Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Signing Off. . . at least for now

Gentle Readers,

As has been obvious, I have found it increasingly difficult to post on this blog with any regularity for quite some time.  The fact is, I have dedicated much of my professional and ministerial life for the last 25 years to promoting, studying and teaching about the renewed diaconate in the Catholic Church.  I had hoped that starting a blog would facilitate some of that effort, and it has been, for me, a real act of love.

However, I have found that various other priorities -- family, diocesan ministry, teaching, parish ministry, writing (I am currently working on four book projects, plus I'm a regular contributor to Priest and Deacon Digest) and traveling to direct retreats and to present at convocations of priests and deacons -- are just keeping me from being able to give the necessary attention to the poor blog.  What I need is a good blog editor who would be willing to take that on for me!  Comments from readers critical of my sporadic postings (as well as criticizing what I DO choose to post; seems like others had a view of what this blog -- my personal blog, no less -- should be!) have confirmed me in this decision.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, I'm signing off the blog.  If you have any need to contact me, please find me on Facebook or e-mail me at billditewig@msn.com.

God bless all here, and be good servants to each other!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Indiana Jones and Liturgical Translation

On several levels, I find the recent article by John R. Donahue, SJ in Commonweal to be a brilliant and insightful example of liturgical and theological scholarship at its best.  In fact, I have begun giving the article to students as a good example of academic methodology.  Read the whole article right here.  In "Cup or Chalice? The Large Implications of a Small Change," Fr. Donahue focuses on just one of the recent liturgical changes, and one that seems fairly innocuous at first.  But small changes considered cumulatively can add up to something quite significant.  Before turning to specific concerns, let's first consider some basic tenets of communications.

Whether we refer to the vessel used by Jesus as a "cup" or a "chalice" may not seem like much at first, but as Fr. Donahue illustrates, it matters greatly.  What some of those involved in these translations seem to have missed is something that every first year student of communications theory understands well.  Let's consider some basics.  We begin with an idea which we desire to communicate to another person.  It's deep inside my head and heart, however, so I have to find a way to encode what I mean in a variety of ways.  Perhaps I will choose words as these symbols; perhaps I will draw a picture or sing a song; perhaps I will simply do something that expresses the inner reality.  Once the internal message is "encoded" we need to find the best medium by which to transmit that message. Perhaps I will write a book or compose a poem.  And then comes the challenging part: I know what I want to say, and I've worked hard to find the best words and other symbols to assist in communicating that message; however, the recipient of my communication must be able to receive and "decode" those words and other symbols in a manner that comes close to replicating my original meaning.  With any luck, that internal reality that was in me has now found resonance in the other person.  In other words, it's not just important that I get the words right; the recipients need to be able to "get them right" as well, or any attempt at communication will be lost.  How do we know whether this has happened?  This takes place through the most important part of the communications loop: the feedback loop.  This is how we know whether or not our message has been understand as we intended.  How many times in life have we had to say, "Oh, that's not what I meant!" when someone responded to something we've said or written or done?

After seven months of the "new" translation, what is being communicated via that "feedback loop"?  Fr. Donahue mentions the stumbling over prayers (especially, I would note, the Collects) by presiders, the "resignation" of all to the various archaic English expressions which were supposed to evoke a sense of elevation, reverence and awe, according to the proponents of the translation.  Instead, the language in many cases simply sounds and feels remote and artificial according to the many comments made by parishioners. Furthermore, and this is something not mentioned by Fr. Donahue, but something that  I feel is quite significant: From what I have experienced over these months in assisting as deacon at many Masses presided over by many different priests has been a tendency to "re-write" (especially the Collects) the prayers, usually on the fly, in order to help them be more understandable in proclaimed form.  While I applaud the pastoral sensitivity involved, I would simply point out that this opens the door to increasing adaptation of the very texts which its designers sought to avoid!

More disturbing, of course, is the further "distancing" caused by many of the choices made in the new translation.  By focusing exclusively on the Latin text, and despite the claims of proponents to the contrary, we have distanced our liturgical language from our more ancient scriptural and liturgical roots.  "Faithfulness to the Latin" -- and even how well that claim stands up to scrutiny is a matter of debate in itself! -- has undercut the intentions of both Dei Verbum and Sacrosanctum Concilium by cutting us off not only from the more ancient terms found in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, but from the rich tapestry of meanings those ancient terms sought to convey.  Vatican II wanted the sacraments to be characterized by a "noble simplicity", and in language accessible to all with ease.

