U.S. Catholic applauds Fr. Anthony’s open letter. I too greatly admire what Fr. Anthony has done−not just this open letter but his entire body of work in the field of liturgical music and commitment to the long history of our liturgical practice. Those who are regular readers of Pray Tell know his deep love of “traditional” liturgy, that is, liturgy that expresses the wide breadth of our tradition, ancient and new. So it saddens and angers me to read some comments at America and at U.S. Catholic in the comboxes that interpret Fr. Anthony’s courageous and prayerful discernment as a weakness in his vows or yet another attack by “liberal” Catholics bent on the destruction of anything sacred or dignified in the liturgy.
You and I know that you can find all kinds of extremes in opinions in comboxes today and that too many people are too ready to write uncharitable things. So you have to read these comments with tough skin and lots of prayers for supernatural generosity of spirit. But I am tired of the stereotypes some of these commentators heap on one another and, now, on Fr. Anthony who has done so much to advocate for vigorous, intelligent, and respectful dialogue from all sides of an issue. These stereotypes portray those who agree with the translation as rigid Catholics who’d like nothing more than a complete reversal of Vatican II, and those who don’t agree as happy-clappy Catholics who simply want balloons and clowns at Mass.
These stereotypes often describe the extremes of a reality that doesn′t really exist, yet they are often the images that are so readily used to describe those who hold even a slightly different opinion. But the great majority of us stand in the middle. I know no one who stands more in the middle than Fr. Anthony.
On the first day of a class led by Fr. Thomas O’Meara, OP, his first question to us was, “What is theology?” Cricket…. Cricket…. “What is theology?” he repeated. My hand crept up as I ventured a guess. “Faith seeking reason?” I peeped. “Wrong!” he boomed. “It’s the act of standing in the middle.” He continued to describe how a theologian is one who stands in relationship between God and God’s people and helps to interpret, communicate, and facilitate the great story and history of the relationship between the two.
We need more voices from the middle to communicate a truer image of the complex reality of who we are: individuals with likes and dislikes, with expertise in some things, innate wisdom and shared experience in other things, and unawareness in many things, yet the good majority of us striving to be intentionally and consciously faithful to Christ.
Richard Gaillardetz, at the most recent convocation of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, said that in the church today, we have entered into a “politics of demonization” in which we “impute the worst of intentions upon another.” Then he asked, “Can we get anywhere if we start with the assumption that the other person is an idiot?”
My current job requires me to do what some call, “drink the Kool Aid” of the Roman Missal. I agree with some things in the translation process; I disagree with other things. Up until the final vote of the U.S. Bishops, my own bishop sought consultation with me and others on the many drafts of the translation that came across his desk, asking for recommendations for changes and affirmations of what was good. I did not like most of what was being changed, but I did see much good and some sense in the process and need. Then 2010 came as we awaited recognitio, and in the months afterward, I and so many others felt left in the dark. And now, in these next ten months, my Bishop has given me the task of helping him prepare his diocese for a translation that is different than what he and the other U.S. Bishops had voted on.
There is courage in what Fr. Anthony did, and we need more people of his expertise and experience to speak up. I think there is also courage among us “in the trenches” who, like Fr. Anthony, work hard to find what is good and build upon that; who, in workshops and deanery meetings, over dinner and in parish hallways, bear the blessing and the curse of being “the messenger” and hear all the possible kinds of responses and opinions people we meet have about this translation, all the while, trying to respond with charity, act with wisdom, foster hope, and do our best with what we have and what we have been given.
My prayer for 2011 as we navigate this part of our Church’s history is that we who stand in the middle will speak up when liturgical stereotypes and extremes dominate the conversation. In defense of Fr. Anthony and his community of Benedictines, I responded to one such comment in the combox at U.S. Catholic. I hope I did so with conviction as well as humility. In these restless times, I pray you will continue to speak your convictions too with force and passion as well as humility, responding with charity, especially wherever it is lacking.