2 Mar 2008
“May we follow your holy will as we continue to build your holy church.” (Post-Communion Prayer) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
In 1913 Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring received its public premiere in Paris to a very cosmopolitan, sophisticated audience. It was’nt the first piece heard at the concert. It was preceded by a very beautiful, poetic, lyrical ballet performed to the familiar piano-music of Chopin. The dancing was graceful and the melodies harmonic and soothing. Then came The Rite of Spring without any intermission or break. Stravinsky intended his music to jostle the senses and to anticipate the audience’s expectation, but to go the other way every single time. The tension builds, builds again, each time the audience waiting for some sort of reprieve, which never comes. This musical premier so upset that urbane and refined audience that these men in top hats and women in gowns rioted right there in the music hall. That violence earned Stravinsky more publicity than he could ever have paid for. He and his art immediately became the celebrated icon of the avant-garde, the advance-guard of a new artistic expression. His ballet at first offended, but then came to be respected as great new art.
In that same year of 1913, our church formally adopted our Confession of Faith at various diocesan Synods, and it was then formally ratified by the Third General Synod of our church the following year. It was adopted to complement the ancient, church-wide Creed we say at Mass each Sunday. An abridged copy of this document is attached to the reports that will be passed out at our Congregational Meeting. It used to be read at every Synod, and was a Creed that was recited at every Confirmation, as it still is here at Holy Name of Jesus. The Confession of Faith speaks of Jesus as the regenerator of life rather than the redeemer; of Mary as a humble woman rather than as virgin; of church as teacher of all humanity rather than as the ark of salvation for some of humanity; it adds the sacrament of the Word of God Heard and Preached to the traditional list of sacraments; long years before the civil rights movement it spoke about the fundamental equality of all people; and it ended with a belief that the love of God is so strong that universal salvation is a real possibility and hope.
Our church was 16 years old at the time. We were an irreverent adolescent. We were challenging the status quo with our new ideas and Catholic practices regardless of whether or not they were universally admired. I don’t know how deeply all of the differences I just mentioned register in your mind, but they are religiously profound and innovative, and maybe they can become the basis of some of our Discussion Group meetings in the future. The Confession of Faith, just like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, acknowledged its predecessors, it was considered an explanation of the Creed that came before it, but then it challenged believers to move forward to something new and unexpected.
Stravinsky tells the story that when he was first composing this music with all its strange sounding chords at his home in Switzerland, with the windows wide open, a young neighbourhood boy got into the habit of coming by and yelling “That’s wrong! That’s wrong!” From the very beginning, there was opposition to his work. Its newness offended many people from the simple country boy in Switzerland to the aficionados in Paris. Yet Stravinsky persisted. That strength comes from an inner-conviction. He had a firm, unflinching trust in the merit and purpose of what he was doing. If anyone is going to challenge the conventional and offer something new, this kind of conviction is absolutely necessary. That’s one of the reasons why the Confession of Faith is structured as a series of statements that begin with the two words: I Believe. It has to be personal if it’s going to be meaningful.
I started off this year’s newsletter articles with the church’s definition of membership and I’ve been continuing with that theme. The formal definition of membership involves belief. It says in our Constitution: “A believer … is one who professes the principles of his [or her] church and acknow-ledges them as the norms and rules of his [or her] life.” Membership in the shallowest sense is money, in the truest sense it is a conviction of belief. It’s just like the Confession of Faith and those repeated introductions of “I believe.” We’re a small denomination, relatively young at just over 11 decades, and profoundly innovative. We have to believe in ourselves to succeed.
A few days ago a nationwide survey was released showing 44% of Americans have switched religious affiliation between childhood and adulthood. People are searching, that’s the positive side of the survey results, and people are not satisfied, that’s the negative side. We have lost people here who have not been satisfied, and we have gained others who are looking for something new. On our website a woman left this message in late January: “I visited the church ‘by chance’ the other day...I have not finished reading all the literature that I brought home yet, but I am thrilled at the beautiful expression of Catholicism taught/interpreted by Bishop Hodur and the National Catholic Church. Many of the questions and reservations I felt about the Catholic-religion-I-love have been answered in what I have read so far.” You can’t imagine how many times I hear expressions like this.
There are scores of people who are interested in a reformed Catholic parish such as ours, and as the survey showed, people are willing to change. But for this to turn from potential to reality, we who are already here have to really believe. We have to have a conviction in what our church teaches and practices. If we don’t come to church, if we don’t participate in annual meetings, if we don’t know about our church, then why should we expect others to come. The final prayer of our anniversary Mass this morning will ask God that “we may follow your holy will as we continue to build your holy church.” Our church was not finished by those who came before us, nor will we complete its work. Every generation continues to build, to change and to challenge. Sometimes this ruffles feathers, but just like 1913 showed with Stravinsky and the Confession of Faith, sometimes shaking things up is necessary and healthy. May Christ continue to inspire and guide us as we continue to build this church of ours. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)