Saturday, February 15, 2020

Why Are You Singing?

There was once a funeral Mass in a Catholic Church for an individual who was widely known and greatly loved throughout the larger community. Many people were there, and the family of the deceased asked a non-catholic to "sing a song" during the Mass. The priest was very reluctant because the non-catholic had never been to a catholic Mass before and so did not understand the nature of the Mass. After much pressure he agreed to allow the song. Afterwards, he greatly regretted his choice. The singer turned what was supposed to be a communion hymn into an opportunity to draw attention to himself. This is not to say that the singer did not have talent, he did; yet, he was not leading other people to God, but to himself ("look at me, ain't I wonderful?").

What is singing for? Maybe it would help if I began by asking, "what is singing not for?" If we can eliminate some of those errors, then it would make it easier for us to consider what singing is actually for. Of course, we need to differentiate between singing in general and singing within a liturgy. These two situations are certainly not equivalent. How and what we might sing when we are driving down the road compared to what is done in Church should not follow the same rules.

For example, I have some very eclectic tastes when it comes to music; I do not like all music, but I do appreciate some very diverse musical styles. This does not mean that everything that I like to listen to is necessarily appropriate in all the same settings. During meals I like to listen to very soft ambient kinds of music (I have even read that it helps with digestion!). I do not, however, like that kind of music to be playing when I am driving--the absolute last thing I want when driving is to fall asleep. When driving, if I listen to music, I prefer some pretty heavy rock and roll; the tempo helps to keep me alert and focused on the road. As you might expect, I do not want heavy rock music playing when I am eating--not relaxing at all.

This is just a simple example of how different musical styles have different settings. There is another layer, however, to what we are dealing with here. It is not enough to say that certain styles of music have a proper location, for what I consider "proper" for one style of music might not be what anyone else would agree with (maybe someone likes soft music when they are driving so that they do not get stressed?). This means that we must realize the "personal taste" factor cannot be ignored. You see, we in modern society are so enamored with entertainment, that it is very difficult for us to distinguish between something that we like because it is personally enjoyable, and something we appreciate because it has a value that goes beyond ourselves.

What is the "value" of a certain musical style while driving (to continue to use this metaphor)? It will be determined largely on what the need of the situation is (which will not be the same for everyone). In asking this question, we must acknowledge that in the worship of God, it is not merely an issue of "taste" because we are not dealing with something that is allowed to be tailored to each individual's personal preference (contrary to the goofy antics that you see in some Catholic Masses!). There is only one goal that people are supposed to be aiming at when it comes to worship: personal humility and reverence toward Christ (which are two sides of the same coin).

Singing in the Mass in such a way that we draw attention to ourselves (as with the individual mentioned above) for the purpose of self-aggrandizement is a grave sin. Yet, drawing attention to yourself is just as self-serving as is singing merely because you enjoy the song. When the singing is not done to glorify God and assist those present in drawing closer to Him, then it is sinful. Just because someone enjoys a particular song does not mean that it is automatically glorifying God. Doing a "good job" does not guarantee that you are encouraging holiness. There are a number of musicians with great talent who are doing nothing to glorify God.

The purpose for music in the Mass is to do exactly as I have said above: lead the faithful to a deeper personal humility and reverence for God. This is why the Church says (yes, still today!) that Gregorian Chant always takes precedence in the Mass; all other forms are secondary. Pop music might be enjoyed, but it does little to deepen reverence. Singing because we enjoy the music is fine if we are singing at home, but that is not supposed to be our motivation for music in the Mass. So then, the question "why do we sing?" is easy to answer. "Why are you singing?" is the real question for us.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Some Thoughts on Querida Amazonia

Yesterday, Pope Francis released his conclusions on the Amazon Synod. The "final statement" is called "Querida Amazonia". In it, he does not refer specifically to the proposal of allowing married deacons to be ordained as priests, but he clearly does not give a big thumbs up to it either. He also does not express approval of the idea of women being ordained as deacons. Most took this as a negative response to both of these issues (and traditional Catholics were pleased at that). Some complained that it was too vague and that those who wish to continue to promote these ideas will find a loophole. Maybe; maybe not.

