The story, one

On the BBC’s The Now Show, Mitch Benn wrote a satirical song about the Ashes where he couldn’t really say anything except that he had to kill the time. Now I am sure a lot can be said, about England winning the Ashes.

*****

A thought occurred to me earlier as I was rushing over to work.

I am about to write a very short paper on dissecting the story of Jacob’s deception as narrative, and while I was thinking about doing it earlier, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my friends and mentors recently. He was talking about the tendency of some of our brothers and sisters to try to force the Bible into particular “themes” that suit particular agendas, most notably what we would call inculcating an American middle-class bourgeois morality (AMCBM). The context was religious education, but the tendency also tends to occur in, for instance, sermon series.

My mentor made the point that it may be all right for a moral theologian to quote from Scripture when writing an exposition of a particular moral problem, for example. I would add at this point, reflecting on what he said, that this act required a working awareness of where passages of Scripture are situated and how they are to be read. He argued that, with younger persons, we ought to be looking at things differently. Why don’t we start, he said, from the Bible, and work it from there?

He gave a very good example of how thematizing the Bible often misses the nuances one gets when focusing on the narrative. David may have been a paragon of virtue and of purity of heart, and he can be thematized as such, but his story is more, um, complicated than that.

So my thesis is this: we do have to start with the story. (Rowan Williams’s distinction between literalism and a literal reading comes into play here, as are these ten propositions by Kim Fabricius.) More on this next time.

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The ties that bind

A short thought for this week:

There is a bond between the likes of Tim Yap and Gloria Arroyo that has a lot to do with the kind of indifference to the wider world and its problems and a willingness to party.

Definitely a reflection of turn-of-the-century attitudes amongst some Filipinos.

The last thing I want to hear…

…is a polemic on Eucharistic theology at 8:20 in the morning.

First of all, I must remind readers that the situation concerning the Eucharistic presence of Christ among those not in communion with Rome is not as clear-cut as polemical misrepresentations suggest. The Lutherans affirm the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, however their understanding varies from the notion of transubstantiation–an idea which requires a working understanding of scholastic Thomistic philosophy to comprehend. (The simplest explanation I can offer is that the substance changes but the form/accident remains.)

Secondly, and as a consequence, it is wrong to suggest that all Protestants are memorialists, meaning that they cannot see the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as being anything but a symbolic memorial of the past event. However, the dominant strand of non-Catholic Christianity in our country is so memorialist to the point that it is “correct,” from a polemical standpoint, to tarnish all Protestants with the same brush.

At the same time, I think there is a challenge posed by any polemical attacks on Catholics that suggest, as the one of the Thirty-Nine Articles said, “the Sacrament was not meant to be carried about… or worshiped.” In this sense, those who affirm that Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine do have to be wary of a tendency to localize the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic act to the point of neglecting the other ways by which the Church has understood Christ to be present in the celebration of the Eucharist. One understanding is that the Church itself or the gathered community, as the Body of Christ, is the very manifestation of that presence in the world. As Augustine bluntly put it, “there you are in the Body… and in the Blood.”

So as we continue to reflect upon the “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel, we must remember that it is by God’s grace and gathering that we are brought together to partake of Christ and to be transformed by him.

*****

The last word today I leave to Queen Elizabeth I of England:

Christ was the Word that spake it.
He took the bread and brake it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

Plainchant power, or why we need to mourn

It’s about time we made sure plainchant regains a valued place in Philippine liturgy. If it can’t be done every Sunday, we should use prominent public celebrations of the liturgy to reintroduce it to people. I offer the following introit (or opening hymn of the liturgy) as a starter for a particularly prominent celebration:

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

The adoption of this particular chant, and indeed of many of the chants of the older repertoire restores one aspect of the funeral liturgy I think has been lost in the mania for emphasizing the Resurrection as a theme in funerals, an awareness of the judgment that awaits us all. It is particularly necessary in the light of a suggestion a friend of mine made: sometimes, especially when we remember deceased leaders like the one we recall now, we should be utterly penitent for not having done enough ourselves, especially when things have gone wrong since then. I think this has to be emphasized, and I am coming to the conclusion that in a sense the old ways are better.

Now more than ever, we need to be shaken to the core of our fallenness, shaken enough to be awakened that we have to take on that mantle, fallen though we are, not because of our own merits, but because of the same God who graced us with that kind of leadership.

And that is all – a word to the Churches.

Last Sunday, Corazon C. Aquino, who served her country as the Philippines’ 11th President, passed away.

People like me are predicting cynicism could be so over after this week of events. I don’t think it will be rid off so easily, after hearing a colleague tell me that “he has never seen a president who has ever truly loved their country.” But I had to remind him: “Isn’t it that when one points a finger in accusation that three fingers point back?”

In the end, it will be up to us to prove him wrong. Perhaps we may not have to look to some Caudillo to save our country, a mentality that’s still prevalent amongst certain groups (including one religious group that, as of Saturday, forgot to place its flags on half-mast at its headquarters) and individuals, but we may have to look to what we can do, as groups and individuals, to imagine what can happen or what can be possible.

What counts, though, is that in a society where there is little space for the secular, our Churches should be a place where a counter-politics that reexamines even the very foundations of the state is imagined. Bill Cavanaugh, a Roman Catholic theologian, has argued that it is the power of the act of Great Thanksgiving that enables this to be possible. Read more here.