Saturday, March 12, 2016

Discernment, Living the Canticle

This morning my little daily Mass prep and thanksgiving book quoted the Song of Songs 3:4 speaking about our relationship with the Lord Whom we receive in Holy Communion:
"...inveni quem diligit anima mea: tenui eum, nec dimittam..."
"...I found him, so tenderly loved; and now that he is mine I will never leave him, never let him go..."

"Never let you go" is about as romantic as you can get. We need to say it to Jesus but an awful lot. 

If we did speak to Jesus in romantic terms, well, lots would sort itself out on its own and that which we call discernment would be easier too, I am sure. I mean that in the sense of the popular anecdote about great St. Bonaventure, who when asked about the inspiration for his theological work picked up the Crucifix from his writing desk, and showed it worn from handling and blackened from having been kissed so often by the saint. Yes, I think romance is a fair description of what is here at stake.

One of the oddest turns of phrase used by Catholics in our day and time would be that more liberal mindset, which seems to give a key role in liturgy to good preaching, to sermons heard, as somehow essential or life-giving, as almost a sine qua non for Catholic life. I won't challenge that assertion when applied outside of Mass and indeed I'll point to an apocalyptic preacher like St. Vincent Ferrer, or to the great mendicants, like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Dominic, and insist, yes, on the preaching of the Word for Church reform. Nonetheless, that experience is prior or peripheral to yours and mine in church, our daily bread, which is seeking and coming to hold the Beloved and not let Him go, and that is Eucharist. 

All those who seek to break down the doors of Sunday and deprive it of its stillness and contemplation, of its embrace of the Beloved in the Holy Eucharist, have turned their backs on Christ and seek to draw others to themselves. They divert their own focus and that of others from the Lord Jesus. The same is applicable to those who deny a place to devotional confession as a sacramental preparation for full participation in the source and summit of our Christian existence, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

One of my greatest joys this Lent here in the Nunciature in Bern has been that of celebrating Holy Mass in our newly renewed and oriented chapel. I get the impression that it has been a freeing experience for the sisters as well. "...inveni quem diligit anima mea: tenui eum, nec dimittam..."

The Latin Vulgate of the Canticle of Canticles offers for individual verses or sections headings: sponsus, sponsa, chorus... There is a completeness and a complementarity about it all and the romance is in the focus and purity of it all. 

In overcrowding Sunday and making it discursive, if you will,  over the past half century in particular, we have lost that recollection, that focus, and hence, the romance proper to the nuptial chamber. As a child, my parents and my teachers prepared that encounter in church, especially at Mass, by words and example; monthly confession to the priest in the sacrament of penance played its role as well. A life lived and communicated outside Mass served to prepare and inform the silent encounter in the nuptial chamber, which was the parish church and the sublime act of the Mass of all times. The discursive, which seems to permeate all in some parishes, needs again to find its proper place as preparatory and complementary to the unbloody renewal of His Sacrifice upon the Cross. "..and now that he is mine I will never leave him, never let him go..."

The "bare bones" approach of turning church and sanctuary into the public square has to withdraw and give way to the canticle which accompanies a process which verbalizes and celebrates the encounter to be solemnized in the presence of the angels and saints. Outside of Mass and Sunday, we need to prepare ourselves and God's flock for Mass lest our people not find the Beloved One Whom we seek. The preachers must find their place in the public square and light the way to the temple, to the nuptial chamber. Healing and restoration is the order of the day.


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