Recently, the nation has been captivated once again by the spread of the H1N1 flu epidemic (commonly dubbed as the “swine flu”). Although the illness has not claimed as many lives within America as it was first feared it would the number of individuals who have perished as a result continue to dishearten and prevent any sense of normalcy from returning to the lives of most Americans. It’s been reported that 76 children have died nationwide from succumbing to the virus. (Why they’ve continued to refill the holy water fonts in my parish once again is beyond me…)
Strangely, many parents have reservations about their children receiving the new vaccine. An Associated Press poll reported that a third of American parents questioned stated that they would not allow their children to receive the H1N1 inoculation. Many cited fears that the vaccine was so new and untested that it would not prove to be effective. Others said that they were concerned about side-effects that could exacerbate and worsen the conditions of their already sick children. And still others thought that the swine flu was no worse than the regular flu and would just require their children to receive the regular annual flu shot.
To me at least, this is confusing and not to say the least, foolish, bizarre, and unwarranted judgment. Seeing the number of deaths caused by this pandemic, particularly among children, who would not want to protect their children against the possible threats of this new and unfamiliar disease? Why would anyone turn down an opportunity to be healed from affliction?
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI’s Weekly General Audience focused, ironically, on another kind of medicine. The pontiff centered his reflections on a saint born in the sixteenth century, St. John Leonardi. This former pharmacist was the founder of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, which is dedicated to evangelization and was one of the contemporaries of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, a period during which reform and renewal was, simultaneously, attempted and crushed under foot. Pope Benedict summarized his reflection on the saint by saying that Christ is the “medicine of God” and that any type of reform or renewal must be initiated out of love for Him and for the Church.
So, it seems that His Holiness might finally, unofficially, be endorsing movements of reform within the Church! Not so fast… Recently, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, leader of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., has come out openly opposed to the District’s propositions currently underway to legalize same-sex marriage. The usually moderate Wuerl is now starting to show colors that are remarkably similar to some of his other notoriously and aggressively conservative brother bishops when it comes to this issue.
Just this week Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Detroit; and a tireless advocate of peace, justice, women’s equality, and especially homosexual rights, was denied the opportunity to speak to a gathering about the topic of peace in the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan. Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette has explained this decision as a result of Bishop Gumbleton’s outspoken views on the issues of homosexuality and women’s ordination (even though this was not the topic of the discussion that was to be held).
So it seems that real and genuine reforms, at least according to Pope Benedict, are only ones that deviate minutely from the status quo and leave the mechanisms of the universal Church largely unchanged, as it has been for centuries. One example of Pope Benedict’s “reforms” has been to allow the universal, unimcumbored, celebration of the pre-Vatican II, Tridentine Mass, which is said entirely in Latin, with the celebrant facing towards the East, with usually little or no vocal participation by the laity who are just observers to the priest-celebrant. While this really doesn’t seem to have huge implications for the Church it does send a message, “Keep the people in their place” This stark assertion was just what the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had to wake up to last week as she was described as not “knowing her place” by members of the Republican Congressional Committee.
Another taste of Benedict’s “reforms” will especially be felt here in the States very soon. A new translation of the Order of the Mass has been ordered by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome that is more in tune with the official Latin translation. The current translation in use, which was created in the 70’s in the wake of Vatican II, was written to appeal to an aspect of community which was reawakened when the Church was described as the “People of God” at the Council. Saying “and also with you”, “I believe in… Jesus Christ… one in being with the Father”, some of these expressions will be changed to be in greater conformity with the Latin text. Some changes aren’t that noticeable, but some others, will be very difficult for current day Mass-goers to relate to. While at first glance it may not seem like that big of a deal, aren’t these measures just simply reinforcing the barriers between the clergy and the laity that had been modified during the Second Vatican Council?
True reform is indeed centered on a love for Christ and His Church. But why could Christ’s love, which is such a radical, revitalizing force, not be exercised when pondering new circumstances, new cultural contexts, and new questions for the life of the Church? When Pope Benedict speaks about love for Christ is this just a substitute for loving the bishops who carry out his orders?
The Church is lovingly described as our “Mother.” But in many cases nowadays it seems that “Holy Mother Church” has abandoned her children. Christ proclaimed Himself as the Fountain of Life-Giving Water who would provide solace, refuge, and fatigue to all those in distress and peril, especially those marginalized by society. Why can Pope Benedict and the leaders of the Church not realize that the Body of Christ is sick, and as we are reminded of in St. Paul’s Epistles, what effects one member of Christ’s Body, effects us all.