Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

11 February 2013

Bully Pulpit

From the fascinating site Mental Floss, I just picked up the last of "11 Words and Phrases Popularized by Teddy Roosevelt," namely "Bully Pulpit."  If you're like me, you thought that phrase suggested that the speaker was using his position to take unfair advantage of people, much as bullies do what earns their designation.

Fairness doesn't very much enter into it.

We are reminded that "bully," the first half of the term, was Pres. Roosevelt's favored synonym for "grand" or "excellent."  Having played Mortimer Brewster in a high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace, I should have recognized my brother's famous use of bully.

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington posts a call to holiness and mission on the subject of dwindling numbers of Mass attendants.  This manifests alongside the annual Lenten letter of our bishop, whose every oeuvre is a call to holiness and mission.  In this letter Bishop Barres reiterated an earlier direction for every active Catholic to invite an inactive Catholic back to Mass.  I'd love to hear of my readership's seed-sowing successes.

Like many priests, Msgr. Pope takes advantage of situations where many inactive Catholics are present, e.g. funeral Masses, to redirect strayers to the Narrow Path.  His approach is evangelical, as is appropriate for the address that immediately follows the proclamation of the Gospel.  See, it is possible to be evangelical in manner and orthodox in content!

The orthodoxy of content in this situation is that pesky Third Commandment: "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day" (Ex 20:8; Dt 5:12).  There are many ways to observe this precept, but the most obvious one is actual participation in the "sacred synaxis," the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that Our Lord instituted as the perpetual offering of His Body and Blood for the remission of sins.

Icon of the "Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles"
(A Tree is known by its Fruits)
The exception noted by the author of Hebrews has become the norm: "We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some [emphasis mine, as I don't think koine Greek used italics], but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near" (10:25).

Bishop Barres' recommendation is a way for believers to "encourage one another" to act upon their belief.  A faith that is largely theoretical becomes largely "historical": that is, a thing of the past.

Our parish council met this afternoon.  Meetings have been turning to the topic of the Mass Desertion. One member shared how she recently attended a ladies tea at a local Christian fellowship.  Attendees sat at tables which they were allowed to decorate in whatever fashion.  The gathering featured prayer, scripture readings, and speakers.  I was reminded of a similar gathering to which I was invited as a speaker a couple of years ago, in a nearby Catholic parish.  Why couldn't we do something like this, as a way of re-evangelizing our fallen and refreshing our faithful?

I read somewhere that people have begun to prefer worship "events" over the standard Lord's Day Buffet.  Events have themes.  When a parish liturgist asked (I think it was) Fr. George Rutler about the "theme" of a particular Mass, true to form he responded, "The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ."  FTW!  With events, the music, speakers, lighting, etc. become the focus.  The sanctuary becomes a stage, and so much (too much!) depends on the facilitators personality, preferences, etc.
Devotees of the "Extraordinary Form" of the Mass may claim that the Novus Ordo has gone that route, and scarcely could do otherwise; but the Traditional Latin Mass has its own mystical ambience that has drawn younger people whose sense of the sacred may have been malnourished as a result of what they were fed growing up.  We know, too, of Protestants (and Catholics!) who are drawn to Orthodox Christianity because of its Divine Liturgy.  There is beauty everywhere, and this current post is no place to dispute where beauty is most evident.
We would want to make it patently clear that an "event" of this sort is only a supplement to the Mass, and not an alternative.  For the inactive Catholic who attends such a gathering, however, "welcome" is the first and most important word.  The second or third word might be a variation of Hebrews 10:25 cited above, or even something like, "If you liked this gathering, we would like to invite you to a gathering you may or may not 'like,' but one that nonetheless will nourish and form you into the person that God created you to be: a man/woman of Communion."

The same invitation would be extended at any social, athletic or service opportunity, such as the weekend at the soup kitchen, the Kindergarten Christmas tableau, or the youth Eucharistic Adoration service.  This latter has always raised a concern, though I remain a fan of both youth and Adoration.  As a result of such (I dare call them) "events," young people are coming to church, for which, Amen.  Failing to make the Adoration-Consecration Connection, they're not necessarily coming to Mass--because, as I see it, Mass doesn't give them the same feeling, the same experience as a praise concert does.

Msgr. Pope's homily sample (embedded in the post) returns me to the point of attending to the reality and relevance of God-made-Flesh.  Prior to His appearance on the human scene, Jesus was equal to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.  He was behind the issuance of the Third Commandment.  He went through the trouble of suffering and dying and rising from the dead in order to secure forgiveness and salvation.  Willful neglect of this Truth is perilous.

When I take the bread and wine in my hands and proclaim the Lord's words over them, courtesy of the Catholic Church for whom I was ordained, God becomes present for me in a most unique and yet repeatable way.  When I consume the Sacrifice, I become one with it, and am thus sustained in my stumbling execution of what passes for a virtuous life.  I don't know about you, but I constantly need to be re-inserted into this Truth, re-immersed into this Mystery.  I tend to forget stuff rather quickly.

Since Lent is a time for new beginnings, the issuance of an invitation to Mass is the route I hope to take, and my "bully pulpit" will be mobile (not in the newly-restricted sense of the phone, but not at all exclusive of the same).  If this were the only trick of a "one-trick pony," it would suffice.

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THE ABOVE POST pales in significance to the recent news that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has announced his resignation, which he attributes to his failing health.  He is the first to resign the Chair of Peter since 1294.  May the Lord reward him for his labors, and appoint for the Church a capable and holy successor.

"I too hope in this short reign to be a man of peace."

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