The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Will Arise and Return to My Father’s House


A Response to Myself, One Year Later

I have seen many friends of mine ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood. In the traditional Roman Pontifical, there is an exhortation by the bishop to those about to be ordained. I cannot find the Latin text anywhere on-line, but the gist of it is the following:

Understand what you do, imitate what you administer.

Now, the word for priest in Latin may come from the two words “sacra” and “dare” (etymologists, please step up to the plate if I am wrong), which would mean to give holy things. “Be what you do,” is what the exhortation basically means. Perhaps in my case, being an ex-seminarian, I have to be and to do what I am.

At many points at the beginning of this blog, there were moments when I was running from myself. And I have to apologize for them. I realize now that they were necessary steps in a long healing process that has only recently begun to resolve itself.

There are times in our lives when it may be necessary to run from ourselves. It might be necessary that we have to leave home since home just has way too many bad memories, too much bitterness, and too much pain to stay there. When I left the monastery, I could not accept that so much of my life’s passion, my long hours of prayer and fasting, of obedience and exile, all just went down the drain in one night. And I have been bitter, I have been angry, and I have been unable to forgive. If this bitterness has been shown on this blog, I ask you my readers for forgiveness. Indeed, the less poetically inclined of you might be somewhat frustrated right now since all I seem to post is poetry. But it is far better for me to sing than to argue, it is far better for me to try to lift up your hearts than to change your minds….

Nevertheless, I will continue to post some more intellectually hard hitting posts; it’s just that I have so little time now. What I will say right now is this: returning to the Roman Catholic Church after a hiatus was the best decision I have ever made. This is not to judge the Eastern Church or the Anglican Continuum, it is more to say that I need to be who I am. I am a Western doctrinal and liturgical maximalist. I can’t be even a little Reformed (or reformed) even if I wanted to. Why is this the case? As I said before, it all comes down to a small concept that fills a child’s eyes and consumes the whole universe: it is wonder.

Yes, for me, it is the Roman Catholic Church that inspires wonder. From Holy Wednesday until Easter Sunday, I went to church every single day, a one hour trek by bus each way. Sometimes I was serving, sometimes chanting, sometimes I was just in the pews watching and praying. But at all points, I was full of wonder. From the stripping of the altar to watching old creaky knees bend to venerate the Cross, from the mad ringing of bells to the bellowing of ancient prayers, I was a child again in sorrow, quiet expectation, and ecstatic joy. So when I said last year that I had no home here on the earthly pilgrimage, I was wrong. I just didn’t want to walk through its door. Maybe at that point I just couldn’t do it. But since I have, God has blessed me in so many ways. This is where I belong, no matter how troubled it might all seem.

The Easter Vigil for me was the most revealing part of it all. Our Institute of Christ the King priest included many aspects of the ritual as done before the reforms of the 1950’s to the Holy Week services, so the Vigil was even more authentic than what I saw as an SSPX seminarian. He did much of the service in chausable and not in cope, he omitted the rather cheesy renewal of baptismal promises, and he prostrated himself during the Litany of the Saints, among other things. I served as the cross-bearer and I chanted the first two lessons from Genesis and Exodus. At the singing of the Exultet by a guest deacon, I finally realized what it all meant: this pristine Patristic prayer chanted in an unchanged ancient tone, with a priest standing off to the side in a ornate, Counter-Reformation vestments, while I stood with the cross, a poor bohemian with an affinity for Sylvia Plath and avant-garde music, about to chant the story of the creation of the world in Latin to an equally ancient tone. Roman Catholicism is a collision course, a train wreck, an overlap and entanglement of two thousand years of tradition and innovation that you will need all the luck in the world to sort out. If the Second Vatican Council is guilty of anything, it is trying to sort all of this out in order to find the “authentic” core of our religion. What stupidity!

If I have begun to come to terms with all of this, it is because I have realized that (to be a broken record) life and religion play by the same rules. The most profound philosophical statement I have ever read did not come out of Nietzsche, Aquinas, or even Plato. I read it on a bumper sticker on a car in the barrio of Hollister:

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

So in this way, I say that Roman Catholicism, like its Eastern cousins that are equally Apostolic, is a way of life and not an intellectual ideology. But it is a cluttered, disorganized, and often confused way of life because, well, because it is LIFE.

My favorite part of the Mass is when the priest makes the Host dance. It is otherwise known as the Minor Elevation at the end of the Canon of the Mass, and what it consists of is the saying of these words:

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti…..

while the priest makes signs of the Cross over the consecrated Chalice with the Host. For me, he is making God dance. We realize then how fragile everything is, how God has put Himself into our hands to the point that we can “play” with Him. And this is the birthplace of wonder. And I have begun to experience this again, and I no longer worry much about THE CHURCH, Inc.

I am a person who is driven by wonder, and that is someone who I will always be. And God has blessed me for accepting that even if it has been painful to do so. And I am so glad now to dwell in my Father’s miraculous and wondrous house, even if I have visited so many nice places along the way.

3 Comments:

At 11:05 AM, Blogger BJA said...

Wonderful post, Arturo. Thank you. I can identify with a lot of what you say here.

Question: I heard somewhere that the Institute of Christ the King has some sort of special indult to celebrate the pre-reformed Holy Week rites. Is it only for certain aspects of the old Holy Week, or is it all of Holy Week?

Have a joyous Easter Week!

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger J. Gordon Anderson said...

You wrote:

"There are times in our lives when it may be necessary to run from ourselves. It might be necessary that we have to leave home since home just has way too many bad memories, too much bitterness, and too much pain to stay there. When I left the monastery, I could not accept that so much of my life’s passion, my long hours of prayer and fasting, of obedience and exile, all just went down the drain in one night. And I have been bitter, I have been angry, and I have been unable to forgive."

I went through EXACTLY the same thing several years ago. What you wrote really hits home. It all seems like so much of a waste when you're slogging through the debris and wreckage of it all. But then there is the resurrection! And a few years later, it all starts to make sense more, and you see God's hand in it all.

Great Easter post. A blessed Easter season to you, Arturo.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Ben,

Since you are a fellow liturgical geek, I will answer your questions briefly.

Much of the exterior rites were done according to the pre-Pius XII ordo. Palm Sunday was completely old style, as was Holy Thursday (no Mandatum with some other changes). Holy Saturday was pretty much what was in the book in Bugnini's egg, but it was done in the afternoon and not at night by the preference of the priest. Mass was proceeded by Lauds, as what is in the post-1954 book, as opposed to Vespers, which would have been more correct.

As for the Institute, Father has been saying that next year there will be even more restoration of the pre-reformed rites, but he is doing it gradually.

And the older rite looks a lot cooler.

 

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