Polarization and the Church

September 17, 2009

From Inside Catholic:

American Catholics have endured internal polarization for many years, but lately the split has become more visible, vocal, and vitriolic. For this we largely have Barack Obama to thank.

Before Obama’s admirers start screaming — itself a sign of the polarization — I hasten to say I don’t particularly blame the president. Obama has only been doing what politicians always do, seeking allies and votes where he can get them. In the process, however, the divisions among already divided Catholics have unquestionably grown wider and deeper.

Now even bishops have taken to advertising their differences. Maybe it’s healthy that they should, since this allows the rest of us to evaluate their arguments instead of leaving it to them to scrap over things that concern us all behind the closed doors of increasingly secretive general assemblies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But the results are dismaying all the same. Consider recent public comments by Archbishop John R. Quinn, retired archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, and Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

Here are three serious senior bishops committed to the best interests of the Church. Yet when it comes to events surrounding Notre Dame University’s decision to give Obama an honorary degree last spring and have him as commencement speaker, despite his well-publicized support for abortion, they could hardly disagree more profoundly.

Archbishops Quinn and Sheehan hold that their 80 brothers in the American hierarchy who publicly criticized Notre Dame were flat-out wrong.

Writing in Americamagazine, Archbishop Quinn argued that “sanctioning public officials” like Obama by denying them honors “undermines the church’s transcendent role in the American political order,” since it looks like partisanship and alienates many Catholics. Archbishop Sheehan, interviewed by the National Catholic Reporter, castigated “hysterical” reactions to the Notre Dame incident while citing as a model for others his own success in persuading pro-choice New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to support abolition of the death penalty.

In passing, it’s noteworthy that Archbishop Sheehan declared the 80 bishops who criticized Notre Dame to be a minority within the hierarchy. At last count, there were 424 American bishops, active and retired. Subtract the 80, and that leaves 344. But nearly all of those in this group said nothing publicly about the Notre Dame affair. Archbishop Sheehan did not explain how he knows what they think.)

Bishop D’Arcy is ordinary of the diocese in which Notre Dame is located. Kept in the dark by the university about the Obama invitation until it had been extended and accepted, he protested strongly and boycotted the commencement. Like Archbishop Quinn, he explained his reasoning in an Americaarticle.

His objections, he wrote, were “not about President Obama,” “not about Democrats versus Republicans,” not about the appropriateness of providing Obama with a platform, and “not about . . . ‘sectarian Catholicism.'” Rather, as he saw it, the problem with honoring a pro-choice politician was its betrayal of the fundamental mission of the Church, laid out by Christ in the gospel of Matthew: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5.13).This exchange among bishops illustrates the old truth that he who gets to define the issue can be sure of winning the debate.

Archbishops Quinn and Sheehan define the Obama-Notre Dame affair — together with the separate but related question of communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians — in political terms: to withhold an honorary degree or refuse communion because politicians support abortion are, in Archbishop Quinn’s word, forms of “sanctioning” intended to coerce politicians into toeing the Church’s political line on abortion.

Bishop D’Arcy defines what’s at stake in religious terms: defending the integrity of the Church and its mandate from Christ to preach the gospel.

Archbishops Quinn and Sheehan make some interesting points, but Bishop D’Arcy is right. The fundamental issue here is religious and, specifically, ecclesiological. Keeping that fixed clearly in one’s mind doesn’t by itself settle the question of whether to honor pro-choice politicians or give them communion, but it does make it possible to discuss these things in the correct context.

The consequences of not doing that were patent in some of the comments at the time of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death last month. Make no mistake — Kennedy died in the Church as a practicing Catholic. God rest his soul. But however much his views may have converged with Catholic social doctrine on some issues, on abortion he and the Church were miles apart. It made an enormous difference.

A Los Angeles Times op-ed writer named Tim Rutten was right in saying Kennedy showed his fellow Catholics that they too could be pro-choice while remaining Catholics in good standing. Rutten thought that was swell. Others do not.

