The Long View 2004-02-18: Spoilers

Fr. Richard John Neuhau

Fr. Richard John Neuhau

There was a period of time when the New Oxford Review was one of the few reasonably orthodox Catholic magazines in the United States. Unfortunately, NOR's salad days are long behind it. A look at their home page in course of writing this post confirmed that they are stuck in the 90s, in many senses.

John also makes the point that the campaign for gay marriage in 2004 made use of the best, most photogenic examples it could find. This is of course just good marketing, and obviously has been successful. However, it is true that real life is different than what you find in glossy photo magazines, for people in all walks of life. I appreciate journalists who go out and try to see the world as it is, rather than as we might wish it to be. An example of this is zombietime, a pseudonymous photo blog of a journalist living in San Francisco. You can find, interesting, and very NSFW photos of some of San Francisco's more outré festivals there.


I really don't know the answer to this: when political commentators make much of the underdog in a primary race of the party they oppose, are they just trying to damage the front-runner? The Democratic primaries have reached the point where John Kerry would be the nominee even if he were photographed in bed with an underage aardvark. Nonetheless, perfectly respectable Republicans continue to ooh and aah over the relatively small margins by which John Edwards loses. Are the commentators just unable to turn their critical gifts to other subjects, or are they trying to encourage the Democrats to keep the contest going, so there will be less money and more intra-party rancor for the general election? If so, then shame on them. Shame.

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Speaking of picking useless fights, I see that New Oxford Review, in its February issue, continues its descent into crank status by launching yet another attack on Richard John Neuhaus. The NOR piece, "The One-World Church," takes exception to some comments that Fr. Neuhaus published in a First Things editorial under the heading Getting Along at the Altar, as well as to another item of his in Touchstone, which I haven't read. The comments in First Things are a defense of the papal encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The encyclical restates the traditional Catholic position that, with rare exceptions, only Catholics can receive the Catholic eucharist. Neuhaus quotes that document, and adds his own comments:

"The Eucharist, as the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church, demands to be celebrated in a context where the outward bonds of communion are intact. . . . Christ is the truth, and he bears witness to the truth (cf. John 14:6; 18:37); the sacrament of his body and blood does not permit duplicity".... The encyclical says that the Church understands "an ecclesiology of communion [to be] the central and fundamental idea of the documents of the Second Vatican Council." Intercommunion without a shared ecclesiology of communion is the enemy of authentic unity.

The First Things piece also contrasts, as an aside, the false ecumenism that would result from simply overlooking interdenominational differences of theology and governance with the prospect of true ecumenism:

When the prayer of Jesus in John 17 ["that they all may be one"] is fulfilled, it will not be a matter of Baptists or Presbyterians becoming Roman Catholic. There will be but one Church, and it may well be that distinct traditions of theology and practice, now embodied in separated denominations, will continue, perhaps in ordered communities such as the Benedictines, Dominicans, and Franciscans today.

In a nearly heroic act of misreading, NOR chose to imagine that Fr. Neuhaus meant this:

Neuhaus yearns for full communion with all two billion Christians in the world. So then we'd belong to the same Church as Jesse Jackson, Harvey Cox, Al Sharpton, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Troy Perry, Cornel West, Hillary Clinton, the newly minted Bishop V. Gene Robinson, and the head of the National Council of Churches. These folks will in some way acknowledge the Bishop of Rome (no doubt the way Anglicans acknowledge the Archbishop of Canterbury), but since they will be able to keep their 'distinct traditions of theology and practice,' there will be no common Faith and no shared morality. Sorry, but the thought of that leaves us totally cold.

This is so obviously off base that you have to wonder whether NOR does this sort thing with the hope of getting some much-needed publicity should Neuhaus make a reply. I write for First Things occasionally and I am happy to have the exposure, but I don't pick fights with it for that purpose.

I have had my own thoughts about the future of the papacy, by the way. First Things turned them down. Ha.

* * *

There is an old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The gay movement for three decades took this principle to heart. Even the most cleaned up reports of rallies and demonstrations for gay causes would mention that some fraction of the participants came dressed as if for Mardi Gras. The really interesting thing about the illicit gay marriages now being performed in San Francisco is the Norman Rockwell face the event tries to put on the gay subculture.

Look at the photos that come with the reports: no drag queens, no tutus; scarcely a leather jacket. Those crowds are not just a sanitized version of gay activism; they are too neat and tidy to be mistaken even for the ordinary applicants at the municipal marriage bureau.

At this writing, the City of San Francisco is still able to grant licenses because the state judiciary is colluding with the illegality by delaying the granting of the injunctions that would stop the process. Since the crowds come from across the country, each of the couples can now sue to challenge the marriage laws in their home states. It will be impossible for the US Supreme Court to avoid the issue, even if the Court were so inclined.

* * *

On a completely different note, I cringed when I saw this frontpage story in today's New York Times: Hip New Churches Pray to a Different Drummer. The title and pictures stirred up images of the guitar Masses from my youth. They and other community-oriented liturgies convinced me for a decade that the Church did not believe its own theology either, and was just trying to change the subject. But no: something else may be going on here:

Many emerging churches...have revived medieval liturgies or practices, including prayer labyrinths and lectio divina, or sacred reading, a process of intense meditation and prayer over a short biblical passage. Some borrow Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox rituals that pre-date the Enlightenment....

To tell you the truth, the description the article gives of some of the new liturgies sounds little different from the kaffeklatsch that churches often have after a conventional liturgy. More seems to be going on here, though. The article quotes Dan Kimball (age 42) who is pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and a former drummer in a punk rockabilly band. (He is also the author of Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations):

Expanding his ministry, Mr. Kimball brought in candles and crosses from garage sales, and began reading long passages from the Bible, inviting people to talk back to him or discuss what the stories meant to them as a group. In contrast to the bright and cheerful big churches, he said, "younger people want it like a dusty cathedral."

"They want a sense of mystery and transcendence," he said. "Anything that sniffs of performance turns them off."

For the last generation, Catholic dioceses in the US have been jettisoning the candles and other holy hardware, usually with bad results. I am happy to learn that some of this stuff has found a good home. More generally, I note that this movement seems directed at artistic types, which is fine. The very music of Solesmes is a cut-and-paste job from just such a revival that occurred in the 19th century.

Anyone interested in promoting Gothic liturgies for congregations of goths might want to take a look at Aristotle Esguerra's blog. I wish something like this had existed when we were trying to start our own chant choir here.

* * *

Just to put all this in perspective: the universe could end much sooner than we have been led to believe. A hypothetical interpretation of "dark energy," called by the even more ominous name "phantom energy," suggests that the universe could explode into a post-temporal field in a few dozens of billions of years, perhaps even before the stars burn out. On the upside, the phantom-energy model would allow for time machines and FTL travel. Let us be grateful for these consolations.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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