This weekend we observe the First Sunday of Advent, which marks the start of a new Church year. I’ve written and spoken about the significance of Advent many times. But this year an articulate lay voice seems most appropriate to fill my column space. George Weigel is the biographer of St. John Paul II and Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. My thanks go to the author and to the Denver Catholic Register for permission to reprint Mr. Weigel’s thoughts below.
“Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted” has long been one of my favorite hymns. Its tune, taken from the sixteenth-century Genevan Psalter, is eminently singable. The hymn text — when not corrupted by that politically-correct scoundrel, “alt.” — is even better. For Francis Bland Tucker’s lyrics put twenty-first-century congregations in touch with the second generation of Christians, and perhaps even the first, by combining various phrases from an ancient Christian prayer book and catechism, the Didache.
Scholars continue to debate whether the Didache, more formally known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, comes to us from the second or first Christian centuries, but the weight of academic opinion now favors the earlier date. Thus, the Teaching (“Didache” in Greek) links us to what biblical scholar Raymond Brown called “the churches the apostles left behind”: the Christians who were taught by those who were taught by the Lord himself. Singing “Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted,” we are praying as second-generation Christians, formed by those who had known the Lord Jesus and were witnesses to his resurrection, prayed.
That should be both a consolation and a challenge as the Church prepares to begin a new liturgical year in this season of Catholic grief and anger. Why? Because the primitive Eucharistic Prayer found in the Didache, and the hymn that Father Tucker wrote from it, remind us that the Church is always in need of purification: “Watch o’er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy, / Save it from evil, guard it still. / Perfect it in Thy Love, unite it, / Cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.”
That the Church needs cleansing is not much in doubt as Advent 2018 dawns. And that cleansing will necessarily involve everyone in the Church. All of us are called to live chastity as the integrity of love. All of us are called to support each other in meeting that lifelong challenge — by prayer, counsel, example, and fraternal correction when necessary. No one should doubt that, in this matter of the integrity of love, living “cleansed and conformed” to the divine will can be difficult, especially in today’s cultural circumstances. That is all the more reason for intensified prayer and penance in Advent and throughout the Church year, asking the Lord to watch over his Church in mercy, saving it from evil and guarding it from the Evil One.
Reaching too easily for “Satan” as the explanation of a Church crisis or a historical disaster should be avoided. Ignoring Satan is just as dangerous, however. And the Evil One is surely a factor in sowing the evil with which the Catholic Church is contending today. Sexual predation has as many causes as there are sexual predators, but each act of sexual abuse is a manifestation of evil and of a victory for the Evil One. Malfeasance among bishops — whether it be rooted in cowardice, a false notion of the imperatives of institutional maintenance, or personal corruption — is not just a matter of managerial mistakes; the failures of the shepherds touch the mysterium iniquitatis, the “mystery of evil,” and that should be recognized at every level of the Church’s life. The people who wrote the Didache knew that, it seems. So should we.
At the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of a new year of grace, the Church reads from the apocalyptic literature of the Old and New Testaments. Whether the seer is Daniel in Babylon or John on Patmos, the message is similar: Do not flee from difficult, even horrific, situations, but live responsibly even when things seem to fall apart — perhaps especially in those moments when the foundations seem to be crumbling. Here, too, is a lesson for this season, in which so many Catholics are saying, “I have to do something.”
That’s true; we all do. We must all intensify prayer and penance. We should all be inviting to church those who have left out of boredom, anger, confusion, or disgust. We should all support the good priests and bishops we know, and we should firmly call clergy who are wayward to a change of heart and a change of life. It may seem as if Jesus is asleep in the storm-tossed boat, and we should call to him for help. But he also expects us to do something, and “something” will always be close at hand.
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My suburban pastor’s first sermon when he arrived here 20 years ago was a promise never to talk about abortion. He’s kept his word and a generation of kids – if my parish is their only source – don’t know abortion is wrong. They don’t know the Church’s position on homosexuality, birth control, shacking up, or ANY Catholic teaching on sexual morality. They do know we should not enforce immigration laws and protect the environment. In short, they hear exactly what the Democrat Party teaches, and nothing more.
During the early years most of the clergy by and large were faithful to God and His mission. Nowadays not so much. Until our clergy including the Pope becomes faithful to the Teachings of Our Lord, nothing will change. The faith can only be conveyed unless we have faithful bishops, Cardinals and Pope.
I read an interesting blog post where someone said ” I wonder if any prayers of the faithful include some for those who are struggling in their faith because Church leaders have gone astray. I have heard none.”. I think we should introduce that petition right after we pray for the Pope and local bishop. The faithful who still try and cling to the Church through all of these horrific acts and betrayals from our leadership certainly need our collective prayers.
Always enjoy reading about the early Church. Imagine the kind of people they were and the world they were living in gives one something to think about today. I agree we should support our good priests, which we have many here in PHL, and our bishops, where in PHL we have one of the best. Prayer, penance, and fasting should be done. But I do wonder what else we can do especially in these times of various questionable decisiions coming out of Rome. The silencing of good bishops and cardinals is very disheartnening. The shutting down of the USCBB from an ‘edict’ from Rome are very alarming. What would those second generation Christians thought? What will Advent bring us I wonder?