But let’s be realistic. On the whole, the polarization of American Catholics isn’t a split among practicing members of the Church.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, only 23 percent of Catholic adults in the United States now attend Mass every Sunday — which is to say 77 percent do not. Moreover, reports CARA, 75 percent receive the Sacrament of Penance — confess their sins, that is — less than once a year or never.

This isn’t American Catholicism at some point in an imagined future — it’s a snapshot of where we are now: three out of four adults seldom or never participating in the central religious acts of their Church, while only one in four does. Here’s the real polarization of American Catholics.

In the Notre Dame dust-up, 56 percent of Catholics who don’t attend weekly Mass thought the university did the right thing by honoring Obama, but only 37 percent of the weekly Mass-attenders agreed. More polarization. Instead of criticizing the university’s critics, bishops would do well to address this pervasive crisis at its roots, while at the same time considering the possibility that the views of people who go to Mass every week are the sensus fidelium at work.


Should I raise my hands at Mass during the Our Father?

September 14, 2009

From Reverend Know-it-all:

Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

I was distressed this past Sunday when the priest celebrating Mass that I attend forbad people to raise their hands at the Our Father. Only the priest should raise his hands in prayer. He was very insistent and I am very confused. Was he correct in saying this? 

Joy Buzkil


Dear Joy,

Perhaps this particular priest is a liturgist. I am sure you have heard the question asked, “What is the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.” Enough levity. 

Actually, there is a point behind your priest’s inflexibility, but often, especially when I stick my nose in, a simple question has a long answer. Here goes. 

Being of advanced age, I remember when the radical changes in the liturgy were introduced in the mid sixties. It was the era of the Red Guard in China, the hippies in California and the liturgists in the Catholic Church. It seemed that every week we were putting the altar in a position and the placement of the tabernacle was a game of “Where’s Waldo?”  

There were clown Masses, there were polka Masses, there were flamenco Masses. They consecrated bagels and doughnuts and often the wine at Mass was port or Mogen David. I suspect that months went by in some places without a valid (real) Mass being celebrated. Feminist groups would have feminist Masses in which milk was used instead of wine. It was a glorious springtime of weirdness. 

And the churches pretty much emptied out because the more exciting they tried to make things, the more boring they became. 

The most striking thing about Catholic worship, once upon a time, was the amazing reverence that Catholics showed for the presence of God. In the noise of the world, a Catholic Church was place of dignity and stillness in which it seemed almost possible to breathe God in like air. 

As the world got louder, some people flinched. They thought, “Well, we have to keep up with the world. Heaven forbid that young people should be bored, they might leave the church!” 

Well, guess what! We made it more exciting and young people all left anyway. 

The most important word in the Catholic vocabulary at the time was “relevant.”   How could we make Mass relevant? It is wisely said that he who marries the spirit of the age soon finds himself widowed. The world moved on and many in the church stayed firmly rooted in the sixties. At this point that’s almost fifty years ago. I get a big kick out people who want to sing modern songs in church. Some of the songs they think of as new are forty years old. 

What does this tirade have to do with your question? I’m almost there. 

In the midst of all this excitement and grooviness there appeared the PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT (you may know it by it’s current moniker Charismatic renewal). Believe it or not the Rev. Know-it-all was and is an ardent devotee of Pentecostal spirituality. I’m not so sure about the Charismatic renewal, but that’s a story for another day.  

At the heart of the Pentecostal experience is a joyful encounter with the Holy Spirit, though some would say it’s not the third person of the Trinity that Charismatics encounter. I suppose it depends entirely on the circumstances. Still, the response to the encounter was commonly a renewed joy in prayer and a spontaneous lifting of the hands in abandonment to God. 

When one of these renewed people would go to Mass, surprise! There was the Holy Spirit, and they tended to react in the joyful exuberance of the prayer meeting. The priest raised his hands in prayer, just like at prayer group and so up would go the arms! 

