Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Do this in memory of Me

I'll admit to being very irritable today. The computer has taken on a mind of its own (and a very, very slow one at that), and even retrieving email is a struggle. (This is especially exasperating, considering how many exam notes are stored on this hard drive.) And I'm a bit unwell so, though I did attend a marvellous Mass (14th century setting) at midday, I missed Tenebrae, which is a great favourite of mine. However, one way or another, I shall not miss tomorrow's services!

Earlier this week, I attended an evening Eucharist at a relatively small parish. I found it interesting, indeed highly encouraging, that apparently this church has used a very positive emphasis this Lent - thinking of our all being the beloved of God (as with Isaiah's text), rather than as 'fallen.' Considering that I've been pouring through Genesis, Isaiah, and all those philosophy of religion texts, including John Hick's "Irenaean theodicy," I just may have quite a detailed refection about 'the fall' very soon. For the moment, with my weary and disappointed head not quite in gear, I'll just provide an 'older' reflection for Holy Week.

Christianity is very simple. All it requires is a memory and a vision; and, if you can get them, some bread, and wine, and water. - Kenneth Leech

Simplicity is hardly my strong point - yet my honest nature prompts me to further comment that the bread, wine, water, vision, and memory are perhaps the only universal factors which have united the Christian Church since its earliest days. (Well, all right ... I can develop an idea of the Church's going back to Adam... but let us save that for another day.) Looking back to a 'golden age' is a favourite pastime of everyone in every era, yet such have never existed.

I am not likely to call the Last Supper an actual celebration of the Eucharist - there can be no anamnesis of what has not yet happened. :) Yet Maundy Thursday is one of those days when something approaching Ignatian meditation is exceedingly tempting. In fact, I'm even going to toss aside my better scriptural commentaries and not question whether it actually was Passover, etc., etc..

One wonders what the apostles were like. (I am also a peasant, yet the intellectual snob in me turns up her nose at the thought of their not being able to grasp the simplest parables and that most of them smelled of fish...) When I was reading Luke yesterday, and this soon before I became immersed in the haunting magic of Tenebrae, I had to smile, seeing how, right to the end, the apostles were tossing about the idea of who would have the highest place in the kingdom. Ah, yes, arguments about authority...

It is all too easy, particularly if one not only watches the scriptural epics and reads the 'Lives of Christ' of another time, and has been exposed to the 'see how these Christians love one another' myth, to picture twelve intense young men, in great awe at having been first to see the ritual which would sustain the Church until the parousia. Actually, what was present at the Last Supper was a prototype of another sort. :) I am sure that at least one traditionalist was frowning that Jesus had changed the form for the Pesach meal with all this "cup of my blood" business. Those who were either simple or highly observant would question why the Passover was anticipated a day early. (Well, at least, in that day, they were spared the irate vegetarian's protests about the lamb, and no one offered the cup would have irately commented, "But wine is a drug!") Judas was on verge of betraying the Master. I would imagine that Matthew was still sensitive about why Judas held the purse, considering all of his own experience as a tax collector. The disciples were conflicted about who would be the kingpins (I suppose when the Messiah toppled Roman rule.) "The Rock," who had learnt insufficient humility from that sad incident of attempting to walk on water, was making bold promises he'd soon find were beyond him. The lot of them would scatter in fear before the night was out.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Church.

Still, whenever I heard the words of consecration at the Eucharist, it moves me to think that the perpetual memorial has endured for two millenia. For all the conflict, persecution, quarrels, heresy, whatever, which the early Church faced, that bread, wine, and water was the catholic element - and these rituals of common worship kept the Church from crumbling when many a reform movement of the time would die out quickly enough. Jerusalem would fall - the Word would spread to Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Gaul, etc., with Christians being the odd ones who conformed neither to Jewish nor pagan society.

