February 5, 2017
I don’t mean to be an alarmist about closing of parishes or the mental and spiritual health of priests; that’s not even where I started out to go with this series of meanderings. But church life is changing and we must be ready and willing to change with it.
The study of the history of the liturgy of Lent and Holy Week led to Pius XII’s decision to revise the content and the times for the services of that period. Following Vatican II, the changes continued in order to highlight the baptismal character of these days and celebrations and shift away from the ‘anniversary’ tone that had prevailed – for example, Good Friday ceased to be a ‘funereal’ liturgy and became a ‘commemoration of the Lord’s Passion’ celebrated in red vestments, rather than black.
The fact is that the early Church of Rome spent more time and energy on the preparation for and the celebration of Baptism than it did on ordaining new clergy types. This attention to the creation of new Christians may well be reflective of the likelihood that they would become martyrs – something lay Roman Christians did in much larger numbers than did the clergy. Being baptized was a deadly serious matter! Thus, it required serious preparation.
‘Freedom of religion’ has come to mean the total exclusion of religion from the public sphere. Thus, the only way any of us will ever become martyrs is by refusing to be silent about our beliefs and the policy and economic and societal consequences thereof. Open our mouths and we will find ourselves pilloried and mocked and prejudged, even if we are in agreement with a secular position for religious reasons!
Not only does this privatized version of religion result in fewer martyrs, it also results the confinement of religious practice – even amongst the ‘faithful’ to specific times and places. Since this religious mentality does not demand the whole of one’s life, it ceases to be thought of a something that could make sense of the whole of one’s life – or even much of one’s life. Religious vocations decline, Mass attendance becomes what you do if there is nothing else to do, and people are too busy with other activities for Churches to flourish in the ways they did even thirty years ago.
Until those of us who have been baptized – to say nothing of being ordained -- are willing to be so politically incorrect that we are willing to mention our religious convictions even when such mention is unwelcome, religion will become more and more what its enemies call it: superstition, the security of the elderly, the source of all the evils in society, a pre-modern, anti-scientific world view.
And when those of us who are ordained have the effrontery to address cultural and societal issues from a religious point of view, we are accused of bringing politics into church. Oh! If only religion had more role in politics!
As long as Mr. Jefferson’s ‘great wall’ between Church and State endures and the State is assumed to be all-wise and all-competent, religion will wane. As long as the ‘wall’ endures it will have to be the baptized who keep religion relevant in political life and keep the church alive as a viable and vital force in the world.
Really and truly and indubitably yours,