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, May 28, 2007

Wedding Song

And Other Hauntings of the Past

Points arrive in our lives when we realize that things are so transitory, that things that we thought would be established forever are at the point of fading away. And there are times when we realize that what is important is much different from what we first thought was important. The time comes when the past must begin to fade away, and only that which is before you, dim and undiscovered, waits for you as if in the next room.

If I am certain of anything, I am certain that I am quite an odd duck. With very few people do I feel completely comfortable, and I have always been at the margin of things, savoring and contemplating many aspects of life that are often times neglected. But I have come to take for granted certain things and people, my extended family especially. Only this weekend, with the marriage of my cousin and my grandfather's eightieth birthday, have I realized that all of the established order of my family will fade away and move on. The closeness, the traditions, and the life of the old country will soon be dead, and even though they have been the existential background of how I lived, I have realized too that I was always a stranger in them. It is that feeling of rootlessness that is causing me much pause, both in planning a beautiful future and in mourning, with the understanding of their inevitable downfall, the memories of an innocent past.

AG has said in this comment that we Internet religion divas may be making too much of an issue of religious matters that are really none of our business. As Roman Catholics at least, our obligations to the Church are very simple and blissfully few: obey the hierarchy in matters in which we have to obey (or at least not vocally voice our opposition and defer to them) and give the Church money to be able to sustain its various apostolic works. This does not even entail signing on to the current party line; the Gospel is not a party line, and more often than not has little to do with ecclesiastical policy.

Loving God and neighbor requires little guidance from L'Osservatore Romano or EWTN. Having been a cleric and a monk, I might have some meagre excuses for obsessing about certain internal matters of the Church (call it force of habit). But the more time I am out of the habit, the more time I have to deal with bills, career choices, and time management, the more I realize that too much of an obsession with ecclesiastical matters would amount to escapism. Really, what can I do about the Pope doing this or that, the Vatican releasing this or that document, etc.? I might as well get more into sports teams, for at least they have on and off seasons and you can know with much more certainty what the outcomes will be.

There is too much before me in my life right now that to dwell on the past would be the greatest sin I could ever commit. I used to make religion into an idol that would drive and guide my life. It was the only thing I would obsess over, and the only thing I thought mattered. But where was Christ in all of it? Where was love? I realize now that it was always in my family, and maybe I realized this weekend that it too is changing. So it is no longer my business to look backward or to be nostalgic. And this goes for the Church as well. The Church, as it is, is the Church that Christ wants for us. And it is none of my business to tweak it to my expectations. There are more potent manifestations of God in my life now, more normal roads to the Kingdom of Heaven, than what ecclesiastics do or do not do.


At 12:54 AM, Blogger AG said...

Near the end, you mention something that is of real interest to me: the 'proper' role of the laity. It strikes me as quite ironic that some traditionalists (unconsciously, I think) utilize one of the visions of Vatican 2 - an increased role of the laity - to justify placing these and those demands on the bishops and Vatican. The traditional role of the laity is closer to pray, obey, and tithe - ecclesiastical matters kept quite distant from the laity.

I also worry about the disregard for the sacrament of Holy Orders (and grace) that is implied in the rush of some lay members of the Church to criticize the clergy. (And even better is the presumption: "I know better than all these bishops and the pope himself.") What kind of model of the Church, what ecclesiology and sacramentology, I wonder, are some working with? But then again, I was brought up being taught that it is a sin to vocally criticize a priest to another person for a priest has been called by God into His service, he has been ordained into a line stretching back to the Apostles, and issues one has with a priest should only be addressed to God and Mother Mary, who pleads before God for the protection of priests. While that may be more subservient than some could stand, it strikes me as much more traditional than the position advocated by die-hard "traditionalists" who sometimes behave as if every priest who is not "approved" needs to be second-guessed.

But I've (deservedly) bashed that type of "traditionalist" enough on your blog the past week. It is only God Who can keep people in the graces of the Church, and it is God Who decides how His Church looks. It's only/all grace that kept my parents and grandparents in the faith, when simply attending Mass included an attack on their dignity. And so I believe the prayers of my grandmother to God, Mother Mary, and all the saints are exponentially more effective than all the (self-involved, navel-gazing, demand-for-self-satisfaction and have-it-your-way, screaming in an echo chamber, etc. etc.) ranting about the state of the Church done on the internet. And the time it took me to type this would have been better spent praying.

