Monday, March 16, 2009

equipping seminarians for spiritual warfare

I commend to your study the blog of Father Steven Cholak. In particular, I call to your attention this outstanding post, in which he considers the spiritual and liturgical needs of the seminarian, and how well they are being met in today's seminary. In this post, as in his life generally, Fr. Cholak proves himself astute, courageous, and to have great love for his Lord's Church. I think that Fr. Cholak would agree with me that what is needed is not a return to some point in the past, though indeed there are moments in the seminary's past which can be examples for us. (I used the present tense intentionally when I wrote "there are moments," for they are there, in our living past, waiting for us to learn their lessons.) For the Church will always be filled with sinful men, who are always somewhat blind to how best to proceed in this world. Rather, what is needed is a rethinking of the mission of the seminary, what it means to be a seminary community, and in what way the seminary can and should see itself as the Church. My prayer is that the reform of the academic curriculum of a couple years ago will be matched by a true, genuine, and thorough going reform of the spiritual and liturgical life on campus.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

veiling the statuary & crucifixes

I dropped into the Chapel of Christ Triumphant the other day. It is the main chapel on the campus of Concordia University Wisconsin, in Mequon, a modernist chapel on a modernist campus. Yet it is an impressive and beautiful chapel nonetheless, equipped as it is with a larger than life crucifix above the high altar, two side altars, confessional booths, and a complete set of the traditional fourteen stations of the cross in statuary form. Unfortunately, unless I am mistaken, the confessionals are used as storage closets, a missed opportunity for the campus pastor to provide pastoral care, that is, to be a campus pastor. Each of the two side altars have upon them, not crucifixes or statues or images of some sort, but a plain brass cross, with an IHS in the middle. The north altar, in fact, is partially blocked by the cords and equipment for what seems to be an amplified musical set up. Yet I have always appreciated the imposing crucifix which commands one's attention from virtually any perspective in the chapel. And most unusual of all for modern Lutherans is the wonderful opportunity and devotional potential we have with the beautiful Way of the Cross along the south and north sides of the chapel.

The Way of the Cross can be prayed on any day of the week, though Friday is particularly appropriate, and it can be prayed in any season of the year, through Lent is particularly appropriate, and within Lent it becomes even more timely as we move toward Passiontide, that is, the last two weeks of Lent. Yet, amazingly, what I found was that the stations of the cross are completely hidden by dark veils. I find it bizarre, unfortunate, and inexplicable that just when the Church most encourages the use of the Way of the Cross, that is, in Lent, it is inaccessible on a major Lutheran university campus.

The idea, one supposes, was that the chapel would observe the traditional practice of veiling the statues during Lent, however, a needed correction is in order. First, it is only in Passiontide that this veiling takes place. That is, the veiling begins with First Vespers of the Fifth Sunday in Lent, and ends prior to the Paschal Vigil on Holy Saturday, the exception being that the altar crucifix is unveiled on Good Friday. Second, the veiling includes all statues, crucifixes, and other images, but specifically excludes the stations of the cross.

Please, Pastor Smith, unveil those stations.

Daily Mass

I have fallen behind in all the work at my desk again, and I am this week trying to actually be productive for a change. A good step in the right direction would be to start posting some thoughts here again. Life at the bookshop is always interesting, to say the least. I joke with my friends there that one day I might just write a book about the people that come into the store. Meanwhile, another constant in my life lately has been the Mass. I have had the opportunity & privilege of attending Mass and receiving the holy Body and precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ every day for the past eighteen days, that is, each day since Quinquagesima. One good thing about my current work schedule is that it allows for Mass before I go in to work.

Oh, what a wonderfully rich way to treat oneself in the midst of the Lenten fast. Such a little piece of bread, such a meager sip of wine, yet such an unfathomably deep and boundless feast. For as St. Thomas Aquinas and Johann Franck teach in their respective hymns, our eyes, indeed our reason, cannot be trusted to account for what is given to us. In the Mass the altar becomes the endless fount of God's mercy.
While Baptism enjoys a prominent place in the life and thought of Lutherans, as it should, I fear that the Blessed Eucharist is under-appreciated. If Holy Baptism is our river of life, in the Eucharist we eat the fruit of the tree of life, the tree which is planted by the water-side, and brings forth his fruit in due season. That is to say, it is the tree which stands for us on the fertile shore of the river of life. From that tree, that is, from the wounds of Christ Crucified, flows and gushes His noble and precious blood, the smallest drop of which washes away the sin of the whole world, as St. Ambrose says in his prayer. If a drop of Christ's Blood can do that, it can cleanse me of my sin, which is great, deep, manifold, and corrupting of my body and heart. For as great as is my sin, Christ's mercy is infinitely greater. And so each day I eagerly return to that holy Supper.

And while I'm there at the altar, I pray for those who do not presently have the Mass available to them on such a frequent basis. Fr. William Weedon points out that we stand in solidarity with the hungry when we fast; in a similar way, I stand in union with those Christians who cannot often stand at the altar. I am in spiritual communion with them, as I pray that they may one day have the gift of more frequent sacramental communion.