Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 16, 2006

When Knowledge is Danger

There's been some hum in the world of Catholic blogging over Rod Dreher's announcement that he has formally left the Catholic Church and become Orthodox.

I wasn't going to write on the topic, because I find Dreher annoying for much the same reason I always found the title character of the Ann of Green Gables books annoying: because while well read he seemed to respond to everything with wild flights of the heart rather than the solid, head-based approach which I prefer.

Besides, I think one of the more annoying tendencies of the blogsphere is to act as one giant college dorm, with everyone's little personal dramas held up for display when they'd be better left in alone by those not involved. However, reading over Rod's farewell-to-Rome post, two things struck me as interesting in a much more general sense, and it's to those which I'm going to devote a little space. If you want to read a well balanced and thoughtful Catholic take on Rod's own situation (rather than the more general questions that interested me) do check out Mark Shea, who provides some compassionate and reasonable thoughts on the whole thing.

Walking in Dark Places
Very few people are cut out to be vice cops. Most of us may be prepared to realize that the world is at times a dark and terrible place, but few people have the ability to face the worst parts of it on a daily basis and not find themselves eaten up by the experience. And yet, for what is seen as the overall good of society, people in certain occupations (vice cops and investigative reporters among others) are asked (or make it their business) to tread the darkest paths in our society, in order to bring wrongs to light and try to right them.

Some of these are things that must be done. And yet, people need to go into such things (or choose not to) with a clear self knowledge in regards to their own moral, emotional and intellectual strengths. Virtue does not require innocence, but a complete loss of innocence is often damaging to one's virtue. And it takes a strong mind and heart to keep the evils in the world (or within an institution such as the Church) within perspective, while dealing every day with the very worst of them.

There's a reason why vice cops have a reputation for falling into corruption themselves, and investigative reporters have a reputation for being hard bitten and cynical.

From a Small Taste Comes Great Longing
To illustrate some point or other (at this point I forget what), my father once asked me as a fairly young child: "Imagine some eccentric millionaire decided that every child in Africa should have a taste of the very best ice cream. He flew giant airplanes into tiny villages and gave each child, some of whom often didn't even have bread to eat, one bowl of ice cream. Through the rest of their lives, some of those children never had another bowl of ice cream. As they thought back on their one taste, were they better off than if they had never had it, or would they have been happier if they didn't know what they were missing?"

I'm not sure what the right answer to that question is, but in many ways I think the same dilemma applies to many active, conservative, orthodox American Catholics. Many of us spend a lot of time and energy yearning for a beautiful, ancient liturgy that we seldom get the chance to experience in all its glories. Some get discouraged and and begin to ask how anyone can survive in the liturgical and spiritual wasteland that is "AmChurch" Catholicism. And yet, having worked on the RCIA team (of an okay but certainly not outstanding parish) I know for a fact that there are people who fall very much in love with Catholicism without even knowing about all the history and liturgy that they're missing. It's not that they're in love with the standard list of complaints: prefer bongos to chant, like I Love Lucy-themed homilies, like a 1:1 EM to congregant ratio, etc.

However, there are out there a number of very good Catholics who aren't readers of Adoremus, have never attended a Latin mass (at least within the last 50 years), have never entered a gothic cathedral, etc. Yet the find joy and peace in Eucharistic adoration, pray the rosary, attend daily mass at least a few times a week, etc. However right someone may be to hear a Hagen-Haas hymn and yearn for chant instead, there's a very clear sense in which it's more important to notice what's going on during that part of the liturgy, regardless of the music.

Yet while there's much to recommend this simple Catholicism, I can't bring myself intellectually to endorse the idea that it's in any sense better to no know the history, theology and liturgy of the Church, however much that may tempt one towards dissatisfaction with the current American status quo.


Dorian Speed said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Many of us spend a lot of time and energy yearning for a beautiful, ancient liturgy that we seldom get the chance to experience in all its glories.

One of the better moments on Mark Shea's blog was a couple years back, when he posted a comment by a woman (here, about 1/4 down the page) who pointed out that a lot of the people who obsess about finding a perfect liturgy are behaving like the woman in Screwtape's Letters, who says that "All I want is the teensiest bit of *really* crisp toast," when *really* what she wants is the kind of pleasure she got in the days before she was so finicky.

I don't mean to imply that beautiful and reverent liturgy is not important, because it *is*. But I think that a lot of conservative Catholics--and I include myself among them--obsess over finding a perfect liturgy that will give us a beautiful spiritual experience without our having to actually *work* at opening our hearts to God.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I always found the title character of the Ann of Green Gables books annoying: because while well read he seemed to respond to everything with wild flights of the heart rather than the solid, head-based approach which I prefer.

There's a reason, I think, why we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus and not His Sacred Brain.

"... But if you call me Anne, please call me Anne spelled with an 'e.'"

"What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

"Oh, it makes such a difference. It looks so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced, can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an "e," I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia."

Anonymous said...

when *really* what she wants is the kind of pleasure she got in the days before she was so finicky.

That so nicely puts what I was about to say. This is a real failing of mine. Whenever I visit a different parish when traveling, or whatever, I always seem to be "looking for trouble". I'll watch the liturgy with a laser focused eye, and try and pick out what I consider the unavoidable abuses I'll find.

I have found that that particular attitude blinds me to the fact that even if the priest is dressed as a clown, and the hymns are directly from Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, the fact is that with valid matter, intent, and words of consecration from an ordained priest, Christ is real and present even at St. Bozo's.

That doesn't mean I have to take liturgical tomfoolery sitting down in my parish...

