diabolical is not a nice word!

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea is known for his traditionalist views of liturgy. His words often make headlines in church news circles. For example, he tried to re-install the rule that priests say Mass facing east, with their backs to the people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course,  but Cardinal Sarah is also the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. His liturgical leanings are often in stark contrast to those of his current boss.

The latest headline concerns a new book about reception of Holy Communion. Cardinal Sarah wrote the preface for the book.

“The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” the cardinal wrote.

“Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.

“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the inane nature of the “kneeling and on the tongue” vs “standing and in the hand” debate. Both methods are approved by the Vatican. One is not holier than the other. Kneeling piously does not guarantee reverence in the heart, as standing does not connote irreverence.

Instead, let’s look at the Cardinal’s choice of language.

DIABOLICAL. Really? DIABOLICAL???

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This choice of words scream of judgment. Calling the simple gesture of receiving Holy Communion on the hand as “diabolical” hearkens to the days of inquisitions, when the smallest acts or words were twisted, magnified, and used as evidence of heresy. Prosecutable accusations. Yes, accusations.  A simple accusation was often all that was needed for a tortured confession and inevitable punishment.

Thankfully the bonfires are no longer. Some bishops still swing the hammer of excommunication, but their threats fall mostly on sceptical minds and hearts. More and more, these episcopal bullies are being ignored by the faithful; as so they should be. Still, it saddens me to see the outliers in the hierarchy who continue to peddle an angry, judgmental God  rather than a loving God of mercy.

Cardinal Sarah’s choice of words simply feed the divisions in our church. Instead of building bridges between progressives and traditionalists, the Cardinal fires up his followers with language of diabolical attacks on what is, in reality, a liturgical custom or tradition that has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so. In my local parish, we have some folks who kneel and receive the Eucharist on the tongue. They have the freedom to do so, while the rest of us stand and receive in the hand. No biggie!

The ultimate irony, of course, is the use of  the sacrament of COMMUNION as a weapon of division.

For more reading…

Cardinal Sarah: Communion in the hand part of ‘diabolical attack’ on Eucharist (Catholic Herald, UK)

Cardinal Sarah: Receiving Communion in the hand part of a “diabolical attack” on the faith America: the Jesuit Review

 

 

I believe…no ideology has monopoly on truth

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We have to stop categorizing ideology in strict binary terms. Black and white, either-or thinking might effectively describe those on the extreme fringes of conservative and liberal thought, but many of us fall in the grey zone of “somewhere in-between”.

One of my first blog posts, written in January 2011, was titled the trad-lib scale.

I like to think of the ideological scale as a very long one, with lots of room between the extremes of both conservatism and liberalism. And, unless you purposely place yourself so far to the right or left that you fall off the scale, there is room in our catholic (universal) church for all.

While the article was focused on the conservative-liberal division in our church, the idea of an ideological scale also applies to the current political divisions in our world.

What if we stopped mentally placing others into two simple camps; liberal and conservative? What if we acknowledged that thoughts and beliefs can and do find a home in the middle? What if we understood that this “middle” is an awfully big space? It may be full of questions and uncertainty, but questions and uncertainty shouldn’t be feared. Truth is found not by avoiding difficult questions, but by bravely working through them. Together.

Questions help us to test truth. To clarify truth.

There is real danger in an unmoving insistence on absolute truths, whether on the right or left. Too often, the most extreme voices are also the loudest and most passionate. Passion is a good thing, but not if it morphs into militancy. It becomes dangerous when one begins to divide the world into “us” and “them” and the “them” are to be hated.

It is becoming harder to find intelligent, rational discourse. Today’s social media is simply a collection of echo chambers. From newspapers to television networks, we choose the ones that speak the words we want to hear.

I’m not on Facebook, but I have a Twitter account. It’s addictive. I log in, and spend far too much time scrolling down the list, and clicking on articles to read. I applaud those who think like me. I chuckle at witty comments. I find justification and affirmation for my liberal rightness. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the voices that are bouncing around this echo chamber.

We left-leaning folks can be just as nasty and judgmental as right-wing conservatives. Being a smart-ass myself, I know the joy of letting loose with a snide retort or a sarcastic remark. I also know the regret, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. It’s hard to take words back.

No, I don’t believe that we need to sit back quietly, or speak only in soft, sweet voices that won’t hurt or insult anyone. These times require loud, brave voices to resist the many evils and injustices that threaten the basic rights of all. These times require rational, logical minds to point out the irrational, illogical reasoning of leaders who put their own interests before those they serve. These times require dialogue and true dialogue requires courage.

Courage is required to step out of our echo chambers and help bridge the ideological divide with sincere engagement with those who think differently from us. Who knows, we might find some truth in what they have to say!

 

the big foot washing debate….really???

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One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.