What does it mean to be worldly

Before being confirmed Catholic, I went to a lot of different Protestant churches. Every church emphasized the theme of not being of this world. As Christians we were told to be a part of the world, but not in it. This took many different forms; some churches prohibit drinking, others feel called to redeem the world. According to the latter, one could use worldly tactics as long as it glorifies Christ. I remember how the Young adult pastor at Vineyard church held a meeting on Halloween and gave a whole sermon incorporating Twilight. Catholics, for the most part, take the opposite approach. Most Catholics desire a liturgy free from worldly influences, which explains why music is so controversial. In most parishes, it feels like going back in time. I think the uninitiated or uninterested tend to have difficulty swallowing church teaching because there exists a disconnect between parish life and their own. This leads me to wonder, “what makes a person worldly?” Continue reading

More than a birthday

When you are little birthdays are a big deal. You celebrate with balloons, gifts, toys, and friends and family. As you get older birthdays become less of an extravaganza. Yes, your family and friends still acknowledge it; you may still get a few gifts, and you may still have a party, but it exists on a much smaller scale. Sometimes, I think the Church has become like that. Last Sunday marked an end to the celebration of Easter. Instead, the Church acknowledges the feast of Pentecost. The Bible describes the events of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Most people refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church since three thousand people joined on this day.
According to Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” Imagine what people would say if your parish received an influx of three thousand people weekly. People would assume that such a parish fostered a vibrant community. Other parishes would want to replicate the results. However, the model already exists in the book of Acts.
The following events happened to cause growth: The apostles were in the upper room praying as one; A loud noise such as a rushing wind; apostles receiving the gift of tongues; the apostles using the gifts of tongues; Peter proclaiming the Good news of Jesus Christ.  Basically, the surrender to the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the power and confidence to proclaim the gospel. That’s great, but this happened over 2,000 years ago, how can this help us grow today.
One should not merely remember Pentecost, but live it. In Peter’s proclamation of the gospel, he recites from the prophet Joel. Acts 2:17 states

‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says,
‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.

Notice that it says, ” I will pour out a portion of my Spirit upon all flesh.” This means that the experience at Pentecost is ongoing. Every baptized and confirmed Catholic has the Spirit in them.
If you read the book of Acts, you realize that the early Christians were able to withstand trials and persecutions and still spread the Gospel with joy. The tenacious spirit of the early Christian’s carries over into today’s Christian rock and rap music.  The chorus from On the Frontlines by Light up the Darkness come to mind,

I’m standing on the front lines
With Jesus on my right side
I’m not defeated
I will stand tall
My armor is fitted
I will not fear
You held my hand
You led me here
You can defeat the enemy

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of fortitude. Fortitude describes the ability to conquer fear and face trials and persecution. I have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit first hand.
In 2010-2011, I suffered severe neck pain. I also started experiencing numbness in my fingertips.  By February of 2011, I had lost the ability to sit upright. At the time I also attended the University of Virginia fully time. However, two months before graduation, VCU medical hospital had admitted me to the neurological wing. I had a spinal cord injury. In the midst of losing everything, I desperately needed the ability to fight, to have hope. I turned to poppy Christian music, even though I wasn’t following Christ. I turned to this style of music because in it I found joy. Whether you love or hate CCM, You will not be angry while listening. This must have caught the attention of the nurse because he started sharing his interest in Christian music itself. At some point, it came out that I didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God. The nurse, like Peter in Acts, proclaimed the gospel to me. He told me to pray for wisdom. I prayed that night. While I didn’t hear a rushing wind, nor did I experience tongues of fire, I slowly became aware of an unshakable faith.
My mom asked me once if there would be anything that would make me renounce a belief in God. I can honestly say with complete certainty that nothing could get me to do so. I can say this not because I am a holy person or because my life is great, but because Pentecost is lived out in me daily.
In the United States, we have it pretty easy, we have the freedom to worship how we want and when we want. The persecution we face is an inward one. A general apathy. One that says that my life is pretty good, I don’t need God, church or religion. The other inward problem is to cave in the face of hardships. We deny God because we don’t see him in the fire with us. The church doesn’t need another birthday celebration, which is quietly celebrated with little fanfare and forgotten until next year. The Church needs Pentecost to be lived in the followers of Christ in order to renew the face of the earth.
 

What is worship?