Turning to Fr. Donahue's specific question, I would only add that, in my opinion, the repeated use of "chalice" constitutes an anachronism.  The term "chalice" in modern times has come to mean the kind of liturgical vessel familiar to many at Mass; we don't speak of wine "chalices" in our homes, or even in fancy restaurants.  The term is almost exclusively used in reference to a church vessel.  As Fr. Donahue points out, there was a Greek version of a more ornate liturgical vessel reflected by its own Greek word, but the fact is, such a Temple cup was NOT what Christ used, nor is that what is referred to throughout most of Judeo-Christian scriptures!  What IS referred to is a cup, plain and simple.  To retroject the word "chalice" into the liturgical language is, in short, anachronistic, misplaced, and misleading.  Put simply, the focus of the translation seems to be on the first half of the communications loop: finding the right symbols and meanings to translate the Latin text, without paying any real significant attention to the second half of the loop: How will all of this be received, translated and interpreted by the people receiving the message?

I find it interesting and amusing that even Hollywood understands all of this quite well, and perhaps the proponents of the change from "cup" to "chalice" might have benefited from re-watching that great theological epic, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (which, I might point out, was all about the quest for the Holy Grail: the CUP that Jesus used at the Last Supper).  In the climactic scene the villain and the hero must choose which vessel was the one used by Christ. The villain chooses the most ornate "chalice" of all the vessels there, saying that this was truly worthy of "the King of Kings"; in doing so, in "choosing poorly" (as the ancient guardian proclaims), the villain is doomed.  The hero, conversely, chooses the "cup" of a carpenter's son; he has "chosen wisely" and is able to find renewed life.

As a deacon, linguist and theologian, I have found the journey of "reception" of the newest translation of the Roman Missal to be a mixed bag at best.  These "little" examples ("cup" vs. "chalice", "many" vs "all", and of course who can forget "dewfall," "consubstantial" and "oblation"?) add up to an effective rejection of the positions taken by the world's Catholic bishops gathering in council at Vatican II: that the liturgy should be expressed in language easily understood, grounded in the most ancient Tradition of the church, and in ways that would ensure the "full, conscious and active participation" of all.  I find that just the opposite is happening, and that many of our parishioners are finding that when coupled with so many other examples of ecclesial "distancing" from the real lives and problems of people, this becomes just one more reason to walk away from the institutional dimensions of the Church.

The symbols chosen for us are not being interpreted and understood as intended, which means we must go back to the drawing board and try again.  We must choose wisely.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Vatican II, Conscience, Error and Rights

Much has been written lately about "conscience" as it relates to public policy in the United States.  There have been statements about policies which would expect "the Church" or "institutions of the Church" (such as hospitals and schools) to "violate their consciences."  It seems to me that a helpful and necessary first step in reflecting on all of this is a quick review of the Church's teaching on the nature and exercise of "conscience."  To do that, we turn to the Second Vatican Council.

In the Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (#16) we read: "Deep within his conscience a person discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells him inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For a person has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be judged. His conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary."  This quote gives us one of the best descriptions out there about the conscience.  Notice that this is not a corporate conscience, but a radically individual conscience: "There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."

Later in the same document (#76), the public impact of individual conscience is described: "It is of supreme importance, especially in a pluralistic society, to work out a proper vision of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between the activities of Christians, acting individually or collectively in their own name as citizens guided by the dictates of Christian conscience, and their activity acting along with their pastors in the name of the Church."  Perhaps this is precisely the point we find ourselves struggling with at this point of time in our political life: we are involved in trying to "work out" that vision.

Cardinal Bea with Blessed John XXIII
Cardinal Bea
The other day, during a conversation on some of these issues, a person quoted the old cliche that "error has no rights" and, in his opinion, that ended the argument!  I came across a wonderful insight from one of the great leaders of the Second Vatican Council: Cardinal Augustin Bea.  Cardinal Bea, a Bavarian Jesuit and a close friend of Pope John XXIII, was a long-time scripture scholar who had been Pope Pius XII's confessor.  Pope John created Fr. Bea a Cardinal (he was not a bishop) in 1959, and he became the first head of the office promoting Christian Unity and the relationship of the Catholic Church to other faiths.  On 13 January 1963, after the second session of the Council, Cardinal Bea gave a lecture at Pro Deo University in Rome.  During his talk, he spoke of the liberty of conscience and that he would be working on the document which would address "the inviolability of the human conscience as the final right of every person, no matter what his religious beliefs or ideological allegiance."  He referred to the axiom that "error has no right to exist," but he proclaimed that although this is a popular expression used "glibly by"certain Catholic apologists," this statement is "sheer nonsense."  He correctly (in my opinion) points out that "error is an abstract concept incapable of either rights or obligations."  Rather, it is human persons who have rights, and even when persons are in error "their right to freedom of conscience was absolute."

