When I opened my copy of Evangelii Gaudium on Friday to find the day’s sharable, these words leaped off the screen. Almost immediately, two more quotes on the same topic followed, and I realized I needed to wait and post them in a row, as a series. That’s what we’ll be doing this week.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’d encourage you to take the time to ponder these words. How else can we describe what has happened in our country and in our Church in the past twenty years, besides loss of perspective and shrinking horizons resulting from being trapped in conflict?
All of us who have wanted to pull our hair out over the proliferation of conspiracy sites and “fake news”–to say nothing of the subsequent perversions of the concept (it’s not “fake news” just because you don’t like it)–surely find resonance in the idea that getting trapped in conflict leads to a sense of reality falling apart. By which I mean: when people are so committed to always being right, and the other side wrong, that they choose to ignore any and all realities that might force them to self-reflect, then yes, reality itself starts coming apart. We can’t find common ground, because we’re not even operating in the same reality.
I’m thinking of America’s political reality in the above reflections, but it largely transfers into the conflicts within the Church as well. Much food for thought here.
And of course, there’s the ongoing stain of the sex abuse scandal.
Given all this, it was pretty demoralizing when that Pew research survey came out a few months ago. The one suggesting that Catholics don’t even really understand the one thing that, above all others, defines us: the Eucharist.
Today I want to offer two points as words of hope. First, this article. Words matter, and the way the Pew questions were written, many of us would hesitate, caught between our faith and the way certain words are used in the modern secular world. I mentioned this at choir practice shortly after the survey came out, when people were expressing their dismay about the survey, and a recent convert, who had to navigate those waters on the way into the Church, nodded vigorously in agreement. The authors of this analysis suggest a more hopeful picture, and their argument resonates with me.
Which brings me to the second point: part of the reason for that resonance is an experience I had when I was working as a full-time liturgy director. I was jaded even then about the view and understanding of the Eucharist among the average Catholic Mass-goer. Convinced that most people really didn’t “get” it.
Then one day, when we had a no-show, I substituted as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister.
It was an amazing experience. One after another, people raised their eyes and their hands. The looks on their faces remain with me to this day: raw, naked, vulnerable, longing, hopeful, reverent, transfigured. Those people knew they were receiving Jesus. Knew it at a visceral level that tells a truth far deeper than any survey can illuminate. By the end of Communion, I was nearly in tears.
So when the division in the Church seem ready to rip us apart at the seams—when despair tries to get a hold on my heart—I choose to hope. To believe that what I was taught as a child remains true now: the Spirit is in control, that we are led at this point in time by the person the Spirit knows we need, and that nothing can destroy the Church. Not even us.
I am often guilty of trying to control everything, to take charge and fix what I see needs fixing on the strength of my own convictions and abilities. Since I’ve been quite opinionated the last two days on matters of liturgical music, I put this out as a reminder to all of us who feel passionately about liturgy–myself above all–that God is in charge, not me. That if I try to lean on my own understanding, I’m going to make things worse, not better.
Come, Holy Spirit. Sweep us along with you, and get us where You meant us to be all along.
This whole section of Evangelii Gaudium is talking about unity (as distinct from uniformity) and diversity. Bear with me, or better yet just go read it yourself, because it may seem strange that I’m zeroing in on liturgy.
Evangelii Gaudium says the message of the Gospel has been “closely associated with” some cultures, but that doesn’t mean the culture is essential to the message (117). “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.” (118)
127-8 talk about how for most of us, opportunities for evangelization come one on one in personal settings, and suggests how that might look–but then 129 warns against being slavish to a particular formulation. This opens up a discussion of the many and varied charisms within the Church, which brings us to this quote and the one I will share tomorrow.
So it’s not specifically about liturgy, but the liturgy wars demonstrate clearly the confusion between unity and uniformity–specifically as regards music. That final sentence: “This is not helpful for the Church’s mission,” is what ties it all back to evangelization. Liturgy is the source of our strength to go out and accomplish the Church’s mission of bringing people to Christ and unfolding the Kingdom on Earth, but if the summit of our faith is corrupted by bickering over guitar vs. organ and whether drums are actually part of the culture and whether pop styles are intrinsically inappropriate for liturgy–etc., etc.–if we’re pouring all our emotional energy into fighting over these issues, how are we supposed to evangelize anyone? More to the point, why would anyone want to join that Church?
In other words: “Not helpful for the Church’s mission.”