The Pentecostal movement went begging for authentic Catholic teaching and what they got was clown Masses and pop theology. They drifted in and out of some very anti-Catholic circles and pretty much lost the understanding of what Mass is, as did just about everybody else on planet earth. 

We decided that Mass, being the most important thing in the life of the church was the only thing. One would get requests for Mass in the strangest places. “Father, we just got new carpeting in the pre-school. Could you come over and bless it by saying a Mass? The children would just love it.”  So one would try to say Mass on a two foot tall table while trying to entertain some sugar-crazed four-year-olds.  An octogenarian nun beamed and played folk music on an un-tuned guitar. Ah, the sixties, when we were young and as dumb as a bag of door knobs! 

Where was I? Oh yes. 

The Catholic Church had lots of wonderful ceremonies. We had benedictions and novenas and processions and vigils and pilgrimages and lots of swell stuff, but Mass was Mass was Mass.  It still is.

But, Mass became the community business meeting, the kindergarten graduation, the dedication ceremony for the new gym and on and on. 

Mass is the un-bloody restatement of the covenant of Calvary, nothing less and nothing more. 

If I’m not mistaken, in the ancient days of my youth, we didn’t have Mass along with Confirmation. Confirmation was a sacrament and stood on its own. Strictly speaking, weddings were performed without Mass, though they were usually followed immediately by a Mass of thanksgiving. 


All this is said to make the point that Mass is not a prayer meeting. 

It is a very precise presentation of the covenant between God and man. 

It might be marvelously appropriate to raise your hands at the prayer meeting, but Mass is not a prayer meeting. It is not me and Jesus; it is Christ and His bride. In the traditional understanding, the priest stands in for Christ who raises his hands interceding for his bride. That is the tradition. Sacred tradition doesn’t change. Human traditions do. I don’t know that the raising of the priest’s hands alone is sacred tradition. We’ll see. 

It’s smart to change even human traditions slowly and thoughtfully when and if they need change. Most of the experiments of the sixties were abysmal failures. If we learned nothing else from the springtime of weirdness, it is that we should probably look before we leap. 

So, the answer to your question, “Should we raise our hands at the Our Father,” is “Probably not.” It’s not our tradition. I’ve even begun to think, old Pentecostal Catholic that I am, of believing we should have prayer meetings in the hall, not the church. 

The church building is the throne room of God, a place of profound reverence and, though the whoopie appropriate to a good prayer meeting might be reverent as far as I’m concerned, someone one else might not have the same opinion. It is best to avoid scandal. I love a good prayer meeting with people babbling in Babylonian, dancing in the aisles and swinging from the chandeliers. I just think all that should happen in the parish hall. 

Still, I’m not about to excommunicate you for raising your hands at the Our Father, but don’t get me started on holding hands at the Our Father. That can get creepy.

Rev. Know-It-All

Benedict XVI Says True Faith Is Expressed in Love

September 13, 2009

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the public address Benedict XVI gave today before praying the midday Angelus with the pilgrims gathered at Castel Gandolfo.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters! On this Sunday, the 24th in Ordinary Time, the Word of God puts two crucial questions to us that I would summarize as: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth for you?” and “Does your faith translate into works or not?” The first question we find in today’s Gospel, there where Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Peter’s answer is clear and immediate: “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, the consecrated one of God, sent to save his people. Peter and the other disciples, then, unlike the majority of the people, believe that Jesus is not only a great teacher, or a prophet, but much more. They have faith: they believe that God is present in him and works in him. Immediately after this profession of faith, however, when Jesus for the first time openly announces that he must suffer and be killed, the same Peter opposes himself to the perspective of suffering and death. So Jesus must strongly reproach him, to make him understand that it is not enough to believe that he is God, but that, moved by charity, he must follow him along the same road, that of the cross (cf. Mark 8:31-33). Jesus did not come to teach us a philosophy, but to show us a way, indeed, “the” way that leads to life.

This way is love, which is the expression of true faith. If a person loves his neighbor with a pure and generous heart, it means that he truly knows God. If instead a person says that he has faith, but does not love his brothers, he is not a true believer. God does not live in him. St. James clearly affirms this in the second reading of this Sunday’s Mass: “If [faith] is not followed by works, it is dead” (James 2:17). In this regard I would like to quote from the writings of St. John Chrysostom, one of the great Fathers of the Church, which the liturgical calendar invites us to remember today. Commenting on the exact passage from St. James’ Letter, he writes: “One may have a right faith in the Father and the Son, and in the Holy Spirit as well, but if he does not live in the right way, his faith will be useless for salvation. So, when you read in the Gospel: ‘This is eternal life: that they know you, the one true God’ (John 17:3), do not think that this verse is enough to save us: a most pure life and a most pure conduct” (Cited in J.A. Cramer, “Catenae graecorum Patrum in N.T., vol. VIII: In Epist. Cath. et Apoc.,” Oxford 1844).

Dear Friends, tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the following day Our Lady of Sorrows. The Virgin Mary, who believed in the Lord’s Word, did not lose her faith in God when she saw her Son rejected, offended and put on a cross. Rather she stayed with Jesus, suffering and praying, to the end. And she saw the radiant sunrise of his resurrection. Let us learn from her to bear witness to our faith with a life of humble service, ready to suffer personally to remain faithful to the Gospel of charity and truth, certain that nothing of what we do will be lost.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[The Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]

I extend heartfelt greetings to the English-speaking visitors here today. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus puts a question to his disciples: Who do you say I am? On behalf of the others, it is Peter who answers: You are the Christ. Throughout history, it has been the task of Peter’s successors to continue to make that proclamation of faith in Jesus Christ. And all of us are called to join Peter as we resolve to place the Lord at the centre of our lives. I pray that all of you may grow in your faith and love for the Lord and I invoke his blessings upon you and upon your loved ones at home.

Is America coming apart?

September 12, 2009

By Patrick Buchanan:

Flying home from London, where the subject of formal debate on the 70th anniversary of World War II had been whether Winston Churchill was a liability or asset to the Free World, one arrives in the middle of a far more acrimonious national debate right here in the United States.

At issue: Should Barack Obama be allowed to address tens of millions of American children, inside their classrooms, during school hours?

Conservative talk-show hosts saw a White House scheme to turn public schools into indoctrination centers where the socialist ideology of Obama would be spoon-fed to captive audiences of children forced to listen to Big Brother — and then do assignments on his sermon.

The liberal commentariat raged about right-wing paranoia.

Yet Byron York of the Washington Examiner dug back to 1991 to discover that, when George H.W. Bush went to Alice Deal Junior High to speak to America’s school kids, the left lost it.

“The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props,” railed the Washington Post. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander was called before a House committee. The National Education Association denounced Bush. And Congress ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate.

Obama’s actual speech proved about as controversial as a Nancy Reagan appeal to eighth-graders to “Just say no!” to drugs.

Yet, the episode reveals the poisoned character of our politics.

We saw it earlier on display in August, when the crowds that came out for town hall meetings to oppose Obama’s health-care plans were called “thugs,” “fascists,” “racists” and “evil-mongers” by national Democrats.

We see it as Rep. Joe Wilson shouts, “You lie!” at the president during his address to a joint session of Congress.

“You Lie!” Get the bumper sticker that immortalizes American opposition to Obama

We seem not only to disagree with each other more than ever, but to have come almost to detest one another. Politically, culturally, racially, we seem ever ready to go for each others’ throats.

One half of America sees abortion as the annual slaughter of a million unborn. The other half regards the right-to-life movement as tyrannical and sexist.

Proponents of gay marriage see its adversaries as homophobic bigots. Opponents see its champions as seeking to elevate unnatural and immoral relationships to the sacred state of traditional marriage.

