Holy Women, Holy Men Revisited
Posted: 04 September 2011 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]  
Total Posts:  36
Joined  2009-01-21

At General Convention in 2009, the church passed a large number of additions to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our commemoration calendar. Even though some of the names suggested met with serious objections, the resolution passed overwhelmingly. The year of trial usage ended June 30, although the resource will continue to be used, with its passage in 2012 nearly assured. I voted against it, and the more that I have though about this, the stronger I feel about this issue.

Until recently, the Church’s commemoration calendar has been a slowly evolving item. It took time for a consensus to emerge for a particular person to be added to the commemorations of the whole Church. Take the failed efforts of some quite well-meaning church members to add King Charles, the alleged martyr, to our corporate prayers.

Then the Standing Liturgical Commission came up with a long list of new names for us to remember. My radar when on. Here is what I concluded. Only a church led by baby boomers would be audacious and self-centered enough to believe that we are entitled to add to our commemorations so many people at one time. Past generations exercised restrain and modesty in adding people (and removing them).

As a boomer, I have known for some time that my generation believes itself the most enlightened that has ever lived on the planet. I would contend that Holy Women, Holy Men says more about our generation than the people we intend to honor. It has been said that tradition is the living vote of those who have gone before us. Most boomers consider those who have gone before us as not worthy of a vote. No wonder we find such blatant inflation of the list by those who believe ourselves most worthy of choosing.

In addition, the criterion seemed to be the ever-invasive “inclusiveness” that now dominates the thinking of current Church leaders. Not only are many of these persons not Christians, but several were openly hostile to the Christian Church. Why should we commemorate them? No other organization would make its honor roll of those who wished their own organization cease to exist. This is not a list of “holy” women or men. Holiness in any classical sense of the term was never a serious criterion. The better title would have been Women and Men of Good Intentions and Deeds.

The historic commemorations include people who were saints in the real sense of the word. They are martyrs, witnesses and servants of extraordinary sacrifice. When we think of Francis, or Anthony, or Hilda, or Constance, we are thinking of people through whom the light of Christ, their savior, shone brightly. They did not just do good things that should be appreciated by other humans. They led holy lives that pointed to something, or rather someone, beyond themselves.

Lastly, I would cite the consequence of this sudden inflation of names. In a very real sense, the saints are the most valuable commodity of God’s reign on earth in every generation. They are the examples that point all of us to a further life of service and holiness in God’s Kingdom, as the old hymn says: “And I want to be one too.” They tell us, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found hard and therefore not tried. The saints and those we commemorate in the old Lesser Feasts and Fasts give us a glimpse of what can happen if Christianity, true discipleship, is found hard yet lived. These folks are in a very real sense the currency of the Kingdom. As we all know, when a nation or community decides to simply print more currency, it does no spread the wealth. The consequence is exactly the opposite; it devalues the currency.

This is my most serious objection to the well-intended Holy Women, Holy Men. Its consequence is not to inspire the kind of holiness of life that our former commemorations did for us. Its true consequence is to make the term holy almost meaningless.

I draw one last consolation in all this. History has taught me that a future generation, perhaps not very long from now, will simply look at our actions in this matter and ask, “Who did these people think they were?” That may be the most important question raised by this action: not who were these people we added in so great a number, but who were we to act in such a self-centered and self-absorbed way? They will only need to look at how few saints our generation has produced to grasp the answer.
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Posted: 08 September 2011 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
Total Posts:  707
Joined  2009-01-31

Alas, this post won’t get the attention it deserves.

There are some deep cultural (an incisive critique of baby-boomers) and theological (the watering down of the meaning of holiness) ideas here that should be discussed!

Not to mention the hopeful, longer time-horizon perspective contained in

History has taught me that a future generation, perhaps not very long from now, will simply look at our actions in this matter and ask, “Who did these people think they were?”

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Posted: 08 September 2011 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
Total Posts:  146
Joined  2009-02-05

Yeah, but evangelicals don’t recognize such days, and anglo-catholics will only celebrate the “real” saints.  It’s an exercise in futility.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 10:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
Total Posts:  279
Joined  2009-01-28

First, I greatly appreciate the humility and sobriety of this article, and I agree with its conclusions. I think, to be honest, that there are a number of people both in the Baby Boomer generation, and especially among their children, who ask, ‘Who did these people think they were?’ I don’t think that the question can be confined to either the left or the right, either. It’s a good critique to have for every generation, I reckon, but perhaps especially today.

I think there might be another question that should be asked about this so-called calendar. First, what is a calendar of saints for? Obviously, it is for those who will use it; at the very least, it should chart how a given church understands its own history - by which I mean, how it understands the history of God’s providential workings within its own tradition. In this, it is a witness to the wider world, including the wider Church, but also serves as a catechetical and pedagogical aid for those within the church in question. Out of this, then, is the second matter: it is a witness. On the one hand, it holds up certain men and women as icons of Christian virtue. It holds up their accomplishments, in living and in dying, in writing and in service, as gifts that the world should partake of on the way to God. On the other hand, a calendar of saints is also a witness to the wider Church: it says not just ‘this is who we are’, but ‘this is who we give to you’. A calendar of saints is profoundly ecumenical only insofar as it is profoundly particular. Church unity means nothing if it means amnesia. It means quite a lot if it involves gathering the fragments of particular histories and weaving them into a whole.

This so-called ‘calendar of saints’ satisfies neither of these two criteria. It does not tell American Episcopalians who they are - indeed, it dissolves and destroys our identity in a silly and trite ecumenical mush that doesn’t even evidence a basic grasp of who some of these ‘saints’ were. The reading for Karl Barth is a perfect example: his great work in systematics is ignored in favor of some radio addresses against the Nazis. Were the authors of this ‘calendar’ too intellectually facile, or merely too ignorant, to grasp that Barth’s contribution is in the area of systematic theology (and, thus, in the restatement of some classic Protestant doctrines)? (Leaving aside, of course, the fact that Barth would likely not have approved of being put into anyone’s calendar.) Thus, not only does it undermine Anglican identity, but it fundamentally fails to communicate who these other Christians were! This ‘calendar’ is an intellectual failure all the way down. For intellectually lazy parish priests who don’t want to think or teach, and for brutalized laity who are so used to thin gruel that they cannot imagine the richness of history and theology, such a ‘calendar’ will seem fine. But it’s the comfort of hemlock without the dignity of being forced to drink it. There’s nothing worth celebrating here.

But perhaps this is the whole point: the leadership of the American Episcopal church does not know what its identity is, and does not care to find out. They have their trite honorary ‘doctorate’ degrees - why do any actual intellectual work? And why show any commitment to what we have been entrusted with - and we have been entrusted with our own church, not that of other Christians (which is to say, it is fantastically arrogant to claim the right to elevate to sainthood those who died outside of our communion - and I, for one, find the arrogance nauseating, even as the calendar as a whole is like a bad joke).

Fortunately you don’t have to use the calendar. You can defy the system. After all, canon law has ceased to have any force in the American Episcopal church. If the Presiding Bishop can receive a known child molester into the priesthood with impunity, then surely you can refuse a ridiculous (and even non-Christian) liturgical innovation.

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Posted: 10 September 2011 11:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
Total Posts:  25
Joined  2009-02-22

I hope to reply more fully to this soon, but in the mean time this excellent post reminded me of another one by Derek Olsen. It’s worth checking out. http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/saints/sanctity.php

He’s got a lot more material intelligently critical of HW,HM all around his blog and the Cafe’.

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