Remiss Have I Been of Late

Wow, it has been a while since I post­ed any­thing. And I had been start­ing out so well. Alas, life gets in the way of art, and get­ting to the com­put­er is often the last thing on a very long list of things that require my atten­tion. Any­way, I’m still alive, and excit­ed to hear that — slow­ly — new read­ers are find­ing this lit­tle cor­ner of the web. I hope that you will all find cause to return again soon. Cer­tain­ly I plan to be back much more often than the past month has allowed me to. It is hard, at the end of a long and often utter­ly drain­ing day, to find even a few words to string togeth­er in a form that is worth shar­ing with the world. All too often I am best served by sim­ply going to my sleep. So for­give my long silence, and check back soon; I have hopes for sub­stan­tive utter­ances in the very near future.

Ordination Day

Today I received an invi­ta­tion to my ordi­na­tion.

Not real­ly, of course. I just cel­e­brat­ed my sec­ond wed­ding anniver­sary, my wife and I are hap­pi­ly rais­ing our four-month-old son, and I would­n’t change any of that. But the fact that I spent almost four years in a Catholic sem­i­nary, trav­el­ing near­ly halfway to the priest­hood, is some­thing that is always in the back of my mind. And this year the mem­o­ries are espe­cial­ly poignant: had I stayed the course, I would be receiv­ing the sacra­ment of Holy Orders this sum­mer. In a par­al­lel life, where I dis­cerned a dif­fer­ent voca­tion, I would be a priest in six weeks.

I have two class­mates get­ting ordained in July. I have not seen either of them in almost five years. We have not kept in touch. They have been study­ing at a sem­i­nary in Rome, far away in a dif­fer­ent world, a world I once lived in, too. I trust they are hap­py. I am excit­ed at the thought of the priests they will be; they are good young men, and they will serve God and the Church well for many years to come. I am look­ing for­ward to being there in the cathe­dral when the bish­op lays his hands on their heads and the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it comes upon them, mak­ing them priests for­ev­er.

But it will be a sad day for me, too; anoth­er bit­ter­sweet reminder of how I used to be on the inside, and am now for­ev­er on the out­side look­ing in. This is dif­fi­cult to write about, because I find myself danc­ing a razor-thin line: on the one hand, I do not wish to give the erro­neous impres­sion that I regret my deci­sion to leave priest­ly for­ma­tion (I do not), and on the oth­er hand I do not want to come across as a bit­ter young man whin­ing about his fail­ure. I am a hap­pi­ly-mar­ried young Catholic man with a deep attach­ment to the (extreme­ly for­ma­tive) time I spent in prepa­ra­tion for a life­time in ser­vice to my God and to my Church. The real­i­ty is that I dis­cerned — through much prayer and heart­break — that my heart was not being called to the ordained min­is­te­r­i­al priest­hood. But the real­i­ty is also that, ulti­mate­ly, I remain no less called to serve the Peo­ple of God; I am just still find­ing the pre­cise how.

So I am look­ing for­ward to being there in some back pew as two young men take the final step and devote them­selves, body and soul, to the ser­vice of God’s Peo­ple. I will prob­a­bly cry, clutch­ing my young son as my wife puts her con­sol­ing arm around me. I will hold them close, my fam­i­ly, my voca­tion, and I will pray for my two friends as they fol­low their divine call­ing. And I will pray that all of us, togeth­er, can build the City of God with peace and love.

I could not write on an island

I need an audi­ence to be able to write. This is a fact that I some­times try to change, or ignore, but it is a fact that does­n’t allow itself to be changed or ignored, and I have learned to stop try­ing.

What does it mean for me, this need for an audi­ence? I have felt it for as long as I can remem­ber. When I was a lit­tle boy, I would cre­ate fan­tas­tic tales, and recite them to my beloved moth­er, who often indulged me fur­ther by act­ing as my stenog­ra­ph­er, bridg­ing for me the frus­trat­ing gap between my rabid­ly-fecund cre­ative mind and my utter paral­y­sis when con­front­ed with the project of con­vert­ing those cre­ations into any kind of writ­ten form. I still have a file fold­er of those ear­ly works, and I know that she has a much larg­er one at home. I was a cre­ative lit­tle pris­on­er to my own per­fec­tion­ism, and it was a long and painful jour­ney to escape. I am still not sure that the escape is com­plete, but I keep run­ning, just in case.

