Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I remain unconvinced

Recently, a website called The New Emangelization interviewed Cardinal Burke.  This interview has been discussed elsewhere, and some who have discussed it have been accused of “spinning” what Cardinal Burke actually said.  So let’s take a look at some of the cardinal’s own words:
Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society. [...] 
The Church becomes very feminized. Women are wonderful, of course. They respond very naturally to the invitation to be active in the Church. Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.
Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out. [...]
Aspects of the Church’s life that emphasized the man‑like character of devotion and sacrifice have been deemphasized. Devotions that required time and effort were simply abandoned. Everything became so easy and when things are easy, men don’t think it is worth the effort. [...]
The loss of the sacred led to a loss of participation of women and men. But I think that men were really turned off by the loss of the sacred. It seems clear that many men are not being drawn into a deeper liturgical spirituality; today, many men are not being drawn to service at the altar.
Young men and men respond to rigor and precision and excellence. When I was trained to be a server, the training lasted for several weeks and you had to memorize the prayers at the foot of the altar. It was a rigorous and a carefully executed service. All of a sudden, in the wake of Vatican II, the celebration of the liturgy became very sloppy in many places. It became less attractive to young men, for it was slipshod.
All of the bolded emphasis in the above is mine.  I do encourage you to read the whole thing, especially if you are convinced I’m picking and choosing things in order to put some kind of “spin” on them.

Other writers are talking specifically about Cardinal Burke’s dislike of female altar servers, so I won’t repeat their points, though I do encourage you to read them: Kerry Weber’s piece is here, and Deacon Kandra’s is here.  Both are well worth the time.

Now, I’d like to discuss what are, to me, the implications of what Cardinal Burke is saying, especially based on those bolded sections above.  This is my own opinion, of course.  I’m not trying to put words into the cardinal’s mouth, but just to discuss the words he is actually using, one point at a time.

Point 1: Cardinal Burke seems to be saying something I’ve heard other traditional Catholic men say: that paying attention to women at all, to our spiritual needs, to our place in the Church and in society, to those issues that are important to us, necessarily and (in their view) unjustly takes the Church’s focus away from men.  The Church can’t, apparently, talk to women honestly and sincerely and respectfully without by that very conversation dissing, neglecting, and harming men.

I haven’t noticed the Church being shy about speaking to fathers, about fathers and fatherhood, and in particular about the responsibilities that come with fatherhood and the spiritual harm of shirking those duties.  I also haven’t noticed the Church being shy about the particular gifts that come from men--we are still (and always will be) a Church with an exclusively male priesthood, for instance.  Then again, I haven’t noticed the Church spending a lot of time “constantly address(ing) women’s issues” let alone doing so at the expense of being able to talk about men.  Pope Francis made a mild comment about the Church perhaps needing a theology of women, and many of the Catholic blogosphere corners I’m familiar with went into full-freakout mode.

What “women’s issues” is the Church “constantly addressing,” anyway?  What does that even mean?

Point 2: I’ve heard this one before, too, the claim that the post-Conciliar Church has become “feminized” and that the overwhelming femininity of parish activities has repelled men so that they don’t want to get involved.  I have to get this out of my system: balderdash and poppycock.  How exactly has Holy Mother Church become more feminine than she was for the first nineteen hundred and fifty-odd years of her existence?  I’ve seen more pink marble in hundred-year-old sanctuaries than I ever see in more recently built churches.  All kidding aside, I think it would come as a great surprise to my late grandmothers or late great-grandmothers, this idea that up until 1955 or so all Catholic men were eager and willing to sign up for parish activities and took over so many responsibilities that there wasn’t much for the female Altar Society to do except wash and iron the altar linens (since men could hardly be expected to do women’s work).  At the parish where I am a member now, there are both male and female volunteers in significant numbers; I was surprised by the number of eager and willing male volunteers, having never seen so many men sign up for things in a parish in my whole life of moving all over this country and attending too many parishes to count.  The riddle was solved on the first Veteran’s Day when, at a special blessing for Veterans, roughly 50% of the parishioners (both men and women) stood for the blessing (if I’m exaggerating, it’s only slightly).  In other words, what makes the people at my little mission parish different from most Catholic parishioners at most Catholic parishes I’ve attended in my lifetime is not that the women sit back with proper feminine demureness and modesty and flutter our eyelashes at the big strong men so they will sign up and do things, but that the men (and women) have come from families where sacrificial service was a given, to the extent that many of the men and more than a few of the women served in America’s military at some point in their lives, and having done so they seem to find it a natural and fitting thing to go on serving when service is needed.

The lesson here is simple: if you want to foster a spirit of willing service and volunteerism at your parish, it is not necessary to make the women believe that they are both unnecessary and unwanted. It may help to have a lot of military families, but I bet that similar results could happen just by patient teaching and an express appreciation of the work that volunteers do.

Point 3: This one, the idea that “manly” devotions, the ones that take time and effort and sacrifice, the ones that aren’t easy, have been abandoned or deemphasized (with the subtext that, again, the “feminized” Church is at fault)--this one really bugs me.  I think it’s because I find the idea insulting to both men and women.

