Reflections on John Chrysostom

Recently, I posted a passage from St. John Chrysostom.  That reading is my favorite reading in the entire breviary.  It’s nice to see a Chrysostom reading in there to break up the monotony of Augustine, Augustine, and more Augustine. 

I don’t want to spend to much time going over old ground, but I’ll spend a paragraph doing so before I get to the reflection.  I think St. John pretty much sums up my problems with conservativism in the liturgy.  It’s not that I think “having nice things” is such a bad thing, especially in liturgy.  On the contrary, I would prefer people spending their money on Christ in that way rather than spending it on themselves.  However, Christ makes it perfectly clear where our priorities should be.  If anything, His most constant commentary on the liturgy was to avoid become pharisaical.  If people would be content to a) follow Jesus’ teachings on helping the poor spiritually and corporeally while having nice liturgy, I wouldn’t complain.  Granted, I never saw the appeal of what most people call “good” liturgy, but I admit that that opinion is a matter of taste, not of dogma. 

But that’s not what I want to write about.  Why is it so important to help the poor?  I’ve worked with the less fortunate long enough to know that they are not saintly people like many on the left make them out to be, nor are they lazy people like people on the right like to say.  They are just regular people, with bad apples and good apples.  Nor do we help the poor because we somehow think that we can solve the problems of poverty.  Catholicism is not reducible to social justice work.

Rather, Jesus commanded that we help the poor because all people are broken by our own sinfullness.  And yet, the rich are often not aware of their own sorry state:  we can surround ourselves with all the luxury we want and ignore the true state of our souls.  The poor don’t have that advantage.  They have been beaten down by life.  For many people, there is nothing more humiliating that relying on the charity of others to feed yourself.  We help the poor not because we can solve all or even a sizable chunk of their problems.  We help them because we see Christ in them.  And in seeing Christ living among broken people, we are reminded of our own brokeness, our own need for repentence, our own need to love and be loved. 

I have to admit, despite finally realizing how essential such work is to the Gospel, I find myself incapable of actually doing it.  I worked at the Missionaries of Charity last semester even though I wasn’t required.  I felt so inadequate.  While I was busy doing easy tasks with great difficulty, the sisters were cleaning sores, and doing other demeaning jobs.  I found myself so repelled to such things that I had to force myself to go back every week.  I couldn’t return this semester due to difficulties in my schedule; therefore, this semester I feel like I’m doing very little.  I do the minimum required by the seminary, and I punch my time card and leave, only to do my three hours again next week.  I keep asking myself for the grace to see the humanity of these people beyond their disabilities, to see Christ concealed by their broken bodies.  Thus far, I have failed pretty miserably. 

However, I try not to take myself too seriously.  Christ is undoubtedly working on me and through me, guiding me slowly towards being able to serve Him as He wants me to.  Christ knows me better than I know myself, and He knows how to fix me better than I do.  It’s all a matter of me submitting fully to the grace He gives me. 

Yes, we can and do encounter Christ in the liturgy; but the grace that we receive at the altar does us no good if we don’t respond to it.  We can only go to Mass once a day, and have Him within us for such a short time everyday.  If we truly desire to be united to Him for eternity, we should seek Him with our entire being while we are on this earth.  Jesus made it perfectly clear where we would find Him:  among sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.  What’s preventing us from going to Him?

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4 Comments on “Reflections on John Chrysostom”

  1. jh Says:

    I really enjoy your blog a lot. I hope you keep it going for a while.

    I do have trouble though seeing where you are going with this liturgical thing though. Why can’t we have both. I have been to the the richest Parishes that looks like a Funeral Home and uses kool laid glassware pitchers it seems and various other things for Mass. Yet their work among the poor aint that great. But on the other hand I have been to beautiful Churches with fine Vestments, Wonderful Chalices, and beautiful Choirs that are doing stellar work among the poor.

