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 Post subject: Bp. Vasa on Legalism
PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2006 11:02 am 
Sons of Thunder
Sons of Thunder
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Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2003 7:06 pm
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Location: Eagle, Idaho
Religion: Catholic
This E-Column from Bishop Robert Vasa, from the Catholic Sentinal, contains a marvelous insight which may be of help in discussions soon to be common, regarding the changes of the new Roman Missal.


We have a choice between obedience and autonomy
E-Column by Bishop Robert Vasa
BEND -- This past week was spent in Wallowa County, the location of the parishes of St. Katherine at Enterprise and St. Pius X at Wallowa.

Officially I was there for my regularly scheduled celebration of confirmation, but as planned, that celebration coincided with the opening of deer season. This afforded me the opportunity to spend some delightful time wandering the hills with the Wallowa Mountains as a backdrop.

Unfortunately, the view of the mountains was perpetually shrouded in just enough mist to preclude a clear view. Nonetheless, the views were more than remarkable. Last year I wandered these same hills anticipating an opportunity to bring home a trophy buck. This year I had anticipated a similar kind of experience, but due to my own ignorance, negligence, and oversight, I could shoot only with a camera. In some ways, this made the wandering even more delightful, because I had no expectation of needing to find, shoot, skin or package the object of my hunt.

I had diligently purchased a hunting license. I applied for the appropriate hunt within the required time constraints. I was sent a postcard indicating that I had been "successful" in acquiring a permit to hunt for a buck deer, and it looked like everything was in proper legal order for my hunt. I knew that I needed to purchase the "tag," and this is where my ignorance, negligence and oversight come in. I had ample opportunity to purchase the tag.

Unfortunately, I chose the Saturday of the opening of the season to utilize that opportunity. To my surprise, a surprise due almost exclusively to my own ignorance, I was informed that I could not purchase the desired and required "tag" once the period of that particular hunt had begun.

Upon further inquiry, I learned that there were no exceptions. There was not a legal way for me to obtain a "tag." I did not want to ask what the penalty was for being discovered hunting without the required tag, but I must tell you I was very tempted both to ask and to consider the possibility. This led me to a whole consideration of the meaning and purpose of law and my personal commitment to it.

I could very easily have argued and rationalized that I had the required license, I had submitted the proper request for a permit to hunt, I had been informed that I was successful, and yet due to a technicality, my lack of a "tag," I was being deprived of my right to hunt. I began to wonder if I were being excessively legalistic.

I further began to wonder what being legalistic really meant. It may come as no surprise to any of you that I have been accused fairly routinely of being legalistic relative to Church law. This occasion gave me cause to consider just what this means. It seems that the charge of being legalistic may be, in fact, a pejorative description of a person who is serious about observing the law even when that law is particularly inconvenient.

It further seems that the term legalistic could more appropriately be applied to the person who, knowing the law, rationalizes and justifies his own situation as being above or beyond the law and who subsequently decides that the law does not apply to him at all. In my view, the rationalization required to allow me to hunt in good conscience would, of necessity, spring from an excessively legalistic approach to law.

On the other hand, I do maintain that my decision not to violate the law, my decision to obey the hunting laws as they are written, sprang not from excessive legalism nor from a fear of penalty, but rather from a genuine respect and regard for the law. The law binds me, and either I respect that law or I forfeit a bit of my own integrity.

I have made it clear over the past year that the Diocese of Baker is in the process of revising its complete set of Diocesan Statutes and Guidelines. Those of a more legalistic frame of mind may claim that they are only "guidelines" and therefore not really binding as diocesan law.

Others, in an equally legalistic way, may take note of the clear wording and rationalize that either they do not agree and are therefore not bound or that they would rather observe the "spirit of the law" while clearly violating the letter.

Within a relatively short period of time the Holy See will issue a new Roman Missal, the official book for the celebration of Holy Mass. This will be an opportunity for every priest, as well as every lay person, to discover or rediscover the wonderful world of liturgical law. The liturgical norms, particularly those involving the celebration of Holy Mass, are provided to us by the Church for a reason.

The extent to which these liturgical norms, made available to us in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, are ignored, disregarded and disobeyed is a topic of frequent discussion among the faithful. The use of unapproved "Creeds" and crystal chalices and adlib Eucharistic or Presidential Prayers and sacrilegious disregard for the Eucharist (particularly the Precious Blood after Mass) and inappropriate liturgical vestments and preaching by unauthorized persons and changing the wording of Sacred Scripture and refusing to use the male pronoun in reference to God and signs of the cross in the name of "the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier" as a way to avoid the Father and the Son are described as common in some locales.

These aberrations may be deemed by their practitioners to be more open to the spirit or a kind of rebellion against an excessive liturgical legalism, but the truth is that they are acts of disobedience by those who somehow, perhaps through excessive legalism, have determined that the liturgical norms do not apply to them.

Obedience is defined as the submission of will to the will of another. Make no mistake about it, this is difficult. It definitely requires a dying to self, a dying to self-interest, a sacrifice of our own desires. It requires humility and charity. Whether the law is a civil law, a purely ecclesial law, a liturgical law or a particular law of the diocese, it is necessary and important for us to consider seriously our relationship to the society from which that law flows.

We have a choice between obedience and declared autonomy. I do not necessarily understand, appreciate or agree with the state system of needing to buy a "tag" before the hunt begins, but this is the law, and the choice before me is obedience or disobedience. This is frequently our choice in the moral and liturgical spheres as well.

"You seek me", St. Augustine comments, "for the flesh, not for the spirit. How many seek Jesus for no other purpose than that He may do them good in this present life! [...] Scarcely ever is Jesus sought for Jesus' sake" (In Ioann. Evang, 25, 10).

“therefore is my people led away captive, because they have not knowledge … therefore hath hell enlarged her mouth without any bounds” (Is 5:13-14).

But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved. (Mt 24:13)

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