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

26 April 2013

One Oath, One Law, One Liturgy

As the Chartering Organization Representative for our parish Boy Scout units, I subscribe to Scouting magazine.  In the most recent hard-copy issue, I read that, as of 2015, all BSA programs (Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Venturing Crew) will be using the same Oath and Law, namely the one used by the Boy Scouts.  According to Bob Scott, senior innovation manager for the BSA, this initiative has been undertaken in order to standardize the language that expresses the organizational mission.

The decision was finalized last October, but the magazine has waited until the current issue to publicize it.  True to the modern M.O., the news was announced in a more timely fashion, specifically on the day of the decision, on Scouting's official adult blog.  The combox hosted an conversation about the changes; it reflected a diversity of opinions which, according to Mr. Scott, have been giving way to consensus.

And life involves contention.
Said Heraclitus, Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστί ("Strife is the father of all things").
The decision was made after considerable reflection and consultation.  Mr. Scott compared it to the Pledge of Allegiance, which first-graders continue to recite without likely understanding its lofty concepts.  It will fall to individual scouting units to engage in age-appropriate conversations about the concepts.

The Church's liturgy permits certain adaptations for congregations mostly made up of children, such as  hymnody and approved renderings of Holy Scripture.  In the second edition of the revised Roman Missal, we had three Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children.  These have been omitted in the recent edition.  I have heard that new Eucharistic Prayers were still on the drawing board, but I am not certain of their existence, let alone a prospective date of release.

As with the Church, I imagine that many members of scouting would have preferred to "leave well enough alone," while others would consider the current verbiage variations not to be "well enough."  Whether there has been a significant contingent eager for change in this matter, I do not know.

My investment in Scouting is not nearly as deep as my investment in the Church, but I recognize the positive influence that both bodies intend for, and enjoy among, their constituencies.  Both aim to form bodies and spirits fit for participation in the greater community.  The language used in corporate rituals has a formative impact upon the community.  While higher-level language may be lost upon many young listeners, it may well inspire the curious ones among them to seek deeper understanding.  That was the effect of the Sacred Liturgy upon me when I was young; and to think that the language has been kicked up a few notches since then!

Now I may have been a different case--a curious one, for sure--but I never complained about an inability to understand what I was hearing in the Liturgy.  That doesn't mean I actually understood it all, or fully understand it yet; but when it comes to the Church--a divine and human institution--I tend to yield to the wisdom of the words and of their origin, eager to grow in understanding and appreciation of both.

Perhaps the standardization of the Scout Oath and Law will prompt the younger boys to "seek the things that are above" (Col 3:1).  I acknowledge the temptation to doubt that today's children are concerned about such things.  Let the flourishing of the BSA and the Church testify to the urgent yet perennial hope that wisdom must never die.

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We will soon see the influence of the collaborative process on another pressing concern for the BSA: the conscious admission of same-sex attracted (SSA) scouts and leaders.  The current organization-wide review and revision process will culminate in a decision during its National Annual Meeting (22-24 May).  The Scouting blog has revealed the organization's proposed resolution to admit SSA youths to their units while continuing to ban SSA adults from leadership roles.  (The combox for this post has nearly four times the number of comments on the subject of the unified oath; as of this writing, the score is 1,151 to 316.  This reflects a similar preference among many Catholics for discussing "hot-button" moral topics over liturgical and doctrinal ones.)
In the media statement that accompanies the blog post, the BSA states: "The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."  Good to know.  I was just about to add, "Hard to enforce," but the statement contains nothing to enforce and the BSA (given the current climate and the sensitivity of the issue) won't likely attempt any enforcement.  The Church, for her part, doesn't have any sort of "police" either, when it comes to people's personal religious and moral conduct.  Because so much is left to the individual conscience, conscience formation remains vitally important.

Unlike the BSA, the Catholic Church is not a democracy.  Like his successors, the current pope will not (cannot!) make changes simply to suit modern sensibilities.  A great many "policies" are rooted in the divine law and/or natural moral law, which cannot change.  Practices that originate in ecclesiastical law may in fact be mutable, but very little in the Church admits of rapid review and revision; moreover, the process of review and revision does not hold everyone's opinion with equal weight.

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