Through­out my high school years I kept a diary, pri­mar­i­ly as a record of my already-bizarre dreams, but also filled with ado­les­cent hopes, fears, dreams, and the like. From the very first pages my very pri­vate prose assumes an audi­ence, or at least pos­ter­i­ty. This usu­al­ly took the form of direct apolo­gies to my “dear read­ers” after long gaps in my entries, although the pages are also scat­tered with edi­to­r­i­al remarks and clar­i­fi­ca­tions in the form of foot­notes and mar­gin­a­lia.

Once I left home, it was as a stu­dent pur­su­ing a degree in Eng­lish; my audi­ence — in the form of pro­fes­sors and class­mates — came with the pack­age. And when this was not enough, I start­ed pub­lish­ing my own newslet­ter about, what else, me.

The Float­ing Egg was an amaz­ing era for me, and while I hes­i­tate to declare that chap­ter closed, it is increas­ing­ly appar­ent to me that the Egg will prob­a­bly nev­er again be what it once was, and if it does live on, it will be in some high­ly evolved form (e.g. this blog). Some oth­er time, per­haps, I would like to explore the his­to­ry and evo­lu­tion of that shame­less lit­tle pub­li­ca­tion, but for now I think this acknowl­edg­ment will suf­fice: the Egg made me into the writer I am, both by feed­ing and fuel­ing my need for an audi­ence, and by allow­ing me to devel­op — some­times with excru­ci­at­ing awk­ward­ness — my voice, and the con­fi­dence to write with clar­i­ty and flair about my real expe­ri­ences. I shared myself in those pages, and it felt good.

And I con­tin­ue to cre­ate my own audi­ence today. This blog is read by no more than five or six peo­ple that I know of (although none of you have been com­ment­ing on any­thing yet, so it is hard to real­ly know…), and yet this new venue is one of the high­lights of my life right now. I love to write, I love being a writer, and I don’t ever want to stop. And as long as I can believe that peo­ple out there are read­ing the words I put on this or any oth­er page, I will nev­er have to.

The passion is gone

I have offi­cial­ly lost it.

Five years ago, when I first began this job, I used to love being a book­seller. And even now, with my recent bit­ter­ness toward the high­er lev­els of the cor­po­ra­tion, with my dis­ap­point­ment at the direc­tion the com­pa­ny is turn­ing, and any hope I may have once had for a future with this com­pa­ny dwin­dling to noth­ing; with all the rage and hate that I have been keep­ing bot­tled up, unre­leased, inside my poor abused soul — with all that, I have all along con­soled myself with the knowl­edge that, at the bot­tom of it all, I was still, in prin­ci­ple, at least, doing some­thing I enjoyed and took pride in. Sell­ing books was intrin­si­cal­ly, some­thing worth doing, and no amount of cap­i­tal­ist shenani­gans could whol­ly eclipse that glow­ing truth.

Until today. Today I realised that, while I still firm­ly believe that book­selling is a noble call­ing, I per­son­al­ly can no longer even pre­tend to do it. And that is a cru­el truth to absorb into my already over­flow­ing soul.

It is the day before Moth­er’s Day, and the store is busy. A boy comes up to the infor­ma­tion desk. He is per­haps 12 or 13 years old, and is vis­i­bly ner­vous, painful­ly so. It is quite all he can do to get his ques­tion out, even though I am sure he had rehearsed it a hun­dred times:

Where would you have books for some­one who likes Jane Austen and Iris Mur­doch?”

Obvi­ous­ly the lad want­ed to find a nice gift for a moth­er whom he tru­ly loved, and he want­ed my help. No, worse, he need­ed my help. And I had noth­ing. I knew I should be able to point him toward at least a hand­ful of rec­om­men­da­tions for him, but I just could­n’t think of any­thing. I fee­bly point­ed him toward the Sis­ters Bron­të, and he was grate­ful. But I was cry­ing inside, and I only felt worse the more thought I gave it. This poor unsus­pect­ing lad had put his trust in me, and I had been entire­ly unde­serv­ing of that trust. I was no longer a wor­thy book­seller; I was a fraud, and — melo­dra­ma and hyper­bole aside — that was putting inno­cent peo­ple at risk, not of phys­i­cal harm, per­haps, but cer­tain­ly dis­ap­point­ment and even heart­break. That is no way to live, and I can’t do it any­more. I can’t do it myself, and I can’t do it to unsus­pect­ing oth­ers, either. It’s just not fair…