    I don’t think Catholics are demnading that all the Chalices be made from Tiffanys or that all the the Vestments be made made out of the absoulte finest cloth. I think we want beauty in ourtLiturgy that inspires us and brings us closer to GOD. The MASS is a taste of heaven is it not? What is wrong with investing a few bucks into it? In this age where we are bombarded with messages that there is no divine, that every thing is Scientific, that there is no mystery isn’t it helpful do things to remind people that this isnt so as to the MASS. Sometimes we need a extra reminder of HEY WAKE UP SOMETHING DIVINE IS GOING ON EHERE

    Perhaps I am missing the problem , but I am not detecting that there is a huge problem with us spending tons of money these things. Quite the opposite. Also are not some of these one time expenses.

    As to the poor AMEN AMEN AMEN. But I cant help to notice that on Sunday Morning at the downtown Chruch I attend the pews are filled with the poor. These poor are not just from the downtown area but come city wide. They come to see and participate in something beautiful. They need to be uplifited by Christ and his Liturgy. I have a feleing they would be the first to complain if they adopted the practices of the rich church up the road.

    Now, I understand your attitude about the Tridetine Mass or bust club. They are irratating. However there has to be a happy medium here.

    I guess my point is that as a Convert I noticed right off that much needed to be done in this area of Liturgical practice. I think that should be encouraged. I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

    I suppose I would like,if you can, to tell me where(in a general sense) you are seeing these problems of Catholics too concerned about having expensive things for Churches and Mass and not concerned about the poor. Frankly I have not seen that


  2. phamilton Says:

    James, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    Two things need to be distinguished in my posts. I was planning on making the distinction in a later post, but I’ll make it here as well.

    a) My criticism is of those people who want expensive liturgical things without lifting a finger to do the work Christ asks of us. Thus far, I have written much about this. If people want the Tridentine Mass and they diligently obey Christ’s commands, more power to them. As I wrote earlier, my bishop is such a man.

    b) With that said, and assuming that people who enjoy Tridentine or Life Teen liturgies don’t go around claiming their way is the only way to go, and that both groups can attend the other type of liturgy without crying “foul,” then I’m perfectly fine with letting people who like Mass done a certain way to go to those Masses. However, it just so happens that I don’t see what the big deal with all the big, expensive liturgical items are. Even assuming that the poor have been helped first, I have never found Masses that are decked out with “all the works” to be particularly edifying. It’s a matter of personal taste. While I’ll go to those liturgies without making a fuss, I have never understood why people make a fuss about fiddlebacks and barettas and capa magnas.

    I’m entirely unwilling to negotiate on the points I make in a). I am entirely open to finding out what is so appealing about high liturgies. If I can find new ways to grow closer to Christ, I’m willing to seek them out. It’s just that after almost 3 years in seminary, despite being surrounded by people who love high liturgies, I’ve never understood how those things make the liturgy more edifying.

    It also doesn’t help that those same seminarians who liked high liturgies also were weak on a); in which case, much of their fretting over minor details seemed more like an aberration of the Gospel than a desire to give fitting worship to Christ. It got so bad at some points that I sometimes thought that the desire for “decked out” liturgies were entirely a form of self-worship because they spent so much time talking about the externals of the liturgy while seemingly paying no attention to the Person which we are worshipping. At one point, I thought that I was entirely alone in my criticisms, but I didn’t dare to speak out against the prevailing liturgical orthodoxy. The seminary staff wouldn’t have cared much, but many seminarians would have had a heart attack. Heck, due to some bizarre incidents, many people thought that indifference to the cassock was seen as unintentionally sympathizing with the Communists. I kid you not. Thank God that little furor died down quickly. Thankfully, after that brutal year was over, many of my brother seminarians–who still like high liturgies–came out of their shells and said that many of the things that happened that year were ridiculous and contrary to the Gospel.

    Often, the distinction between what I said in a) and b) may not always be explicitly clear in my writing. Sometimes, I may be criticizing a) while simultaneously expressing my confoundation over why the externals are seen as so important. That doesn’t mean that the distinction doesn’t exist, it is just that among many of the hardcore liturgical conservatives I’ve met, a) is neglected, and a certain type of liturgy is seen as mandatory. It just so happens that when I criticize those people, sometimes people mistake me as saying that I am completely against having nice things in liturgy. So for those people who forbid nice things in liturgy, anathema sit.

