Refusing the Medicine We Need

H1N1 VaccineRecently, 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 – following, nobody wanted to risk this much. Others said that they were concerned about side-effects that could exacerbate and worsen the conditions of their already sick children, which happens quite often (read more at 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.

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About Phillip Clark

Phillip Clark is a social justice visionary, writer, and paralegal in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a contributing author to "Hyrsteria: A Zine of Social Difference" by Tanya Garcia and Valeria Molinari Interests include politics, theology, civil/human rights, social justice, LGBT rights, international relations, and history.

9 thoughts on “Refusing the Medicine We Need

  1. I don’t understand how allowing the Latin mass is telling people to “stay in your place.” I have never been to a Latin mass, but from what I’ve been told, the congregation takes as much of a spiritual role in that form as in the Novus Ordo, maybe less auidible, but no less spiritual. Active participation, regardless of the form (physical, audible, spiritual) is the responsibility of the individual attending mass.

    Side note – it is also my understanding that there is nothing in the Novus Ordo that requires the priest to face the congregation. In fact, I’ve heard that Benedict XVI prefers facing the east because of the sacred nature of the direction, and it better reflects the priest, in persona christi, as head of the congregation making their sacrificial presentation to God. I think people who assume that the priest having his back to the congregation is some sort of spiritual snub are mistaken.

    One of the things that has drawn me back to being a practicing catholic in the past two years or so is that the Church has an ancient memory. What seems like evolving cultural norms to us are really just the same problems being rehashed over the ages, from the Church’s perspective. There are some that argue that the cultural norms of today’s society are more akin to those of ancient Rome or Greece, particularly in regards to sexual morality. Others claim that we are entering a Post-Christian western world, even though it tends to resemble pre-christian morality.

    My point is – history repeats itself. The more things change, the more they stay the same. One thing that doesn’t change is God. God can’t change or contradict Himself. Jesus, God, instituted the sacraments, including Holy Orders and Marriage, therefore they cannot change.

    Homosexual relations and non-christian female priests were contemporary realities of Jesus’ physical time on Earth (not that that really would matter, as God, Jesus knows all). If these were meant to be blessed realities of christianity, Jesus, God, who can do anything, surely would have.

    Is it really possible that the Magisterium can trump God for almost 2000 years? That’s a conspiracy theory that makes the Birthers sound rational.

    • No offense Nate, but why do you always paruse these blogs if you never agree with what’s said here? Are you trying to enlighten and correct our “heresy?”

      • I was at a Theology on Tap seminar the other week called Stump the Bishop, and one of the attendees asked about the relationship between the Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches. In response, he said something that really peaked my ears. He said we have “unity through diversity.” The idea that we hold some very basic truths in common and express them differently is a beautiful concept.

        How boring life would be if we never broke bread with those that disagreed with us.

      • “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.”

        I’ve hardly been a “observer” at any of the Extraordinary Form Masses I’ve attended in the past. I’m usually praying the same prayers as the priest, making the words of the Rite my own, in unity with those around me who are praying the same. But to each their own interpretation. Have you been to a E.F. Mass before?

        As to the New Mass translations-consider the translation something like the RSV-a more literal and clear statement of the theological precepts in the Mass prayers (really, the current translation is awful). Oddly enough, the issues you seem to take with the translation aren’t much of a problem to Episcopals and Anglicans, many of whom are quite progressive, whose translations of the text are similar to the New translations coming down the wire (et cum spiritu tuo, anyone?).

        So, I don’t see the liturgical reform to connect with your larger issue of Church reform. In fact, it seems more progressive to allow people the opportunity to worship in whatever method they want-there are RC churches now that don’t stick to the Missal, the new translations won’t change that one bit.

      • Oh, I replied to your message specifically, because it seemed snarky and snide (regardless of you “no offense” at the beginning). What happened to dialogue, or discussion?

      • I just don’t understand why Catholics who have opposing views to those expressed on this blog continue to comment. It doesn’t help anything. I’m not trying to silence differing views or anything of the sort. But I just don’t see how on a blog dedicated to reform within the Church to discuss it’s productive to defend what we’re trying to reform…

        And I have been to a celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form once before, and I intend to go again. I agree with the Holy Father’s decision to allow the Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form. It’s when certain factions try to impose regulations on the Ordinary Form which are not in the spirit of what the Second Vatican Council intended that I worry. And the “spirit of Vatican II” is not something that was just created by a bunch of radical hippies. Read Gaudium et Spes.

      • I don’t blog much, well, at all…I just post responses when I have a thought…isn’t that the purpose of a blog – to hear what the readers and writers are thinking?

        When you say that it doesn’t help anything, I think you are wrong. My reading of this blog exposes me to views that I don’t always agree with. My posting responses on this blog exposes the writers to thoughts they don’t always agree with. My hope is that both grow through the process.

        I know I have.

  2. Why do the writers here always criticize those people who don’t agree with them? My last post I wrote on the blog article was deleted by someone. I guess if you can’t argue logically, you’ll just silence the opposition. Is this how liberal/”progressives” act? I thought all of you were so tolerant. I knew I was wrong in that assumption.

    If you would like us to show you the proof of your heresy, we will. But I’m not sure anyone who writes for this blog is willing to ever allow any opposition to their liberal/”progressive” ideas. I guess your arguments wont stand up to scrutiny against the truth.

    • Hi, Mrissman. I’m the comment moderator for this blog, and I take the responsibility very seriously. I in no way want to silence dialogue. However, there is sometimes a fine line between “dialogue” and attacks that can make this blog feel emotionally unsafe. When I decide whether or not to approve comments, I carefully consider them against our commenting policy. If one of your comments has been deleted, you may want to compare it against the commenting policy as well to see why we might have made that decision. Disagreement alone is certainly not grounds for a removed comment.

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