The importance of engaging questions about our campus culture
by Mark Fischer
As I read Anthony Dragani’s “A growing thirst for traditional liturgy,” I was reminded of a recurring disappointment with one of our discussions. The Concourse has published many articles over the past several years on campus liturgy and, more generally, on campus spirituality. Most of these articles, like Mr. Dragani’s, have expressed legitimate concerns with well-reasoned arguments. Most have taken one side or the other in the debate between the distinct charismatic and traditional spiritualities at the University. Some argued passionately for the exclusive validity of a particular way of doing things. Others made more modest entreaties for diversity—for example, Mr. Dragani concluded his defense of the traditional liturgy by asking, “Why not have a balance, offering one Mass a day accompanied by classical organ music and chant?” Often these articles have elicited equally ardent rebuttals and counter-rebuttals.
One may think that as an editor of the Concourse I should be pleased with such a lively debate. Our editorial board and our editor-in-chief have often publicly extolled the virtue of open and honest discourse as one of the core reasons for our existence—a position with which I whole-heartedly agree. And yet I remain disappointed.
In my opinion, of the numerous articles the Concourse has published on this topic, two stand above the rest in importance. The first is “Keeping our worship in step with ‘what the Spirit is saying’ to FUS,” by Kathleen van Schaijik (Vol. I, Issue 7), an extensive article on liturgical music at the University. The second is “Confrontation and culture at Franciscan University,” by David Schmiesing (Vol. II, Issue 7), a piece which addressed the thorny relationship between the “charismatic and orthodox/traditional streams of Catholicism” present at the University. Although Mr. Schmiesing’s subject matter is broader than Mrs. van Schaijik’s, at root their themes are strikingly similar. Instead of arguing for the triumph of one side over the other, or a resigned “to each his own” position, both press for something “new.”
Mrs. van Schaijik writes:
[I do not] argue for a simple reversion to traditional forms of music. To me this seems both impracticable and undesirable. If worship is essentially an act of love—a personal oblation—then it follows that what we offer must be deeply our own. To the extent that we allow ourselves to be formed by the tradition, the tradition will be reflected in our praise. But if we are truly alive spiritually, then there will be something new likewise reflected—the legitimate developments of the day, and the impressions of grace on our own more or less modern subjectivity.
Mrs. van Schaijik’s article is important not so much for its discussion of liturgical music (although it is the most thoughtful Concourse article to date on the subject), but for its treatment of the confluence of cultures on our campus. As she says, we should not thoughtlessly reject all new forms of spiritual and cultural expression because they are not traditional. Rather, we should carefully consider whether or to what extent they may be among the “legitimate developments of the day.”1 Of course, the converse is also true. We must avoid at all costs that rather small view that what is traditional is “dead” and only the “new” is in step with the present “movements of the Spirit.”
In similar fashion, Mr. Schmiesing argues that the interaction between the traditional and charismatic cultures on campus could create a new culture. “This new culture is not just the peaceful co-existence of the two elements, but is an entirely new entity with a life of its own.” He notes that this interaction of cultures has its attendant tensions and that cultural transformation can be both painful and difficult. But importantly, “each part balances and complements the other. If one ‘side’ calls it quits and concedes defeat, the growth will stop. Creativity will no longer be necessary. And once stagnation sets in, decline will begin. The struggle is the source of vitality, provided it is a struggle marked by charity, patience, prudence and humility.”
These ideas, as much as the general call for discourse, encapsulate the Concourse‘s purpose. We editors don’t agree on everything, but we share two things: a love for this University and a desire to see it flourish. And our sense of how it will best flourish is rooted in a common experience. Most of us attended the University when it was fully charismatic and were greatly blessed by the renewal. But we were also dramatically influenced by the intellectual renewal at the University, and by the exposure to the Church’s “long and broad traditions” that went with it. All of us firmly believe, however, that one need not and ought not reject the blessings of the renewal in order to immerse oneself in the rich deposit of faith.
This position can be uncomfortable. Often times it pleases no one. We are those who love the household system but are compelled to criticize certain negative tendencies within it. We are enriched by much of the renewal but recognize its shortcomings. We sympathize with those who, like Mr. Dragani, “want to be reminded that the Church has a glorious liturgical legacy,” yet do not necessarily agree that contemporary music inevitably serves as a “painful reminder that the Church of today is disassociated from its past.” And, to the chagrin of some, we are convinced that a synthesis of traditional and charismatic cultures, as envisioned by Mr. Schmiesing, comes close to capturing what Fr. Scanlan means by “dynamic orthodoxy.”
It is on such matters that we particularly believe discourse to be essential. This is why we make room in our ever-tightening schedules to publish this journal, not for personal gain or to stir up tension and disagreement.
And herein lies my disappointment. We have not received a single article which has directly engaged the ideas set forth by Mr. Schmiesing and Mrs. van Schaijik. I believe, though maybe I am wrong, that these ideas are crucial to the future of the University. We rightfully could not be satisfied in being a center for the charismatic renewal without fully and wholeheartedly engaging the Church’s intellectual mission for its universities. Likewise, we cannot be satisfied in offering a strong, traditional Catholic education without engaging the transforming message of the renewal. To attempt it would be to reject the wondrous gift that God has graciously bestowed upon our University. In the words of Mr. Schmiesing, the current “‘Steubenville culture’ could not have happened without both the ‘charismatic’ and the ‘traditional’ components.”
It is time that we wrestle more seriously with these ideas. If we indeed are witnessing the birth of a new campus culture, how do we envision this culture? As T.S. Eliot aptly wrote, “culture is the one thing that we cannot deliberately aim at.” Instead it is “the product of more or less harmonious activities, each pursued for its own sake.” We cannot plan it, for it is affected by a multitude of factors in ways that we cannot possibly anticipate. But, as Eliot argued, although there is much that we cannot do to bring about the necessary conditions for improving culture, “we can combat the intellectual errors and the emotional prejudices which stand in their way.” A modest goal, this. But a necessary one. I remain hopeful that our readers will join this discussion next Fall.
Mark Fischer graduated from FUS in 1989. He lives in Steubenville with his wife Susan (Deford, ‘89) and their three children. He practices law in Pittsburgh, and is a Contributing Editor of the Concourse.
- In the realm of liturgical music, the music of Jim Cowan, widely used on campus in the 1980s, provides an example of such development. Much of his music, far from being a reminder that “the Church is undergoing a process of tumultuous change,” is firmly connected to the Church historical, yet at the same time clearly inspired by the spiritual renewal of more recent times. ↑