Saturday, January 07, 2012

Pray, tell….

I haven’t the foggiest recollection when I first heard that lovely invocation. Was it in high school somewhere in the three years of drama classes? Earlier in a required novel in Jr.High? Doesn’t matter, really. It struck me as so quaint, so colloquial (words I understood as a young boy), this “pray, tell…” It encapsulated a feeling that could also blossom into other words like “beckoning, entreaty, compact” and so forth.
So when Fr. Anthony Ruff started up his blog brand as “PRAY TELL,” I anticipated good things to come, new words, wisdom and wit over old ideas and thoughts about worship. I also thought “How clever of Fr. Ruff. Pray, tell….ah, the inside scoop!”
So, it grieves me to call into question the veracity of intention and very integrity of what purports to be simply a forum for worship, wisdom and wit about liturgy, ecclesiology, moral theology and, above all, faith. What I’m issuing is not a “hit piece” born out of frustration or “sour grapes” from having been rebuffed there, insulted or otherwise marginalized. (In fact, I loathe the cloak of victimization as a rationale for words and deeds as a reaction. However, to me it seems that so much bandwidth by the regular habitu├ęs are quite motivated, admit it or not, by their perceptions of victimization.) No, this amounts to my last love letter to an ideal and the people whom I trusted shared in some basic Christian tenets, both in philosophy, disciplines and behaviors; this was an unrequited love, to sound maudlin.

A New Year’s Resolution: Charity in Discussion- Jan 4
Posted by Other Voices in Uncategorized

This reprinted post, prefaced by Fr. Ruff, made quite a splash and subsequent vortex rings in many other Catholic (liturgy) blogs. The perspective of my good friend Todd Flowerday at CATHOLIC SENSIBILITY had the most resonance for me. He seems to be questioning the timing of the PTB post’s unveiling, but I think the truth of the matter he makes in his last statement sentence of this excerpt:

And perhaps there is something self-serving in a public resolution to good (or improved) behavior. I cannot say I will be joining those who are suggesting better behavior just because the clicker changed from a 1 to a 2, or December is rolled over into the month of the two-faced god. Maybe Janus is a caution for those of us who have less than pure intentions to our intentions.What can I say for myself, then? This blog is mainly about the liturgy and other aspects of church ministry and theology that appeal to me.
PRAY TELL has made that extraordinary splash into Catholic Blogdom’s Q factor, primarily via the sequential scaffolding of articles and opinions calling into question and unrestrained (in a manners) criticism of all things concerning the roll out of the Third Typical Edition of the English language Roman Missal, from process, people and politics, to content, contentiousness and conspiracies. For over two years enough hay was raised to feed every cow in every dairy from California to Wisconsin in hundreds of articles. And most of those articles resulted in literally hundreds of combox replies that ran the entire gamut and spectrum of opinion, dogmatic declarations, reportage from all points of the English compass, some of whose authors’ identity was protected (contrary to the blog’s own founding stipulations regarding transparency) and a great deal of scholarly postulation and displays of such prowess that was often left undisguised to suppress any practical plebian concerns by the scholastically infirm or unwashed.

Now, just for fun, scroll up at the headline of the January 4th posting, re-read the title to get its gist, and then count the number of responses. And make your own conclusion, do your own math, pray tell what you think the interest level towards this resolution garnered among the well-known illuminati of PTB?
Of course, you might think you know what I’m thinking. You’d be wrong. In my heart, I believe were someone to cull through my combox replies and my personal emails to Fr. Anthony and his fellow editor Ms. Ferrone, they’d find a consistent call for both clarity as well as charity. Which leads me to ask, not answer, why were there only a handful of folks interested in re-orienting the discourse at PTB towards the original author’s admonitions? I would have wanted hundreds to match the volume of those (quite vitriolic), armed with pedigrees and credibility in all sorts of ivory towers, libraries and lecture halls, but who rarely displayed any evidence of humility such as if they were standing at the narthex doors of the Dom in Cologne, and all that they noticed was that those doors hadn’t be laquered properly and outrage demands accountability and redress!
Evidence: One of those who did respond to the January 4th post:
This sort of reaction was also not foreign to many such sentiments in the PTB comboxes. And, as in this case, it remains unmitigated, un-noticed and un-challenged within the context of PTB being a “Catholic Blog” in principle. (And please, deconstructing that presumption as argument is pointless and disingenuous, I don’t see a point in “going there.”) Abetting this sort of mob mentality cum American feistiness cum French Revolution “Off with their heads” sentiment are many more posts by academics who routinely demean men who’ve received holy orders by insinuations over their dressage, their orthodoxy, their commitment to be servants of the servants, and come close to edge of invoking Godwin's Law with subtexts under those insinuations. But these and other sympathizers simultaneously hoist Fr. Anthony and others who were rightly subjected to blatant injustices on their shoulders as the peoples’ champions. Who is to make sense of this rabble? Fr. Anthony, you, me? Of course not. There is no sense, if a mob mentality, no matter how refined and tasteful it may appear, is in full place and force.
 Hang in there! We can overvome (sic) this ridiculous liturgical crackdown from the Rome. Let’s just keep praying that the next pope is a Vatican 2 pope. As an English speaking Catholic, I refuse to kneel at any part of the mass. When priests are required to kneel, then I’ll kneel. I knelt enough as a youngster and refuse to go there a again. We need to assert our baptismal rights at the table and stop walking on liturgical eggshells! WE are Church, NOT Rome! WE celebrate! WE believe!
Last evidence: Worship, Wit and Wisdom personified? An article appeared this morning at PTB republishing the thoughts of one Mr. Jeff DeGraft that recounts his apparent first encounter with the revised texts of MR3 in the Huffington Post. Mr. DeGraft is not a liturgist, though he does have scholarly degrees, and his article is definitely couched in terms that would identify him as a “reasonable man” who is a “person in the pew.” An excerpt from Mr. DeGraft’s account:

