Friday, August 15, 2014

Homogenized Relgion

When I first moved back from Italy I was out to dinner with one of our older priests who had also spent time in Rome. We were at an Italian restaurant and I asked, "How long is it going to be before I can eat Italian food in the US and not think "Ugh!"? Without pausing, he responded, "Never." I later had a conversion with an Italian who owned one of my favorite restaurants in Virgiinia Beach, and he told me the story of how when he first opened he cooked the traditional recipes just as they had always been prepared in Italy and soon figured out he had to adjust to American expectations if he was going to survive. He surrendered.

Even more bastardized is so-called Mexican food. One ethnic restaurant after another comes to realize they have to adjust the cuisine to the confines of the average American palate, if they wish to draw the crowd.

Perhaps in a restaurant this is not a bad thing. After all, it is a business. It's goal is to make money. The same should not be true of Church.

Today we celebrate a Holy Day of Obligation, the Assumption of Mary, or what the Eastern Christians call the dormition. Our images all tend to be a rather European porcelain-complexed girl in white (and blue) being taken up to heaven. We barely notice the radical content of the readings of the day.

The centerpiece from Luke's Gospel, the Canticle of Mary

My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord...He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

The Church underscores this image by pairing it with the reading from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he proclaims,

then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.

Christianity in its original form called for radical conversion, a radical reordering of our individual hearts and also our society. But like the Italian and Mexican restaurants we all too often want to strip it of its radical edges, smooth it out, make it more palatable—homogenized Christianity. Saddest of all is when we do it for the same reason as the restaurant; we want to fill up the pews and the collection plate. We don't want to offend the sensibilities of our large donors. We want to keep our people happy. As if Christ founded the Church to make people happy.

Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate has made it clear that he expects us all, beginning with his bishops, priests and religious, to embrace the radical uniqueness of a truly Christian lifestyle. Today as we listen to the Book of Revelation, St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, and the Canticle of Mary in Luke's Gospel, perhaps we will opens our ears and heart and allow ourselves to be shaken from our comfortable ordinary lives, and embrace the extraordinary life that is Christianity.