The question invites itself. In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

Yet, today, Mexican-Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a skirmish in a French-Mexican war about which most Americans know nothing, which took place the same year as two of the bloodiest battles of our own Civil War: Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Christmas and Easter, the great holidays of Christendom, once united Americans in joy. Now we fight over whether they should even be mentioned, let alone celebrated, in our public schools.

Where we used to have classical, pop, country & Western and jazz music, now we have varieties tailored to specific generations, races and ethnic groups. Even our music seems designed to subdivide us.

One part of America loves her history, another reviles it as racist, imperialist and genocidal. Old heroes like Columbus, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are replaced by Dr. King and Cesar Chavez.

But the old holidays, heroes and icons endure, as the new have yet to put down roots in a recalcitrant Middle America.

We are not only more divided than ever on politics, faith and morality, but along the lines of class and ethnicity. Those who opposed Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and stood by Sgt. Crowley in the face-off with Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates were called racists. But this time they did not back down. They threw the same vile word right back in the face of their accusers, and Barack Obama.

Consider but a few issues on which Americans have lately been bitterly divided: school prayer, the Ten Commandments, evolution, the death penalty, abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, affirmative action, busing, the Confederate battle flag, the Duke rape case, Terri Schiavo, Iraq, amnesty, torture.

Now it is death panels, global warming, “birthers” and socialism. If a married couple disagreed as broadly and deeply as Americans do on such basic issues, they would have divorced and gone their separate ways long ago. What is it that still holds us together?

The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges. Globalism dissolves the economic bonds, while the cacophony of multiculturalism displaces the old American culture.

“E pluribus unum” – out of many, one – was the national motto the men of ’76 settled upon. One sees the pluribus. But where is the unum? One sees the diversity. But where is the unity?

Is Amaerica, too, breaking up?

Incivility’s Origin

September 12, 2009

From Catholic Exchange:

It’s no wonder so many people are being less civil of late. I think it has to do with technology.

Civility in America dates back to George Washington’s time. Washington authored a pamphlet, “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” to define and strongly advocate civil society in early America.

For years, American children were taught good manners by their parents, and adults defined themselves as ladies or gentlemen based on how well they practiced good etiquette.

But technology has chipped away at such efforts. It has provided multiple opportunities for people to be rude.

Consider the invention of the telephone.

Communicating on the telephone is less personal than talking face to face. People are more prone to say nasty things — particularly to telemarketers who have a knack for calling just as you sit down for dinner.

The answering machine introduced additional opportunities for rudeness. Some felt it was rude to use the device to screen calls. Others felt it was rude not to leave a message when the machine picked up.

Telephone rudeness kicked into high gear when *69 was invented. By dialing *69, you could quickly identify the number of the person who had last phoned you.

I got home once to find someone had hung up on my answering machine. Agitated, I dialed *69 and phoned it back.

“Hello, this is Victoria. Bill and I aren’t in right now,” said the answering machine. I didn’t recognize the person and hung up.

A few moments later, my phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hello,” I said.

“Who is this?” said a woman.

“Who is this?”

“You called me and hung up!” she said. Ah, it was Victoria.

“You called me and hung up!” I said.

“Star 69 took me to you!” she said.

“Star 69 took me to you!” I said.

Victoria uttered several profanities, then hung up.

The cell phone soon made things worse. People, oblivious to their fellow human beings, prattle on in movie theaters, libraries and other public places.

The Internet, e-mail and blogging kicked rudeness into an even higher gear. A new era of anonymity was unleashed — a new era of nastiness and mean-spiritedness, particularly where politics are concerned.

Which brings us to this summer’s town hall debates.

Many folks have been brimming with passion and discontent about President Obama’s health care reform ideas. They’ve gotten mighty heated at times.

Proponents of Obama’s plan suspect Republican operatives are behind the protests — even though Republicans couldn’t organize their way out of a paper bag.

Proponents suggest that the people standing in the way of “reform” are ill-informed and don’t know what is best for them. But I think the cause of the discontent is simpler than that: technology.