It insults men because it tacitly assumes that men are only motivated to practice devotions by a kind of spiritual pride. “What--your parish only says five decades of the Rosary before Mass, not the full 20?  And you don’t have perpetual Adoration, just hours of Adoration scheduled here and there when people can easily be present?  And you only have Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent, not every Friday of the year, and you use a booklet that only takes 30 minutes to pray? And your Midnight Mass starts at 11:30 p.m.?  You wusses--I’m outta here!” says the caricature of the man implied.  Some may think this is unfair of me--but what is one to think when the idea is being presented that men are “turned off” by “easy” devotions?

And the implication that women have driven this change in favor of these “easy” devotional practices is also rather insulting.  I realize that there was a time when women were viewed as “the weaker sex,” and in terms of sheer physical strength that is, for most of us, still the truth.  But the lives of so many saintly women have been filled with examples of things that were far from easy, whether we speak of St. Joan of Arc or St. Catherine of Siena or St. Gianna Molla or any other example you like--and that’s before we consider the “easy” life of many orthodox Catholic women today which involves things like marriage and multiple childbirths and homeschooling or contributing to the family income or both.  Just where did this idea that women, in our spirituality, prefer trivial and easy devotional practices such that the manly and rigorous souls of our husbands or sons are left unfulfilled even come from?

Point 4: This last point has to do with the idea that men (more than women) are “turned off by the loss of the sacred,” and that young men stopped being attracted to the liturgy or to altar service because after Vatican II the celebration of the liturgy became “sloppy” and “slipshod.”  Since girls, once they were permitted to serve, did so in spite of (or perhaps even because of) liturgical sloppiness, the implication once again is that women don’t really care about the sacred or the loss of it, and that women are perfectly happy to take part in slipshod liturgies and to serve as altar servers amidst liturgical sloppiness.

The fact that men, and only men, could have been responsible for this liturgical sloppiness in the first place is incontrovertible, since only men can be priests.  A question arises: why, if men are turned off by a loss of the sense of the sacred and liturgical sloppiness, did so many priests in the wake of Vatican II create and sustain that very loss of the sense of the sacred and that selfsame liturgical sloppiness?  Were they not men, too?  Is it that most of the priests ordained just before Vatican II were somehow lacking in the proper manly character that would have made them appreciate a rigorous, manly liturgy characterized by precision and excellence, since these things are, apparently, what men really want?  But if they were lacking in that proper manly character, where did that lack come from?  The Church they grew up in was not feminized.  She didn’t talk endlessly (or even much at all) about women’s issues.  There were plenty of really, really hard devotions and spiritual practices, some of them mandatory.  Quite a few of the immediately post-Conciliar priests grew up, for instance, in a time when they were forbidden to swallow even a drop of water after midnight on Sundays if they planned to receive Holy Communion, and when fasting throughout Lent was also mandatory--so how did they end up being so much in favor of slipshod liturgies and weak devotions?

I am not unaware that there are plenty of Catholic men today who would agree with Cardinal Burke that the Church ignores men, focuses on women, and has gone out of her way to create a sloppy, comfortable, easy liturgy with a few simple devotions because that’s what women want.  I remain unconvinced that this is actually the case, and I think that it is unfortunate that the cardinal’s views seem to be pitting men against women instead of calling all of us to work together to build up the Kingdom of God.


L. said...

Good one.

Cojuanco said...

The problem, indeed, is not in the lack of masculinity. The problem is that men have, perhaps more so than women, lost their spirit of self-sacrifice, of service. You see it in the secular professions, too - too many people unwilling to even give a small portion of their time to public or volunteer service.

I mean, the non-default vocations of the Church are at their core about sacrifice. The priesthood is especially so; but so is marriage and non-ordained consecrated life. That becomes hard to promote in a culture where everything is about me, me, me, without a cause greater than yourself. Don't blame women - blame Madison Avenue, if you must.

"Just where did this idea that women, in our spirituality, prefer trivial and easy devotional practices such that the manly and rigorous souls of our husbands or sons are left unfulfilled even come from?"

The Seventies, when radical, anticlerical feminism reared its head. Remember, Burke lived through those times. Old habits die hard.

Fifties-and-earlier American secular ideas of men, and "muscular Christianity" also contribute to this thought. It's General Boykin's thought in a cassock. This came into its own in the Eighties, first among Evangelical Protestants, which then spread to us Catholics as we formed alliances with the Evangelicals.

scotch meg said...

I will say this about altar servers: in my diocese, priests are allowed to make their own decisions. My parish now has a majority of girls serving, and the boys are rapidly disappearing as it becomes a "girl thing." The Latin Mass parish, where only boys serve, has an abundance of servers.

Deacon Kandra makes good points but says "your mileage may vary." Mine does.

It's along the same lines as music ministry. Our organist introduced instrumentalists as a supplement to the youth choir in order to involve more young people. However, the youth choir disappeared, and the band took over. I am grateful to the band - because of it, my daughter was invited to learn to play the organ, and my oldest son stayed involved in Mass during high school. Nevertheless, it was not good - overall - for our parish youth involvement.

I'm not sure where my experience leads me.