Regardless of what people are interpreting from this (and I am sure there are numerous points of view on it), we cannot be sure what he actually thinks (and, to some degree, it does not matter--the Pope is supposed to guide us to Jesus, not to himself). All we can know is what the Holy Father said, and generally, most would acknowledge that if he does not give express approval of a change in Church practice, that the current rules remain in force. If it is actually as bad as many (who are wringing their hands in fear) say it is or if it is better than we think, we are always supposed to move on in faithfulness.

It is also likely that the Pope is aware of the fact that if he were to seek to change the rules on priestly celibacy (which could happen) and women's ordination (which could not happen) there would likely be a major schism in the Church. Aside from the potential lightning from Heaven, and the Earth opening up and swallowing the heretics (fire, brimstone, etc.), we can be certain that the Holy Spirit will protect us. The promise of the Church's endurance through every trial still stands firm (and even an erring Pope cannot overcome the Holy Spirit). Regarding the potential schisms, there would likely be a whole new surge of offshoots like the schismatic SSPX, and the ugliness that would follow could be beyond anything we have ever seen.

Just to be clear: the rule on male-only ordination in the Catholic Church cannot be changed; that one is set in stone. If, however, the customary rule of priestly celibacy (in the Latin Rite portion of the Catholic Church) were to be changed, it should only be under vastly different circumstances than what we are dealing with today. Right now they are saying "let's get rid of the rule so we can have more priests". That is merely a pragmatic motivation, and not one based on clear theological or biblical reasoning.

For the Church to reach a point where the Pope and Bishops can examine this issue without the "static" of modernist and irrational thought, it will likely take us at least a few more generations. The motivation and desire to change the celibacy custom must come from a conviction and a soundly reasoned doctrinal position; not from a desire to fix a problem that is entirely unrelated to the issue of celibacy. Changing it now would be like using a screwdriver to hammer a nail because it is possible to swing the screwdriver; it might work, but you are going to ruin the screwdriver.

As I read through some of the statements of the Holy Father on what must be done about the shortage of priests in the Amazon, it was interesting to see a distinctly standard Catholic position put forward (and quite gently at that). It appears as if Francis' encouragement is "stop whining, buckle down and deal with the situation, and teach parents to be better at raising their boys in the faith so that they will want to be priests"! I am sure that those who examine the tiniest details of what Francis wrote might disagree with me, but reading between the lines, this is a logical conclusion from the admonitions he makes about evangelism.

What if Pope Francis' intent is to "sneak something in through his vague statements" (as one commentator claimed today)? I say, "so what?" In other words, what would it really change? He is accountable for both his mistakes and any sinful intentions he may have (if any), and the Holy Spirit promises to protect us from ourselves. Whatever the intent of Pope Francis may be (even the intent of the liberal Catholics who want to protestantize the Catholic Church), we cannot behave like "chicken little", because the sky is not now, nor ever will it be, falling.

I will bet that at least some traditional Catholics will feel like we dodged a bullet. The Pope basically said "no" and now we should be able to move on. That seems to be the position that Cardinal Mueller seems to take in his comments on Querida Amazonia. Even if we had not dodged the bullet (if that is possible), we can trust that our Lord will get us through that as well. What would that look like? Many new married priests, many bad parish experiences, many unexpected consequences, lots of regret, and even more clean-up operations; this is not a pleasant prospect. Also, if people attempted to ordain women into holy orders, there would be various types of chaos from those who are holding to Catholic orthodoxy; there would be numerous invalid ceremonies, and lots of time cleaning up and backtracking. We should never want something like this, but we could get through it if we had to.

Remember, Christ is still on His throne and no errant teaching or mistaken practice can change that. The Church has endured 2000 years of much worse problems than this, and she will endure this as well. Thank our Lord for what we have, ask Him to protect us from what is coming, and seek to glorify Him in all you do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What's Your Sign?

No, not your astrological sign (I guess I showed my age by even making the reference?). I am referring to something much more important than the position of the stars on your birth date. Each one of us gives off a certain "atmosphere" or "mood" by our personality, and it is usually noticeable as soon as we enter a room. Yes, it is sometimes quite vague, and hard to determine by others, but that does not mean that we are not giving off a particular "vibe" to people. Sometimes there is no word to describe the particular "feeling", but it can still be recognized by most.