Thanks to technology, average people have access to tremendous amounts of information. Anyone can download the Democrats’ 1,000-plus-page health care reform bill, as I did, and try to comprehend paragraphs such as:

For purposes of this division, the term ‘affordable credit eligible individual’ means, subject to subsection (b), an individual who is lawfully present in a State in the United States (other than as a nonimmigrant described in a subparagraph though excluding subparagraphs (K), (T), (U) …

What is more worrisome is that there isn’t really a health care reform plan — just a bunch of ideas, many of them unclear, packed into a massive document.

Nonetheless, President Obama promised it would save money — but the Congressional Budget Office said, flat out, that isn’t so.

He assured us he didn’t want the government to run health care. Then video footage surfaced in which he said he preferred a single-payer system.

People began wondering what other Obama claims just aren’t so.

The lack of clarity unleashed a torrent of information — truth, hyperbole and everything in between.

People attempted to voice their concerns to their representatives but were largely ignored. That’s when they began shouting.

Some say the town hall incivility shows that our republic is broken. Some believe it’s driven by special-interest groups that will gain if Obama fails.

I think technology is the culprit. It allowed people to quickly conclude that Obama’s health care reform strategy is a stinker.

Obama has been hoisted by his own petard.

How rude to do such a thing in public.

Boston, the Kennedys and the Dignity of Life

September 12, 2009

ROME, SEPT. 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- My August visit to the United States this year was bracketed by the deaths of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Senator Edward Kennedy. For a Bostonian like myself, these two events, representing the end of the extraordinary Kennedy generation that propelled Boston into the political A-list, closed the curtain on an era.
The funerals of the two Kennedys inevitably thrust Catholic culture into the front and center of media interest. Richard Dawkins, crusader for the removal of religion from the public square, must have pulled his hair out watching Archbishop Sean O’Malley in full regalia incensing the casket of Senator Kennedy on every major TV station.
For Boston Catholics, these images had even greater meaning.
From Catholic ghetto to Washington center stage
Boston was established upon granite columns of anti-Catholicism. From the time of its Puritan founders, the city maintained a heavy majority population of Protestants for three centuries until the Irish arrived — unwelcomed and unwanted — in the mid 19th century.
Seventeenth-century Puritan statutes banished all priests from the territory, and proscribed the penalty of death should they return (in 1690 this was mitigated to life imprisonment). Catholics were barred from all public worship until 1780. Each November 5th, on Guy Fawkes Day, Bostonians celebrated “Pope Day” by burning the pope in effigy, holding processions featuring the Roman Pontiff and the devil walking hand in hand and launching pogrom-type vandalizing of Catholic homes and businesses.
In 1834, rioters burned down an Ursuline convent in North Boston and by 1840 a virulently anti-Catholic political party, the “Know Nothings,” was formed in reaction to Catholic immigration to the United States. The Know Nothing party swept Massachusetts elections in 1854, winning both governorship and legislature.
Puritan laws had forbidden Catholics from holding any kind of political office and Boston practice portrayed Catholics as mindless automata in the service of the foreign pope.
All of that changed in a big way in 1960. The election of John F. Kennedy, a Bostonian no less, as president of the United States offered Boston a catharsis similar to that of the election of Barack Obama. The stigma of anti-Catholic bigotry could at last be cleansed.
The Kennedy compromise
The price for this Catholic family seizing the brass ring was very high and American Catholics have been paying interest ever since. John F. Kennedy declared in a televised 1960 interview, “I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”
This infamous Catholic caveat allowed JFK to be elected president, but formed the precedent for every Catholic pro-abortion politician’s argument, “I’m personally opposed but …”
Edward Kennedy, JFK’s littlest brother, lived to see the disastrous road the Kennedy compromise brought about. In 1971, Senator Kennedy wrote the following words: “While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life.”

He also said, “Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. When history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

In a moral tragedy rivaling the horrendous assassination of his brothers, Ted Kennedy bowed to political pressure and became a strong supporter of abortion. In the past week, no Kennedy mourner has been louder than NARAL, the foremost abortion advocacy group in the United States, who gave him a coveted 100% approval rating.

