Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Because I Said So"

Anyone who, like me, had a parent who would sometimes respond to questions about a particular decision with the phrase "Because I said so" probably grew up with at least a little frustration toward that assertion of authority. Also like me, probably most of those people have gone on to use the same phrase with their own children!

The thing is, it's just a lot easier to say, "Because I said so" in the middle of the action of our daily life than to enunciate what we really mean when we say it. More or less, I think most of us really mean: "Because I have a plan and, even though I don't have time to tell you all the details and considerations that went into developing this plan, rest assured that I have your best interest at heart and will do all I can to see that you aren't hurt because I love you. You're just going to have to trust me." Kind of a mouthful, isn't it? You can see why we use the shorthand of "Because I said so!"

All this has come to mind in the days following this Sunday's Mass and, particularly, Father's homily on this week's Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Father primarily focused on the humility it takes to do as Jesus says, citing first the phrase "Thy will be done" in The Lord's Prayer, but then referring to the procedure the Vatican follows when approving Marian apparitions.

"What is the first test the Church uses to see whether an apparition may be 'of God,'" Father asked us. Several responded with some variation of, "By its fruits." When told that this wasn't what he was looking for and asked again, "By its fruits" was still pretty much the only answer offered by anyone in the congregation on the second (or even third!) try. The correct answer, apparently codified in new rules by the Vatican earlier this year, is "Whether or not the visionaries are obedient to the Church's request to remain silent about the apparition until further investigation has taken place."

I don't know about anyone else in the parish, but this was really food for thought for me. The first thing I thought of was Međugorje, and my vague recollection from earlier this summer that a priest at the center of this so-far unapproved apparition had been laicised. Looking up the story to refresh my memory, it turns out that, besides the flashy-headline-charge of inappropriate relations with a nun, Fr. Vlasic was also accused of "dubious doctrine, the manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders." Disobedience... maybe Father was onto something.

Not long after, I thought of Christ's command to Peter, James and John right after the Transfiguration "not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead." It was only while preparing this post that I really noticed that the Gospel passage referred to in Father's homily also begins with a desire by Jesus for secrecy ("Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it") and that this passage is only 21 verses further into the same chapter of Mark than the story of the Transfiguration. Interesting: I know that I and others I've talked to have often wondered why Jesus asked everyone to "keep it on the down-low." So what was Christ's explanation to His disciples for these instructions?

As far as I can tell, He never really offered one. It may not have been too much different, in some respects, from the Church's explanation for its policy of skepticism-first toward Marian apparitions - maybe best enunciated (in my limited experience) by Fr. Jean Honoré, Archbishop of Tours, in "The Tide of Vain Credulity: the Church's Role in Apparitions." But in both cases, the most likely answer is ultimately, "Because I said so," which, as I said earlier, is shorthand for "I love you... and you're just going to have to trust me."

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