Wednesday, July 11


For An End to Bitterness

It is almost in the nature of politics that mutual recriminations tend to arise - that one "side" sees each victory as a gain over other perceived combatants, and so forth. In so doing, the disputes tend to give rise to an endless circle of violence - rhetorical or otherwise. The same thing is true, in many ways of the Church in recent years. In recent Church history, it has all too often been easy to categorize many events as to whether "liberals" or "conservatives" were winning battles - thus the stories of Vatican II as "liberal" victory and its aftermath as simply a natural continuation of these gains, seemingly without end. Meanwhile, in more recent times, it has been easy, in the news media especially, to slap around labels about a conservative "retrenchment" or restoration that somehow seeks to "undo Vatican II." Both stories are absurd in their own way, but we have in some ways lived them within the Church, and it is easy for us to get sucked into simplistic narratives and unnecessary fears. They are also often exacerbated by personal experience that does not match up to the broader pictures and possibilities that reality can show us.

This has become especially clear to me in the week following the motu proprio, in which trying to raise some practical questions in what I took to be a rather moderate tone led to charges that I was attempting, among other things, to "dilute" or otherwise harm the extraordinary form of the Mass, when I was rather trying to delineate what has and has not been permitted by the Holy See. By even raising these questions, it seems that in some ways it was automatically assumed that I either had an agenda or had unwittingly become the pawn of one.

Some background, of course, explains why this would be the case. Many, of course, lived through the liturgy wars of the 60's through 90's, and dealt with various practices permitted by indults being foisted upon them as practically requirements. There is the natural tendency to simply view everything through the jaundiced eye developed from that experience, rather than trying to believe that things can be different, and believing that those advocating moderate permissions are not trying to tear apart the Mass. This tendency, I think, has to be resisted, because it simply leads to continuing the cycle of recriminations on those who did not deserve them. This is especially true when those continuing the vicious cycle are not those who have much of an excuse of actually living through the bad times.

Another case may prove my point. I just finished reading the memoirs of the great Jesuit theologian Henri Cardinal de Lubac. De Lubac, of course, suffered much for his theology, especially surrounding the question of the supernatural. In some ways, he was caught in the middle of the Jesuit-Dominican debates that already existed, since he was too Thomist for the Suarezian Jesuits and too Ressourcement for the neo-Thomist Dominicans. De Lubac, of course, was also later a peritus at Vatican II and very much a supporter of the change in theological tone that this council helped bring about, what many characterize as the defeat of the "conservatives" in the Church. De Lubac, by many standards, had a right to be upset at the way he was treated in the 1950's, what should have been the core years of his theological career. Yet it was not he who carried forward the torch of "revolution" that he himself knew to be shameful and disgraceful. It was, rather, younger, more hotheaded theologians and others in the Church who tried to exact revenge for suffering that was really not their own, and took Vatican II as an excuse to try to destroy the tradition. We are living with the consequences of this today, but the worst possible reaction to it would be to try to head all the way back in the other direciton and thus continue an endless back-and-forth cycle of recrimination.

What we can learn from this example is, first of all, that our watchword should be reconciliation much more than it is victory. The last 50 years have been difficult times in which many people have suffered much at the hands of both "sides," and recriminations have gotten us nowhere. We need to let go of bitterness and harsh words, especially when they exhibit contempt for approved usages of the Church's liturgy and, whether we know it or not, insult those who attend them and are spiritually nourished by them. We need especially to stop treating priests and bishops in contemptuous ways, for however disagreeable or contemptuous to us they may be, they are both human beings, which is enough in itself, and stewards of our Church. Only by being the first ones to cast off all bitterness, and indeed by doing so to "cast into the deep," can we ever hope that anyone will follow us.

In this kind of reconciliation and peace, rather than in the assertion of our version of tradition or progress, the Church will find true healing and indeed, I think, a bright future.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?