Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Friday, October 14, A.D. 2011
Advice for a New Bishop

Philip Lawler has published some great advice for a new bishop on Catholic Culture. Lawler and his friends compiled the list after the recent scandals that have plagued the Latins. Though based on the particular situation of the Roman Church in America, I think that many of Lawler’s recommendations would be useful for Orthodox hierarchs. I laughed heartily as I read some of his points, which are humorous in a rather dark way. Among his suggestions, we read:

Upon arrival, get rid of all paper shredders at the chancery and insist that no work be taken home in briefcases. Make friends with the maintenance man and the wash lady.

Immediately obtain a backup copy of the computer network and secure it for any future audit. Change the locks. Secure the bank accounts. Check stock.

There are probably a large number of people you really have to dismiss quickly: rebellious pastors, effeminate chancery officials, etc. (The less urgent cases can wait; you can use the budget crisis to justify the blow.) Fire them all at once. Plan it carefully to minimize the uproar. Make the announcements late on a Friday afternoon. On Saturday, release that rip-snorting pastoral letter on family life, which you have been drafting since your appointment was announced. Schedule some event Sunday with a big, loyal Catholic group. Tell reporters you’ll answer questions there.

Put the religious orders on notice. Maybe throw out one of the smaller ones just as a warning shot.

Talk to the pro-lifers, identify the level-headed ones, and get their read on your own clergy: who’s solid, who’s good but weak, who belongs to the opposition. Ditto for the lay bureaucrats and hospital admin types.

Having found a few priests you can trust absolutely, spend some long late evenings going over personnel files with them.

Plan for a massive scale-down: school and parish closings, clergy put on waivers, chancery pink slips. You’ll probably have a 6-to 12-month grace period in which you can justify almost any cost-cutting by saying, “Sorry. We have to pay the sodomy bill.” Use it to get rid of the worst personnel and the schools that are beyond hope.

To the extent possible, fly in support to your home-schoolers. Inter alia, almost all the vocations you get (and want to keep) will come from them.

You will find that you have two or three prosperous parishes that are traditional centers of opposition, led by dissident priests. If you had all your priests read that fire-breather pastoral on protecting family life, you’ll probably have enough general lay support—even given the hostility of the media—to face down the bad pastors after they refuse to play ball. Replace them with Nigerians to mute the screams from liberals and to force the worst parishioners to go to the Episcopalians or the Paulists.

Get to know some state troopers. Buy them a round of beer. Tell them that you want to hear about trouble from them, not from the press. Tell them it is a moral obligation to arrest wrong-doers. Ask them to pass the word.

Hire your own director of religious education, and tell him to select new texts throughout. Institute standardized testing to make sure something is happening in CCD classes. Tell parents (and pastors) that kids can’t be confirmed if they do not pass the test. Spot-check when you do confirmations.

Spend a lot of time at the seminary. Arrive unannounced frequently.

When you visit parishes, skip the phony paperwork. Speak to the priests, personnel, and parish council: one-on-one, if possible. Ask them what’s the biggest problem facing the parish. Look for trends in the sacramental index. Check the liquor cabinet in the rectory. Check the grocery bill.

Make a habit of calling priests at random, at odd times. Ask them what they’re doing.

Identify Orthodox Jews, who are big on family values, and make it clear you’re well disposed to them. Not only is it a huge help politically to have an Orthodox rabbi standing next to you when you hold a press conference deploring some abortion-law outrage, but if you can get on the right side of the rift in the Jewish community you can spare yourself aggravation from the liberal Jews who anoint themselves public spokesmen.

Having informed him of your wishes on the matter, dock the diocesan paper editor a day’s pay every time your photo appears. The diocese is not about YOU.

Publish every semester a roster of the theologians and philosophers teaching in your diocese along with their mandatum status. Give a brief but candid explanation for any case in which the mandatum has been denied, e.g., “defects regarding Catholic doctrine on contraception.”

If a complaint comes in on liturgical abuse, phone the pastor and get his side of the story. Make it a policy to write him a letter summarizing the conversation (including his assurances of conformity) and if that complaint was warranted, insist that he post your letter in the vestibule of the church for a month. If the complainant reports no change, send someone to check it out on site.

Find out when Eucharistic adoration is being held at schools and colleges and make it a point of sliding in unexpectedly and joining the students in adoration—not taking center stage, perhaps not even saying a word, but just being shoulder to shoulder at prayer with them.

Find an opportunity to visit all three military service academies once a year and give the cadets the most ferocious rip-roaring homily you can muster (as a clandestine vocation appeal). You’ll bag 6 to 10 a year—not all scholars, but good men from good families. There’s a huge pool of idealism there that’s coming to grips with the disillusionment toward military life. They love folks who promise to make it hard on them.

