Saturday, June 7, 2008

Whoa! Wait a sec!

Martini disses the cappa (via the cafeteria):
    "The former archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, warned fellow Jesuits at a meeting near Rome that the most common sins in the Church (speaking about and to clergy on the occasion) were vanity, envy and defamation. He said: 'We think, why did someone else receive what rightfully belongs to me? There are people eaten up by envy, thinking, 'why has he been made a bishop and not me?'

    He also said that defamation was very common: "A blessing are those dioceses in which no anonymous letters are being sent", he emphasized. Vanity could be encountered frequently, too: "Vanity is great in the Church, it shows in the vestments. In the past, cardinals wore an 18-foot silk cape. Constantly, the Church decorates itself with pointless ornaments, it has a tendency towards vanity."

    The cardinal also cautioned the priests in regards to careerism: "Even in the Roman Curia, everybody wants to be more. This results in a certain censorship of speech - one does not say certain things because one knows that they could harm one's career. This is a great evil in the Church because it keeps us from telling the truth. One says what will please one's superiors, one acts according to what one deems to be their wishes and serves even the Pope badly in this manner. Unfortunately, there are priests whose goal it is to become bishops, and they achieve that. There are bishops who won't speak out because they know they won't be promoted if they do. Some don't speak so as to not harm their candidacy for cardinal. We have to ask God for the gift of freedom. We are called to be transparent and to tell the truth."
I can see where Martini wants to take this, but I think he goes a bit too far.

Sure, defamation, envy and vanity are sins and careerists suck bad (trust me, I've met enough to know). But there is a tone of generalization running through the article that doesn't sound right. And while I see from where the Cardinal takes the argument against envy and careerism, I fail to see the validity of the 18-foot silk cape-example, especially when it is followed by the accusation that the Church decorates itself (She is an "it" now?) with pointless ornaments.

It's pretty much clear that everything can be misused. It is also clear that not every cardinal in history wore his cappa magna as robe of office but more as a "Yeah! That's right! Look at me!"-kind of thing. But how exactly are these ornaments pointless? Too bad our priests look like priests? Shame that we don't honor Christ in sackcloth and wooden huts? Major bummer that the people feel they are taking part in something special?

"Vanitas" does not so much refer to the desire to please which Martini seems to be addressing, but rather to the general emptiness and meaninglessness of earthly goods. And I don't think that there are too many prelates out there who would actually think that 18 feet of silk are more meaningful than Christ.

Come on now! Cut these guys some slack! Sure, there are some priests, which are prone to enjoy the occasional worldly good a bit too much. But this goes for all of us. Therefore there are two conditions that have to be fulfilled to make this thing work: The priests should not think that every ornament and every honor is directed towards their person and their person alone. And the laity should not assume that every priest thinks that every ornament and every honor is directed towards their person and their person alone. This, too, is where the unity is to be found: Not in mutual finger-pointing, but in mutual appreciation of that little bit of extra that makes Catholicism so enjoyable.


Anonymous said...

But, surely vanitas can apply equally well to those who insist on inventing ornaments to their own liking, rather than using the ornaments prescribed by legitimate authority. These inventions need not be MORE elaborate. Even not using what is specified as a consequence of setting oneself up as an authority equal to the magisterim constitutes vanitas for it sets my desires on equal footing with Holy Mother Church.

leo said...