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Sunday, August 24, 2008Sermon given by Father Richard Cipolla at the Byrd Festival, Holy Rosary Church, Portland, OR on August 17 2008
NLM provided full coverage of the recent "extraordinary" (in several senses) Byrd festival in Portland, Oregon. Jeffrey Tucker reported on a sermon given by our chaplain, Fr. Richard Cipolla here:

In the interest of completeness we give the full text of the sermon below.

From the Gospel: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

How do we understand these words of Jesus, these very famous and oft heard words? If the truth be told, they make us uneasy, and they make us uneasy because of the culture in which we live, or, one could say because of a lack of culture in the world in which we live. For these words go against that ingrained work ethic that is part of American culture, that work ethic that is certainly older than our own country, for it finds its roots in the post-reformation European thought that forgot what Western man understood until then: that work and difficult work at that is part of man’s life, that it is related to the fall of man, but that it can be used for good ends. But everyone understood as well that leisure, non work, the time for contemplation, is what makes possible humanitas, the art of being human, the art of living well, the basis, in the words of Josef Pieper, of culture itself.

Unfortunately the very word “leisure” in modern Western society has a slightly malodorous quality about it. Think of the phrase: leisure suit. It brings a picture of the worst taste possible: something made of polyester that perhaps John Travolta would have worn in 1976. Leisure is also, because of the Protestant roots of American culture, contrasted unfavorably with work, as if leisure is a form of idleness, as if it were the product of laziness. Or leisure is defined in terms of work: as taking off a few days from work to restore oneself, to restore oneself before one does what is good for you: namely good, hard work. We live in a society in which, perversely, the verb to do is synonymous with the verb to be, facere is essere.

Jesus’ words in the gospel: consider the lilies, presents a very different way of being. To consider the lilies is not to deny that their life does not depend on chemical reactions, need for sunlight, water, carbon dioxide: all processes, all part of the work of nature. And yet when one considers the lilies, that is, when one contemplates them instead of observing them, one sees their beauty and sees what a lily is. When one begins, on the other hand, to observe the lily, one immediately begins to dissect and examine, to tear apart if need be, to find out how these things, yes, things not lilies, manage to live. This is work and as all work can lead to a good end. But to consider the lily is to contemplate the lily, to allow its givenness to enrich us and to delight us. You notice that this contemplation has no end outside of itself. Observation, the basis of modern science, always has an end outside of itself. Consideration, contemplation, has no end other than itself. It is always completely open to being surprised by joy, surprised by beauty, surprised by truth. This is always opposed to that striving that wants to make sure that I have all the material goods I need and more, that striving that occupies so much time and energy and never fills the big hole inside us, that striving that causes anxiety, that anxiety that may be the sickness unto death.

But our Lord is not telling us to chill out and wander through the fields looking at flowers as some cartoon version of St Francis of Assisi that omits the stigmata. But first seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. What the Christian must do is to keep his gaze on the God of glory and majesty who is Love, and in this act of gazing, he will see clearly what he must do in his life. Contemplation of God is the necessary foundation for the living out of a Christian life. Love of God must be the foundation for love of neighbor. Knowing how to live a Christian life can never the result of work, be it Bible study, a theology degree, a course in ethics, a sermon, or any like thing. Just as one can understand the lily only in the act of considering, of contemplation, and never by observing it in an objective way, so too, the Christian faith is not grasped by working at it in the worldly sense, but by exercising that human freedom to let oneself be seized by the reality of God, and this is impossible without leisure in one’s life.

For leisure affords the opportunity to let oneself go. Leisure affords the opportunity of entering into that silence in which the listener can hear. Leisure brings about serenity that comes from the acknowledgment of the ultimate mystery of things, that comes with a giving over of the reins, those reins that have been held so tightly that our hands are deeply calloused. “O Sabbath rest by Galilee, O calm of hills above, Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee, the silence of eternity, interpreted by love.”

