Wednesday, November 28



My father and I drove through the rolling late-fall landscape of North Florida under a grey sky, the trees dark-red and translucent mandarin. We were listening to a CD of Jesuit missionary music from 17th century Peking, and he was enchanted with the oriental elegance of each track--a gracious bit of enculturation done right equal in beauty to the work of Vivaldi and Palestrina, but transposed into a distinctly Chinese key.

He's doing the driving, fortunately. He used to tell me stories about serving Low Mass as a (very young) boy, and brown-bagging egg salad sandwiches every first Friday so he could receive Communion and still make the three-hour fast that early in the morning. We bond over bicycling, over long walks in the cold, and we bond over liturgy, too.

"They dumb everything down these days; they're so afraid of leaving someone out if they put in a little beauty. What's wrong with sitting and listening to a beautiful motet and thinking about God?"

I nodded my agreement, enjoying the severe and familiar beauty of the landscape.

"What'll they want to go for next?" he continued. "By the same logic, they'd say art's too elitist too, since the whole congregation can't participate in it either. Too exclusive. Maybe we should take down the cross and hand around sheets of paper and crayons before mass."

I laughed. "Don't give them ideas!" The sad thing was, while he was kidding, the liturgy gurus might do just that. Modern times defy parody.

Anything beautiful, anything that inspires us, is always a threat to someone--because there's always the potential for danger in anything good. Wine, women, friendship, fatherhood, motherhood, kingship, art, fine food, the priesthood, nature. They can all go sour. But they can also help us get to heaven. They're worth the risk. The other choice is the comfortable beige world of the mediocre: parental units, microwave dinners, OSHA, Thomas Kinkade, life-coaches, the works. Hell-as-eternal boredom.

I think my father is a very wise man.

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