"It is God Who governs the world, not we. We offer Him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as He grants us the strength." - Benedict XVI, "Deus caritas est"; thanks to titusonenine.

And for purely selfish reasons, P-I, I encourage you to think like a lay person. :-)

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...


Don't worry. I am getting used to the idea of being a layperson. There are obvious perks to that state, as you well know.

Once again, you have anticipated what I was thinking and expressed it much better than I ever could. Traditionalism is ultimately the greatest expression of lay power and lay meddling in affairs that we have no business getting our noses into. Most traditionalist chapels are started by laymen, not clergy. And the so-called "independent" ones even have the power to hire and fire their priest. (Everyone now knows about Mel Gibson's famous secluded ecclesiastical kingdom.) While they could give a convincing argument about just preserving the practices that they have always done, in the end it can only lead to a very bizarre and ultimately unchristian distortion of what has come before us. A fish out of water is still a fish, and Latin Masses and novenas are still Catholic, but both are not going to be so for very long.

It is the chaos and discomfort of the humanity that is within the broader, one billion member Church itself that keeps us authentic when it comes to the spirit of the Gospel, not just the preservation of certain practices.

The one caveat I would add is that this tendency is not exclusive to traditionalists. I think certain neo-conservative Catholics also do this viz. their bishops. ("I support Benedict XVI, but my bishop is a real...") And of course, with the liberals it just goes without saying.

In this case, I would want to return to the "letter" of Vatican II. It is truly regrettable that the empowering of the laity only really took place inside church walls when the laity's business is really not there. Indeed, ordinary Catholics have less of a voice and less influence in the world than they had then. Where are all the great Catholic intellectuals (Maritain, Marcel, etc.), the great Catholic artists and composers, etc., etc.?

Laypeople seem to be Catholic only in church now, and are entitled to do what the clergy has historically done. But is that what an increased participation of the laity really means? Getting more important roles in running the Catholic Potempkin village that has little or nor bearing on daily life? Does it just mean that laity too have entitlement over the scraps of a fallen Christendom and a weakened Church?

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Let me just say I've always enjoyed reading your blog since coming here last year. ( I gotta kick some props to Serge over at his blog for leading me here.)
Towards the end of your comment here you made a statment about "where are all the great Catholic artists, intellectuals, composers etc.?" Indeed! When some in the laity interpret a greater role for the laity as their duty to second guess the ordained those laypeople have seriously missed the point about Vatican II's teaching about the laity. It's the laity that have to take the Gospel into the world not so much guide the clergy. Daniel Mitsui made a blog entry several months ago about how so much of the recent boomlet of conversions to the Church has mainly been composed of other Christians coming in from other denominations. Outside of that it seems the Church doesn't seem to appeal, or better yet, mystify the average surburban American. (Mystify in the sense of stirring up within the human heart the thoughts of the divine, the numinous. What I understand ,that the Church teaches as natural religion.) Perhaps it has something to do with the notion of viewing Catholicism into a religion of the Book , a paper religion as you called it a few months ago. (AG has made similar remarks too.) I recall reading something from Peter Kreeft years ago about how our images of heaven and hell are stilted ,sacharine, and that this was one of the greatest obstacles to conversions today. Our images don't speak to the heart.(I am not saying here that what's needed is scrapping the Novus Ordo and having everyone go back to Latin Masses full of Palestrina , Bach and Gregorian chant. Actually, I am drawn to both liturgies.I also like Bach.) Indeed, where are the intellectuals, artists, musicians, composers etc. in the Church? Or do the artistic ones all get bored in their 20's and leave the Church thinking there is no place for them?
To wrap it up, I remember my mother and father saying about such things that my Irish Catholic grandparents told them, "Pray, keep your faith simple, obey the Ten Commandments, and keep an arm's length from the clergy."

Walt C

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Thank you Walt for your readership.

Devout laypeople do have to learn to be laypeople again, and not just clerical wannabes. That is a great challenge in my own life.


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