So, I ask: what is your "sign"? Presuming that our "vibe" can be seen by others, there is a "sign" that goes along with that vibe and though not all can decipher it, it is there for all to see. Imagine someone walking into a room and he glances around the room at the people who are there, scowling and breathing slowly and deeply. We would presume intense anger, and that he is likely looking for someone who made him angry. The sign he is "wearing" says "beware of dog" (for lack of a kinder euphemism).

Think of it this way: it is like we are all wearing a street sign around our neck and it says something to others (it could be warning signs, or it could be something more encouraging). "Falling rocks ahead", "uneven surface", or even "slippery roadway" are a few that we might see on some who are unpleasant to be around. So what is your "sign" that you present to others? When you enter a room, how do people feel inside? Most often others will not tell you how they feel, but they can give it away by subtle body language.

How do others behave around you? Do they strike up a conversation, or avoid you? Maybe some are drawn to you, while others seem to squirm uncomfortably? If you have been thinking that it is their fault, then it may be time to reconsider. People are naturally drawn to be around those who exude a pleasant disposition; and they are also naturally deterred from being around those who seem like a human version of a Tasmanian devil.

We could also describe this "sign" as a "cloud". It is an entirely different metaphor, but it helps us to see the same subject from an alternate perspective. What kind of a cloud hovers over you? Is it a white puffy cloud that shows you have a "sunny" personality and which encourages others to want to speak to you? Is it that type of cloud that makes people want to lay down on a hill and stare up at the sky? Or, is it a dark gray cloud that makes people run for shelter?

Whether you think of a cloud or a sign (or both), you are telling others something about you. Sometimes these "clouds" or "signs" that we bring with us are unknown to us. We go about our daily lives completely unaware that we are driving others away, or sometimes even making our own lives difficult because of an "aura" that we carry with us everywhere. It can be the tone of voice you use, or an expression of the eyes, or even the way you hunch your shoulders. There is a language behind it, and it impacts how we are able to interact with others.

I knew someone a while back who always complained that people did not like him. He seemed ignorant of the fact that his own manner of speaking to others made people uncomfortable around him, so most people that knew him avoided him when he came into a room. This can be caused by someone who is over-friendly or equally by someone who is anti-social. Quiet people often complain that no one will talk to them, and boisterous people often complain that everyone else is boring -- it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is truly remarkable how many people today are socially inept. The more time that people spend with blue faces (i.e. head bent down, eyes glued to their phone screen) the less ability they have to socialize properly with others. There are also those who were never taught by their parents how to interact with others so they are unable even to start up a basic conversation with anyone they do not already know. If you have someone in both of these situations, then I am sure that psychiatrists will likely find some diagnosis (and an attendant medication) to justify their lack of social grace.

In the Church we are supposed to be a social community. In other words, we are supposed to be spending time with one another. A parish family that only interacts during the Mass (which, if the rules of the Mass are obeyed, means minimal interaction with each other) is socially crippled and bound to end up dying a slow death. The Mass is where we are supposed to interact as a group with the Lord. Even the "peace" (while not wrong) is somewhat extraneous to what is going on in the Mass.

When we come together in settings outside of the Mass, then we are forced to talk to one another and that means that likely we will offend each other and have to go so far as to "forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you" (cf. Ephesians 4:32). That kind of interaction might sound like something that we want to avoid, but that is like cutting off your hand to avoid having your finger poke your eye. Those challenging interactions (that we all need to learn how to deal with) are a part of being the body of Christ and growing closer to our Lord. Jesus gave us one another in a parish community for the sake of helping each other grow closer to God (especially in the relational challenges!).

