Friday, 21 March 2014

The Japanese Foundation

It's been Nun Week as far as my other writing has been concerned. First I wrote a defense of a CR editorial decision to publish a photo of a nun in habit ("a stereotype", sneered a consecrated detractor), and second, I finished reading In This House of Brede and wrote up a review for CWR.

I didn't have space in my review to do so, but I want to clarify what I meant about not finding a note of falsity in Rumer Godden's sudden introduction of the Exotic East.

As most of us know, in the late 19th century and then in the 1960s, Westerners were transfixed by our impressions of Asian culture. The Beatles found the Maharishi. Thomas Merton became fascinated with Buddhist monks and similarities between Christian monasticism and other forms of monasticism, almost as if monasticism were the point. Non-Christian meditation became de rigeur just as the majority of western Catholics began to abandon and then forget Christian meditation.

However, Christianity had been blossoming in Asia for some time, and in the fictional house of Brede there had for a long time persisted a dream to found a daughter house in some mission territory. Catholic culture was incredibly confident before I was born, and the Church in the West was happily expanding in the Global South and the Global East, building on the now-reviled efforts of nineteenth century missionaries. So although this happens after the death of Piux XII, the desire of a Japanese businessman to built a Japanese-style Benedictine monastary for women in Japan fits in very nicely with the Brede nuns' long-cherished dream.

Some of the nuns are a bit silly in their ideas of what concessions against their own traditions they ought to allow their new Japanese postulants, but the Mother Abbess is indeed a voice of reason, nixing the proposed kimono-style habit but ensuring that the postulants get rice. In theology school I met a lot of Asian male religious, and one of them assured me that if there had been no rice pot in his new North American home, he would have gone back to Asia. (I would probably be the same way about coffee. Coffee is the one western foodstuff I don't think I could live without. Meat, sure. Eggs, sure. Bread, sure. Booze, sure. Coffee? No.)

So although this Japanese section of the book falls during THE CHANGES, I think it is actually a masterful (on Godden's part) bridging of monasticism before Vatican II and monasticism immediately after Vatican II. St Teresa of Avila, that great monastic, was very interested in missions abroad. And, I will repeat, in 1969 Godden knew that instructions stemming from the Vatican Council (or the ways in which they were received) had thrown religious life in an uproar, but she could not know of the wholesale devaluing of consecrated life in the minds of the Catholic laity, to say nothing of the desertion of convents and monasteries of so many religious. (Here is one sad story.)

As I wrote in the CR, I considered a vocation to religious life in high school, which is a very trad age for such ponderings. And I considered it again, on-and-off, after my annulment. I was usually turned off the idea by sisters themselves. But sometimes I met sisters who made me ponder the idea again--not that I was any great treasure, believe me. The most beautiful of them all was a Korean Benedictine. Ah! She was a good woman, and she had a soul like a flower. It crossed my mind that if I were ever to enter a convent (or monastery), it would be HER monastery in Korea. There was something very gentle and womanly about her that made me think "Here is the real thing". I don't know if it was because she was a Korean or a Benedictine. At any rate, I wondered if Benedictines in Korea had something the West had lost. That was sheer ignorance, though, because I never visited a honest-to-goodness Benedictine community until last year's visit to Ryde.

Now that I have helped girls find tranquility in Single life and, very indirectly, to marriage and babies, I will be absolutely delighted if I can help other girls find vocations to contemplative life. If I were twenty years younger and not married, I would begin a round of visits to the Sister of St. Cecilia at Ryde. When I was twenty-three, I had my whole life to offer, and I am sure I would have been happier there than at U of T. Sigh, sigh. But I cannot complain because although I did not find (or look very hard for) the best way, late in time God sent me a good way and, let me tell you, B.A. is much more than I deserve!

P.S. Does anyone remember me ever trashing the Novus Ordo in print? There was a letter in this week's CR accusing me of putting down the Novus Ordo, which annoyed me. As far as I recall, when I write about the Novus Ordo, it is usually to beg people to respect it and stop treating it like a canvas for all their dumb ideas or to stop yakking all the way through it. I write about various parishes where priests and people treat the Novus Ordo with great reverence or where the music is great. The very fact that a deacon (!) would accuse me of "putting down" the Novus Ordo without carefully rereading my articles shows how lightly people take the new Mass: if this deacon really understood what a serious accusation he was making against me, he might have thought twice.


Nzie said...

Thinking of Nun Week, have you seen the Sister on The Voice Italy? It just started making the rounds. :-)

Woodbine said...

I saw the CR letter a few days ago. It didn't seem that critical to me. Mainly the writer was advocating for the recognition that the NO and TLM are equal - which is your position too. True, he wasn't careful to make the distinction between your criticism of the way that certain parishes or priests perform the NO and your thoughts on the form itself. It's just sloppy semantics, don't let it bug ya.

Woodbine said...

Sorry, I realise that came across bit harsh. It isn't fair for him to see your promotion of the TLM as a critique of the NO, because that clearly isn't your stance. You know what you're talking about.

Seraphic said...

That's okay. I will set him straight in a later edition!

sciencegirl said...

I've read your articles, and you have never bashed the Novus Ordo. But it's what you haven't said that is making this guy mad. You haven't said that the liturgical changes to the Mass were long-overdue reliefs from an arrogant clerical-centric ahistorical baroque snoozefest. You haven't said that Protestants and atheists who attend a TLM funeral will be put off by the liturgy and so never become Catholic, but would easily converted by a NO funeral because they will understand all the words and what is going on. You haven't said that it's pointless for kids to pray in a language they don't understand.

You also, incidentally, have spent a lot of articles bashing cattle ranchers and chicken and pig farmers because you haven't written a column claiming that, "Priests went out for lobster on Fridays!"

When people have spent decades repeating the same lines bashing something, it rattles them when someone doesn't. They imagine that you hold the Mass they attend in the same poor regard as they hold the TLM.

Your columns make the EF sound approachable and interesting, while our elders always said it was confusing and boring. You are contradicting them. Good for you!

Seraphic said...

Sometimes I wonder if their problem was that they were too young to read even the English in the Latin-English missals, but surely most people in the English-speaking world born before 1960 could read English.

My nephew, visiting from Canada, went to our EF when he was 7, and he seemed fascinated. Maybe it was the all-male sanctuary: I don't know. But he seemed fascinated even by the Latin because I overheard him trying to repeat the Latin after the priest. I felt very sorry that he can't go to the EF all year around.