Ever ancient, ever new

A friend of mine, a member of my old parish, received the following email and responded to it. I’m emboldening the text I consider important:

Dear Rally Captain,

Congratulations on becoming a Rally Captain in the 2013 Public Square Rosary Crusade!

At this crucial historical moment, you’re part of a Rosary Crusade scheduled for thousands of cities at noon on October 12, 2013, the Saturday nearest to the 96th anniversary of the Fatima miracle of the sun.

The intention for our Rosary Crusade is to beg God and Our Lady to save America from today’s immorality and secularism.

Please know that here at America Needs Fatima, we’re committed to giving you the best assistance possible for your rally preparations.

My friend answered thus:

My name is [BLANK]
We have participated in the Fatima Rosary Rally on the Saturday nearest Oct. 13 for over 10 years. But this year, We will be having our Rosary Rally on Sat., October 19, to commemorate the 96th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. and asking everyone to pray the Rosary on Oct 12 and 13 at Noon on their own. October 12 doesn’t work for our Public Square Rosary Rally this year. We will begin at noon, on Oct. 19, at [LOCATION] in front of the Fatima Statue and we will walk and pray the Social Justice Rosary to the War Memorial on [LOCATION] and back to the Fatima Statue.

It was an ordinary email exchange, forwarded to me and many others. It was meant to keep us updated in case we wanted to join in. But I am, by nature, an over-analyzer. So I analyzed the dynamic I discovered, the tension between these two emails.

Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima often has a conservative if not reactionary bent. When the sender of the first email pleads for God and Mary to save us from “today’s immorality and secularism,” those words are probably code, indicating a preferential consideration for certain kinds of issues. The sender is (let’s admit it) most likely focused on moral decline exemplified by sex and abortion and gays.

But, while she is a long-time participant in the Rosary Crusade, my friend just does not match the expected profile. Her biggest priorities include marching at peace rallies and working for immigrant justice. She leads a Pax Christi group. She is associated with Catholic Worker houses. She attends Call To Action conferences.

And this year, not only will my friend and her group change the date on which they commemorate the miracle of the sun, to better meet the needs of those who are participating, but they will pray what she calls the “Social Justice Rosary.” I don’t know what she means, specifically. But I imagine somebody wrote up a way of observing and meditating on the mysteries that is clearly in line with the other activities my friend participates in.

I thought about this. I thought about her. I started drawing lines and making connections.

For example, I vaguely remembered a remark made by the Rev. Anthony Ruff, OSB. (Ruff is a liturgist who worked for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. He consulted on the current edition of the Roman Missal. He later defected when Rome, exerting its will through a new intermediary committee called Vox Clara, disemboweled years of painstaking work.) Anyway, I searched Fr. Ruff online at National Catholic Reporter, and found the article I was thinking of:

“I would love to belong to a community that was working for the transformation of unjust structures in church and society as well as offering direct outreach to the victims of oppression,” [Ruff] said. “But this fantasy religious community would also pray the entire office in Latin chant….”

I thought about myself as well. I’m neck-deep in the progressive Catholic movement, of course. It is, in some ways, the edge of the church. But looking around my bedroom, I find:

A faded plastic-framed image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (very 1950s-looking);

Russian and Greek Orthodox icons (my maternal grandmother came from that religious background);

A crucifix that I decorate with liturgically-appropriate ribbons (right now they’re green for Ordinary Time);

And a decorative wooden Polish plate featuring Matka Boska Czestochowska (Our Lady of Czestochowa, the image of Mary that John Paul II grew up with).

And, on the day I started writing this, I also prayed in Latin. It was at church, after Mass, and it was my favorite of the moment: the Anima Christi (“Soul of Christ, sanctify me”).

I guess what I’m trying to say is: we know the Catholic heritage is an abundant storeroom of many old and shiny things. But one of the marvelous and characteristically Catholic complexities of this heritage, a complexity full of possibility we’ve yet to truly grasp, is this: while we have it, nobody owns it.

There are those who, sometimes, act like they own it. They claim to decide exactly how, and when, all of it will be used. They use images and devotions, Latin and the Rosary, and many other things to enforce very particular, holier-than-thou, in-group boundaries.

But that isn’t true for me, or for Fr. Ruff, or for my friend and her Fatima rally. If you want, you can claim or reclaim all the old and shiny things. They can have new dimensions, different meanings. They can liberate you. You can liberate them.

3 thoughts on “Ever ancient, ever new

  1. Thanks to the militant St. Louis de Montfort tradition of the rosary as a weapon, I long eschewed praying it. It wasn’t until my pastor pointed out that it’s more like Buddhist prayer beads, and after finding Sr. Joan Chittister’s rosary devotional that I realized that it is much more than a culture war trinket.

    • It’s been a long time since I said the rosary–a loooong time–but back when I was doing it consistently, I used the repetitiousness of it to lull me into the scenes to imagine I was there. Ignatian prayer, essentially, though I didn’t know to call it that. It could be profound sometimes. It would be interesting to go back to it with the kind of faith outlook I have now, since I’ve changed a lot since then.

  2. Pingback: Friday Round-Up: 10/4/13 | Catholic Majority

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