Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pomp and Ceremony

 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  (Matt 22:11-13)  

I came across another version of the "Which of These Made a Vow of Poverty?" memes on facebook the other day, and I re-posted it with my own commentary, but I'd like to add a few things; one was pointed out by a friend, and the other I came across while reading Bible stories to my two youngest.

WHAT is the point of this meme? That it is morally wrong to wear ceremonial robes to a ceremony? So what now? We can't wear wedding dresses to a wedding? We can't wear graduation robes to a graduation? Military personnel should abstain from wearing their dress uniform at military ceremonies? Hollywood actors should wear rags to the Oscars? Native peoples shouldn't wear beaded, leather, ceremonial clothes to pow wows?

Pomp and Ceremony has its place in pompous and ceremonial occasions.  
"The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me" (Matt 26:11)  

Oh right. I forgot. It's only Catholic clergy that should wear rags. Because apparently they're all sitting on a hoard of treasure somewhere (not doing anything with it except buying ceremonial robes) like Smaug in the Dwarf's mountain. Since they also all apparently took "vows of poverty", this clearly forbids them to wear ceremonial garb as long as there are still poor people in the world.

Obviously, not buying ceremonial garb, and using that money to buy food for the starving people is going to change things. Because buying food for the poor makes governments stand up and make just laws about things like minimum salary and not taking advantage of people and not letting big companies come in and do whatever they want with impunity. Yep. Problem solved.

I'd like to point out a couple of errors, the first of which is the fact that not all priests take vows of poverty. Only certain orders do. The second is this: while Jesus DOES want us to be concerned with the poor and to fight injustice in the world, he DOES NOT condone forgetting everything else, honour, respect, friendship, and yes - even pomp and ceremony in our ardour to do so.

I came across this story while reading stories from the Bible to my children last night:
A woman came to (Jesus) with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor." Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me."
Clearly, when it comes to showing the proper respect to God, whether it be in dressing appropriately, as in the parable of the wedding where he who did not bother to dress in his best clothes was thrown out, whether it be anointing Christ's head with alabaster oil, (which was very costly) kneeling or bowing in the proper circumstances, spending quiet time in prayer, or some other thing, God is pleased.  There will always be poor people.  This should not stop us from honouring special occasions with expensive items, celebrating religious ceremonies with elaborate feasts afterwards or from showing the proper respect to Christ and his Church even if that means wearing fancy clothes while some less fortunate may have none.  We cannot dress and feed everyone in the world, but if we have done it for one other, we have done it for Christ.  I am sure that most of these cardinals have done it for more than one other.  The best way to eradicate poverty is not in giving all of one's money or belongings away, but in working towards eradicating injustice.  The point here being not to impoverish ourselves in order to be "in communion with" the poor, but rather to work with them in order to give them the same rights, the same opportunities that we have, that they might pull themselves up to the same level.  Evidently, the fact that injustice is pretty much impossible to eradicate should not stop us from trying!  Once again, I quote Samwise Gamgee: "there is some good in this world, and (...) it's worth fighting for."

A friend of mine pointed out that in the photo so self-righteously used, the children lining up to be fed were probably ironically being fed by Catholic Relief Services.

For the record, I prefer a Church where the clergy is capable of recognizing the solemnity, mystery and beauty of the liturgy by wearing the appropriate ceremonial robes. Thank you very much.