Sunday, March 12, 2006

On centers and medians

Mark Sargent of Mirror of Justice blog asks where the political extremes fall in the Catholic Church, and in turn, where the center falls. To him, determining the center seems to be an exercise in perspectivalism:
Rick raises a good question about my post over at dotCommonweal re the dominance of the "extreme right" in Catholic discourse and in the general media, wondering whether I consider Father Neuhaus, George Weigel and others (Robbie George, for example) extreme. Whether one considers another "extreme," depends upon where one stands. More important, it depends upon where the "center" or the "core" is. Those of us who self-dentify as Commonweal Catholics tend to see ourselves as occupying a center position between more radical groups on the "left" (again, the term does not track entirely the political meaning of "left) such as Call to Action and writers such as Wills and Carroll, and the aforementioned writers on the right (same reservation re the political meaning of "right"), with whom we differ to varying degrees on a whole host of issues. Of course, as the recent exchange between Robbie and Mike P and Eduardo suggests, those writers regard themselves as speaking for the core of Catholicism, an assumption with which many of us would argue. Nevertheless, the secular press increasingly looks to that group as the voice of American Catholicism, which at least I regard as a problem.
Problem: Sargent seems to be relying on the ol' straight line metaphor of political affiliation where there are two opposing end points and not so much a center but, to be more geometrically precise, a median. The American way is to identify everything and everybody along a linear axis - a very dualistic way of looking at the world, which of couse, stems from a typically Protestant worldview. "Center" is indeed an apt metaphor for the Catholicism's "belief map," but within a sphere or circle metaphor. What Sargent calls "extremes" are more accurately "peripheries," for in Catholicism, there is a true center: the apostolic teaching of the ages, including past ecumenical councils and ongoing Magisterial guidance. Just so there's no confusion, the center I am referring to here is not an ontological or liturgical center, which could only be occupied by Christ, but rather an ideological or doctrinal center which must be occupied by apostolic teaching and authority.

So in my view, Commonweal is consistently "medianist" (rather than "centrist"), which allows them to be too easily pushed and pulled by the ideological winds of the day. All one has to do to move the median is move the end point. The GOP of the post-Gingrich era has used this strategy to great effect. And that's just too shaky a foundation for one's politics or doctrine. With no objective anchoring point of reference, Commonweal's "centrism" is another's liberalism and yet another's conservatism, which is why "moderate" and "centrism" are highly misleading terms for Catholics. Pope Benedict and JPII have demonstrated themselves to be the true "centrists" of our Church. Medianism may at times be in line with true centrism, but more often than not, it is simply screaming at the umpire from the upper bleachers.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pope no longer Patriarch of the West

I really don't know what to make of the Pope's decision to drop "Patriarch of the West" from his resume. If, as the Holy Whappers believe, this move signifies a first step in distinguishing his jurisdictional role over the Western Church from the Petrine role over all of Christendom, then it seems perfectly legitimate and reasonable given the our mission to restore unity with the Eastern Church. Pragmatically, however, if this is just the first step in dismantling Papal jurisdiction over the entire Latin Rite the world over, I fear we're in for chaos.

Many have noted that the ideal scenario is that we'd have multiple patriarchs around the world, eg. one for Latin America, one for Africa, one for Asia, or what have you, just like they do in the East. The problem I have is that this sentiment seems to ignore history. The churches currently under the jurisdictional authority of Rome are not like the Eastern autocephs which are to their credit, for the most part, guided by Christ from within, ie. from a profound reverence for the "unchanging" nature of the Divine Liturgy. Inculturation for the East is judicious and organic, not ideological or manufactured. They haven't really needed an extrinsic authority figure to tell them what to do with the Liturgy. Sure, there have been a few messy bumps and flareups with the Old Calendrists, etc. But they have what the West lacks: a Patristic and Apostolic passion for Christ in the Liturgy.

The Latin Rite churches all over the world, by contrast, have grown so used to receiving guidance and discipline from Rome, I think the Liturgy will run amok for decades if Rome abandons jurisdictional control of the Mass, creating more schisms, before any apostolic normalcy is restored. Just look at how the Western churches have mutilated the Mass post-V2, even with all the formal directives from the Vatican.

The best counterargument is exactly what I've mentioned - that top-down management of the Liturgy obviously invites an extrinsicist view of what constitutes the local church, and hence dissent and resistance against the dictates of Rome. The East has done remarkably well for 2000 years without a unitary centralizing power. But that begs the chicken and the egg question: Can the dispersal of jurisdictional power actually cause greater respect for and adherence to the Apostolic Tradition? Or is it only an effect of some other preexisting cause?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Elken Liturgy

Philip Yancey writes about his attempts to meet God in prayer while on a rustic prayer retreat and my goodness, how these people so need good liturgy!
To my great fortune, a herd of 147 elk (I had plenty of time to count them) wandered into the very field where I was sitting. To see one elk is exciting; to watch 147 elk in their natural habitat is enthralling. But I soon learned that to watch 147 elk for two hours is, to put it mildly, boring. They lowered their heads and chewed grass. They raised their heads in unison and looked at a raspy crow. They lowered their heads again and chewed grass. For two hours, nothing else happened. No mountain lions attacked; no bulls charged each other. All the elk bent over and chewed grass.

After a while, the very placidity of the scene began to affect me. The elk had not noticed my presence, and I simply melded into their environment, taking on their rhythms. I no longer thought about the work I had left at home, the deadlines facing me, the reading that Brennan had assigned. My body relaxed. In the leaden silence, my mind fell quiet.
All the reactions Yancey describes in his Natural Geographic moment with the elk are represented in the Sacred Liturgy. It's just sad he had to learn it from hoofed beasts rather than from Mother Church.

Uppity evie chaplains

This is what you get for rejecting the sacraments and for basing the bulk of your religion on trying to convince those "liturgical Christians" that they aren't really Christians. They've been sitting around in their tents on days like today twiddling their thumbs while all those liturgical people were going to Mass and getting ashes on their foreheads.

How unfair! they thought. We feel so left out! No, wait, they're filling themselves with all these external, pious, self-righteous religious acts, the kind Paul condemned loud and clear in Scripture - they really need Jesus! Telling them how wrong they are is an essential part of our constitutional right to free exercise, darnit!

Navy fires them for forgetting that the Navy is not a church or a religious marketplace (duh). Evie chaplains sue for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to keep the Navy from giving them the boot. DC Circuit tells these plaintiffs: sit down! Subtext of Navy's actions - sacramental religions work much better with military culture, because they know who their flock is and keep it simple. They also have an intrinsic appreciation for authority and order (where's the authority and order when your entire religion is founded on a preference for personal revelations over the authority of the Body of Christ across time and space?). Subtext of DC Circuit action - the military has enough to worry about and evies need a reality check. Subtext of my post - alright, alright! so I still got an axe to grind, but these guys are giving the U.S. Armed Forces every reason to simply close down the entire Chaplain Corps.