Each and every one of us needs to examine ourselves and ask whether are behaving like a part of "the body" or whether we are behaving more like a parasite on the body (i.e. something that everyone wants to get rid of). Social involvement in the community may not be essential for our eternal salvation, but it is essential for a healthy parish community to thrive. It is not just for what we can get out of it, but also for what we can put into it. Remember, Christ did not just call "you" to salvation, He called "us"!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Purpose of Tradition

I often mention the importance of tradition. I refer not just to authoritative Tradition but also those traditions that are the natural outgrowth of a deep devotion to our Catholic faith (excluding, of course, those traditions that develop because someone had a "cool" but uncatholic idea and people "liked" it, so it became "the way we do it"). Yet, it is easy for us to forget the proper place of these traditional practises. It should never be thought that our goal is to "do traditional stuff". Yes, we should continue to work to restore many of the Catholic traditions that are being ignored by many in the Church today, but not for the sake of the traditions themselves.

The traditions that I aim to revive (e.g. ad orientem celebration of the Mass, communion on the tongue, Gregorian chant, priests in cassocks, etc.) have a purpose to serve. They are the best means to accomplish what the goal actually is: to glorify God, by becoming Saints in Heaven, and drawing as many others with us as we can. Traditional practises are a means to greater faithfulness, but they are not the faithfulness itself (which is best defined by the two greatest Commandments). To get these two mixed up is exactly what the Jews of the first century did. They refused to acknowledge that the purpose of the Mosaic laws was to help them draw closer to God and thus become more holy.

Think of it this way: you could get to your destination either in an old junky car or in a high quality well maintained car (even if it is older than the junky one). Yes, you are much more likely to arrive if your car is in better shape, but that is not the only possible way to arrive. Yet, having said this, let me ask: which one do you feel more confident about getting you there? Right; the one that is in better shape. There may be more than one vehicle to use, but you want to use the one that does not have bald tires, a leaky transmission, a broken windshield and no brake pads.

There are many things that the Catholic Church today allows for in the practice of the faith (many of which are temporarily allowed), but that does not mean that it is the best manner of arriving at the goal of personal holiness. We are allowed either to sing Gregorian Chant in the Mass (which is supposed to be primary) or "some other suitable hymn". Yet, we have to ask the simple question: does "some other suitable hymn" impact our soul just as effectively as that which is supposed to hold precedence over all other forms of music in the Church? In other words, why would we ever willingly choose what is considered to be "second best"? Or, to go back to my earlier illustration: why would you choose the car that is falling apart?

What attracts us in our journey to the goal should not be just the car itself, but the quality of the car. This is really quite difficult for me state because I really am attracted by the reverence of the Divine Worship form of the Mass. In knowing this, I have to admit that the form of the liturgy itself is the "vehicle" and not the goal. God did not create us to "go to Mass" for all eternity; He created us to love Him for all eternity. Therefore, if someone is attracted by the tradition (like that in the Divine Worship Mass which goes back one thousand years), he must acknowledge that it cannot be idolized.

To treat the traditions themselves as though they are the final goal ("if we just do traditional things we will be OK") is to put a weight and responsibility on tradition that it was never meant to bear. When we fight for tradition, we must fight for the right reasons (and with the correct rationale). We are the ones who are supposed to be spreading the gospel and bringing many souls to worship Christ as Lord. We are the ones who are supposed to become Saints for the glory of God. Offering the Mass is what helps us do those tasks and therefore, we have to make sure that it is taken care of (not corrupted) and that it is used appropriately; it is not, however, the goal in itself.

In the Catholic faith, the quality of the "vehicle" is, simply stated, determined by its ability to help you arrive at your destination. In this case, we would find the answer by "looking under the hood". If it is a matter of liturgy, we would have to ask whether the liturgy was focused on God (the key point of the goal) or focused on man himself (a consequent component of the goal). If our liturgy is focused on man (which can happen in many ways without even being noticed; like when the priest is more concerned about what people think about the Mass than what God thinks), then it might get you to your destination, but the likelihood of it is questionable.

If our liturgy is focused on God, then our orientation will be correct and we will be heading toward the goal in the best way possible. After all, the goal is to be able to be in God's presence for all eternity. If we focus on our personal enjoyment and opinions then we are far less likely to be growing closer to God (this may seem like it is overly obvious but not everyone considers it). Therefore, keep the traditions; yes absolutely. Protect them and practice them with joy. Yet, remember that each of these things are gifts given by God to help us on the journey to Heaven. We value them because of how they help us; but we should never get confused about what our true goal is: Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Pro-Choice at Heart?

