Saturday, October 12, 2013

Time to Calm Down

It's pieces like this that annoy me into defending the pope.  It's not because I think the pope needs my help; it's because this stuff frustrates me to an extreme degree (and that is my own fault).

In the course of reading this particular phonebook of a post, I went through a bizarre emotional process which started with me keeping track of every single flaw in the presentation, peaked at an intense desire to author a reply with the full force of my mind grapes, only to come crashing down into a what's-the-point kind of apathy.

I need to stop letting people do this to me.
Maybe I should give it a rest.  I'm considering limiting all the Pope Francis related literature I read to only what he himself has said or written.  It will probably do wonders for my soul and my inner calm.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Same Old Same Old

In seminary, I put a name to a tendency I had noticed in the Church. It was everywhere, infesting our approaches to preaching, to youth ministry, to sacramental preparation, to catechesis, and even to the Church's varied forays into the media, old or new. I called it the "Same Old Same Old."

It was everywhere, but it annoyed me the most when it reared its ugly head in a homily. There are reasons for that. In seminary, you attend Mass everyday, which means you are confronted with a homily everyday. Who's preaching? It's the seminary faculty, a group of men who see what they are doing as immensely important--and they're not incorrect. They're forming men to the priesthood, and that task is a sacred one. They rightly take it very seriously and pour heroic effort into each homily they prepare. I heard many an eloquent and pious oration which really did spur me on to deeper conversion.

Yet, when your mind is daily assaulted by such homilies, each one prepared as though it is the most important thing the listener will ever hear, weariness is an expectable byproduct. Such weariness was compounded by the fact that, no matter how passionately delivered or well prepared, the vast majority of homilies were nothing but the Same Old Same Old.

What is the Same Old Same Old? Stagnation is too strong a word. The Same Old Same Old is taking exactly what one receives and passing it along without tainting it with one's own unworthy influence. It arises from a very healthy and orthodox notion: that our faith is apostolic. We believe what the Apostles believed and handed down to us via what we have come to call Tradition. Thus, what is old is good. What we believe, we have believed from the beginning.

The Same Old Same Old is a perversion of that very beautiful apostolic mark of the Church. It is the attempt (intentional or not) to preach only the exact things the Church has always taught without an ounce of creativity or vulnerability. This way, faithfulness to Church teaching is guaranteed, as well as the pure, unadulterated Gospel. Zero impurities are allowed through the Same Old Same Old filter. It is, in a word, "safe" to preach the Same Old Same Old. It is also easy.

But I'll tell you what it's not: helpful.

The Same Old Same Old insists that the way we've always done things, said things, taught things, sung about things: that is the only valid way. We're going to stick to it. Thus, we can be certain that we shall never deviate from the true faith. At what price this straight and narrow path? boring homilies, empty pews, a cold, uninviting church...but at least that church has rigidly correct doctrine! With two thousand years of tried and true methods and formulas, we are able to preserve without stain the faith of the Apostles, even if no one is around to actually profess it.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, a lot if things, obviously, but there's one thing that is the root of it all. The safe and easy Same Old Same Old is our human way of ensuring that "the gates of hell will not prevail against" the Church Christ founded on Peter. The problem is that it is not our job to ensure that. That's not how it's supposed to work.

What is it that makes the Church indefectible and infallible? Is it our efforts? Absolutely not! The only thing that keeps the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is the Power of the Spirit, first sent upon the Church at its very birth at Pentecost. To embrace the Same Old Same Old as a method of preserving orthodoxy is a failure to trust in God's providential guidance of the Church. We are not the guarantors of infallibility; He is.

Now clearly, throughout the history of the Church and today, real effort on our part is required to learn, profess, and teach the Truth. I would not contest that. God doesn't magically keep our thoughts and words orthodox. However, if we only regurgitate the truth as expressed by previous generations, we are doing the Truth and its (potential) hearers a real disservice, not to mention selling ourselves short. We're obscuring the Truth by insisting that we ourselves have no part in the Truth. Are we not rational animals, stamped with the Divine Image, created with an innate desire for the Truth? Our hearts are made to beat in time with the Truth, our mouths to proclaim It, our minds to explore It, and our entire selves to be immersed in It.

Why then in our communication of the Truth to others do we hide ourselves by sticking only to the Same Old Same Old, merely trusting that the Spirit would guide the Apostles, but not us? The Apostles themselves didn't stick to the Same Old Same Old; it didn't exist yet. They were evangelizing the world by speaking off the cuff. (Sound familiar?)

I do not mean to imply that we should introduce new or heterodox elements to teaching. That's another problem. I'm saying we should introduce ourselves into the teaching. That's what I mean by the creativity and vulnerability that are stifled by the Same Old Same Old.

Now, all of this may sound good, and interesting, and relevant...but also terribly impractical and amorphous. How do we add creativity and vulnerability to our preaching (and teaching and youth ministry and sacramental preparation and forays into the media, old and new)? What does that even mean?

Up until now, I have not had an answer to that question. Up until now words to describe this problem have escaped me. Up until now I have only had this vague idea of what I do and do not want my ministry to be like. The Same Old Same Old was detectable only by discernment through gut feelings. That's why I've never written about it before (though some of my buddies from seminary may remember me talking about it). Up until now... Ah, but what has changed now?

We have Francis now. We have a living breathing antithesis to the Same Old Same Old, and he happens to also be the Vicar of Christ. I don't have a codified description of what to do or not to do to avoid the Same Old Same Old, but I do have a pope who is both creative and vulnerable. He is faithful to what the Church teaches, but he is unencumbered by a need to display that teaching in its entirety every time he opens his mouth. He teaches as Christ teaches, by giving us a model to follow. I look forward to hearing more from him, and I look forward to a Catholic Church that is more creative and more vulnerable. (and no less faithful to Tradition!)