Rescue and reconciliation

On the other hand, Eunice Shriver, the fifth Kennedy child, found a use for the magic name of Kennedy, which would not be rooted in cover-ups and compromise. Eunice set about rescuing the family name and restoring its luster of hope and promise.

As of the 1950s she directed her interest to the mentally disabled and ultimately founded the Special Olympics. She championed the right to life, constantly contesting pro-abortion groups for quoting her presidential brother out of context and making him seem favorable to abortion. As a member of the Democratic party, she maintained the unpopular position of a pro-life Democrat.

During a ceremony in her honor held at the JFK library in Boston on Nov. 16, 2007, Eunice attributed all that had been good in her brother’s presidency, all that had truly helped the weak and voiceless, to her sister Rosemary, saying that “more than any one single individual, Rosemary made the difference.”

Rosemary Kennedy, who died at the age of 86 on Jan. 7, 2005, was given a lobotomy at the age of 23 and was left mentally incapacitated. Eunice began her work with mentally disabled people because of the tragedy of her sister Rosemary and founded the Special Olympics in her honor. President Kennedy signed into law the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) inspired by his sister.

The cascade of images from Boston and Hyannisport this August underscored the distinct personalities and legacies of the two Kennedy siblings.
Among hundreds of mourners who came to bid farewell to Eunice Shriver, many were Special Olympians paying tribute to Eunice with accounts of how her initiatives changed countless individual lives.

Even the touching image that made its way around the world of Carolina Shriver tenderly stroking the cheek of her bereaved grandfather, underscored the legacy of love and caring that Eunice left behind.
The far more televised event of Ted Kennedy’s funeral saw citizens of Massachusetts lining the streets mourning the end of the era when Boston was a political nerve center. Television coverage featured politicians jockeying for points on health care issues or Kennedy’s senatorial successor. Reminiscent of ancient Roman send-offs of the Julio-Claudian emperors, some pushed for deification of the departed while others clamored for “condamnatio memoriae.”
Back in July, Ted Kennedy sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, delivered by none other than President Obama. It now appears that the Pope wrote back to the dying senator and that a priest was at his bedside as he died. In his true final act, Ted Kennedy didn’t promote health care reform, but reconciled with Christ and his Church, providing all onlookers with a reminder that the Church preaches mercy and forgiveness and waits with open arms for the return of all of her children.
Although in life Eunice often needed the powerful support of her famous brothers to carry out her many projects to protect life, now she and her beloved Rosemary are no doubt well placed to intercede for them in heaven.
This may be the most powerful — and certainly the most important — bond among these celebrated siblings.

* * *
Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus and University of St. Thomas’ Catholic studies program. She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org

Sing: It’s Your Responsibility

September 11, 2009

From New Liturgical Movement:

Choirs in parishes around the country are busy recruiting for their choirs. This year is a crucial year for this, since many choirs around the country are upgrading their skills, introducing chant propers, and learning new music to keep up with the times. And the times are all about change away from the mire of the postconciliar period into a program that integrates current Roman Rite usage with historical and traditional standards. This is a big challenge and one that cannot happen in absence of the people to make it happen.

But there is a serious problem. Choirs have been depreciated in Catholic Culture for decades. There has been a long-running war on the choir on grounds that the choir has usurped the glorious role of the people. The slogans of the past have been all but revolutionary, as if the first priority is to expropriate the expropriators of the people’s music. It is no wonder at all that 1) good musicians have fled the Catholic Church, and 2) the musical education of Catholics have suffered a terrible setback, one that will take decades to reverse.

There’s also been a terrible price to pay in terms of people’s level of dedication to the task. Catholics are under the impression that the music at Mass just happens. Pastors are unwilling to pay for it, and the people themselves are unwilling to make anything like a serious commitment to making it happen. As a result, most parishes have a hard-core group of a few people, perhaps 2 to 4 people, who make it all happen, while everyone else involved comes and goes depending.

