Friday, April 18, 2014

More Agitprop: Stations of the Cross

The Bear thinks he prefers the time-honored atheist attacks for Holy Week than the Church-sponsored agitprop that seems to be another signature of the Franciscan Church. You can always dismiss or ignore the former.

This Good Friday's text for the Stations of the Cross procession at the Colosseum was written by Archbishop Giancarlo Bregantini. "It invites us to reflect on the current economic crisis and its dire consequences, on the suffering of migrants," plus a laundry list of other social ills ranging from toxic waste to prison overcrowding, according to a Vatican press release.

Archbishop Bregantini's Ninth Station: "Unhealthy nostagia for the past."
Gee, wonder what they're talking about?

"Man is the center of history," and "the poor are the center of the gospel," are two recent quotes from Pope Francis. Is the Church to be vertical or horizontal in its orientation? This is the challenge of our day.

Missing the Point

As an update, this is a good place to address the talking point distributed by the Franciscan Church and hitting the comboxes about the washing of feet: "Since is is not a sacrament or ancient rite, and, is, in fact optional, people shouldn't get all worked up over changes." (Only their innovations are to be respected, see?)

It is still a disregard for Church law. If people do not find this troubling, there's really nothing more to be said to them, except the Bear has long since ceased to be surprised. But more to the point, whether ancient or not, it has a particular meaning. In the context of the Last Supper, this has to do with the Twelve Apostles and the newly-created priesthood. (That's why twelve men are selected, get it?) If it were just about inclusiveness and humility,

  • Jesus could have begun His ministry by using the six jars full of water to wash the feet of the wedding guests at Cana, thereby demonstrating His humility to the world.
  • Jesus could have washed the feet of the sick at the pool at Bethsaida, thereby demonstrating His compassion and humility to the world.
  • Jesus could have demurred when Mary tried to annoint His feet and dry them with her hair, and used the teachable moment to wash her feet, and the feet of everyone present, thereby demonstrating His inclusiveness and humility to the world (especially since He pointed out that His host had not washed His feet).
  • Perhaps best of all, Jesus could have washed the feet of the Samaritan woman at the well, thereby demonstrating His disregard for rules, inclusivity, ecumenism and humility to the world.

Instead, the foot washing has a particular, private context. He was warning his priesthood about pride of place and the temptation to boss others around just because you are clergy. He was demonstrating that they must be servants. It was not a context-free celebration of humility and diversity. 

It is sad and ironic that on the eve of Good Friday, when Christ's prayer for unity should be honored in all the Church does, the clergy from top to bottom injects division by pridefully refusing to adhere to a common ceremony. 

Even if those scandalized by the disobedience were completely wrong, charity would seem to demand that their sensibilities be considered. Instead their noses are gleefully rubbed in the disobedience and make-it-up-as-we-go spirit that was never part of the Church.

In Christ's suffering each of us finds the meaning and, yes, value, of our own suffering. To turn the Stations of the Cross into another platform to air a select group of purely societal problems diminishes the saving role of Christ's sacrifice. It also robs the very people who are suffering of the vertical dimension of their pain. It turns their suffering into an impersonal "issue" to be solved in the here and now, end of story.

We will all die. Some of us with full bellies, some of us with empty. Life is short. Eternity is long. While we're here, we do what we can for each other, knowing it will never be enough, and consider the world an imperfect exile. That is the way the Bear learned it, anyway.

Sadly, with each passing year, a diminishing Church is becoming another platform to air societal ills (without, moreover, offering any practical solutions). Jesus provides the moral authority and draws the crowd for the real message: the brotherhood of man. Those who never had the taste for Heaven are satisfied as the day draws to an end. The rest are left to pick through whatever was left behind when the show moved on without us.

If there's hope, it's this: they left all the best behind.

Again, is the Church to be vertical or horizontal in its orientation? Is it the Church of Christ or the Church of Man? In a way, this is the perennial battle. The Church's historical answer has been both. The vertical post and the horizontal beam. And on that Cross the God Who became Man.

32 comments:

  1. I've seen photos of SLU doing this to the Stations. Our parish students have prayed a simiarly "applied" stations. I had to walk out. I don't know what I'm going to get at our parish. I have my own booklet of Alphonsus' Stations. I go on my own time early evening.

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  2. The vertical dimension of which you speak - I'd put "vertical dimension" in italics as you have, if I knew how - is relentlessly targeted by the so-called progressives (it's sad that such destructive element has hijacked a word with such positive connotations). Their incessant efforts to dumb-down the Catholic Faith always makes me think of that Joni Mitchell lyric, "pave Paradise, put up a parking lot!" Just steamroll everything that reminds us of the beautiful complexity of the mind of God. Hierarchy? Banish it! Flatten it! (even though Creation is hierarchical - and good). Flatten the great cathedrals, too. Anything that reminds us that we can rise above ourselves, aspire to anything more than the flesh. All together now, People of God (we'd drop the redundancy and just call ourselves God, but that would be a little too honest about the way we see things): "Dumb it down! Dumb it down! WAAAAY down!"