A year ago another gentleman and I decided to pray the rosary in our parish every Sunday night at 7:00pm. One or both of us would make the committment to be there and pray, even if we were alone. Our intention was for an increase in devotion to the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

After a year of praying, our pastor decided to institute Holy Hour once a week at different times, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and Benediction.

Tonight I'll be going at 7:30 for Benediction and the singing of the Divine Mercy chaplet (like they do on EWTN).

Do we have too many EMEs every weekend? Sure. Do we sing too many ditties from the St. Louis Jesuits? Sure. But things are changing slowly. We had about 25 people at Holy Hour last time, and hope to have more tonight.

And our intention for Holy Hour? "Ask the Master to send more workers (priests and religious) to the vinyard, for the harvest is great". :)

Anonymous said...

I'd have to agree that the services in many places are less than the ideal, but that has never been that pressing an issue to me. Maybe I'm just not that sensitive to aesthetics, but as long as the homily avoids contradicting the catechism, the music at least has some relation to the mysteries being celebrated, and the Eucharist is celebrated reverently, I don't really have any issues. My criteria is usually intention - as long as their is an intention, however tackily carried out, to worship, I try (admittedly unsuccessfully at times) to ignore the rest. After all, if the Lord accepts my efforts, however imperfect, why shouldn't He accept others? Besides, with a two year old, I barely can focus on the Gospel and the consecration, much less anything else.

Cubeland Mystic said...

This is JohnT on Rod Dreher’s blog if you read the com boxes there. I am quite fond of EWTN.

I lot of the language Dreher uses to describe his state of mind at the time of the scandals is described in works like Dark Night of the Soul. There is nothing new there. In his recent spider post he more or less admits that he was not praying.

In the absence of community, adequate teaching, or even a healthy sense of the sacred at Mass what do you do to sustain yourself? EWTN. You can download just about every program they have in real audio format. They are also now pod casting with their new shows. From the time of my return to faith till now EWTN (and the internet) has been there when I needed spiritual direction. If you find yourself in a dark place or in a bad parish there is always EWTN for teaching and direction. Where would a lot of X-Catholics be today if they took responsibility for their own spiritual direction?

I really appreciate Tony’s description of what he is doing at his parish. That is how you get it done in the spiritual life. Prayer is action.

Anonymous said...

...O Sacred Head, Surrounded By Crown of Piercing Thorn...

It would seem that:
devotion to the Sacred Brain of Jesus is unseemly.

Objection 1
Aquinas of This Faith remarks,
"There's a reason, I think, why we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus and not His Sacred Brain."
(The reason is not stated, but perhaps it is that devotion to His Brain would be inappropriate as the brain is not commonly used as a symbol.)


"We have the Mind of Christ" says Paul of his apostolic colleagues, and "take every thought in captivity to Christ". But thoughts require prior sense data which is processed by the brain (vide St. Thomas Aquinas and modern neurobiologists). Therefore devotion to the Sacred Brain is not inappropriate.

Thinking with the Church, (and so with "the Mind of Christ"), devotional focus on the Sacred Head is in practice found in some hymns.

MOREOVER, a Litany of the Sacred Head has received an imprimatur (on the "Pieta" prayer collection)!!!
Reply Objection 1:

First, "brain" is commonly used as a symbol for the mind e.g., a smart person may be referred to as a "brain" or "egghead".

The Chestertonian "both/and" approach from "Orthodoxy" in the chapter "The Paradoxes of Christianity" is to be preferred to the Kierkegaardian "Either/Or". Thus when Our Lord Jesus Christ asked the Pharisees "How is the Christ David's son, then, if he is David's Lord" he is not generally held to be denying Davidic ancestry.

Also, Peter Kreeft argued that the stereotypical "left winger" has a soft heart and a soft head, while the "right winger" tends toward both a harder head and a harder heart.

Clearly the ideal is a soft heart and a hard head, powerfully symbolizable by a bleeding heart and a thorn-crowned head.

I answer that:

No "bleeding heart" is as soft as the Heart Pierced for Us. No Face (and, by extension, Head)is harder than He Who "set My Face like flint" to the various torments He suffered - torments whose cruelty can be compared only to the torments of some martyrs, such as the North American ones honored today.

There are even some of us who focus devotions to particular Wounds of Jesus, which would pain particular nerve bundles (e.g. Dr. Barbet's evidence that crucifixion through the wrist traumatizes the medial nerve). If a particular nerve bundle is not excluded, a fortiori the entire brain.

Concluding Prescientific Postscript:
The Pieta book, interestingly, claims to "seek to apply the scientific method" to prayer).

I'm not quite sure what that means, unless something like St. Paul's command (regarding alleged private revelations), "Test everything; hold on to what holds good." Maybe someone like Fr. Stanley Jaki could investigate whether this text did indeed help midwife experimental science into lusty yelling life.

Anonymous said...

Not to sound too harsh, but some of it seems to be whether you view Catholicism as part of who you are (or part of what all of us are) or whether you see it as a "belief system" or set of propositions to which you assent. While it certainly contains the latter, it seems it really ahs to be part of your DNA (and, frankly, it is part of everyone's DNA whether they know it or not or reject it). Not sure I am articulating it well - perhaps that is why as a cradle, the "eccentricities" of current liturgical practice irritate, but never cause me to question. Much like blood relatives - they irritiate, but the bond can never be broken because they simply are who they are. Perhaps it is easier for a cradle to see the Church as family to which you belong, for better or worse, rather than a community of like-minded friends you get to choose or dump. I guess the trick for converts is to recognize themselves not as someone coming in from the outside, but more like the long lost brother who suddenly learned he was part of this family (and now they are asking him for a loan!). In a snse, you really don't get to choose the fact you are part of this family - you have learned this fact and are stuck with it.