In fact, as a person with a childhood spent in the Baptist Church, I’m astonished at the lack of service ethic in the Catholic Church regarding music. In the Baptist Church of old (I don’t know if this is still true), if you could sing, you sang. Period. There was no choice about it. If you were a member with some musical talent, it was a tithe to sing in the choir. It was something you did simply because you were a member. If a true singer were sitting in the pews instead of the loft, he or she was considered a shirker and a bum.

So it was and so it should be, in my view. The contrast with the Catholic Church today is striking. In Catholic parishes, people will sing only under certain conditions: 1) if they have some talent and are not embarrassed to sing, 2) if there is nothing else going on the evening of rehearsal, 3) if the singers are praised to the skies by the director and the pastor, 4) if they are willing to come to Mass every week, 5) if they are willing to sit apart from their family, 6) if the music is something they like to sing, 7) if they like the other choir members and have unrelenting fun during every minute of participation, 8) if the singer in question is given a big solo, and so on.

In other words, many people are sitting on the fence waiting to find out what the choir will do for them rather than what their participation will do for the parish. This is an egregious attitude, one that stands completely contrary to a service ethic. It is like saying to God: “I know you gave me a certain ability but I will only use it under the conditions that I name, and otherwise I will not use my talent to serve people and serve you, simply because my own personal pleasure and well being comes before any obligation I owe to anyone, including God.” I would go so far as to say that it is a sin for those who can sing not to sing.

And yet this ethic is nowhere to be found in the Catholic Church today. People assume the posture of consumers of liturgy. They show up and take it all in, and complain about it as they see fit, without a moment’s thought put into what he or she can personally do to make a difference.

How can this change? One person at a time. A pastor can make a difference by instructing people of their obligations. But ultimately the change must come from soul searching. People must realize that participation in parish life is not all about themselves. It is about the big picture of assisting in the fostering of sacred space. To take part in the grand project is the great privilege of our lives and we dare not dismiss that opportunity on selfish grounds.

Another point to consider is that music directors dedicate massive amounts of their time and talent to parishes. They get low salaries and very little praise. If you are not helping them by singing in the choir even when you have the ability to do so, you are insulting their contribution to the parish too, making their lives more difficult and introducing an element of demoralization into their lives.

Sing the choir. Never miss a rehearsal. Be a good sport about it. Don’t complain. Never miss Mass. Ask what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Be a positive influence and help in whatever way you can. Someday there will be an accounting for what you did and did not do during these times of transition. Every time that you have said no, I won’t participate, it will be noted. Every time you have said yes will be noted as well.

All that being said, here is a nice invitation to participate that came to my email. There are 10,000 just like it out there. Answer this one. Answer anyone that pertains to you. Only you can make a difference in the pathetic state of Catholic music. Today is the day to start the change.

The Latin Mass Choir and Schola of Jersey City, New Jersey will add to its repertoire this fall a Requiem of Cristobal de Morales which will be sung on All Soul’s Day and Schubert’s Mass in G which will be sung at Midnight Mass on Christmas. We are a friendly and collaborative group and have continuing auditions on Wednesday evenings at 6:45 immediately preceding the regular rehearsal which begins at 7:00 PM. The auditions are held in the choir loft of Holy Rosary Church (www.holyrosarychurch.com), 344 6th Street . Located in historic downtown Jersey City , the Church is easily accessible by PATH train, car and light rail. This group sings for the traditional liturgy which is offered each Sunday at 10:00 AM and on Holy Days at 5:30 PM. The mixed choir sings polyphonic masses and motets and leads the congregation in chants and hymns. The men’s schola sings the Propers from the Liber Usualis. The acting director and organist is Harold Bott. Sight reading ability is not a prerequisite, but the ability to blend is. We especially need altos and sopranos! Call or e-mail Dan Sexton for more information: 201-406- 9960, DanielSextonEsq@gmail.com.