All that was common, then or now, was worship - praise and thanksgiving - water, bread, and wine - the memory and vision, and the scriptures. We shall never accept that, of course. :) Till the end, I'm sure that those of us who are avid believers will think that some ideal of unity and love will prevail. Yes, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow... but not everyone will be happy and grateful at that gesture. :)

Lord, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness, comes from you, through your Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age, you gather a people to yourself, so that from East to West a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Requiescat in pace, Little Becket

About the only good thing I can say about March at the moment is that at least it brings us a bit closer to spring. I'm sorry to say that various unhappy memories of my past (among them that both my parents died in March) come to mind this time of year. I'm writing this on the second, the fifteenth anniversary of the death of a priest who was a dear friend of mine. How well I remember the last night of his life, when I was thankful to be at his side, hoping that, despite his being comatose, he could hear the Latin psalms I recited, and my saying (this in English - I knew he feared the last moments of life, as he'd previously told me that all temptations can snatch one away at the end) "It's Compline. It's only compline."

But this blog (and most of my memories in any case!) are not likely to be spots for the morose. (Also, despite Julian of Norwich's vivid description of the dark sights when she herself thought she was at death's door, I never was inclined to think that, after a life of service to God, the devil is too likely to snatch one's soul at the last minute.) Father Thomas, a Franciscan friar, was a brilliant moral theologian and superb preacher, but also quite a character! A tiny man (the size of a jockey), he stood on a little stool in the pulpit (probably lest he hit his chin on it!), and, whenever he thought parishioners might be opposing him (even mentally - and admittedly he seldom thought otherwise), he would look sternly out at the congregation and, in tones reminiscent of Richard Burton, say, "Will.... no one... rid me... of this meddling... priest."

To this day, I have visions of Tom's perched on a cloud, his wings poking out from a well worn and not too clean angelic robe (and halo certainly awry), looking down at many a poor mortal and saying, "And the back of both o' me hands to you..."

Tom was a choleric man, dramatic in speech and gesture, and (as was probably obvious) inclined to think of himself as Thomas Becket. Brilliant though he was, Tom could have a thought which made little sense except in his own mind, and suddenly address this as if the hearer knew exactly what he meant. He was avidly Roman Catholic (in the militant version developed to perfection in southern Ireland, from which he hailed), and not terribly tolerant of my Anglican intellectual leanings. Tom would use various and vivid metaphors, derived from everything from scripture to history to US baseball.

It was a morning in the early 1990s, and Tom, with a wrath of all the gods, suddenly, without preamble, burst out with, "There are limits! I cannot believe what he has done!" I expressed a bit of puzzlement. Tom continued, "I know a pope can dispense himself from anything he likes, but there are limits!"

Searching my mind for whatever John Paul could have dispensed himself from which would be particularly abhorrent to a Kerryman, I asked, "Are you referring to the pope's meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury?"

Little Becket naturally bristled at his title's being usurped, and stormed, "There is no Archbishop of Canterbury! There is only a Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster! That character in Canterbury is not a bishop! He is not a priest! (Crescendo) I suppose you think that Anthony Quinn was the pope!"

Becket suddenly was replaced by Pius V, and, in what I assume was a reference to Canterbury and the ordination of women (a very controversial topic at the time), Tom ominously declared: "There is but one holy, catholic, and apostolic church! And there are no Bo Peeps in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church!"

Pius then was superseded by, of all people, I assume Babe Ruth, as Tom began swinging a huge bat (fortunately imaginary). "In our Holy Mother Church, it's ONE strike, you're out! And it does not matter that you are a much better Christian, than I am! One strike, you're out! And you may not, under pain of mortal sin, answer me with saying you have never denied anything! " (I may be no authority on baseball, but know enough to be glad that I refrained from commenting that I intend to "walk," which shouldn't be difficult, considering I have more balls than many a bishop I could mention.)

I, of course, needed to summon every speck of my previous theatrical experience not to laugh aloud at this commentary, the more since it was delivered with such righteous thunder. However, I made a 'fatal error.' Tom, waiting for some humble response (though he should have known me better than to expect just that), finally said outright, "Well! Is it not true that there is ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic church?"

I answered, "Have I ever denied that?"

May Tom rest in peace and rise in glory... even if heaven is quite crowded with all of those Anglican saints. :)