Saturday, May 24, 2008

Inclusive Language

The setting was a funeral for a fairly young man. The occasion was solemn. There were about 1000 people in the Church and four priests and a deacon at the altar. At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer (I don't remember which particular Eucharistic prayer it was) the celebrant (a visitor) intoned, "through whom and with whom and in whom ... ." At least that is what I heard. I had not heard this particular part of the liturgy subjected to inclusive language and the attempt sounded quite shocking.

The basic premise of inclusive language is that the use of masculine pronouns in the liturgy makes females feel excluded and therefore these masculine pronouns should be avoided. While I don't necessarily agree with the basic premise I think there are times when a masculine pronoun can be substituted with a more generic one. For example at morning prayer yesterday (Liturgy of the Hours, Friday, week III) one of the intercessions ends with: "pour forth your Spirit upon all men." In a case like this I would have no problem with the text simply saying all, or everyone, or all people, instead of men.

A basic problem however, comes when a masculine pronoun that refers specifically to Jesus is "neutered" in this way. So in the case of the mangled end to the Eucharistic prayer mentioned above the latin reflexive pronoun used here (per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso) is clearly intended to point strongly to Jesus Christ mentioned in the previous sentence in all four Eucharist prayers. So I would say that to substitute "whom" for him in this particular part of the Eucharistic prayer should be unthinkable. If you were determined to avoid a masculine pronoun here the best you could do would be : through Jesus (himself) and with Jesus and in Jesus .... This would be the only way to preserve the basic meaning of the prayer. Basically I think that we all can agree that Jesus was male and I don't think that liturgical language should obscure or ignore that fact.

Friday, May 16, 2008


American media are busily discussing a speech by President Bush in which he (Bush) said that anyone (Barrack Obama) who would meet with Iran or Hamas would be engaged in appeasement. Appeasement gets its negative connotation from the Munich Conference of the 1930's where Chamberlain from Britain and Daladier from France gave in to Hitler's demands in order to avoid another war. The most obvious thing that should be pointed out is that Hitler's subsequent aggression did not come from the fact that the French and English talked to him. The aggression came because Hitler came to the conclusion that Chamberlain and Daladier would never go to war and therefore there was no obstacle to his ambitions. The point is that "talking" is not the same as appeasement so the Bush allegation is way off base.

Another relevant example here is the confrontation between Kennedy and Khrushchev in the early 1960's. Initially Khrushchev concluded that he could push Kennedy around and hence he adopted a very aggressive posture. When, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy convinced Khrushchev that he was prepared to go to war to stem Soviet aggression Khrushchev was forced to back down. The result of this confrontation however, was increased talking and this increased talking resulted in considerable progress in US - Soviet relations in following years. So again, the key is not the refusal to talk. In the same way during the 1970's Nixon, who had made a name by being an anti-communist, made progress in Sino-American relations by abandoning the policy of isolating China. Instead Nixon became the first president to visit China and again much useful change was the result. Something similar happened during the 1980's in US - Soviet relations. Reagan, who again made a name as an anti - communist, made great progress by in fact being willing to talk to Gorbachev. The result led ultimately to the end of the USSR.

The examples show that talking to an opponent is not the same as appeasing them. When dealing with aggressors it is clearly vital to make clear that force will be used at some point to repel aggression. This is what went wrong at Munich. Hitler came to the conclusion that force would never be used. Once you make it clear that you are prepared to use force it seems clear that talking to potential aggressors can lead to positive progress. For Bush to misuse the word appeasement as he did simply does not provide anything useful to the issue of how to deal with Iran and its clients Hamas and Hezbollah.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

RCIA Planning

With a new director of RCIA in our parish for next year (the previous one moved away) we have the opportunity to reflect on the ideals and the practicalities of planning for the coming year. The most obvious issue for planning is the length of the process. In this parish for many years the model used has been based on starting in mid September and finishing around the beginning of June. This model has some positive aspects. The planning is fairly simple and the demands on staff and volunteers, although extensive, are not excessive.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to this model for RCIA. The length of the program is an obvious problem. If the catechumens and candidates are to have a "full" catechesis as called for by the rite there is simply not enough time provided by this model. Secondly, as Thomas Morris points out in THE RCIA TRANSFORMING THE CHURCH, this model imposes itself over the individual needs of the prospective members of the Church. If someone inquires about joining the Church in December should you require them to wait almost a year to begin RCIA? So the ideal seems to be to have a program that is longer than the one we have and, again ideally, to have a way for inquirers to join at any time.

Despite the obvious desirability of trying a different model for RCIA for the coming year I think that I am in favor of maintaining our current model. One reason is simply because in addition to a new director of RCIA we will also likely have a new pastor. Secondly, a more expansive model requires significantly more involvement from volunteers in order to succeed. In the past few years we have had problems recruiting sponsors (despite significant efforts) and our RCIA team remains relatively small. The danger is that expanding the demands on these people, however desireable that is, might simply lead to volunteer burnout. What needs to be done in the coming year is to do some things to educate the parish about the role that RCIA could play in the faith life of the community. If we could simply reinforce the basic understanding that adult initiation is the work of the entire community we might have the sponsors and the volunteers that we need to make more basic changes in the future.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Public Scandal ?

Quite recently there has been a major scandal in the media over pictures of a young Disney star (Miley Cyrus). The star, who is 15 years old appeared in some sort of fashion magazine where one of the pictures is of her showing a bare back and holding a sheet to cover her front. She is clearly not nude in any of the pictures. Critics were outraged. The pictures, they said sexualized the star and so were nearly pornographic. They claimed that the stars fans, younger females, would draw improper conclusions about their own behavior from the pictures. More thoughtful critics pointed out that the mass media already portrays young females as sexual beings and this picture was simply part of that. Defenders of the star and the photographer (a famous celebrity photographer) pointed out that the format of the picture in question was classic - going back even to classical paintings, and the intention was not "sexual." Still, faced with the apparent public outrage, the Disney studio and the girls parents apologized or blamed the photographer and are now hoping that the scandal will simply pass by.

It seems to me that most of the public reaction to these pictures was either incredibly naive or very hypocritical. Even a "sheltered" young teen aged female must know that she is a sexual being after all of the changes she goes through during puberty. She might not yet think of herself as sexy though. The responsibility for that lands on the society. Still, in my many years of teaching high school it seems to me that girls come easily to the understanding that they are sexual beings. The tricky part for public morals is how to handle the reality of these girls who are, because of biology, sexual beings while they exist in a society that is at once obsessed with sex as primarily sexual activity and while society is unwilling to suggest that anyone might value virginity or chastity for any reason. One session with sixteen year-olds in a religion class produced the pointed observation that lots of adults obviously do not practice what they preach (sexual activity within a loving marriage) sexually. And that observation is quite true and does a lot to explain the ambivalent attitudes seen regarding these controversial photos.