Summary: Change is inevitable; growth is optional, morally, spiritually, liturgically.

First Sunday of Lent 2011

The Spirit of the Liturgy

The fruit was, she had to admit, highly attractive. Over the weeks since her creation, she had time to ponder it, to wonder why the fruit of this one tree was off-limits to her and her new husband. She had even invented a foil for her curiosity. Around the “don’t eat it” rule, the second commandment after the one that told them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and be its steward, she wove from whole cloth the rule “don’t even touch it.” But the scent of the tree and the fruit was all around. And the crafty serpent, not yet bound to the earth, convinced her that her senses and her appetites were more reliable than the Word of God. She wanted instant gratification, and the serpent had told her that disobedience was the short cut to divine status. After all, wasn’t it the devout Debbie Boone who sang “You light up my life,” the most popular single of the 70's, the one that ended with the line, “how can it be wrong when it feels so right”? That song was so compelling that it was often used in church services.

But “I like it” is a poor discriminator for helping us determine our moral or liturgical behavior. Our passions, our emotions, as St. Thomas taught, are disordered by original sin. After all, there is an attraction to revenge, adultery, theft, avarice, sleeping in on Sunday morning, “dissing” one’s parents, or else nobody would be doing those things. Obviously, on some level we can and do “like” what is evil, ugly, and false, mostly because it helps us to remain self-centered and self-absorbed, stuck in our own self-destructive habits. The Tempter is the first great advertiser, always stimulating what Thomas called the “concupiscible” passions with visions of how “delightful” the fruits of the sin might be, how desirable its results. But all sin is more attractive in prospect than in its enjoyment, just as an act of virtue and growth, to our wounded soul, is-- at least a little-- repulsive in prospect, but exalting in its enjoyment. It’s true even on the physical plane–I don’t look forward to my daily 2K walk, but once it has begun, I find it, along with the Rosary it enables, one of the high points of my day.

The prospect of turning stones into bread to feed the starving of the world, of commanding armies and peoples to stop injustice, of attracting others to believe in me by performing some miracle–wouldn’t those temptations turn my head, turn your head. All we’d have to do is renounce our faith in the true God and bow down before a false one. But that has been the temptation ever since the garden, to put our own will ahead of God’s, to worship lesser goods instead of the Greatest Good, to trust in our wounded passions instead of our wounded Savior. And so, in His mercy, God gives us yet one more Quadragesima, one more period of forty days to change.

I don’t do much counseling, because of time and depth of training, but my favorite counselee, many years ago, asked “why must I always be changing?” The short, glib answer, of course, is that God can’t change because He is already perfect. But the question reveals a real issue in our wounded spirits–we become attached to the status quo ante, and we hate the prospect of changing our habits.

Let’s consider a pretty simple change that we are all going to be challenged to make in just a few months, on the First Sunday of Advent. Let’s recite again, together, our confession of sin that we prayed just seconds into our Mass:

[new version]: I confess to almighty God

and to you, my brothers and sisters,

that I have greatly sinned,

in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,

And, striking their breast, they say:

through my fault, through my fault,

through my most grievous fault;

Then they continue:

therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,

all the Angels and Saints,

and you, my brothers and sisters,

to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I apologize for introducing the new version of the prayer on top of the familiar old one. Now feel your irascible passions reacting to the change. Why did he repeat himself three times? That’s the new translation, and, for those of us old enough to remember past 1970, it’s a literal translation of the Latin–mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. And, beyond that, the rubrics say that we pray this triple confession of fault “striking their breast.”

Let’s reflect right now about how we are going to respond to this change. We can say to ourselves, there’s those hide-bound traditionalists taking over. Or we might say, how inefficient and redundant, repeating it three times. Or we could say: well, I’m just going to say it once.

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