Leisure allows for the feast, for the festival, for celebration, that is, for a rejoicing in someone or something that calls us from ourselves. Celebration: that word in this culture has a false ring, like a sappy Hallmark card, like something we conjure up or work at to force everyone to be happy, and there is that word happy, whose stuffing has been knocked out of it by a world that confuses blessed with happy. And no where is this state of affairs seen more clearly than in the worship life of the Church today, where terms like celebration, participation, and liturgy, torn away from their proper context of contemplation, have become part of the terrible misunderstanding of what Catholic worship is about, a misunderstanding that threatens the very life of the Church. And the basis of this misunderstanding is thinking that worship can ever be the product of work, that worship can ever be embedded in facere, that worship can ever have a purpose beyond itself.

The liturgy that is the ordinary worship of the Church today is the product of the opposite of consider the lilies. It is the result of a liturgical movement that sought to recover the living experience of the liturgy for the whole Church in a time when that experience had been stifled by legalism and clericalism. But along the way this movement made the fatal error of falling into believing that observation of the liturgical texts, that the study of the sociology of contemporary man, that historical research into the development of the liturgy, that all of this WORK, could do what had to be DONE. And of course it failed, and what it produced is a piece of work, and unlike lilies, a piece of work cannot be considered nor contemplated. It is something always artificially constructed, never something given to be contemplated. It turns participation into multifarious acts, hoping that if enough different people are given different things to do that the whole thing will add up to a worship experience. It is still born, because it does not understand that celebration is inextricably linked to contemplation that is the basis of divine worship. And no matter how well or beautifully the piece of work is done, it can never be that experience of playing in the fields of the Lord that is Christian divine worship.

And so today we celebrate this Mass in what is now known as the extraordinary use of the Roman rite. That title is almost incomprehensible. But this Mass is extraordinary firstly because this is not what the ordinary parish church does at Mass. But it is truly extraordinary because it is precisely what has been given to the Church as that divine worship that is sacrifice and sacrament. It is precisely this Mass, the Mass of the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Gregory the Great, of Pius V, of Pius X, of Blessed John XXIII, that is the place where culture and leisure meet, this is the place where what makes leisure possible and what is its goal is found and experienced. This Mass is given to us, not made: it is given, and at the heart of that givenness is that Sacrifice that is at the heart of all worship, but here not sacrifice in general but the Sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit, and this givenness is in the very physicality of the use of the senses: the chant that is not something one uses for some purpose like reducing stress but rather that is the distillation of prayer, as frolicking among the neumes; the polyphony that is like a waterfall that diffracts the words of the Ordinary into a contemplative rainbow: the Latin whose very state as a dead language allows mere words to transcend their literal meaning and to allow oneself to escape the prison of rational intellectualism and to taste the freedom of heaven; the ceremonial, archaic yet contemporary in the sense of engendering an understanding that goes beyond what liturgical research could ever tell us. And the silence, the silence, especially during the canon of the Mass, that allows us to participate at leisure and therefore actively, in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.

Now it is true that this Mass takes rehearsal, study, time and effort: it takes work, but work can never bring us to the consideration of the lilies and the contemplation of God. But the work that goes into the learning of this Mass, the hours spent by the sacred ministers and acolytes learning the ceremonial, the hours of practice by the choir, the time needed by all who assist at Mass to discover, to remember what has been almost forgotten. But, and this is crucial, this work is not labor, this work is not related to the fall of man, this is not sweat and toil: this work is the preparation for what makes us most human, what makes us able to participate in the life of God, this work is part of the offering that is the Holy Sacrifice, this work is how we engraft ourselves to the givenness of the cultus, the divine worship that is never doing but being, being in the presence of God. All of this is not the labor hominis. It is the opus Dei, what is never forced, what is never planned by a committee, but rather what is delighted in, what is enjoyed, what is played in, what is considered, what is contemplated: that Beauty, ever ancient and ever new.