Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pope canonizes Roman Catholic's first Native American Saint

You can read the details here.  This is a big deal in any number of ways.  The Catholic Church is, frankly, not gaining any ground in Europe.  Within the next hundred, barring some great awakening, the churches in Europe will be more empty than they already are.  The practicing faithful will be reduced to a mere few to carry on the faith for the next generation.  Yes, people will be married and children will be baptized in churches, but that will be done more as a mere nod to tradition than an actual sincere proclamation of faith in the sacraments. 

The Roman Catholic Church is very aware of this and despite the outreach to Europe, the Pope and the hierarchy know that the future of Catholicism (if it has any future) is in the new world.  But even that mission is encountering resistance from Pentecostal and other Evangelical movements deliberately targeting Catholics.  I'm not trying to suggest that the Pope's canonization of the Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, is singly going to cause a boon for Catholicism in the New World, but it does make a radical statement that the Pope and the Roman Church simply cannot rely on Europe for the continued propagation of the faith.  I'm sure that new American saints, especially  Native American saints and not just European transplants, will be canonized more regularly during the remainder of Pope Benedict's pontificate as well as during his successor's. 

But why did this take so long?  Catholicism has been here in the "New World" for 500 years now.  There had to be other candidates for sainthood during this time.  I certainly grant that sainthood, canonized sainthood, is not something that just occurs, but is a long and arduous process.  If I may play the conspiracy theorist, I think that the Roman Church is, in many ways, trying to shed the image of it resembling an aristocratic European social club.  What point is there in retaining that image especially when the church is more or less in a holding action in Europe, almost bordering on retreat?  If the Americas and third world countries are the future for Catholicism, then these people need to know they are valued and for more beyond mere numbers.

Would it surprise you to know that the Orthodox Church already has two Native American saints?  Orthodoxy has been in America for less than half the time that Catholicism has, but we already have twice as many canonized saints.  They are St. Peter the Aleut and St. Jacob of the Yukon.  St. Peter was a martyr saint who bravely defended his Aleut people from being converted forcibly to Catholicism by the Jesuits.  St. Jacob was also an Aleut and was a famous evangelizer among his people.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Importance of Keeping and Preserving the Liturgy

As Orthodox Christians we have a plethora of treasures and resources which aim for us to become one with God (i.e. theosis). Few would argue that one of the most important of those treasures is that of the Divine Liturgy (whether that of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil or St. Gregory the Great).  We may meet God and the Divine in any number of different ways, but the Liturgy's democratic (for lack of a better word) reach makes it something not only worthy of preserving, but something absolutely necessary of preserving.

I grow tired of those Orthodox who think that the Divine Liturgy is too long or is too archaic or is too "high church" (whatever that really means).  The Liturgy is exactly as long as it needs to be; it is archaic only in the sense that many of the hymns go back more than 100 years (some even 2900 years like the Psalms) ; it is "high church" only if you think that a priest should only be wearing khakis and a polo shirt.  The Liturgy connects us with the past and the present; it connects the earth and the heavens; it connects the people of God to one another; it is made present by the power of the Holy Spirit whose invocation we readily call upon with the hymn, "O Heavenly King..."  We must preserve the Liturgy.

The following words are not my own, but I think they do a good job summarizing why we should preserve the Liturgy and resist calls to shorten it, "Protestantize" it, make it "more relevant", etc.  And these are not the words of an Orthodox priest, but those of a Lutheran pastor who has seen firsthand what the abandonment of the Lutheran (Western) Liturgy has done to that confession. 

 The liturgy is not our domain -- corporately or individually.  It is the domain of Christ and the means of grace that deliver to us what Christ has done in the once for all sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.  It is the domain of the Church, more than merely the assembled congregation, in which the saints of old and the saints of today receive with joyful faith what Christ has done.  It is not so much a moment in time as the timeless moment in which yesterday and tomorrow encroach upon today, bring the past to the present and in this mystery anticipating the future promised.

We guard the liturgy not because we have some slavish obedience to the past but because this liturgy keeps us from stealing worship away from the hands of Christ and making it into what we do, what we offer, and what we accomplish.  It is entirely too easy for us to fall in love with our own voice in praise so that we forget who is being praised and, worse, forget that such praise is possible only when and where He has revealed Himself to us and given us permission to enter that mystery.
Good words, I think.  Pastor Peters is entirely correct.  Without the Liturgy, too many Christians have become the center of their worship rather than God.  The Liturgy serves to stand as a corrective. It is tested and it is true. 

Lutherans, I believe, can be divided into three camps when it comes to the Liturgy.  First, there are those who regard it as a gift from God and pray it faithfully because it is timeless and connects not only with the past but also of the things to come keeping Christ at the center.  Second, there are those who regard the Liturgy as something that is only historically important, but as there is no strict command from Scripture (sola Scriptura) to use it, it may be used or discarded at the whim of the pastor and/or the congregation.   It's nice, but not required.  Third, there are those who have thrown out the Liturgy altogether simply because it looks "too Catholic" and thus prefer their own individual service.  Man becomes the center here.  There are probably subgroups as well, but that's too much to speculate on.

It would really be a shame if the traditional Liturgy for the Orthodox faithful becomes something nice, but not required.  So far, we have been immune from the individualist tendencies which have plagued the Lutheran confessions, but eternal vigilance is necessary.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reap what you sow

Celebrations are occurring now for the anniversary of Vatican II. With all the reminiscing of what the "good things" that came out of Vatican II including the revisions (by which, I mean the gutting) to the Tridentine Rite and its celebration in vernacular languages (which isn't bad, but let's face it, English is a very impoverished language to pray in), the video below should NOT surprise anyone.  Sure, the Episcopalians and the Lutherans may have beaten the Catholics to "performing" the Liturgy in this way, but Vatican II opened the door.  Reap what you sow.  This is not Liturgy, this is not prayer, this is entertainment and if parading the Bible into a church with the same fanfare as what you get with carnivals, then you are in a sad state.

Watch (if you can for more than one minute) and weep.