As readers may have noticed, a couple of posts disappeared yesterday. Not that I thought there was anything objectionable about them per se, but a couple of other conversations had me wondering whether perhaps they were expressive of an interior struggle that I had not yet discerned well.
As I took my usually contemplative walk down Hammond St. from the Chestnut Hill T station to the BC campus for the Medieval Trinitarian Theology seminar yesterday, I imagined that I would write a big post about this, a sort of grand examination of conscience about how I am as a Catholic and how I got that way. But it's too much. It would have to include the latest insights into my conversion, the formative aspects of the twists and detours of my religious vocation, the appearance of new sorts of external authority that have come into my life since I started blogging (i.e. priesthood, licentiate in sacred theology) and how they have changed my perspectives, the formative experience of sharing in pastoral power as a parochial vicar for three years, and the still-in-discernment sense that I am called to do something at some level to make my vocation a response to the sexual abuse crisis.
That's too much for one post. So instead of that I'll just relate one little iconic moment in my Catholic life, and explain how it relates to the current edges of my interior discernment.
When I was a neophyte I wanted to learn the Mass as best I could. I discovered that there was such a thing as a hand missal, and of course I bought one right away. I would pray through and review the prayers and readings before Mass, and have my ribbons all set to pray along. At one Sunday Mass we didn't say the Creed. I was confused; my book said that the Creed was said on Sundays and solemnities. So I approached the priest and asked him about it. He explained to me that the Creed was optional. So I thought to myself, he's a priest, he knows these things better than me. This became the form of my sense of myself as a Catholic; I learned to second-guess myself. More things didn't match up with my reading, with what the saints and the Church said in their books. And I'm not talking just about liturgy, though liturgy forms the simplest sorts of examples. Some of the implosion of my first effort at religious life came about because this second-guessing of myself reached such a point that I hardly knew who I was.
In some ways, the story of my Christian life since then has been a progressive ownership and self-possession against this pattern of thought.
But this in itself is only the occasion of the fundamental question at hand. To take up the example again, I formulate one expression of the question like this: does it matter to God whether or not we say the Creed at Sunday Mass?
Of course the answer is both yes and no.
Yes because we believe that just as the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, the same Spirit--who is God--is the principle of the Church which is the abiding presence of the Body of Christ to the world, extended, as it were, through history from Pentecost until the End. (This is why, of course, Mary has become our Blessed Mother.) So the Church is the Body of Christ conceived by Holy Spirit, and what she has decided through her Ecumenical Councils and the living tradition of her liturgy matters very much. To remove the Creed or to tamper with the liturgy is thus to cut oneself--and the worshipers in one's care--from God.
On the other hand, we have to say that in some senses it does not matter to God whether we say the Creed on Sundays. Jesus Christ has delivered us from a religion based in rules and regulations. Indeed, in a certain sense we have to say that Jesus Christ has delivered us from religion altogether, so long as we think of "religion" in a certain human sense. Even more, a basic principle of ecclesiology and sacramental theology reminds us that though Jesus has guaranteed us that his saving grace comes to us in the sacramental economy he has established for us, his grace and salvation is not bounded or limited by this economy.
This Creed thing is just an example, but discerning the depths and particular contours of the "yes" and "no" of this question gets at something of a struggle both theological and personal to which I perhaps have to pay more attention.
So thanks for your prayers, and for all of the friendship and encouragement I have been able to receive and give through this blog. Also, if you have never scrolled all the way down to my disclaimer, it's something which I'm proud to display.