Wednesday, June 07, 2006

One for your shelves

The following is an excerpt from chapter five of Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. I've been wanting to pick it up, and after reading this and a few other excepts think that one day soon it will find it's way into my hands.
Anyone thinking about becoming Catholic is forewarned. Must reading is a little book by Thomas Day, a modern classic, Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste. It is both comic and sad. Cradle Catholics read it laughing through their tears. Converts brace themselves. Day sends up chatty priests who emcee the Mass as though it were their own live talk show, song leaders who challenge anyone else to sing, and happy-clappy ditties that might embarrass preschoolers. There is, to cite but one of hundreds, "To Be Alive":

To be alive and feeling free
And to have everyone in your family
To be alive in every way
Oh how great it is
To be alive.

Be forewarned. "Convert stories" have been a major genre in Catholic popular literature. That has been less so in recent years because, as we have seen, some Catholics assume there is a tension, even a contradiction, between ecumenism and conversion. "Why," it is asked, "would you want to become a Catholic when we Catholics have only now learned how wonderful Lutheranism is?" There are compelling theological reasons for becoming Catholic. Not so long ago, convert stories typically stressed the compelling aesthetic attractions of Catholicism. People such as Thomas Merton were drawn to the Church by the beauty, the solemnity, the ceremony, the dignity of the worship. The word commonly used was "mystery."

Merton, writing a long while ago, described the genius of Gregorian chant:

It is an austere warmth, the warmth of Gregorian chant. It is deep beyond ordinary emotion, and that is one reason why you never get tired of it. It never wears you out by making a lot of cheap demands on your sensibilities. Instead of drawing you out into the open field of feelings where your enemies, the devil and your own imagination and the inherent vulgarity of your own corrupted nature, can get at you with their blades and cut you to pieces, it draws you within, where you are lulled in peace and recollection and where you find God.

Read more, especially the last paragraph.


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