Sunday, December 29, 2013
IS A PREOCCUPATION WITH "WORSHIP" THE CAUSE OF SICK, INTROVERTED RELIGION?
When I was in the seminary between 1976 and 1980, one of my most favorite professors was a biblical scholar, Sulpician priest, Fr. Addison Wright. He liked to debunk things.
One of the things he tried to do was to show the parallels between Israel, when it had veered off course in terms of fidelity to God and what had and was happening in the Church, when the same thing would happen, especially on an institutional level.
He often spoke of "sick religion" as it concerned Judaism of the period of Jesus. The Pharisees of Jesus' period were the religious reformers of the day. They understood the identity of Israel not primarily as a worshiping community, but a holy community honoring the Torah in which worship was included.
And I think it is precisely here that we can get some sense of Pope Francis and his reform of the Church today and it is from the theology of Fr. Addison Wright who was articulating this theology along with many others in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II. This is lifted literally from my notes on the class Fr. Wright gave on March 21, 1977:
"What did Jesus' preach? His message was "repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Repentance is an ethical movement toward God and His kingdom. It is primarily ethical. This ties in with the reformers of Judaism of Jesus' period, the Pharisees who wanted to bring Israel back to its Mosaic roots and away from the Paganism of the day.
Paganism as a religion was political and had economic purposes. All the needs of the citizens were taken care of by the state. This was compared to the primary concern of Israel in Mosaic times, not power and money as for the pagans, but the primacy of ethics as illustrated in the Law, especially the 10 Commandments viewed not primarily for the individual, but for social liberation.
For the Pharisees, religion was not to become a museum piece. God's will is to permeate in all areas o life
What does Jesus do, within the more positive aspects of the Pharisaical movement? Jesus intensifies the call to ethical biblical behavior. He will write the laws on the people's hearts. One is to be a doer of the law not just a hearer. One must do the will of "my Father" and this must be internalized not forced in the external sense.
Jesus calls us to "maximum performance" in the realm of the ethical. To be merciful as the Heavenly Father and to be perfect as the heavenly Father is. Our primary worry should be this: "Have I done enough?"
Fr. Wright knew what was happening in the Church of the 1970's and the liturgical wars that pitted Catholics against one another as well as the great social upheaval of the day and social work in the Church becoming like paganism, governmental and economic where politics also divided Catholics in the pagan sense.
Pope Francis would have certainly been aware of what was happening in the Church of this period after a period of relative calm prior to the Council.
The new breed of Catholic professionals, of the post-Vatican II period, called liturgists became preoccupied by liturgy and its reform and often promoted a reform that alienated those who had simply come to accept the worship of the Church as it was even though for some, not all, there was not always a connection made between worship and the rest of their lives during the week.
Liturgists still exert influence, an almost ungodly influence, on the Church today and Pope Francis knows it and doesn't like it. When one becomes preoccupied with vestments and their style, language and its style, candlesticks, chalices, decorations and the like, one is distracted from what one should be doing with the rest of one's time as a follower of Christ, living the biblical, ethical life to the fullest, at home, work and play, wherever one finds oneself. And this living is centered on love of God and love of neighbor and expanding who it is that is our neighbor to include those on the periphery of life, the abandoned, the homeless, the sick and the mentally ill, as well as the possessed.
This doesn't mean that liturgy doesn't mean anything to Pope Francis, it certainly does, but liturgy does not become the end all and be all of Catholicism. It is the source and summit in which God calls us to go from worship and witness to the Gospel in every day life
Pope Benedict, although a patron of the arts and one who appreciates the cultured life, also understood this when he at his command inserted into the Ordinary Form of the Mass two new options for the Dismissal of Mass: "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" and "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life."
Catholics can be very worship oriented and have the most splendid liturgies with the most splendid vestments, music and choreography and it will be impressive for those who participate and those who visit. Yet what about the lives of Catholics who participate in this form of the Mass?
We can ask the same question of those who prefer simplicity and simply the basics of the Mass, does this become the source and summit of their lives at worship but there is no indication of their lived Catholicism at home, work and play.
In both cases "cafeteria Catholicism" could be at work in the ethical, biblical dimensions. Like the "whited sepulcher" which is spotless on the outside, but full of corruption and decay on the inside, we have missed what Jesus proclaimed and made our worship of Him the centerpiece with all the external trappings, whether high church or low church, when what Jesus actually wants is our biblical lives to be the centerpiece of our existence at worship and in the world.
The centerpiece is based upon the call to repentance, the mercy of God and showing this mercy to repentant sinners. Thus we see in Pope Francis his call to the Sacrament of Penance, the need for God's mercy and a repentant lifestyle. And he tells us that while we might grow weary of asking and seeking repentance and mercy, God never does!
For Pope Francis, Mercy and showing Mercy (both capitalized, since this is Jesus) is the foundation of Catholic life which certainly includes the one hour or week we spend in attending Mass, but also embraces the rest of the time we spend doing other things.