Light in L’Enfant / Festivity in Foggy Bottom

Light in L’Enfant / Festivity in Foggy Bottom

Thank you again to all of those who attended and shared my post on New Liturgical Movement about Advent Stations with the Dominicans at St. Dominic’s Church in the L’Enfant Plaza neighborhood of DC. This is the second year that the friars have held what they hope will become an annual event here in the Nation’s Capital, and appropriately enough the size of the congregation doubled from last year. (I suppose it is too much to expect that the attendance will therefore triple next year, but who knows?)

You can see some mediocre photographs I took over on my Instagram account, but you can see some superb ones by my friend Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., over on the New Liturgical Movement website.  

It was a beautiful evening of light, music, scripture, prayer, and preaching, and one which I highly recommend that you put on your advanced planning calendar for next year.

For those of you who will be in the Washington, D.C. area over Christmas, and are considering where (or if) to attend services, I want to put in a plug for my parish of St. Stephen Martyr in Foggy Bottom.

As I regularly observe on social media, our choir and organist/music director are stupendous, which is no exaggeration. Friends from social media who are not Catholic OR Christian have joined us for Mass at St. Stephen’s, and come away astounded by how beautiful the music is. On Christmas Eve we will be having carols at 6:00 pm, followed by Mass at 6:30 pm, and you are most welcome to attend and celebrate with us. Given the very warm weather we will be having – the forecast high for DC on Christmas Eve is 76 F – and the relatively early hour, you can join us and still have time to go to dinner, put the kids to bed for Santa, or start watching that “Elf” or “Christmas Story” marathon. As an aside, I will be giving one of the Scripture readings from the Acts of the Apostles, so if you do attend I hope you will take a moment to say hello.

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Photo of St. Dominic's by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Everything Is Not Awesome: We Need Penance More Than Butterflies

As part of the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, this Tuesday the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican was illuminated with a slideshow projection entitled “Fiat Lux”. Inspired by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical “Laudatio Si”, and timed to coordinate with the UN Climate Change conference taking place in Paris, the light show featured enormous images of animals, nature, and so on, put together to draw attention to the environment. You can watch a lengthy video of the display by following this link.  

It is not easy to be a commentator and cultural critic when, as in my case, you are not a particularly good one, and you happen to be a practicing but bad Catholic, besides. There are many moments when, as a writer, you are torn between being nice, and being truthful. There are also many moments as a Catholic when you know that something is wrong, but you do not want to hurt someone else’s feelings because you want to be thought of as a nice chap.

We Catholics have been playing nice, rather than actually practicing our religion, for quite a long time now, of course. This is not Pope Francis’ fault: the majority of Western Catholics had already taken the position that it was better to be nice than to be truthful long before he was elected. In fact, in many instances they were encouraged to hold to such a view by their own priests and bishops, who told them not to worry so much about their sins, because they were fundamentally nice people – as if being nice was the moral equivalent of being conceived without original sin.

As a result, this high-level espousal of what we might call a “smile and you’re saved” mentality which seems to dominate the Church in the West, has filtered from the hierarchy all the way down to the individual parishioner. Sunday after Sunday (when they actually bother to show up), Catholics are fed a kind of chicken soup theology, more appropriate for First-Graders who have not yet made their First Communion, in which the only real sin one can commit is that of not being nice to oneself or others. In essence, it seems as though we are all expected to join in a chorus proclaiming how, “Everything Is Awesome”, including ourselves.

Except that everything is NOT awesome.

The harvest of planting generations of niceness instead of orthodoxy in the Church is all too readily apparent in both Europe and the United States, which have become like the fields choked by weeds of which Christ speaks in the Gospels (see, e.g. St. Matthew 13: 3-29, 36-43). One need only consider the widespread practices among Catholics of contraception, cohabitation, and abortion; low Mass attendance; liturgical abuses; sexual abuse and promiscuity among the clergy and religious; the closure of churches, schools, and monasteries; etc. Viewed purely from a cultural aspect, Catholicism is a mess, and it has become so, at least in part, by forgetting that man is not saved from damnation by being nice. It seems bizarre, when looking at the state of the Church in the Western world, that we continue to pursue niceness as being some sort of an addition to the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy.

