Respect Tradition, Respect Progress

A church that worships itself fails to worship God.  This is a major concern for those who have left the Catholic Church in recent years.  They witnessed as the church sought answers by referencing itself rather than referencing God.  They watched as the church defended and protected itself rather than defending and protecting God’s people who were wounded and fractured by some of her leaders.  People want to be part of a church that worships God, references God for answers, and protects God’s people who are suffering.

Recently at a Borromeo Academy school team gathering, one of our teachers stated to the others: “Remember that we are here to teach children not teach the classical model.  Though it is a beautiful framework for us to utilize, it is not our primary purpose.”  When she said those words, other teachers commented that we sometimes over-zealously elevate our wonderful model of educating above those we are here to educate.  It was a good insight that, I think, applies to many aspects of our faith and works.  We sometimes forget our endgame: that what we teach and how we worship should point us to heaven and create a better existence here on earth.

People often label others as liberal or conservative and subsequently make judgments about them based on that labeling.  It happens in our country, as in others, and it is especially evident during election years.  It occurs in churches and schools, too.  Saint Charles Borromeo Parish has an interesting history that has vacillated from one side to another.  For example, the founding pastor commissioned conventional stained-glass windows of male saints while his successor added others of abstract art.  One pastor authorized an icon cruciform as the dominant feature in our sanctuary and another experimented with puppet ministry while yet another carried around a pocket-sized canon law book to cite ecclesial abuses and still another wanted to turn his back to the congregation during Masses because the assembly distracted him; and still another lasted less than one year because he was overwhelmed by the polarizing forces.  Similar stories pepper the history of our school and other parish ministries.

Though these pastors, principals, and parishioners had their preferences, they were reasonable people—mostly—who tried to balance opposing viewpoints as best as they could.  They operated within the middle eighty yards of the proverbial football field, understanding that those on the extreme ends have no intention, and sometimes no capability, to move forward.  Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge the dichotomy, even reverence the dignity of both sides while confronting the chasm they create.  Traditional and progressive views still exist here, and always will.

Many Catholics center their attention on worship.  The Mass belongs to the church and follows an order that cannot be altered, though within the order there are plenty of options and flexibility.  Some Catholics define “the church” as hierarchy, in this case those appointed to manage The Office of Divine Worship, while others define “the church” as The People of God or Body of Christ, i.e., the worshiping community.  The fullest definition probably exists somewhere in the middle.  Yet, since the Mass is our gift to the Lord, maybe it ought to belong to God, who, in Sacred Scripture, also had a lot to say about worship.

I think that Saint Charles Borromeo, because of our history, has a good opportunity to be a community in which traditional and progressive members can work in harmony, take the best of what the two offer, and move forward together.  I realize that those operating inside the ten yard lines of either camp do not possess the capacity to empathize with the other side and are, therefore, unable to join in.  But many others with strong convictions can.  While those on the far right have a tendency to become fundamentalists who get mired down in regulations and rubrics, those on the far left have a tendency to become cynics or atheists who toss aside logic in favor of a personal feeling or current trend.

I would love for our Saint Charles Borromeo community to take on this challenge and become a model for other communities to deal with discrepancies they face.  We have a great opportunity to serve the larger church, if we can.  Just as our school is here to teach children within the framework of a spectacular model of learning so is our worship here so that we can give praise and thanks to God.  Tradition and progress are two positive characteristics valued by everyone who exists within the middle eighty-yards.  We ought to be able to respect, reverence, and honor them in one another.