has failed to do, I have also failed to do. What I believe I have done well, the Church may rightfully claim it has done well in me. I am as guilty of this as... well, as the entire Church. I find smug self-satisfaction in complaining about priests who have hurt me, priests who have failed to teach, prophets who have spoken falsely, and theologians who claim the authority of bishops. It's so easy and nice for Catholics--and for any apostolic church--to blame the "institution," rather than ourselves. It's so convenient to blame the Catholic Church for why I am a Bad Catholic.

If we feel that "the Church" has failed to educate us in the Faith, that we have been handed this translation with little or no explanation, and that "the Church" has, once again, just told us all what to do, then we would do well to take action. But the action should not be to tear down "the Church."

The action is, first, to assume the best. The Church is, for all her broken members, our Mother. We have never been betrayed by our Mother--only by her very bad children. The first action is to make this distinction in our hearts.

The second action is this: run to Mother. That means: get on the Internet (you're on already!), search Google, and find what the Mother says. Ignore the Bad Children. The Mother--the apostles, the Desert Fathers, the Doctors, the saints--has spoken. Her words are available to us (in English!) directly. There is no end of resources for Catholics today: no one with Internet access or a library card can claim that "the Church" hasn't explained herself. If you feel like there's no real reason for some teaching, some reform, some change to the liturgy, then go find out what the reason is. There is always a reason--usually more reasons than we could grasp in a lifetime.

The third action is this: pray for submission. "Submission" is an ugly word around these parts (i.e., America and the West), but think about it. "Sub" means "under," and "mission" comes from the Latin for "to send." The mission of the Church--what God has put before us to do--is something we should want to be "under." If we don't, we should at least want to want to be under it. Our hearts can change from the frustrated, petulant "the Church should..." to a humble, peaceful "I should."

There is profound joy in submission--even for amateur intellectuals. There is profound freedom and peace in the realization that my failure is my own, but my goodness is the power of God--beauty of the eternal--simply being in me. So, when changes come and our hearts fret and we feel betrayed by "the Church," let us assume our Mother loves us, let us seek to know her mind, and finally let us pray for hearts conformed to her mind.

And let the feast begin!

1 comment:

Literacy-chic said...

I just found you through your Facebook page and a friend of a friend. Really enjoyed this reflection!!