Sunday, October 09, 2005

Journey to Rome

Reflections on my journey to Rome
In medias res


The holy tears . . .

Today at Mass at St. Colman's. I had attended Quaker Meeting at 10 AM at Radnor and then went to the 12 Noon Mass at St. Colman's. My feelings about the Quakers are complicated, but it is now certain that while their intentions are pure, and I appreciate their anti-militarism, these virtues alone are not sufficient. This protestantized world seems so sad, with people lacking access to the Holy Ritual to take them out of themselves. Thank God no one mentioned the Catholic Scandals in today's Meeting: I don't think I could have stood it. I have avoided going to the Meeting ever since the Scandals broke, and the newspaper has been full of it. Today a few people shared good feelings - I mean, one mentioned that it was the time of Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah, and the recent earthquake which killed 20,000 people in Kashmir... and then another woman mentioned a recent religious event where a priest, a rabbi and an imam had all gotten together and affirmed that they all worshipped the One God, and how inspiring that was for her.

I was reminded of a passage I had underlined in Georges Bernanos' book, The Diary of a Country Priest---"Comforting truths, they call it! Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterwards. Besides, you've no right to call that sort of thing comfort. Might as well talk about condolences! The Word of God is a red-hot iron..."

The speaker, the Curé of Torcy, describes the kind of priest who preaches the "comforting truths" -- "who descends from his pulpit...with a mouth like a hen's vent, a little hot but pleased with himself, he's not been preaching: at best he's been purring like a tabby-cat."

Most of the Quaker witness I have heard this past year have been little more than the purrings of a tabby-cat. Is it any wonder that I have sought the Catholics?Radnor Meeting is a beautiful old meeting house in the suburban green land, with a hillside full of graves behind it and well-tended trees. St. Colman's, by contrast, is in Ardmore - a beautiful old church, to be sure, but with no green around it, only pavement and parking lot, and across the street a string of automobile sales yards, the new and used cars sporting American flags. Certainly this is no beautiful setting. But to enter this Church and attend this Mass is to be in another order of reality altogether. It felt to be not only in a different world from the Quakers, but on a different planet. And yet this is not true, for the Quaker Meeting and the Catholic Mass exist or rather co-exist in this world and in this same city.

Two weeks ago, when the Grand Jury report was put out and the Philadelphia Inquirer leapt at the opportunity it provided to -- once again -- take up the cudgels against the Catholic Faith, Father Tadeusz Pacholoczyk conducted the Mass. He gave a long homily, first apologizing --"for I have much to share with you today." His talk was pew-gripping intelligent -- not glossing over the problems of the sexual abuse scandals, but not omitting mention either of the anti- Catholic sentiments fomented in the way the press handled them. He managed to weave a good bit of history and theology into his remarks; I felt I was witness of a long and ongoing drama, of a story that had been told before, confronted before, atoned before. "Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church..."

The Catholic Church has always known itself to be the Church of sinners: it has always clasped this knowledge of human negation, so to speak, to itself. It was something the Jews refused to grasp, and the Protestants negated. Protestantism is thus, in a manner of speaking, a kind of double negation. It is primarily a negation of Catholicism, and, being in effect a form of negation, it let slip the firewalls which Catholicism had erected concerning the knowledge of sin -- the original negation. A double negative is thus not a positive; it is only a contortion. I think this explains many of our woes today, from the abuse of our land to the abuses of our politics. More on these matters in time.

I was, in fact, overwhelmed, by Father Tad's homily; and afterwards, when we were streaming out, I gripped his hand and practically shouted in his face: "Wonderful, wonderful! I felt like clapping!" He was at first taken aback but then he smiled when he understood my import, and gave me his blessing.Indeed this young priest -- he is perhaps 35 or 40 -- is a star -- or so I feel the term is not amiss when describing the presence of a spiritualized intelligence. Father Tad, Ph.D. is on the staff of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and lives, when in Philadelphia, at the St. Colman's Rectory. Indeed, St. Colman's is richly blessed in its priests. Father Sherwood is often present at the RCIA sessions which I attend, conducted by Deacon Shaeffer and his wife. There is in addition Father Wright, who is retired, but still conducts Masses; and a Father Maloney who assists on weekends. All of these priests, as well as the Deacon and his wife, as well as the women lay readers during the services, impress me with their devotion and faithfulness. No one has ever struck a false note or said a false thing. Every Mass I have attended has been conducted with beauty, truthful simplicity and honor. In short, I have found a faithful Catholic parish two miles from my home. I am utterly thankful for this miracle.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity -- an important book in my conversion stages. Some quotes:

"The most fundamental feature of Christian faith ...is,namely, its personal character. Christian faith is more than the option in favor of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not 'I believe in something,' but 'I believe in you.'...

...The logos of the whole world, the creative original thought, is at the same time love; in fact this thought is creative because, as thought, it is love, and, as love, it is thought. It becomes apparent that truth and love are originally identical; that where they are completely realized they are not two parallel or even opposing realities but one, the one and only absolute...

To this extent one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom... the Christian option for the logos means an option for the personal, creative meaning [and] ... at the same time an option for the primacy of the particular as against the universal. . .

But if the logos of all being, the being that upholds and encompasses everything, is consciousness, freedom, and love, then it follows... that the supreme factor in the world is not cosmic necessity but freedom. The implications of this are very extensive. For this leads to the conclusion that freedom is evidently the necessary structure of the world... and this again means that one can only comprehend the world as incomprehensible...

With the boldness and greatness of a world defined by the structure of freedom there comes also the somber mystery of the demonic, which emerges from it to meet us...As the arena of love [the world] is also the playground of freedom and also incurs the risk of evil. It accepts the mystery of darkness for the sake of the greater light constituted by freedom and love . . ....

The doctrine of the Trinity did not arise out of speculation about God.... it developed out of the effort to digest historical experience. ..God stands above singular and plural. He bursts both categories...

To him who believes in God as tri-une, the highest unity is not the unity of inflexible monotony...... When it becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being 'from' and 'toward,' which nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality) and, as pure relation, pure unity.....

... From the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the most profound sense to himself, not through what he does, but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift. It cannot be 'made' on own's own, without anyone else; one must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved...

...The primacy of acceptance is not meant to condemn man to passivity... On the contrary, it alone makes it possible to do the things of this world in a spirit of responsibility, yet at the same time in an uncramped, cheerful, free way, and to put them at the service of redemptive love.

...The disinterested character of simple adoration is man's highest possibility; it alone forms his true and final liberation.

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