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  3. The horizontal is the easy part. It is important; you can't have a proper cross without it. The vertical, though, that takes strength and care, because we must struggle against the pull of the world. The Church is tearing down the cross, and doing it on Good Friday. It is too scandalous to take God, and Heaven, and Salvation seriously. If Christ flees when we try to make Him a political savior -- and he always does, whether you lead a Protestant political movement or Catholic -- no matter. We don't need him to endlessly talk about "social issues" that will never be solved.

    As for me, best just avoid the Church during Holy Week, because it is too distracting and upsetting. That was my plan, but it's hard to pull off unless I hibernate. There's a Good Friday service tonight. My wife wants to go. I asked her if she could promise it won't be a peace-destroying travesty. Perhaps an ecumenical service led by the appropriately-named Mother Jones. Or the Passion Through Interpretive Dance. She says no guarantees. And that, my fellow woodland creatures, is the state of the Catholic Church today, where every day brings a new novelty. I said I'd go. She has a tranquilizer hypo just in case.

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  4. One of the beautiful things about living in the backwoods, no pun intended my dear Bear, is that the current "in thing" takes a long time to arrive here. Last night we had the traditional Holy Thursday Mass, complete with the Washing of Feet. The last two young priests at our church seem to be of the more conservative bent than their brethren who were heavily influenced by Vatican II. This all makes it easier for me to be a Bubble Catholic. I doff my chapeau to you for your yeoman's work in keeping me abreast of the disorder ravaging outside my little sphere. I am dumbstruck to learn what is going on in the Church. I pray for your strength during this difficult Paschal Triduum.

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  5. How Pope Francis' act on Holy Thursday could be interpreted as anything but Christ-like is beyond the realm of true Catholicism and indeed in the land of Pharisees.

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  6. Bear said, "We don't need him to endlessly talk about "social issues" that will never be solved."

    I don't remember that being a problem for political conservatives when the social issues in question were of a sexual nature.

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    1. Bear sees a difference between sexual issues and social issues. I am personally and soley responsible for my sexual sins, but I have zero control over what my government does, and to the extent voting Democrat advances equalization of wealth, human beings are going to manage to mess up tidy little theories anyway. Now, you can have a warm fuzzy about Thinking the Right Thoughts, or you can amend your life (assuming it needs amending) and doing what you can personally. You may think you're part of a movement, but it is only going to be you in front of God when you are judged. I don't think he's going to be interested in your voting record.

      Besides, what makes you think this blog has anything to do with "political conservatives?" I rarely if ever talk about purely political matters, and frankly am not that interested.

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    2. OK..maybe you're different. I was referring more to the Pewsitter types that mix right wing politics with "conservative" Catholicism all the time.

      One other point. The issue on abortion or gay marriage is intimately tied up with governmental policy just as much as immigration. Should the government criminalize abortion or should the government legalize homosexual marriage is akin to should the government criminalize immigration or legalize the death penalty. I think that is the heart of the matter.

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    3. The Bear is a Jacobite and normally an ultramontanist. He rules the independent kingdom of Zoar, consisting of five acres deep within an undisclosed forest. Zoar's form of government rotates on a bi-weekly basis. It is currently Peronist, but is scheduled to be a Worker's Soviet starting Sunday. He is generous with the nearby woodland creatures, but is completely disinterested in politics because he sees little difference in his life no matter who is in power. It is true that immigration, abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty, and gun control are all matters controlled by the government. The government should make wise decisions and listen to the Catholic Church's established teachings on these matters, so that the culture will reflect Catholic values. By that standard, Abortion should be illegal. Gay marriage should be illegal. The Death Penalty should be severely limited. Gun control has been the subject of position papers by elements within the Curia and the USCCB, but when considered against the long-standing duty to defend oneself and one's family against murder, the Bear does not find the Church has ever said private ownership of guns must be outlawed (although again, there are elements within the Church pushing for this).

