Friday, April 4, 2008
Apb. Sambi's Diagnosis and Prescription for the American Church - An Oratorian Analysis
Identity, Community, and Excellence; remember these words while we extrapolate their importance for the Catholic church in the United States within the Benedictine plan for the reform of the reform. They are from Papal Nuncio Abp. Pietro Sambi, published today from an interview with John Allen. While the whole of the interview is of interest, one paragraph in particular stands out for its vision and concision. It's a three point plan, summarizing the three most important things the Church in the United States needs to succeed, and none of which it currently emphasizes, to it's vast impoverishment. Here, the paragraph from the interview:
John Allen: "How would you analyze the situation facing the Catholic church in the United States?"
Abp. Sambi: "When you are a minority, as Catholics are in this culture, you need three strong principles. The first is a clear identity, a clear sense of what you are and what you want to be. As a minority, if you lack a clear identity, you're like a drop of wine in a glass of water … you'll disappear. The second thing is a strong sense of belonging. I would express it in this way: you need a community, and the community needs you. Whoever walks alone sooner or later will be lost in the desert. Third, when you are a minority, you need a deep commitment to excellence. You must excel in human qualities, in family qualities, in professional qualities, in the qualities of Christian life, in order to be a light for others. If you don't have a sense of excellence, you will be submerged by the majority.
When you have these three qualities -- a clear identity, a sense of belonging, and a sense of excellence -- then you're ready to collaborate with everybody, ready to engage yourself for a better humanity and a better future."
How very concise, both as a diagnosis of the disastrous state of the American church, and as a prescription for remedying its post '60's meltdown. Again the three points:
a) A clear sense of IDENTITY.
b) The commitment of a COMMUNITY.
c) A commitment to EXCELLENCE.
The inadequacy of all three of these aspects in the Post Vatican II American Catholic church is precisely why Pope Benedict is coming here right now, and exactly why Abp. Sambi is voicing them on the Pope's behalf (he may offer them as his own personal analysis, but make no mistake, his own ideas aren't the ones he is paid to elaborate).
For our part, is it any wonder that the Brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego and members of Chorus Breviarii San Diego identify quite strongly with the BXVI program? We have been articulating and acting upon these same three criteria since 2001. One might say we've been tilling the local soil (insofar as we have been able) for the Benedictine springtime we hoped would come. So how have we among the Brothers and the members responded to and been prompted by these same three essential criteria for meaningful and rewarding Catholic churchmanship?
a) In brief, among the Brothers and members we live by our rites, not our rights. By reanimating the public and musical observances of the traditional office, and by seeking to take a maximal approach to the celebration of the Novus Ordo, and by promoting the traditional liturgy outside of the local indult community (as it then was), we have strengthened our own sense of Catholic IDENTITY through an increased regularity of liturgical life in and out of the sanctuary. We have also benefitted through the effort and practice required to remind others of the identity which was once theirs, and which still is, though they no longer recognize it like the man who saw his reflection in the mirror, then walked away and presently forgot what manner of man he was. Our traditional and traditionalized liturgy reminds us and others of who we have been, are, and will become.
b) Many of us came to be spiritual Sons of St. Philip from a community (the local indult) which was itself a community of outcasts, people who had been basically disowned by the practices of a newly improvised church. Ironically, what we found when we started the liturgical office on our own, was that we found the strength to respond to opportunities to go back into the Diocesan church with these offices and to pursue opportunities to express the Hermeneutic of Continuity even before it was official Papal policy, Deo Gratias. It is from this that our sense both of our own community of Brothers and our ability to contribute to the reclamation and reformation of our own troubled Diocese has grown and continues to grow. COMMUNITY grows through identity, even among diverse groups and faiths; but if you don't know exactly who you are, neither does anyone else around you; without strong identity there can be no true dialogue, no trust, no real community.
c) Do not forget that one definition of the word Solemn is 'Joyful'. Solemnity does not at all imply sorrow or dourness, just as a major key does not equal "happy" and a minor key "sad" no matter how culturally accustomed to such associations we may have become. Solemn means serious, serious task, serious organization, serious JOY, and if the sacraments of the Catholic Church are in fact supernaturally real, stemming from Christ's very Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, then they demand Solemn treatment as the most important things in our lives, and Solemn rites will not admit anything less than excellence. The majority of the faithful in this country treat their Catholicism as comic book reality, to be purchased cheaply and thrown away when you're done with it. Just look at the cover illustrations on Oregon Catholic Press' publications, and see that we're still mired in the poster-art mentality of the adolescent 1960's. Our rites demand better presentation, or the vast masses of the American Faithful will continue to treat them with the same shallow regard with which they are presented. Our Brotherhood responds to this call to EXCELLENCE, and through error and refinement, has benefitted from the spiritual exercise associated with it.
Identity, Community and Excellence; in brief, these three thrusts of Apb. Sambi's interview are of enormous moment and import for the future of Roman Catholicism in this country. One thing is certain: if such criteria are heeded and sought after in the broader church, the future will surely be a more Catholic one! Ours has been increasingly that since our Brotherhood first commenced.