Sometimes we feel good and our spontaneous impulse is to speak words of praise and gratitude and the psalms give us that voice. They speak of God's goodness in all -- love, friends, faith, health, food, wine, enjoyment. But we don't always feel that way. Our lives have their cold, lonely seasons when disappointment and bitterness spontaneously boil under the surface. Again the psalms give us honest voice and we can open up all those angry and vengeful feelings to God.
Other times, we fill with the sense of our own inadequacy, with the fact that we cannot measure up to the trust and love that is given us. The psalms again give us voice for this, asking God to have mercy, to soften our hearts, to wash us clean, and give us a new start.
And then there are times when we feel bitterly disappointed with God himself and need some way to express this. The psalms give us this voice ("Why are you so silent? Why are you so far from me?"), even as they make us aware that God is not afraid of our anger and bitterness, but, like a loving parent, only wants for us to come and talk about it. The psalms are a privileged vehicle for prayer because they lift the full-range of our thoughts and feelings to God.
Still not convinced? Go pick up a Bible and read Psalm 63 verses 1-8.
Well, maybe the laity like it. In his new essay in the New York Review of Books, Gary Wills quotes some polling figures that suggest that a large majority of Catholics are very supportive of “zero tolerance.” On the other hand, Amy Welborn seems to have something every day on her site about some parish where the parishioners are pleading with the Bishop to hold on to their priest who is a “good man.” This is similar to the phenomenon where people tell posters that they want to get rid of all the bums in Congress and then cheerfully vote to re-elect their own Congressman.
I have written before that I am no great fan of “zero tolerance.” But it seems to me its critics need to offer something specific in its place. It is easy to say, in principle, that each case is different and needs to be judged on its merits. But who makes the call? As Margaret Steinfels points out in this week’s Commonweal, many (probably most) Catholics no longer trust their bishops to make such decisions. I wish that weren’t the case and I actually feel quite comfortable with my own bishop in this regard. But I respect the fact that millions of Catholics who live in the Archdioceses of Boston, New York and Los Angeles probably feel differently.
Then, of course, there is the fact that the bishops who failed to protect us from these abusive priests are not being disciplined in the slightest. Unlike the priests who are being removed from active ministry, they will still be able to celebrate mass, perform weddings, hear confessions, and wear clerical clothing not to mention enjoying all the trappings of their episcopal offices. I suspect many find this situation to be unjust and I, for one, agree with them.
Over in San Ramon (a few miles south of where I live), Lynda Bredleau, a nurse with 25 years of experience, has been fired by the San Ramon Medical Center for posting a union organizing leaflet. You can find more details in this article from the Contra Costa Times.
What makes the second case really bizzare is that we are having a terrible nursing shortage here in California. Nurses with 25 years of experience don’t hit the market every day and I suspect Ms. Bredleau will have no difficulty obtaining a temporary position elsewhere.
NEW LEADERSHIP AT ICEL: The new Tablet has a lengthy piece on changes in the leadership of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The ICEL and its translations have been the subject of controversy in recent years. Earlier this year, the Vatican Congregation on Divine Worship rejected the ICEL's translation of the Roman Missal. The article does a fairly good job of explaining some of the key issues, but the author's sympathies are clearly with the ICEL. I think some of the charges made against the ICEL are overblown and I'm not an opponent of "dynamic equivalence" as a principle of translation, but I find some of the ICEL's translations so pedestrian that I just can't work up the energy.
In the past 40 years Zimbabwe has had only two leaders – and both have defied world opinion in the pursuit of race-based policies. Why this medium-sized, landlocked country in southern Africa should produce such obdurate and destructive rulers remains a mystery. For 15 years Ian Smith tried to impose white rule on the country, defying isolation, expulsion from world bodies and sanctions. Robert Mugabe has ruled for 21 years and in the last few has taken on the mantle of his pigheaded predecessor.
Some of my readers may be wondering why I am spending so much time on this issue this week. Isn’t this a web site dedicated to religious issues? Yes it is, and in a world as violent as ours has become, Christians need to reflect seriously about our relationship to violence. Can a Christian ever endorse or take part in war? As Catholics, does our Tradition’s acceptance of the possibility of a “just war” stand in tension with the witness of Scripture? What do we make of John Paul II’s continued condemnation of war and his questions about whether war waged with modern technology can ever be “just?”
Admittedly, most of my musings this week on the issue of Iraq have not really raised these religious questions so explicitly (although I discussed some of them in a post a few weeks ago). I find that I am frustrated with my inability to get outside the traditional language of international relations: force, interests, balance of power, etc. I worry that there is something inherently corrupting in trying to engage the issue in these terms, and yet they are the ones that quickly come to mind and allow me to engage in debate with individuals who don’t share my faith.
Catholics often have a more-than-intellectual faith in the sacraments that Protestants do not understand. Thus they don't see why Catholics who come to disagree with essential teachings of the Church don't just leave. The answer is symbolized by the sanctuary lamp. They do not leave the Church because they know that the sacramental fire burns there on the ecclesiastical hearth. Even if they do not see by its light, they want to be warmed by its fire. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a magnet drawing lost sheep home and keeping would-be strays from the deathly snows outside. The Church's biggest drawing card is not what she teaches, crucial as that is, but who is there. "He is here! Therefore I must be here.
BEAUTY: Fr. Jim Tucker over at Dappled Things has some wonderful posts today about gregorian chant, the late Cardinal Danielou, and the importance of beauty in the mass. Fr. Jim notes that "traditionalists" can be just as blind to this need as many "modernists":
There's a certain mindset that if it doesn't have to do with orthodoxy or solid morals, it's extraneous. The Good and the True get ample attention, but the Beautiful is left to fend for itself. I've seen this mentality at work over and over again in very faithful priests, and they can't seem to understand that all the "fluffy externals" really do condition the people's receptivity to the graces that God wants to give them. Perhaps there's a mistrust of Christianity's incarnational principle at work here? Or perhaps it's just American utilitarianism? It not only robs our liturgies of graciousness, but it also leads to ugly, barren churches. I think this is the same old 16-minute Low Mass mentality, all over again. I love Low Masses as much as the next guy, but that can't be our liturgical norm.
It is very hard to see Wills himself in all of this, hidden as he is behind a screen of learning and handling the hot coals of faith with the long tongs of Augustine and Chesterton. Twice in this book he expresses discomfort for being "so personal." He needn't have worried. The ego is kept well cloaked; it is the superego that runs rampant.
Steinfels also offers a more balanced perspective on how a Catholic who is also a public intellectual should engage these issues:
For many of us, being a Catholic means addressing the assumptions prevalent in the worlds of the New York Review of Books as much as those prevalent in the Roman curia—indeed, the challenge is to do both at the same time. If this is true for Wills as well, there is no hint of it in either text or notes, where the last serious challenge to Christianity appears to have come from Thomas Jefferson. The result is a disappointingly "churchy" book. Could a mind as lively as Wills's be so complacent or does he simply prefer to steer away from issues that might create waves along the Hudson rather than along the Tiber?
Some lilly-livered, "blue-zone fifth columnist," as Andrew Sullivan might say? Well, uh...no, actually, it was House Majority Leader Dick Armey, talking to reporters the other day. I suspect there is something about not standing for re-election that must feel marvelously liberating.
BLACK LETTER LAW:Our Sunday Visitor has a good overview of the provisions of canon law related to holy orders. The article lays out the circumstances under which a priest may be subject to restrictions in the exercise of his priestly duties. But it emphasizes that once ordained, a man remains "a priest forever."