I am most definitely not a theologian, nor do I pretend to be. Yet as an average, pew-sitting Catholic, a position which incidentally does not require me to hold an STL, I cannot for the life of me begin to understand when the idea of being nice came to supplant the actual duty of those in positions of knowledge and authority – priests, bishops, and yes, popes – to admonish sinners, instruct the ignorant, and counsel the doubtful. If you cannot recall the last time your parish priest or bishop preached on the nature and eternal effects of unrepentant mortal sin if one fails to seek out God’s Mercy, you are not alone. It is important, therefore, in this Year of Mercy, to understand what exactly mercy is, and what it is not.

Being nice is not synonymous with being merciful, any more than being merciful is synonymous with being compassionate. Compassion is the responsibility of all, Christian or otherwise, to aid those who are suffering. Mercy is something else entirely – and it is not about being nice to others. By definition, mercy implies the forgiveness of an underlying state of punishable sin, a forgiveness which is only possible where there is not only an understanding of what sin is, but a recognition of one’s being in a state of sin, coupled with the intent on the part of the sinner to turn away from and repudiate the sinful life they have been living. Conflating mercy with compassion, if you’ll pardon the expression, is not very nice, for the eternal consequences are far more dire.

Remember that Christ saved the soul of St. Dismas, a.k.a. “The Good Thief”, not because Jesus was nice, but because the man was a sinner who sought forgiveness. St. Dismas recognized, at the eleventh hour, that what he really needed was God’s eternal forgiveness, more than he needed man’s temporal approbation. Despite suffering in physical agony and humiliation in a public execution, he still had the faith to call out and ask Christ to forgive him and be merciful to him. And Christ gave him the promise which I hope against hope to hear when the time comes: “This day, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Now don’t get me wrong from the title of this piece: I love butterflies. I used to chase them and study them when I was little, examining them closely before I would free them. They are wonderful creatures. The fact that pollution has grown so much worse that populations of creatures like butterflies are collapsing is a terrible thing. We can and should all agree that the abuse of God’s Creation is a sin, and Pope Francis is right to call attention to it, even if it was unfortunate that he chose to do so in such a tacky (and arguably sacrilegious) way.

Yet just imagine if the Year of Mercy had been kicked off at St. Peter’s, not with a light show to draw the attention and approbation of the international press, but rather with hundreds of priests hearing confessions, with the Holy Father giving sermons on the fatal nature of mortal sin, and conducting interviews explaining why it is important to be reconciled to God through the sacraments. Now that would have been really…nice.

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The Annunciation on Capitol Hill

No, this is not a report on a political candidate announcing their intent to run for President. Rather, just a brief post this morning to share what a beautiful evening it was last night at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian Parish on Capitol Hill. For those who have never visited, do make a point to drop in sometime, as it’s quite an interesting, vibrantly decorated building.

To commemorate THE Annunciation, i.e. when the Angel Gabriel was sent to that little village called Nazareth as described in the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, the parish celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form, featuring music by late 16th/early 17th century composer Hans Hassler.

Rather than do a play by play review, I thought I would share an audio file of the parish schola singing the “Sanctus”. Even without being at full strength last evening, they did a splendid job of bringing peace and a reflective mood to the celebration. Amazing that less than a year ago, they were singing Dan Schutte claptrap.

With a very good experience at Confession with Monsignor Pope beforehand, and dinner at a nearby tavern with some clergy friends afterward (thanks to the unknown individual who bought us dinner!) it was a wonderful Wednesday, and a good pause before heading into the intensity of Holy Week.

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Window at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian, Capitol Hill