  3. jh Says:

    Ok, Thanks

    I see your point. I am prob about 11 or or so years older than you ming you went to Seminary after College. So the early 90’s is when I converted back in College. In has been a struggle at times as to some liturgies in the past. In some ways the fact that many of your fellow seminarians overeacted at first makes me think that indeed a tide had turned as to the nonsense I had to go through. Also, let me add this was in Conservative Louisiana so I can’t imagine how it was like elsewhere. Just viewing the Catholic Student Center’s copy of NCR gave me shivers back then. I remenber going to campus events and it being focused on Matthew Fox and the Ennagram. Urgh lol That being said I managed to come in sort of on that great hurrah of that movement. After that one could tell things were changing.

    Now I have been to some Old Latin Masses that had the indult. This usually occured when I was visting New Orleans or Houston or some place that had it. I like it but I know I will not become attached to it. Also, I have to admit some Traditionalist send me up the wall because some flirt with things such as if Vatican II is invalid and then start denigrating the Mass I attend. It needs reform a tad but it is not the worst thing in the world lol. There are some other things that bother me but those are the main points. I am excited about MP for the reason why I think most people are excited that follow this. As one person said on another blog there might be some Cross Pollination effect. The New ICEL translations of the MAss excite me a lot. So do the the recent documents from the Vatican on the Euchurist. . But in the end I know that the Traditional Mass will be limited. I see an a lot of faithful Orthodox Catholics that have blogs etc. Many of them converts. They too are a tad excited about the MP but I can tell that for mostt that will not be a Mass they will be demanding or the one they will be attending and raising their kids . That to be honest is a good thing.

    So what do I see as a perfect combination. I look at this Church and I go ah yes this is it

    I see that Parish and think if that could be duplicated 500 times down here in the South(I have no reason why this couldnt be duplicated elsewhere with consideration of special communties and cultures) that Catholicism would regain again some of it’s voice it had down here.

    If you look around there appears to be nice reverent liturgy. Nothing appears to be too extravangant t. There is almost a divine Simplicity to it. PLus look at the numbers. That is impressive for that location. What is even more impressive is that they have 2000 Hispanics there. Truly Catholic. Truly a symbol for a community that is nervous about these “new” Southerners that look a tad different and have slightly different customs maybe. In reality things are going on there to help the community I suspect that go far beyond symbolic.

    But a Church that can have the Spanish speaking Hispanic, The Hhgh Church Convert from that South Carolina Anglicanism, the cradle Catholic, and prob a lot of Baptist converts like me worshiping together well that is the word Catholic. I really think the Liturgy as well as solid Preaching and Teaching is what is making that. So when I am talking about Liturgy that I would like to see the norm this is sort of what I have in mind.

    As to Life Teen Masses and other things I think there is a time and place for that. I think that is important. Just like I think having outlets for the Catholic Charismatic renewal is important. But this seems doable.

    Anyway those are my thought.

    Before I end I hope you give keep giving some insight on all this Orthodox/Catholic conversations I see occuring on blogs and forums. I guess one could call it dialogue. I often call it being told my Church is horrible and heretical and every Catholic please flee your crumbling church. Anyway, I enjoyed your insight early on another post on your blog as to Photius and it actually gave me something to meditate on when I was praying. Also your comment on Pontifications led to your Blog that led me to that nice blog “Cathedra Unitatis” which showed me that not all Orthodox think we were heretics perhaps and these things can be diuscussed as fellow Christians should discuss them.

    Anywho, I shall be praying for you and your vocation. You are blessed that God gave you the grace to explore it. I think I had a vocation perhaps like yours but I was to afraid to trust. Needless to say my life now doesnt make that vocation a possibility anymore(another story) but hopefully I will discover what else God has in store. Truly to be where you are at is a Grace and I shall keep you in my prayers tonight when I do my hours


  4. phamilton Says:

    James, thanks for another thoughtful response. I checked out that link that you posted, and it has reminded me of a few things that I wanted to write about.

    Thanks for your prayers. I need all the help that I can get at the moment.

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