I'll wrap this up for now, although I'm sure we will all continue to reflect on all of this over the days, weeks and months ahead.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pastoral Ministry in a "Time of Testing"

Dr. Wunibald Muller
Benedictine Father Anthony Ruff, at the PrayTell blog, recently offered a translation of a talk given by psychologist Wunibald Muller at a recent conference at the University of Graz in Austria.  Fr. Ruff's post may be read in its entirety here.  The talk gives some fascinating insights into the mind of the pastoral ministers who have consulted Dr. Muller, including the following:

1) He speaks "a growing chasm between personal convictions and what is expected by church employers, between personal dialogue and a 'clericalist manner'. . . .  Many pastoral workers suffer from being overburdened, oftentimes along with health problems such as burn-out."

2)  He describes church ministers who “went into ministry under completely different conditions, with completely different expectations.” Church workers report with ever greater frequency that they strive to be loyal to the church, but this makes them feel “disloyal to their own soul.”

3) Muller reports that many of the church workers he works with (including members of the clergy) expend much of their energy “maintaining the external facade and hiding what they really think and live.”

4)  Dr. Muller concludes that the Church's ministers today need an ability to cope with conflict and resilience.  “If we as church coworkers do not wish to become resigned, we must be ready to take up the balancing act of dealing with the concrete situation in the church on the one hand, without selling our heart and soul on the other hand.”

I think many of us in ministry can find much value and resonance in what Dr. Muller has found in his work with other pastoral ministers. He refers to a need for ministers to find "crisis energy" in dealing with this "chasm."  I also think all of us can benefit from a serious reflection on where we find ourselves in this issue.  The results of dealing with such a crisis on a personal level can lead to ministerial burnout and worse.  In keeping with my last posting, regarding the balance between contemplation and action, much of our prayerful contemplation must include an honest assessment of where we find ourselves in terms of personal conviction and public responsibilities.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Diaconal Balance: Contemplation and Action

Over at "Whispers in the Loggia," Rocco recently reported on the papal audience of 25 April, in which Pope Benedict reflected extensively on Acts 6.  Since this passage has often been associated throughout the Tradition as having particular relevance for deacons, I offer the following.

Contemplation -- then, Action!
The pope, in his remarks, drew attention to Peter’s understanding of the problem being faced by the growing number of Christians living in Jerusalem: On the one hand, the needs of the Greek speaking community of Jerusalem needed to be met, and quickly; on the other, the Twelve recognized that they couldn’t do it all by themselves.  They needed to remain free for prayer and preaching the Gospel.  Both contemplation and action were needed as part of the Christian community.  As the pope noted: “In every age the saints have stressed the deep vital unity between contemplation and activity.”

I have written often about the balance that is essential in the ministry and life of a permanent deacon: balance between family and ministerial obligations, balance between his secular employment and ecclesial ministry, and even the balance that should exist between and among the deacon’s participation in the three-fold service of Word, Sacrament and Charity.  However, the pope has pointed out perhaps the most fundamental balancing act for all of us in ministry: the balance between prayerful contemplation and ministerial action.

“Prayer, nourished by faith and enlightened by God’s word, enables us to see things in a new way and to respond to new situations with the wisdom and insight bestowed by the Holy Spirit,” observed the pope.  This form of “contemplative seeing” should be at the heart of all Christians, especially those called and ordained to serve others in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church.  Peter directs the community to find seven persons of good reputation who are filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  All three attributes are important.

“Good reputation” means that those selected already have credibility within their own community prior to any subsequent responsibilities they may assume.  We frequently remind seminarians and candidates for the diaconate that we are looking for people who are already living lives of service; our vocations come from God, not something that we choose or can be “trained” to be.  “Good reputation” has a practical dimension as well: such people will be more effective in the community because they have already established a relationship of trust and responsibility within the community.  “Wisdom” has long been associated with the very nature and presence of God within our Tradition; so much more than simple human knowledge, wisdom sees as God sees.  Finally, it is only through the action of the Holy Spirit that anything can be accomplished.  It is particularly noteworthy that Peter asks the community to identify candidates who already have all three of these attributes!  He does not say that the candidates will “receive” these traits after ordination; good reputation, the Holy Spirit and wisdom are all prerequisites for the ordination that will come later.

Contemplation -- then, Action!
How are we doing on keeping this balance in our own lives?  Do we find the time for prayer and contemplation, and then, do we find the opportunities to take concrete action to serve the real needs of people?  Pope Benedict observed that the Seven “cannot just be organizers who know what they are doing, but they must do so in the spirit of faith, with the light of God, in the wisdom of the heart and therefore their function, although mainly practical, however, is a spiritual function. Charity and justice are not only social actions, but they are spiritual actions made in light of the Holy Spirit.”

The pope concludes his reflection with an insight that, while applicable to all disciples, should certainly be inscribed on the hearts of all the ordained: “In our own daily lives and decisions, may we always draw fresh spiritual breath from the two lungs of prayer and the word of God; in this way, we will respond to every challenge and situation with wisdom, understanding and fidelity to God’s will.”