Thursday, May 28, 2009

Small Place, Big Story

This is a small place with big stories. Mostly they are Catholic stories, about the role the monks and nuns played in the Liturgical Movement, particularly from the 1920s forward, and significantly during the Vatican II era. Abbot Baldwin Dworschak was a significant presence at the Vatican II Council, arguing for the vernacular as president of his congregation and thus a voting member. The women of Saint Benedict's Monastery were significant reformers and innovators in liturgical music, including a return to schola tradition and Gregorian chant in monasteries and also writing hymns that embraced the theology of Vatican II. Their work as school teachers and in health care, including founding five hospitals, is nothing short of heroic, and their work has shaped generations in this area.

Godfrey Diekmann, a monk at Saint John's Abbey, was one of 55 liturgists who crafted the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first ratified document at Vatican II, and the one that resulted in the altar turned to face the people, the removal of communion rails and side altars, the movement of the tabernacle, and very significantly, the elaboration of the Liturgy of the Word to full status beside the Liturgy of the Bread. For more on Diekmann's role, click here.

Eugene McCarthy was from nearby Watkins, graduated from Saint John's Prep School and Saint John's University and spent nine months as a novice at the Abbey. His presence also looms large.

Last night we found out that a local theology professor, Miguel Diaz, whose children go to the parish school and whose family regularly attends Sunday Mass at the monastery, has been nominated to be the next ambassador to the Vatican. Miguel and his wife Marian have spoken often in venues around the area, making a large contribution to the vibrant life of religious scholarship here. Marian often talks on topics of women's spirituality, and she has run a very successful vocations program supported by a Lilly Foundation Grant at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. Last year there were 200 women students and almost 80 facilitators involved in small "spiritual companioning" groups on campus, a program that has been so popular it has spread through alumni to other areas of Minnesota, including the Twin Cities. In addition to programs for students, Marian expandedofferings to staff and faculty, including book groups and talks on Benedictine values. She has been at the center of a real spiritual renewal on campus, without drawing attention to her role, always empowering those around her. Miguel brought fascinating people to campus, enlarging the discussion of multiculturalism in the church and teaching a vibrant Trinitarian theology that offers great hope for the future. He also generously donated his time to speak to parish groups and on campus.

Overall right now, there is a sense that things are moving and changing in the church. Even as there is so much evidence that Rome is "clamping down" and Catholics are becoming more and more conservative-- in their politics but also in their liturgical taste-- there seems to be as large a force coming out of the ecumenical movement, what Phyllis Tickle (an Episcopalian who has written some popular books on the Liturgy of the Hours and is described as "an authority on religion in America") calls "The Great Emergence" in Christianity.

I'm not sure what I think yet on this topic, as much of it seems to me wrapped up in superficial thinking about technology (Embrace Facebook and live! Presidents with Blackberries are a sign of a new and glorious future! They might be right, but I want to think it through a bit more). It's also interesting because she presents it as a historical inevitability and taps well into millenialist thinking-- which fascinates me. I'm always on the lookout for people capitalizing on the fact that we're at the start of a millenium.

Here is a video introducing the idea.

There is a lot of energy in my neck of the woods right now about change. Obama's era of change. Hope for inclusion and transformation of the Church to meet the needs of the current world. Even, dare I say it, opening up of the Church. This appointment will only focus the energy further, support the forces that say-- we are at the center of something new! As for me, I'm keeping my eyes open, but I'm not as sure about all this as others seem to be. There is a lot of conflict still, and the communities, particularly Saint John's Abbey and Saint Benedict's Monastery, are getting smaller and smaller, older and older. What the future holds is far from clear.

Hey, this is my 99th post. I'll have to do something celebratory for post 100...

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