Liturgical Joy

Midnight Oil is a rock band from Australia.  (For details about the band, see here.)  Formed in the 1970s, they continued recording and performing through 2022.  Their music is often political in nature, lending support to the cause of Australian aborigines , for example ( “Beds Are Burning”), or workers caught up in economic systems of exploitation (“Blue Sky Mine” ).  They have also repeatedly raised concerns about environmental destruction.  Their final album, “Resist,” is devoted almost exclusively to ecological awareness.  Though this album retains the Oils’ edge of anger and protest, some lyrics take a different turn. Continue reading “Liturgical Joy”

The Garden of the Soul

The American Roman Catholic world of the 18th century frequently found lay folk lacking in sacramental ministers.  With this challenge to maintaining their faith through regular public worship and Mass attendance, lay faithful found ways to continue their faith through the use of home-based prayers and family (or small community) devotions.

As print material became more affordable and easily accessible, the ubiquitous volume for English-speaking Catholics was Richard Challoner’s The Garden of the Soul.  Through its many editions, this volume described its principal feature as its “completeness as a manual of devotion; for it blends solid instruction with prayer; and provides the Catholic with all that is requisite to sanctify every day, and in more special manner the Sunday, whether by public, or domestic, or personal acts of worship” (Richard Challoner, The Garden of the Soul (London: [publisher not identified], 1775), 8).

I’ve run into this volume numerous times (as readers of American Catholicism and liturgy are wont to do).  But I’ve never batted an eye at the “Garden of the Soul” theme.  It sounded pleasant—a place where one might want to walk with God and not hide away.  Or, perhaps it evoked the notion of tending and caring for something that could grow.

Today’s Gospel gives us another take on gardening the soul.  Seed falls on good ground.  Seed falls on rocky soil.  Seed falls among weeds.  Seed is scattered and sometimes it bears fruit and other times it doesn’t.

Good News Flash: All this soil is in the same garden.

I am the rocky soil.  I am full of weeds.  I bear fruit (sometimes) and other times I do not.  I am the good ground.  All at the same time.

Terry Smith:
Image from Garden Tool Box

We Westerners who like to be specific and linear have trouble with drawing analogies to something whole; we are either red or green, black or white, White Sox or Cubs.  But, the Gospel continually confronts us with the words of Jesus which defy divisions.  He knows his faith-filled disciples: the same ones who will walk on water and proclaim that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world,” will fall asleep in his greatest hour of need, and complain about mundane little nothings instead of simply listening to Jesus.

We are all these things at once—the good, the stunted, the griefs, the anxieties, the joys and the hopes.  But, the good news is that Jesus comes to save not just part of us—but all of us.

He’s here for the whole garden.

There is hope for us, not only in our public and liturgical worship, but in our families, our friends, our small communities, and our spouses.  We can practice caring for these messy gardens together.  We can practice hearing and doing God’s word.  Whether we have ready access to sacramental ministers in the 21st century or not, we can feed our souls through the source and font of our faith in the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass, and in daily prayer both by ourselves, or where two or three might be gathered.

If, as Jesus says in our parable today, the seed is the word of God—the more we might tend to hearing it and filling our lives with God’s word, the more we might create good ground and, with hope, a fruitful harvest not only for ourselves but for the whole world.

So let us pray—at home, in our hearts, and in our liturgy.  Those with ears ought to hear.

Through a Mirror, Darkly

Attempting to reconcile the abiding quality of love with development of the human perception of that love, Paul writes to the church in Corinth that “for now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I have been pondering questions of sight and seeing lately because, like many people in my age group, I am undergoing cataract surgery to remove cloudy lenses in my eyes and replace them with lens implants.  As I write, my left eye is recovering from surgery.  Its vision is somewhat improved but still blurry.  This eye experiences much more brightness and light than the right eye.  I removed the left lens from my eyeglasses.  (Look closely at the image accompanying this post.)  The right eye, though its view of the world is dimmer, perceives my surroundings with much greater clarity and no blurriness since it is still benefiting from the remaining lens in my glasses.

I wonder about the ways in which Christian discipleship is a bit like my currently differentiated vision.  Do sacramental symbols open us up to a world that is brighter yet a little blurry precisely because they operate in the mode of symbol?  Does daily life all too often swamp us with dimness that is also characterized by the clarity of our faults and the faults of others?

At the same time, I wonder about darkness that insinuates itself into Christian liturgy.  At Mass, do we extend a sign of peace to some of those standing nearby but not to others also standing nearby?  Does a show of fashion and consumer style obscure the humble yet daring promise to live life wed in the Lord?  Whose voices are excluded from music ministry or preparation for worship?  What place is there in our worship for those whose vision and / or hearing is impaired?

Likewise, I wonder about the light that shines through in daily life, at times more luminously than in our liturgies.  Liturgy is to shed light on all dimension of Christian life, but liturgy is also a matter of celebrating and raising up the light that is already before us in the world.  Recognizing the God at work in our liturgies requires recognition of God at work outside of our liturgies, and vice versa.

The Liturgy of the Gun

In an article appearing on 30 April, the Washington Post reported that “across the country this month, at least four men have opened fire on someone who’d stumbled upon their space, resulting in one death, two injuries and a car pocked with bullet holes.”

  • In Elgin, TX, two cheerleaders misidentified their car in a store parking lot. The owner shot them.
  • In Hebron, NY, a young woman in a car made her way up what she thought was the driveway for her destination. She realized her mistake and turned the car around.  The home owner shot and killed her.
  • In Davie, FL, an Instacart delivery driver knocked at the wrong door. The home owner shot at the driver, hitting the driver’s car.
  • In Kansas City, MO, a boy knocked on a door thinking that he was at the house where his siblings were playing. It was the wrong house.  The home owner shot him.

There are other recent incidents, including the Texas man who shot and killed some his neighbors after they asked him to stop firing his gun in his yard but here I want to focus on the indented items above.  All of them involve simple honest mistakes on the part of those who were shot.  Guns in the United States so often leave a trail of misery and death in their wake that the litany of sorrow numbs me.  However, in my judgment these four incidents sound a variation in that litany.

Perhaps the experts cited in the 30 April story are correct when they attribute these shootings to “the easy availability of guns, misconceptions around stand-your-ground laws, the marketing of firearms for self-defense — and a growing sense among Americans, particularly Republicans, that safety in their backyard is deteriorating.”  However, my attention is drawn not so much to the cause of these four shooting incidents as it is to the effects.

As a theologian who researches the interplay between consumerism and sacramental worship, I have been fascinated by what James K.A. Smith has called “liturgies of mall and market . . . that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world.”*  The practice of shopping (or even just being present as other shop) can condition one to perceive the world in a certain way.  This “certain way” might be characterized by the idea that everything is or should be immediately available.  It might include comparing one’s bodily appearance and one’s clothing to the ads plastered everywhere.  It might even include judging one’s associates by the standards of those ads.  In this way, shopping can invite a kind of competitive individualism.  Christian worship, on the other hand, at least ideally involves curtailing individualism.  No. 95 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal directs that “[members of the assembly] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other.”

I wonder now about the liturgy of the gun, which in the four highlighted cases amounts to “make a mistake – get shot.”  I am not inviting anyone to be the next shooting victim.  Yet what are we (and what am *I*) doing to be a vital part of a “Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49)?  What are our liturgies doing to form us into believers who will reach out to others and risk the honest mistake?  What are *we* doing to form our liturgies so that these liturgies will help us to respond, in ways large and small, to the liturgy of the gun?

*James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009). 25.  His fuller treatment of these liturgies appears on pp. 96-101.  See also my November 2019 post on The Liturgy of the Mall.