"Mind the Gap when alighting from the train". If you've ever been on the Tube in London, this is what the voice tells you to do. In the Church, we are seeing the gap between the Church and the world getting smaller and smaller. What happens when the train hits the platform?
It's hard not to notice these days-- the image of the Church in the world is not exactly a pretty one. Specifically, I think this is happening on two fronts. One from the perception of the Church in society; the other, how the society is having a negative impact on the Church.
On the first front-- have you noticed the number of films as of late that have taken specifically Catholic spiritual themes and made them popular? The exorcism movies have been on the rise by so much that they could probably take on a whole sub-genre of horror film. This will probably not bring about greater awareness of the reality of demonic activity, but will more likely have the opposite effect.
But it's not simply a popularization of explicitly Catholic themes-- there's also an adoption of sacred words and giving them profane meanings. In early 2011, the film called "Sanctum" hit the screens-- true to its name, this film has a very spiritual theme... going caving. Later in the spring we'll see a film called "Priest" coming to the big screen. Guess what-- it's about vampires. And there are priestesses.
And I still haven't forgotten how in the film "2012," all of the major religious symbols that were destroyed were Catholic, and not a single mosque touched.
But it's not only in the movies. We now have a show coming out on Fox starring "Fr. Cutie," an ex- priest who married some woman after having had some inappropriate photos taken of them while he was still a priest. Sounds like a great show to help solve the world's problems. (for more info, see here)
Now, just as I'm writing this, the Red Bull commercial has come on about the young man going to confession about chastity issues, then coming out of the confessional and saying to his mate, "I got two new leads"...
Perhaps I'm hyper-sensitive to it all, but I don't think I'm being paranoid by thinking that the intrigue and popularization of this Catholic imagery being used in the media only serves to give people the impression that spirituality is nothing more than the stuff of fiction-- that having faith is something to joke about in our more enlightened "culture." That we should be grounded in the stuff of the modern world, rather than a spiritual life, and that subconscious spiritual itch can be scratched by our encounter with "spirituality" in the media, which is convenient because we tune into it when we want, then turn it off when we're finished.
On the other front, in the post-conciliar years we've seeing secular culture flooding through the church doors and in to our worship. In an attempt to be relevant and engaging to people, we try to be hip and have "contemporary music"-- music with words that are ambiguous at best, heretical at worst. Secular music is used with new lyrics to try to make singing at Mass popular; meanwhile, all I can think is that I heard that while drinking a pint of Guinness at the local Irish pub! (Compare this song with this song.)
Rather than talk about the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we talk about "sharing Eucharist," and inviting non-Catholics to receive communion, because "really, we're all one". We prematurely canonize the dead as symbolized by the wearing of white vestments at funerals, and, under a guise of being pastoral, take liberties with the Gospel to speak of how it is they who have gone on ahead to prepare a room in Heaven for us! My understanding was that is what Jesus did. Perhaps I was wrong...
I was appalled over Christmas to see how people-focussed the Mass is in some places. There is more of an emphasis on community than on the Eucharist. The sign of peace has become an opportunity to catch up on all the news with your neighbors... need we remind you that Christ is present on the altar?
And it's a wonder we aren't getting vocations in this climate? What boy in their right mind wants to commit his whole life to Christ, when the image of God he sees is completely irrelevant to his life? These youth don't see the difference between going to Mass and going to the movies-- both are for entertainment... except, of course, the movie is more entertaining.
What we need to be working on is being a sign of contradiction. There's a reason for smells and bells and gregorian chant-- they're all sacramental... they point to the Other that is Christ. The beauty of our liturgy and pattern of Catholic daily life is that, though we live in the world, we strive for something that is not attainable in the materialism of this earth. In being this sign, it is a reminder to those who attend Mass who they are made for, what their destination truly is. Sure, there is a place for inculturation, but not to the detriment of the sacred nature of the Mass.
I really believe that the issue of liturgy will be the issue of my lifetime. Hopefully, please God, my requiem will be in line with a hermeneutic of development in continuity. If we get this right, then everything else will fall in to place. If we don't, then... ?
Sometimes I wonder if all of this effort to "be hip" (yes, I realize that phrase isn't "with it" anymore-- that was the point) is possibly because those folks who push the hardest for all of this innovation are on some level ashamed of the Catholic Faith-- ashamed to the point where they have to dress it up and make it look appealing. The paradox being that this is not what people want, anyway.
We can't do much about the secular media directly, but perhaps if our own perception changes, then the image they portray of us will begin to change, as well? Bring back the days of films like "I Confess" is what I say. When priests were real men, heroes even. How many people see our priests like that anymore-- as heroes? Certainly not many with films like "Primal Fear" being more akin to what the media wants to portray them all as.
Anyway, to bring the metaphor back round: a train and a platform both have their purposes-- they are a means to get you somewhere, and we need them both. But... we should be careful about how far one extends beyond its own boundaries, lest we create a wreck of the whole thing. "Mind the Gap."