Monday, December 26, 2016

Frohbotschaft, Drohbotschaft!


Viderunt omnes termini terrae salutare Dei nostri.

For some odd reason, in these very days I have been cursed or privileged with a kind of new awareness, a shocking sensation of how in the world it must feel to be people who have for decades and still do wield the German expression "Frohbotschaft, Drohbotschaft" (FD), or its equivalent in some other language, against the shepherds and preachers within the Church who are trying to do their very best to lead others to Christ, true to the faith as it comes to us from the Apostles. It's the very same "no" some children, once grown, interpose to their parents' best efforts to share the faith with their offspring.

This FD posture has always been foreign to me and utterly impossible for me to reconcile with the faith gifted to me by my parents' loving witness and in which I have now grown almost old myself. I've always experienced this FD opposition to the Church's Tradition as not unlike a big, fat club swung indiscriminately against folk, against parents and especially against priests and bishops, against all those trying their loving best to be faithful to Christ and His saving word of salvation. Now, for whatever reason, I seem to have gained some appreciation for their funk. This is not to say that I accept it as a tenable position within the body Catholic; it is their mood, this negativism, so blunting and paralyzing, which I have sort of come to appreciate for whatever reason or insight. It hurts and fills me with compassion for those so afflicted.

When someone is in an FD mood, possessed or obsessed by such a negative spirit, there's nothing the apostle can say or do to touch this heart. This cant (there's no other way to describe it from outside) would seem to describe the guilty or intransigent party to a conflict, which one could label a case of irreconcilable differences. Confronted by one adept at FD, one cannot help but be tempted of despairing not only of the possibility of truth or nobility winning the argument but even of achieving together some sort of shared life lived under a flag of truce. The estrangement is total here and I wonder at the tolerance the Church has shown toward any number of FD movements over the past decades.

Today on St. Stephen, I was thinking about what is at stake in the FD position. It cannot be other than the heart of the Creed, our faith in the person and nature of Jesus Christ. Those who opposed Stephen, those who with Saul ultimately stoned him to death, would not accept Stephen's witness to the Son of God. To say they were faithless is accurate, but ultimately it's the rage which taints the FD position and renders it a negation, challenging the fullness of faith with proposals, but ultimately not exceeding a very bitter "no" to the Good News.

The other day, a priest told me about a conflict he had with the redaction of the parish bulletin and the description of the various services offered therein on any given weekend. He insisted that it should be noted in the parish bulletin where and which were Masses and which were services of the word. The FD opposition was furious and nearly "stoned" him for his profession of faith in the source and summit of Christian existence, namely the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

From the Second Reading of today's Office (A sermon of St Fulgentius of Ruspe, entitled: The armour of love):

"Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.
  Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
  Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvelous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.
  And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.
  Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.
  Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.
  My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together."

I need to believe with Fulgentius and the whole tradition that Christ-like love can win the victory over the FD funk. In the face of something so dark and sad, it is not easy, but the love which has come into the world truly casts out darkness.

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