Monday, March 16, 2009

A Journey Begun with 1000 Masses

The mind wanders.

I am looking at a photo of my old catholic grade school in Philly, now defunct. The photo is from when it was brand new in 1923. There is a blacksmith shop and row houses where the convent would be built thirty years into the future. There is a woman in front of one of the houses no doubt calling her children to dinner and there are two boys in old fashioned knicker pants, perhaps hers, in the street roughhousing. There are trolley tracks for a trolley car line that no longer runs there.

While I think I can predict what will become of the RC church in America, I see a middle view. That new factory worker’s parish of my youth would celebrate mass in that school, designed by the world famous gothic architect George A. Audsley. The school hall would serve as temporary church for another twenty three years. The church, Romanesque, was the complete obsolete in style from the school. That structure would be built in record time and for cash when rationing of building materials would be lifted after the war.

You can take away the buildings. Christianity and its celebration, in the beginning of time and perhaps in the end of time, will be conducted in people’s houses, pavilions in parks, K of C meeting halls.

Without property, the Church belongs to the Holy Spirit and to the People. Without property, it will no longer belong to the pencil pushing all boys accounting club in Rome.

Rome may be building its future in the emerging world. Good for them. The people there will likely get a school, clean water and a medical clinic faster if they join the RC church than if they wait for some native corrupt dictator to send help.

Cycles and energies go round and round.

I have perhaps attended over 1,000 masses in my life, in my youth. Weekly and every school day in October, Lent, May , First Fridays, First Saturdays and the numbers add up. No doubt you get a smattering of words from the Epistles or the Gospels hanging out there in the stone house so often. Before all this talk of a Latin mass into English or English back again into Latin, the Epistles and the Gospels, the most important part of the service, were read to us in the native tongue.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to find some of those words that I remembered being read from the pulpit in my youth. Through research I found out that basically the same readings from sacred text were read at the same time every year, year in and year out. There was a one year lectionary in most of the Catholic churches in the world. I believe also that some of the Lutherans followed the same one year lectionary thing for centuries until Vatican II.

After Vatican II there was a suggested three year lectionary whereby more of the Epistles and Gospels would be read over a three year period. As I say it is suggested more for solidarity of all Christian churches, RC and Protestant, to be on the same page every Sunday so to speak. That is about the biggest accomplishment of Vatican II as I can see down here on the ground. That and talk -Talk - about interfaith dialogue but no real long term dialogue intended.

I started looking for a one year lectionary maybe ten years ago. I also wanted to find a 1957 Saint Joseph’s Missal. The missal was a book containing the mass in Latin and weekly one year lectionary readings. This was a personal book, held in one hand, that you took to service with you. I do not remember if it contained any hymns.

The Internet and its content has improved vastly in a decade and most of my research got done there without touching any hard copy.

Fast forward, I never got the Missal even though they are available on Amazon.Com or similar vending places. I never did get to a Latin Mass. Until recently the Latin mass thing was, and still is to some extent, a secret and clandestine thing to find. You need word of mouth to spread and find these rare Latin mass occurrences.

Because of all that I have read or researched I no longer have any nostalgia to see the Mass again in Latin. Latin is a dead language, meaning that no new words for it has been created for close to fifteen hundred years, not since the death of the Western Roman Empire.

Getting back to something I wrote earlier, I remember highlights of about a dozen Gospels from those annual readings.

One I wrote about earlier, the other two I will mention here.

One is the Transfiguration whereby Jesus and Peter and James, son of Zebedee, go to the top of a mountain. Jesus is transformed almost into light and is in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Peter wants to build a shrine to these three prophets after witnessing the event. Jesus says no.

I have often wondered why Jesus supposedly gave the reins of his mission over to a hardhead like Peter. After he just witnessed the divine or near divine powers of Jesus, he denies Jesus in the early morning hours of Good Friday when Jesus is judged and condemned to death.

On one level, Jesus saw that the weakest among us such as Peter should be the strongest link in the chain of the Christian faith. From what I have seen lately of the Vatican Three Stooges style bureaucracy, Jesus was indeed wise both as a human and or as divine being in putting this man eventually in charge, after the death of James, Jesus‘ half-brother, and as one of the first leaders of the early church.

The other reading I remember from my youth had to do with Jesus and his being asked what is the greatest law in the book. To which he replies in Matt 22:37 a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 about loving God with your whole heart, soul and mind. He finishes with a second but no less sacred idea with Matt 22:39 “…Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” -- Matt 20:40 “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

I remember this passage whether it be from a movie, or from a one year reading cycle or in a religion class in high school. This thought always impressed me.

I put all this casual and earnest research into bible studies or daily reading or the reaction of the world to every day events away in my brain. This last most important commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is I think the keystone in the Christian faith.

Of course other world religions and beliefs also have similar ideas, text and dogma. I feel that a similar idea similar to the Golden Rule of “doing unto others what you would have them do unto you” is perhaps a starting point in restoring civility into this growing and in many places hostile global world culture.

I mention some of the words of Dr. Karen Armstrong from her interview on Bill Moyers Journal the other night. She mentioned that we in the west had three hundred years to accommodate ourselves in the changing of some institutions from the sacred to the secular.

No doubt the hanging of Quakers in Massachusetts led to the need for the founding of a place for Quaker political and religious asylum in the British colonies of North America. This led to William Penn, a Quaker, getting a land grant from Charles II to start such a place of tolerance that in many ways led to the formation of ideas of self worth, religious freedom, and even political independence.

Cycles and energy go round and round.

Massachusetts, shortly after the founding of Pennsylvania as a haven for all faiths or even non-believers, burned itself out on ignorance, hate, or whatever with their Salem witch trials around 1692. Turning against your neighbor is easy but sometimes the collateral damage is a bitch to swallow or live with.

I was disheartened to hear that they, Islamic fanatics, had bombed and killed people in a hotel in Islamabad because this hotel was a refuge for the tourists or native Islamists not observing the annual month long fast of Ramadan. It is this group mind think, this only one religious belief allowed in a country or the inequality of women etc. - that scares the crap out of me.

We in the west had our transition from the sacred to the secular over a longer period than these Muslim countries who have had to deal with it in decades. Diversity is a concept we understand. How it is adapted elsewhere, only time, and cultural context to digest it, will tell.

This love your neighbor as yourself is a good thing, a good concept, but I think the core to looking at it in terms of a long term or compressed timeline is that in order to love your neighbor in the truest sense you have to first love yourself.

The west in its recent past reached its pinnacle of individual freedom, potential and global scale selfishness. That the opportunity to spread individual freedom or its concept to the world means that it should be coupled with responsibility and selflessness.

Freedom with responsibility may be a oxymoron of sorts but marshalling and maintaining a positive energy flow connected with individual freedoms demands some rules to be followed. The chaotic present secular world without rules or regulations is not good for either the west or the east.

We have to look at Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. He did not love his neighbors as himself. He may have thought he loved his God with his whole heart, soul and mind but without the balance of love for neighbor, you only have an abstract obsession. Living with and dealing with your neighbor on an everyday basis is one basic building stone of civilization.

But by loving yourself and the cup overflows to your neighbor is an energy no doubt understood by Jesus when he zapped the fanatic Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul was truly empowered by Jesus to start building another path along the new faith’s road of life. On that day Paul started to love his enemies and started to truly love himself as well.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love” - I, You, We, are nothing in God’s ultimate scheme of things.

As the world grows smaller, we had better practice love for our self more and reach out in love to other neighboring cultures.

The mind wanders.

...and the journey continues.