Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Give us back our joy!

One of the things that puzzled me when Pope Benedict issued his first encyclical , Deus Caritas Est, was why the recovery of concepts of love was so high on his agenda.

After I studied Veritatis Splendor I thought I could understand perhaps some of the rationale: Pope John Paul's famous moral encyclical does an excellent job in demolishing moral relativism and many other errors, but it has less to say perhaps on the underlying motivations of the Christian. It puts moral action in the context of attaining eternal life and the search for perfection, but has relatively little to say about acting out of love of God. Deus Caritas Est reminds us that it is love above all - and the happiness that comes from a pure and true love - that draws us onward to the greatest heights.

Dr Tracey Rowland's book on the Pope's thought gives a couple more strands to the rationale for the priority of this subject: first, as a corrective to some deficiencies in Gaudium et Spes that the Pope had pointed to as a theologian, and secondly as providing a means of finally seeing out the last remnants of Jansenism that still lurk about in corners of the Church.

Both these points are relevant to to traditionalists, the first because most traditionalists will enjoy any critique, implicit or explicit, of Vatican II documents (!), and more fundamentally because I think strains of Jansenism still lurk in many traddie hearts.

I'm no exception. It is so easy to find the things to criticise in what is happening around us, and to forget to rejoice in the good things. How often do we manifest our joy at having the Traditional Latin Mass to visitors to our masses for example? Or even to each other?

How often do we reflect on all the positive progress that has happened over the last decade or so, rather than worry about the remaining ills that afflict our Church?

Of course, there is nothing new about this problem. The psalms are full of images of man languishing in the face of his own sins and the attacks of others - one of my favourites images is 'uter in pruina' , like a wineskin in the frost, in Psalm 118:83. And don't forget Job's oh so helpful friends who spend several chapters lecturing him on his evidnet sinfulness in the face of his calamities.

But I was particularly struck reading Ecclesiasticus on Monday by its commentary on the injunction to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

The fear of the Lord, Sirach points out, "is glory and exultation, and gladness and a crown of rejoicing. The fear of the Lord delights the heart, and gives gladness and joy and long life."

It is the fear that comes from awe at the holiness of the Lord, such as Isaiah experienced in his vision of the holies (Isaiah 6), not just the fear of punishment that should motivate us.

I've been looking at various people's formulations of What Must Be Done recently (more on this anon!), and there was one that struck me as pretty minimalist at the time, and yet I realised yesterday that it does contain at least one element that we often forget, namely rejoicing! It comes from Alice von Hildebrand in Christian Order:

"The Catholic answer is always the same: absolute fidelity to the holy teaching of the Church, faithfulness to the Holy See, frequent reception of the sacraments, the Rosary, daily spiritual reading, and gratitude that we have been given the fullness of God’s revelation: "Gaudete, iterum dico vobis, Gaudete.""

I actually think there are a few other things we could add to this list in terms of action, but it does set out strong and essential foundations for anything else we might do. And the idea that we should rejoice is important.

The prayer we ought perhaps have on our lips when we find ourselves languishing comes from the Miserere, Psalm 50:"Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principlai confirma me" - Give me back the joy of Thy salvation: and strengthen me with a generous spirit!

1 comment:

David said...

"How often do we manifest our joy at having the Traditional Latin Mass to visitors to our masses for example? Or even to each other?"

There's a certain type of Traditionalist who will never miss an opportunity to approach you after Mass and bewail the state of the Church, and before long, you're listening to a diatribe about the conspiracies by the Freemasons and others, whilst trying to get out of the conversation charitably...

I would have to say that the principal thing that "turne people off" our parishes is the tendancy of some parishoners (probably a small minority, where I come from) to be sour about absolutely everything. Realistically, although things are bad from the perspective of tradition, they are much better than they were even a few years ago. We have Summorum Pontificum... The FSSP has two new Deacons well on their way to the Priesthood... Our TLM communities are young and growing. Attend an ordinary suburban "spirit of VII" Mass one day, and see how many parishoners are between 50-80 (hint, it's often about 90%). Our communities are adding Masses to their schedules, while Novus Ordo Churches are cancelling them.

Yet some people are still sour. OK things aren't great. But some of us seem to be constantly making comparisons with a "golden age" of tradition, that existed only in their memories.