Recently, I watched a few videos about Catholics who are peacefully demonstrating their desire to end the holocaust of abortion in these USA. The debates that occur with "pro-choice" onlookers are interesting to say the least. I am not really clear on one thing: how could anyone view these interactions and see the hateful and irrational behavior of pro-abortion advocates as good (in any way at all)? I guess maybe the demonic likes other things that are demonic.

One comment that came up often in these debates was when a woman would say "you're a man, you have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body". Desiring to show them their ridiculously faulty logic, I thought about a possible response. It would look like this:
Pro-abort: "You're a man, you have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body." 
Pro-lifer: "Then you have no right to tell a man what to do with his body when he decides to rape you."
Pro-abort: "Yes I do, because that involves harming another person."
Pro-lifer: "So does murdering an unborn child."
No, I do not believe that the woman has no right to say "no" to the rapist; that is merely to show the error of pro-choice thinking. Since, however, modern science has shown that life begins at conception, the only argument pro-aborts can resort to is to say that "it's a woman's right to choose". Hence, we will not get very far if we do not put more effort into overcoming the root of their argument: choice. It needs to be pointed out that the idol of personal choice is going to lead to the destruction of society if it is not knocked down off its pedestal. Furthermore, we have make sure that we are consistent in what we are saying and not being "pro-choice at heart" in our own lives.

This whole idea of "choice" has so infected (and corrupted) our thinking that we often cannot see it. I recall the story of the widower who went out to buy socks for the first time after his wife passed (maybe you have heard this one before). He saw the multiplicity of options and ended up crying because he had no idea what choice to make; he just wanted to buy the one that his wife always bought for him. Choice is not always a blessing. Seeing someone overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice makes us realize what we are taking for granted.

When we live our lives with the idol of "my choice for my life" then higher priorities often get missed. The idol of choice without moral boundaries is truly rooted in a demonic deception. The problem stems largely from the fact that "choice" is often equated with "freedom". Properly understood, freedom is a moral good. Choice, however, does not have a moral direction inherent within it. In the Scriptures we see people often told "choose the good or the bad"; in other words, choice can go either way, and it is not morally neutral to have a choice.

We have been so influenced by the idea of personal choice that we unfortunately think of our commitment to Lord as a "free choice". Yes, we do need to make a choice to serve the Lord, but when we emphasize our own authority in choosing, we forget that God commands all, everywhere, to repent and follow Him (cf. Acts 17:29-30). If I understand my choice to follow God as "my choice" it is not the same thing as seeing it as "my submission to God Almighty".

Why do we do the many things that we choose to do; what is our motivation? If we get married, go to college, or take a job because "we chose it" then we are putting ourselves in the place of Absolute Master. Extend that to the next level and you will see the problems that ensue. Do you go to Mass "because you chose to" or because God commanded you to? Yes, a choice to obey is what happens, but how, primarily, do you view that action? Do you see it with you on the throne of choice, or willingly standing before God? It is not the same thing in our hearts and thus it is not the same thing in our souls.

This is one of the problems with parish membership in the Catholic Church being so flexible today. When someone views their association with a parish community as "their choice" alone they see it as something that they are in charge of. In the New Testament parish association is familial and always connected to the larger Church. When we look only at our bond to Christ and His Church as "what I want" then we miss the fact that God calls us to serve Him in His Church because it is what He wants. We are supposed to ask, "Lord, how do You want me to serve here?" and not, "Do I want to be here?" The latter begins from the same selfish motivation as the person who says it is a woman's choice to end her child's life.

If we are going to be consistent (and effective) in our pro-life stance, then we must also acknowledge we cannot be "pro-choice" in our hearts. Just because we have made the right "choice" regarding the life of a child, does not allow us to place ourselves on the throne of authority and idolize our own choices. Let us not just resist pro-choice decisions about the lives of the unborn, but also in every area that could come against our Lord. Let us make one choice: to submit ourselves to whatever our Lord wants before we consider what we want.