I was in a positively ebullient mood as I went off to Christmas Mass at St. Mary's with my family in tow. The senses were amped up for the big production: stained glass, plainsong, frankincense and myrrh -- the works…That's the rhythm of the Mass. You know the longest running show on Broadway -- everyone knows the words and sings along. But someone blew their lines. I believe it all started with the priest, or was it the Vatican, I'm not really sure. All I know is that is that in an instant the synchronized syllables became a mush of puffery as the congregation struggled to make sense of the whole mess.
Prayers aren't just words. They are the way we talk with God. That's the brand promise of the universal church -- like McDonald's, it's the same everywhere. You can attend Mass in an overcrowded parking lot in China where services are in Cantonese and not miss a beat -- I've done it. All together now -- stand, kneel, cross yourself and repeat after me.
So Mass is now new and improved but not necessarily the good kind. It's more like Michael Bolton's foppish cover of "Georgia on My Mind" (Senator, you're no Ray Charles) or maybe the introduction of New Coke (Young man, you will drink it and like it). Yes, that's it -- the New Mass as New Coke.
I never liked New Coke, so I didn't buy it. I just kept drinking the regular brew. Similarly, I suggest that we say our prayers in our own voice. If that's the old way, great, or if you are feeling particularly creative maybe you make up your own words - just like the big shots do. Or we can just leave the translating to God. Jeff DeGraft, Huffington Post Religion article, Jan 6 12
And, as if right on cue, PTB co-editor Rita Ferrone offered this huzzah to Mr. DeGraft's insight-

The comparison to New Coke was clever. I think he has put his finger on how a lot of people feel. (Note 11K facebook “likes.”) “Funny thing is that when you trust your people they have a tendency to return the favor.” Amen to that.

How does one reasonably discuss the ritual language at the center of our corporate prayer with a gentleman who, in the same breath, declares “Prayers aren't just words. They are the way we talk with God. That's the brand promise of the universal church -- like McDonald's…”? So, it appears that professorial pundit-level can condescend at will to such surface and superficial observation and analysis about cleverness, feelings and liking regarding the appropriate language with which we approach the "source and summit of our being." And who are the parties entered into a compact that presumes trust will be returned with favor? The institutional church and the faithful? The Sacrifice of the Holy Mass is now a contract over a human transaction of which the Lord God had no covenantal part, much less being regarded as Author and Giver?

And even more perplexing to me…? How does Fr. Anthony justify the evidence of a very unsteady, unjust and arbitrary hand at the editorial wheel of PTB, while demanding “evidence, please” of anyone who doesn’t cite when they surmise, and turning a deaf ear, like Captain Queeg (“The Caine Mutiny) to the sound advice of his subordinates who, like him, have made a covenant not only of loyalty to the chain of command (which on board is the confines of the ship) but to the highest authority, the Constitution?
I think if I ever encounter Fr. Anthony in any way again, and I do hope to as my respect for him will ever remain (like I said, this is a plea; if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother…), I hope to remember to invite him to allow a couple of hours one easy day, and put his feet up and take in a viewing of “The Caine Mutiny.”
Like Todd points out about resolutions on January 1, the image on the namesake coin for this month is of Janus, two faces not in opposition, but estranged from each others’ visage. Please render that coin to Caesar on my behalf, Fr. Anthony.