Thursday, March 05, 2009

Updating Catholic Practices

The genius of the Catholic Church is that it can update its practices and expressions of belief no matter how long that may take. Paradoxically the Benedictine papacy has made great strides in recovering the traditions that Vatican II lost. But in this context, we read that Roman Catholic bishops in Italy want that there should be a fasting from electronic gadgets for Lent. And this includes SMS texting and iPods!

Earlier on the Vatican released an updated list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Since I have a bit of traditionalist streak, I would prefer to use the old appellation "The Seven Cardinal Sins" :-) The Philippines has had one and we seem to be haunted by him still. The new list has drug trafficking, environmental destruction and obscene wealth on top of the old luxuria, gula, avaritia, acedia ira etc.

The public saw this as a novel attempt by the Benedictine church to remind the planet that sins still matter. Some in public were made to reflect and some ridiculed the new list.

Nonetheless the 7 Cardinal Sins are matched by the 7 Cardinal Virtues. These 7 virtues have a Greek origin and were adapted by the Church early on. The whole idea of fasting is supposed to make us think clearly and love more dearly. ooooops cliche! Fasting is not a monopoly of Christians but other faiths like Islam and Buddhism also require fasting. The Roman Church has made great strides in revisiting fasting traditions. In the early Church, there were 2 Lents in which the faithful have to fast. One is Advent or Little Lent 4 weeks before Christmas and Great Lent which marks the Passion of Christ ending at Easter. In the Greek Church they still follow both practices. In the Roman Church we only still see the vestiges of the practice as the vestments in Advent are purple. Aside from that no one cares. All the office and school "Christmas" parties happen in Little Lent. If we were to be strict about it, all Christmas parties have to be in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Roman Church also revised the traditional Lenten fast from 40 days to just Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The weekly Friday fast was made a choice between abstaining from meat to doing a corporal work of mercy.

When I was a child, I lived in the receding tide of Tridentine Catholicism. While I was raised as a High Episcopalian, some in the family were cradle Catholics and they had the calendar where there was a fish icon on each Friday of the month. Today we don't have those calendars anymore. (BTW High Episcopalians are Catholic in belief but don't follow the Pope)

Psychologists have known that fasting confers benefits and the 7 Cardinal virtues are supposed to be a roadmap to what those benefits are.

The question is whether the new suggestions for fasting will catch on in the secular world. I think Papa Ratzi is sharp enough to realize that some secular values coincide with Catholic values. For example environmental values are shared by the secular and the religious. These values are really catholic in that many of us hold on to these. Papa Ratzinger may have interesting ideas even if his subalterns screw up (like the case of that Holocaust denying traditional bishop whose excommunication was lifted)

And perhaps one kind of fasting we can have is that we abstain from writing about politics for a day that is if we can't stop texting!

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