"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 17, 2006

True rejoicing vs. the clamor for glamor

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is known liturgically as "Gaudete Sunday," gaudete being the Latin for "rejoice!" That is a divine command which many have no trouble obeying during this season. Yet the usual reasons for doing that are the wrong reasons. People usually rejoice only when they are fortunate: when they enjoy material prosperity, intact families, congenial opportunities in their careers or leisure activities. Ordinarily, that is natural and legitimate; but at this time, rejoicing is commanded as a break in a penitential regimen, so that we might sustain our hope in what we are waiting for. In our culture, no such regimen is observed, even by Catholics; as far as waiting is concerned, the holiday music started playing in public places two weeks before Thanksgiving, and the shopping not long after that. So, how can disciples rejoice in the spirit intended by the liturgy?

I suggest we ponder the state of the Church. As Fr. Philip Powell, OP, puts it, the crowds "clamor for glamor." If, as per Vatican II and the present pope, you suggest some Latin and Gregorian chant in the liturgy, they howl for their shlock: they want entertainment. As the bishops continue to pull punches on contraception, they urge optional celibacy for priests and the approval of buggery: they want more sex. If you give them parish councils, they seek lay participation in the selection of clergy, including bishops: they want more power. They want, in short, the Church to conform to their contemporary American values, which are mostly the fashions now worn by those old characters known as the world, the flesh, and the Devil. In reaction against all that prog stuff, some Catholics insist on attending only an ornate Tridentine liturgy and would prefer to see Vatican II become a dead letter. Such Catholics have little use for Church teaching on war and capital punishment, and also find the hierarchy far too liberal about such internal matters as marriage annulments. For the most part, the spirit of both the prog and the trad wings of the Church is prideful: they want the Church to conform to them, not vice-versa. And then there's that large, squishy middle which treats their parish church like a gas station: they pull in, fuel up, pay up, and pull out, so that they can move briskly on to brunch and/or football. That's why we don't often see regular adult education in American parishes. So, be careful today: next to an active war zone, I can think of no place on earth more dangerous than the parking lot of a Catholic church after Sunday Mass.

None of this is metanoia, which is Greek for 'conversion', as in conversion of hearts and minds. Since the main purpose of penance is conversion, it's inevitable that there is little penance of the sort that this Sunday is meant to give us a break from. So I've thought about how to change that.

One must of course start with oneself. As I prepare for Mass, I aim to locate and identify those aspects of myself which need conversion, so that I can rejoice that the advent of God the Son helps me to overcome them and become what I was created to be. Since, like most of us, I'm good at kidding myself about my real faults, I shall offer my participation in the hope that the Holy Spirit will lessen my self-deception. He will do that if we get out of the way. The coming of the Son is the light that will illuminate the dark corners of our very selves and prompt conversion if we care to look at them. That's what I'm going to rejoice about.
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