Sunday, September 4, 2011

Holy Women Holy Men Revisited

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.  On June 30th, the year trial usage ended, 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 thought 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 place 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.  Intuitively, my radar when up.  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 enlighten 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 believing ourselves most worthy of choosing. 

In addition, the criterion seemed to be one of 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 should have been “Women and Men of Good Intentions and Deeds.”  

The historic commemorations include people who were saints in the very 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 point to 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.  


Father David M. Faulkner said...

Dean Kevin,

Thank you for sharing this reflection. I certainly agree that any list of commemorations handed down from "on high" is contrary to typical Catholic practice and is alarming indeed. This is a far cry from devotion to a potential saint arising from the faithful to be eventually confirmed by the Church over a great span of time.

Even if we overlooked the high-handedness with which this was done, some of the additions are mind boggling indeed (especially the notorious non-Christians). I pray our portion of the Church will one day show more regard for her catholicity.

Perhaps we would do well to look Rome-ward and observe the "remarkable speed" with which Pope John Paul II was beatified about five years after his death.

What does it say about us as TEC that we think we can allow a small group to make sweeping changes to our Calendar while some of our Roman brothers and sisters are surprised that it took a mere five years for a beloved Pope to become Blessed?

You've raised many important questions which we all must not ignore.

Many Thanks,


Padre Bill said...

Kevin--as a fellow Deputy at GC2009, I can concur with your thoughts. I followed the discussion regarding Holy Women, Holy Men in the Legislative Committee, even trying to add a person with the hope of making a particular commemoration more inclusive of Christian believers.

You are very prescient to use the term devalue. The current listing devalues the idea of Christian holiness and replaces it with worthy themes that nice people should be concerned with--good music, caring for minorities, the environment, etc.

As a fellow Baby Boomer, I cringe when I see all that our succeeding generations will have to repair...

Bill Cavanaugh

Thomas Kincaid said...

Dean Kevin,

Thanks for this post. I confess, Holy Women, Holy Men's overwhelming approval as been confusing to me from the start. What's perplexing me is not the fact that such sweeping changes passed (not to sound obnoxious, but one can't really be surprised by any passage these days), but the overwhelming size of the (unthinking?) majority which sent them through.

I trust your political judgment is accurate and 2012 passage is ensured, but is there any hope there might at least be some thinking dissension, or, even, revision?

Thanks again for the post. Glad to know others have found this new list strange.

Martha said...

For any who wish to still provide feedback to the SCLM on Holy Women, Holy Men the online survey is still available, although probably not for very long, where you may provide comments. They do need to be directed towards specific commemorations. It is available here: