Friday, October 12, 2012

Admitting our bankruptcy

“one thing I don’t need
is any more apologies
i got sorry greetin me at my front door
you can keep yrs
i don’t know what to do wit em
they don’t open doors
or bring the sun back
they don’t make me happy
or get a mornin paper
didn’t nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
cuz a sorry.”

~ Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Among the many ways in which the American electorate is polarized this election season is on the subject of apologies. It was perceived as an apology when the current president, Barack Obama, admitted that the United States had “shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward its geopolitical allies. In response, former Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, entitled his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Apologies, it seems, are now one more bit of grist for the partisan poutrage mill.

Edward Foley begins his article in the current issue of Liturgy with an account of a “Liturgy of Lament and Repentance” which took place in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 2011. He then sets this act of liturgical lament and repentance alongside an examination of the facile nature of the corporate apology and the existence of a truly bewildering website: Bringing to bear the fields of theology, ethics, psychology, liturgical studies and ritual studies, Foley makes a compelling case that the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to healing in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal should turn away from the issuing of apologies, no matter how public they may be, and toward public, symbolic, ritual action: Rituals of Lament.

In this climate, and in the face of such sacrilege wrought on the ecclesial body of Christ, the prose apology is increasingly insufficientand maybe, in the end, words themselves are always woefully inadequate. Ritual competence, symbolic skill, and sacramental agency are characteristics that Roman Catholics believe we possess in some measure. Besides the ability to ritualize for ourselves, we believe we have some competency in ritualizing in the face of national disaster or moral crises. An example of the latter appears in the new translation of the Roman Missal that took effect in Advent of 2011. Among the new feasts and memorials in that ritual book is a ‘‘Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children’’ every year on January 22. A parallel ‘‘Day of Lament’’ in the Roman Catholic Calendar, in which the community publicly laments the damage done by representatives of the church to so many innocent victims, seems both appropriate and overdue. Seeing the United States Catholic Conference of Bishopsvested only in albs and purple stoles, without chasubles, miters, staffs, or other symbols of powerand sharing such a Ritual of Lament together with victims and other faithful would undoubtedly be more powerful than any public apology.

One enormous strength of Foly’s suggestion is that it is an annual event, rather than a one-time event. Having witnessed the United Methodist Church’s attempts at lament and reconciliation over their treatment of African Americans and Native Americans as one-time liturgical events, I believe that an annual observation would be much more effective, both in communicating its central idea and in working to form the spirituality of the participants.

EdwardFoley, Capuchin, is the Duns Scotus professor of spirituality and professor of liturgy and music at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois.

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