Kudos to Lawler for the battle plan!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, October 14, Anno Domini 2011
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Monday, October 10, A.D. 2011
Another Example of How the West Is West

Recently, there was an interesting comment thread about infant communion on Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s post, “US Catholic gets nutty about Bp. Olmsted of Phoenix and Communion under both kinds.” Occasionally, WDTPRS readers indulge in Latin triumphalism when differences between the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches arise in discussions. More frequently, though, Fr. Z.‘s many righteous Extraordinary Form peeps simply exhibit a Western mindset that I find alien and troubling. This mindset predates contemporary ecumenical gatherings; it lies close to the Western religious soul. Accordingly, a commentator on the thread quoted the Council of Trent, and the selection exhibits nicely a point that I wish to make:

Chapter IV.

That Little Children Are Not Bound to Sacramental Communion.

Finally, this same Holy Synod teaches, that little children, who have not attained to the use of reason, are not by any necessity obliged to the Sacramental Communion of the Eucharist: forasmuch as, having been regenerated by the laver of Baptism, and being incorporated with Christ, they cannot, at that age, lose the grace which they have already acquired of being the sons of God. Not therefore, however, is antiquity to be condemned, if, in some places, it, at one time, observed that custom; for as those most Holy Fathers had a probable cause for what they did in respect of their times, so, assuredly, is it to be believed without controversy, that they did this without any necessity thereof unto salvation.

On Communion under Both Species, and on the Communion of Infants.

Canon I. If anyone saith, that, by the precept of God, or, by necessity of salvation, all and each of the faithful of Christ ought to receive both species of the Most Holy Sacrament not consecrating; let him be anathema.

Canon II. If anyone saith, that the Holy Catholic Church was not induced, by just causes and reasons, to communicate, under the species of bread only, laymen, and also clerics when not consecrating; let him be anathema.

Canon III. If anyone denieth, that Christ whole and entire – the Fountain and Author of all graces – is received under the one species of bread; because that – as some falsely assert – He is not received, according to the institution of Christ Himself, under both species; let him be anathema.

Canon IV. If anyone saith, that the Communion of the Eucharist is necessary for little children, before they have arrived at years of discretion; let him be anathema. As regards, however, those two articles, proposed on another occasion, but which have not as yet been discussed; to wit, whether the reasons by which the Holy Catholic Church was led to communicate, under the one species of bread only, laymen, and also priests when not celebrating, are in such wise to be adhered to, as that on no account is the use of the chalice to be allowed to anyone soever; and, whether, in case that, for reasons beseeming and consonant with Christian charity, it appears that the use of the chalice is to be granted to any nation or kingdom, it is to be conceded under certain conditions; and what are those conditions: this same Holy Synod reserves the same to another time, – for the earliest opportunity that shall present itself, – to be examined and defined.

The chapter concerns infant communion and the manner of partaking the Eucharist, which was the topic of the WDTPRS thread. The chapter notes that infants communed in antiquity—as they still do in the Orthodox Church—but it states that this is not necessary for them because they have not attained the age of reason and cannot bring sin upon themselves, their original sin having been cleaned through baptism. The implication is that Christians participate in the Eucharist as a means to acquire salvific grace that one only needs in response to one’s sins and shortcomings. I find such perverse. The Eucharist is the central act of the Christian life—why should children of the Church not participate? The decision basically states that we only commune because we sin.

We smell here that focus on atonement that pervades Western spirituality. According to this tendency, God does not really adopt us to share in his life; he simply throws us a life raft and rescues us from our own ill doing. Certainly, we are saved, and we know from what we are saved, but for what are we saved? The Roman Church has maintained the apostolic message, but large swaths of Western piety and theology appear remarkably unconcerned about the ultimate goal of man’s salvation.

Moreover, there is a common and disquieting tendency in papism to treat the Christian life as necessary chores. One sees this with episcopal dispenations. Bishops excuse their flocks from aspects of Christian devotion or practices as if they were not intrisically valuable but only externally required as acts of obedience. Of course, some dispensations make sense because they allow for one good to trump another good, and pastorally minded shepherds look after the good of their rational sheep. Yet, most dispensations of Latin bishops seem to suggest that the liturgy, confession, and traditional piety are necessary unpleasantries that Christians must tolerate, as a patient must tolerate injections or nasty tasting medicine. We hear the same attitude when the Latins boast of thirty minute masses in the same way that a man might express relief that he only had to wait a short time at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Worshiping the King of all holds a similar place in one’s life as the burden of getting new license tags? Likewise, why should infants commune if they need not do so to avoid hell? We would not want them to experience any extra grace or closeness with the Lord that is not absolutely needful.

Western minimalism does not only spring from Luther and his rebels.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 10, Anno Domini 2011
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