Trying to explain the Liturgy Wars

As I begin to elab­o­rate in writ­ing on my expe­ri­ence of twen­ty-sev­en years of Catholi­cism, it is increas­ing­ly clear to me that Church pol­i­tics are almost entire­ly inac­ces­si­ble to the unini­ti­at­ed. As some­thing I grew up with, and then active­ly involved myself in, it all seems so straight­for­ward, so nat­ur­al. It is a mat­ter of course for me to say that the focal point of the con­ser­v­a­tive-lib­er­al divide was the prop­er cel­e­bra­tion of the Mass; it is like say­ing that social unrest in Latin Amer­i­ca is about eco­nom­ics — both are ridicu­lous sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, but at the same time they are accu­rate enough to go on with. Yet one of the biggest obsta­cles I have run up against in my ear­ly work on my pro­ject­ed sem­i­nary mem­oir is the dif­fi­cul­ty in explain­ing to ‘out­siders’ just what exact­ly we were so worked up about. And when the audi­ence isn’t even quite sure what I mean by ‘litur­gy’ then it becomes clear to me that this is going to require much more than mere pass­ing ref­er­ences and glib insid­er par­lance to ade­quate­ly con­vey the true pas­sion of the litur­gy wars of the past forty years.

Where to begin? As I sit down to tack­le this, I realise that, while I am per­son­al­ly famil­iar with the var­i­ous posi­tions in play and the con­se­quences of the unend­ing con­flict, I have very lit­tle sense of the actu­al his­to­ry of the con­flict, the ide­o­log­i­cal sources of the two camps, the devel­op­ments in the past decade, or above all how to express the polar­is­ing rage that I per­son­al­ly expe­ri­enced — a rage that per­haps is the most char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture of the whole divi­sive his­to­ry of the Catholic Church over the past four decades.

Well, let me take this stab at this. One of the most vis­i­ble results of the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil (1962–65) was the dras­tic reform of the litur­gy, the rit­u­als of pub­lic wor­ship for Catholics around the world. Cel­e­brat­ed for cen­turies (I don’t real­ly know how long) exclu­sive­ly in the Latin tongue, the Coun­cil fathers sud­den­ly pulled the rug out from under the faith­ful by not only man­dat­ing cel­e­bra­tion in the local lan­guage, but also dra­mat­i­cal­ly revis­ing the entire order of wor­ship, sim­pli­fy­ing the rit­u­als in an effort to restore the act of com­mu­nal wor­ship to its most fun­da­men­tal struc­tures, and in so doing ren­der­ing the week­ly Sun­day cel­e­bra­tion of the Mass almost unrecog­nis­able to count­less Catholics.

Almost imme­di­ate­ly there arose a tra­di­tion­al­ist resis­tance move­ment in the Church, cling­ing to the famil­iar Tri­den­tine Rite — the litur­gy as estab­lished by the Coun­cil of Trent (1545–63) — and reject­ing the “New Rite” whole­sale as a mod­ernist degra­da­tion, or worse. Every­thing con­tin­ued to fall apart from there, with atti­tudes toward the litur­gy becom­ing indica­tive of how indi­vid­u­als stood in regards to oth­er con­tentious issues in the Church, set­ting neigh­bours against each oth­er in often-bit­ter strife, and so we reach the seem­ing­ly-unrec­on­cil­able polar­i­sa­tion that paral­y­ses the Peo­ple of God today.

That, at least, is a thumb­nail of my under­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. But I have no specifics, no names of key play­ers, no time­line, no his­tor­i­cal or the­o­log­i­cal back­ground for the oppos­ing posi­tions. This is just my impres­sion, and it may well be erro­neous (though I have lived and breathed this for so long that I will be severe­ly dis­ori­ent­ed if that is the case). What I am look­ing for, now, is some feed­back from any­one who may have some or all of the infor­ma­tion I lack. Can some­one out there point me toward books or oth­er resources to help me put togeth­er all the specifics and acquire the depth of knowl­edge that will enable me in turn to explain this trag­ic con­flict to future read­ers? I would deeply appre­ci­ate your assis­tance!