      The ambit of the Church and the responsibility of individual Catholics are very different in matters over which they have control, and matters on which they may only entertain a position. The Bear's would be concerned if either the vertical element (God and Bear, Faith) or horizontal element (Man, Works) dominated to the exclusion of the other. Both have their place in making the cross. It seems that now the horizontal element is being emphasized to the detriment of the vertical element. The Bear believes God should be worshiped for being God, and not tied to any social program of the left or the right. This world is a valley of tears that we don't spend very much time in. It pleases God that we feed the poor, etc. But bears are not much on organized programs. We see a woodland creature who is hungry and we give him a fish. God is honored, the woodland creature is fed, and the Bear is better. If it was just about the poor being fed, bears figure God could do that all by Himself if He wanted to. Bears do not sit back and support dubious programs or causes and believe they have discharged their responsibilities. Nor do they forget to praise God and be in awe of the transcendent on holy days like Good Friday, which have nothing at all to do with immigration policy, no matter how much people want to try to use God in connection with it. If an illegal Mexican shows up in Zoar, he will be treated with Benedictine hospitality. Whether it is good policy to eliminate national borders -- which is what churchmen are calling for -- is beyond the understanding of bears, but sounds dubious.

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  7. Bear is talking about specific symbolism of a specific day, not saying it's not Christ like in general. LWC your just not paying attention to the argument. And please o please tell me when Pope Francis or any figure in the Church talked endlessly about sexual issues!!! Take off your liberal political goggles and follow the argument please.

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    1. Ever checked out wdtprs.com / Fr. Z.? Methinks the Lady dost protest too much.

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    2. But then again, no woman could dress as well as Cardinal Burke...on his worst day, no less. He too has a ideas in this realm.

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    3. Is Fr. Z now on the level with the Pope? Is he setting policy for the Church? I had not heard this! Excellent! The last person in authority who said anything on sexual matters was Pope Paul VI and he got his head handed to him so ruthlessly there wasn't a peep out of him after Humanae Vitae.

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  8. @Kathryn, Really? Where have you been the last 20 years. Why do you think His Holiness Pope Francis condemned those who obsess about "abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods"?

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  9. Mr. Money: There is no human dignity without human life, and human life flows from the God-ordained union of man and woman, which is why sexuality issues are of greater fundamental importance to human dignity than, say, immigration issues. And the fact that there is no human dignity without human life is why abortion is more fundamentally abhorrent than, say, poverty. It's called reality, Willard. But sadly, to many people in our world today it seems to be - what's that phrase Al Gore used? - an inconvenient truth.

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    1. Not sure how to untangle that logic. If it's cloudy, it rains. If it rains, flowers grow, so therefore clouds grow flowers.

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  10. Ms. Chantal: I don't think His Holiness agrees with you. And I agree with the Pope. In fact, I think it is ludicrous to believe that we will do anything about abortion and contraception when the minimum wage is 7 bucks an hour. The Pope understands that very well.

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    1. Just so I'm straight on this, Willard, you're not really saying Pope Francis cares more about minimum wage than abortion, are you? I want to make sure I am not mischaracterizing your argument.

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    2. This makes no sense. Min wage is no culprit in causing abortions or teen pregnancies. Perhaps teaching abstinence and true marriage would help reduce teen pregnancies, and perhaps we could also whack some boys across the head for using girls. Get those boys and girls a father in their lives!

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    3. Bear,

      No worries, you're not mischaracterizing my argument at all. Pope Francis himself said the "biggest evils" in the world are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. He "gets" that you will never get a 20 year old kid with average intelligence who lives in a trailer in Kentucky and works at Walmart(if he's lucky) to get married and have a bunch of kids and live out the teachings of the Church. It just simply isn't going to happen.

      Pete, I don't know if you've done any sidewalk counselling at abortuaries but the overwhelming majority of the women coming to these places cite poverty as the reason for the abortion. Yes, you do have the occasional not-a-care-in-the-world type girl who treats their abortion like it was a visit to the dentist but that is the minority of cases.

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    4. The Bear has never heard that poverty causes babies who must then be gotten rid of. He thought it had something to do with sex, but human babies may be different.

      The Bear sees many poor women with several children, indeed what would pass for a "large Catholic family" these days. What he does not see is very many fathers. Perhaps following the moral teachings of the Church would address both of these concerns. If women don't have sex a lot, they do not have so many babies, at least that is how it works with bears. In the United States, children are heavily subsidized by the government (which may tend to undermine normal family formation, but that is a different question). If people make sound choices, they may get married, have children and support them, with or without government assistance. No doubt a Catholic committed to a large family will be forced to make hard choices and sacrifices. (I know this from experience.) Hard study, no drugs and little alcohol, no vacations, long hours doing work you'd rather not, homeschooling, making due with one van (gasp!) I'm sorry, but you're argument is conclusory and has not advanced. And is this the same WalMart he's lucky to have a job at provided by the evil Walton family? ;-)

      The poor people with whom the Bear works are usually in pretty bad shape morally. Perhaps it is a lack of morality which contributes to being poor? Granted we all start out in different places on the board, but no matter where you're at, drug abuse, laziness, flouting the laws of God and man will not work out for you. No doubt many factors are involved, but it's interesting that Jesus spoke of individual acts of compassion in his Sheep and Goats parable, and it was Judas' abstraction of "the poor" that earned a mild rebuke from Our Lord over Mary's ointment. Each person, rich or poor, is an eternal soul with a very temporary belly. They should be viewed as God views them, as one-of-a-kind human beings. I dislike categorizing people because it tends to make them objects for someone's agenda. Honestly, that's what I am afraid I see happening when we line up "the disabled" for foot washing, or make "migrants" a station of the cross. (Still less the laughable "those who have an unhealthy nostalgia for the past." Could we be any more transparent or summarily dismissive a a large chunk of the Catholic Church?)

