Perhaps you remember at the beginning of Lent, when I was on a Vintage Catholic tear, I posted a section from a late 19th-century book called The Correct Thing for Catholics. Somewhat dated, of course, but still, if you think about it, useful.
Well, here’s the author’s advice for these days in particular. Other sites are offering you deep thoughts. I simply offer the correct thing.
The focus is on Holy Thursday, and in particular the tradition of visiting the altars of repose in various churches – “throngs” of people did this….
There won’t be any Seven Quick Takes this week, so here’s an offering for you to read that is take, although not a quick one. I think it’s an essential article to read – Patricia Snow in First Things on screen time.
Sixty-four years ago, in her novel Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor saw all of this coming. Describing the beautiful movements of a night sky over an artificially lit street in a small town, she commented dryly, “No one was paying any attention to the sky.” The cinema on the lit street was O’Connor’s metaphor of choice for the alienation of modern man, mesmerized by huge, internally generated images as if he were walled up behind his own eye; today everyone has a tiny cinema of his own, on the seat back in front of him or in his pocket, that he can carry everywhere.
Snow offers more than the now routine concerns about the impact of all of this on us. She takes it to a spiritual level, appropriate reading for this week, and this day, in particular, in which we ponder the Real Presence:
For centuries, the Catholic Church has been a place of prayer and recollection, deep reading and peaceful communion. It has been a place of limited social interaction, where the mind can wander and the nerves relax; a quiet place, far from the noise and incessant demands of the world. It has been a place where the poor have had access to certain luxury goods of the rich: great art and music, spaciousness and silence. If the rich have always taken expensive, unplugged vacations in remote, unspoiled places, in our churches the poor, too, have had a place of retreat from the world. The church’s thick walls and subdued lighting, her “precisely-paced” liturgies and the narrowing sight lines of her nave, drawing the eye to the altar and the tabernacle behind it—everything in the church is designed to ward off distractions and render man “still and listening.” Everything is there to draw him into the Church’s maternal embrace, so she can fill him with God.
Besides this way of prayer and contemplation that has been described as a mutual gaze (“I look at him; he looks at me”), there is a second path to God, equally enjoined by the Church, and that is the way of charity to the neighbor, but not the neighbor in the abstract. Catholicism, Christianity generally, and other religions as well have always inveighed against telescopic philanthropy. “Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asks Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’s answer is, the one you encounter on the way.
This encounter cannot be elided or put on hold, pushed to the periphery or dissolved into an abstraction. Man cannot vault over the particular to reach the universal, or bypass the present to seize the future. Virtue is either concrete or it is nothing. Man’s path to God, like Jesus’s path on the earth, always passes through what the Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade called “the sacrament of the present moment,” which we could equally call “the sacrament of the present person,” the way of the Incarnation, the way of humility, or the Way of the Cross. In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a book that teaches by inversion, the fiend Screwtape urges his nephew to envision his human prey as a series of concentric circles, and then “shove all [his] virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.” The tradition of Zen Buddhism expresses the same idea in positive terms: Be here now.
Both of these privileged paths to God, equally dependent on a quality of undivided attention and real presence, are vulnerable to the distracting eye-candy of our technologies. In an essay in these pages, “Reckoning with Modernity” (December 2015), Bruce Marshall wrote of the Church’s need to discern modernity on her own terms, “by searching her own mystery.” In the past, the Church has censured the content of certain media: the violence in video games, for example, or the pornography available online. But preoccupied with content, and excepting a few recent remarks by Pope Francis, she has overlooked the greater danger of the delivery system itself, or the form of the screen, which for many people turns out to be as irresistible as pornography and as addictive as any narcotic, with the result that it is on its way to becoming as formidable a distracter in the life of the Church as it is everywhere else….
….The Church’s definitive mystery is a mystery of real presence: the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, above all, but also her own uninterrupted presence in the world and in history. There is nothing “virtual” or disembodied about the Catholic Church. Her Gospel—her whole life—is a communication of real presence: God made man; God with us; God still with us, in the sacraments and in the baptized. For centuries, the Church has spread this Gospel by face-to-face encounters, live preaching, tangible sacraments and real texts, media ontologically well suited to a message of Incarnation.