I attended David’s tent, which is a 24-hour worship event. They have many different acts from many different Christian faith traditions performing worship songs. It provides people with an opportunity to worship and pray. There are different stations such as the dancing station, the Bible reading station, or the art station. One can choose to visit one of these stations or sit quietly soaking in God’s presence through the music. I decided to do the latter for the 8 hours I was there. For the record, I didn’t do 8 hours straight, I did 4 hours Saturday night and 4 hours Sunday afternoon. Saturday night was an interesting experience. They had scheduled a Christian music DJ to come in. A lot of people were turned off by the loudness of the music. Others questioned the talent behind it by remarking, “is he singing or just playing music?” Meanwhile, I stayed just to try it out. To me, DJing is an art, just like any other art. You have to feel the music and make sure it is in the right order. Yes, a good chunk of the songs were played straight, but some of them were mashups. The most notable was Hillsong’s Ocean and a rap song I’ve never heard before. Midway through people had started playing the bongo drums. It was a cool effect in that it sounded like thunder. It made me think about heaven and how our praise will be a mishmash of sound from all different sources.
Sometimes I wonder how will I experience heaven? Will I experience it as somber, peaceful, or serene like the Liturgy? Will I experience it as a loud joyous dance party?  Regardless of what the experience is like, I know I will experience the fullness of Jesus’ love unhindered by sin or my own unwillingness. I think experiencing different worship styles can help us focus on what truly matters, Jesus. I think exubrierent loud joyous noise can co-exist with the liturgy.  Catholic churches should offer both if for no other reason then the universal nature of music. Catholic’s fear that such praise overlies on emotions and entertainment; however, God created both as a vehicle to experience his glory. David’s tent made me realize the importance of praise and I hope that one day more Catholics learn to appreciate the benefits of such pursuits.

Mid-week reflection: Why I'm not offended by the Met-gala

Dear Readers, I’ve decided that in addition to my weekly planned blogs that should come out Monday, I would write a short reflection on what is happening in the world as it pertains to the Catholic church. These will be much shorter and infrequent.
So the Met-Gala took place this week on May 7th. If you do not follow celebrities or the fashion world, then like me you may have been baffled by the pictures all over social media. These pictures showed celebrities dressing in ball gowns adorned with religious imagery. The dresses ranged from beautiful and tasteful, to outright mockery.  In this blog, I will break down:  Met Gala, what the Church says about art and beauty, and how involved the Church was in this event.

What is the Met Gala

According to Wikipedia, the Met Gala acts as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It consists of both a fashion exhibit and art exhibit. Every year there is a different theme. The Gala encouraged attendees to dress in accordance with these themes. This year the exhibit thought to explore the relationship between religion and fashion. More specifically, the exhibit wanted to show how religious art and liturgical vestments influenced fashions from the earliest 20th century to the present. [1]
The Catholic Church has always had a relationship with art and beauty. The Catechism states

Created in the image of God, Man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the creator by the beauty of his artistic works.[2]

Art mimics God’s creative act and thus the Church feels led to participate in artistic endeavors from time to time. However, Sacred art separates itself from worldly art in that

its form corresponds to its particular vocation evokIing and glorifying the transcendent mysteries of God.[3]

The distinction between art and sacred art becomes important when discussing The Met Gala. The dresses inspired by the Catholic Church fall under the definition of art; while the liturgical vestments and other accessories fall under the definition of sacred art.  The question is, can sacred art every be used to inspire non-sacred art or must the two always be divided.

How involved was the Church in the Met Gala

Social media and certain news outlets made it appear that the Vatican supported the whole event. In reality, the Vatican authorized Mr. Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, to borrow vestments to display for the exhibit called Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination  [4]. Mr. Bolton met with Archbishop Gänswein to discuss his desire to show how the Church has served as inspiration for designers[4]. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the de facto minister of culture for the Vatican, agreed, saying that fashion has a biblical origin since God created the first clothes in Genesis [4]. Cardinal Ravasi also said that he saw similarities between gala attire and vestments in that both signify, “a distinction from the mundane and quotidian”[4].

Summarization and opinion

To summarize, if the exhibit itself makes any mistakes it conflates art and sacred art together. The liturgical vestments and other religious symbols are not mere expressions of truth but are objects designed to evoke adoration. They were never intended to act as mere fashion adornments. However, I have no problem with the acknowledgment that the Church has influenced art and fashion. The theme of the Gala; however, is another story. Encouraging others to dress in sacred imagery invites mockery.

Examples

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However, the mockery of the sacred should not surprise us. Jesus, in John 15:18, warns his followers that the world will hate them.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Rather than becoming offended or angry, we should instead follow the advice of John 15; abide in Jesus, obey his commandments, and love one another.

Work Cited

[1] https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies
[2]  Catholic Church. “2501” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[3] Catholic Church. “2502” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[4] Horowitz, Jason. “How the Met Got the Vatican’s Vestments” New York Times, 3 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/fashion/heavenly-bodies-met-gala-vatican.html

Is liturgy worship?

When I first became Catholic, one of the hardest things to understand was the uproar over liturgy. I had seen an ad in the bulletin for Catholic match. I had decided to try my luck. I never did have any luck romantically (online dating is hard), I did make a couple of friends. I still remember staying up to 3 am arguing with my friend about liturgy. See, my friend had a very narrow view of the liturgy. For example, he was adamant that hand-holding during  Our Father is wrong; you should wear suits to church, you should kneel during the consecration. He was always complaining that Catholics were driving miles away to other liturgically incorrect churches. Looking back I can see that he was correct about everything, but at the time all I could picture was a somber unloving church. My basic response at the time was that aren’t those a matter of worship preferences. His response was the fact that you call it worship means you understand nothing. As a baby Catholic enjoying the milk of her vibrant but liturgical irreverent parish, I was thoroughly confused. However, I have graduated to solid food and am ready to settle the debate once and for all, what is liturgy and is it worship?
Continue reading