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  11. Oh, LWC, I knew that reality would challenge you. It's ok.

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  12. Mr. Money, it looks like we'll agree to disagree, and somehow carry on. Cheers! :-)

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  13. Yes, ma'am. A blessed Easter to you and yours.

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  14. I've heard of the old saying, "hunting bears with a switch," but I've never seen anyone actually try it. Sin is one thing. Prudential policies of governments are another. Here's an easy way to tell the difference. You can go to confession and say, "I committed adultery." You can't go to confession and say, "I committed lack of immigration reform."

    I have seen no real arguments here from my two new guests, so I won't respond further. I am just curious, though, why it is so important for some Catholics to want to carve out exceptions to sin for sexual matters and killing unborn babies that might pertain to them personally, but they're all over vague things they have no real control over like immigration reform and death penalty. Odd, that, don't you think?

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  15. Nah Bear, not odd at all. I accept all of the teachings of the Holy Roman Church including those on sexual morality. But I love this Pope because he knows that there is no chance we'll ever tackle those issues when the Walton heirs alone have more wealth than 40 million American families COMBINED. And this not about mere prudential teachings. As Pope Pius XI taught very authoritatively in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, "It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father's low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children."

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  16. I agree that the Church has wisely and compassionately taught about the dignity of a man being able to support his family. I am utterly resistant to the atomization of human beings into economic units. Unchecked Capitalism does great evil in this regard. We are probably in complete agreement on this. I also know that St. John Chrysostom preached that the rich steal from the poor.

    However, it is a complete non sequitur that somebody named Walton's personal sin of avarice -- if there is any, I don't know them, or how much they give away -- somehow causes people to get abortions or commit adultery! You really need to connect the dots in a simple, direct way.

    The fact remains, poor people commit adultery, sodomy, get abortions. So do rich people. One has nothing to do with the other. The Church can and should (but doesn't) urge individual restraint and amendment in sexual matters.

    I am glad we all agree with Pope Pius XI that mothers should stay at home and raise large Catholic families while fathers are out earning a living wage. I wish we had an economic system that permitted that ideal. Bears do not understand economics, though. But Pete does. He might chime in. The Bear believes Western society is greedy and distracted by too many shiny objects. But he also observes that our poor people are much better off than poor people in many parts of the world, and does not see poor people without clean water, plenty of food, shelter, cell phones, television sets and serviceable transportation. The Bear knows this because most of his work is with the poor. He suspects that the system is more complicated than the greed of a few, and knows the danger of the sin of envy, which seems to be the engine of some political movements.

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  17. Hey Bear I mostly agree with you. I didn't mean to imply that our horrible internationalist capitalist economic system is an excuse to engage in sin. I don't believe that it is and I should have made that clearer.

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  18. Good, I'm glad we agree, Willard. We think of poor in terms of what we see, but in a global economy, my cheap iPhone means wage slavery in China. That seems wrong to me. I would rather pay more for a phone manufactured nearby by men getting a living wage to support large Catholic families. But I don't know how to achieve that, and suspect it can't be achieved. Really, my whole objection is to focus. Good Friday is about he Passion of Christ. He saved us from our sins. It seems very disrespectful to turn it into a political rally for numerous "causes." It is distracting. I like you. You are welcome here, and thank you for being polite to all the friendly woodland creatures.

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  19. Thank you for the interesting discussion. One last thing I wanted to say is that the Bear in no way "writes for Pewsitter," or is a "Pewsitter type." Pewsitter is simply an aggregator that has taken to running St. Corbinian's Bear from time to time for reasons best known to Pewsitter. They don't ask the Bear's opinion. The increase in traffic is nice, but it is kind of sad that the only impression many people get is from cherry-picked controversial articles. I have said many positive things about Pope Francis, although lately I'm obviously struggling with him. We'll see. I prefer writing non-controversial pieces about things like praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or goats, or encyclicals, Church history, or even important topics like suicide. I think people sometimes swoop in on a blog and make assumptions that might not be warranted.

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  20. Thanks for the hospitality Bear. A blessed Easter to you and yours:)

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