Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Penny Loafers Revisited

A month has gone by (here) since an old friend asked me to develop further my contention that the real problem, historical and otherwise in the Church, is not clericalism but anti-clericalism. I'm convinced that is the case, but obviously mine is not a popular opinion or the usual take on the problem (viz. "Holy Father, I beg to differ with you! Respectfully, of course!"). The fact that anti-clericalism is a blind prejudice does not render the argument any easier to carry forward in the face of many and sundry condemnations, almost always of a superficial kind, of clericalism. Stifling the clerical vaunt and thus not exposing our flank to the anti-clerical forces is no more than a strategy, albeit in the mind of some a prudent if not clever strategy. For me the problem comes with the furiosity over starched collars and gaudy cuff-links, as if they were any more damnable as a guy thing than wearing penny loafers to the club without socks.

Attachment to the trappings of office or to its frills and perks is, of course, not without fault and often enough not without sin. The worm, however, which eats away at the innards and profoundly divides with its judgmentalism is beyond a shadow of a doubt anti-clericalism, hatred for those who hold the power of the keys, refusal to accept that any man can bind and loose in the Name of our Lord and Savior.  Anti-clericalism is a smoke-screen set abroad by a diabolical sort of ignorance which stubbornly refuses Christ's Will for how Jesus saves us in and through His Church.

Careerism is another thing. The anti-clerical forces in our world would have us believe that all the careerists in the Catholic Church either live in Rome or wish they did. Few people understand the psychology of Catholic clerical careerism, that only a shrimpy, pre-pubescent altar boy is capable of saying out loud that someday he plans on becoming pope or at least a bishop; the kid is simply playing to a crowd which thinks such to be cute. The kind of raw ambition portrayed in long-running TV series about the ups and downs of being a junior partner or wannabee in a big New York or Philly law firm run by cut-throats who have been there and done that just plain doesn't apply to any corridor of the Apostolic Palace or of Domus Sanctae Marthae that I have ever happened to stumble upon in the course of a visit to superiors. When a rather toxic Mickens over at NCR thunders about rooting out clericalism and careerism in Rome, thus sparing further suffering to a hardworking local bishop somewhere in the antipodes, you know we are dealing with hype destined to feed that ugly visceral worm of anti-clericalism, eating away at what we share in the Church.

My friend will have to be content with less than the definitive analysis of what here is at stake. Too much of the press stages what is tagged as "curial reform" in terms of a witch hunt. Can the central administration of the Church in Rome be improved, rationalized, fine tuned? Of course! But the lesson would seem to be one perhaps to be gleaned from efficiency studies, but more likely from clearer notions concerning how best the Petrine Ministry can serve and build up the Church throughout the world. 

Ten years ago now, on my way to the Caribbean, I very ingenuously posed a question to the top echelon of one of the Pontifical Councils, president, secretary, sub-secretary, all sitting together with me. After a moment of head scratching, the sub-secretary was sent down the hall to fetch the little lady who could answer my question. That is somewhat how bureaucracy works and it is strictly hierarchical, not a glimmer of meritocracy to be seen. Don't snort in disgust about the fruits of careerism and clericalism! Ask rather how the successor of St. Peter should be about strengthening his brethren at the Lord's command in our day and time.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Enduring Part of the "Fireworks" of the Faith

Today's Gospel from Luke 21:5-11 got me off on a tangent and to thinking about how the Church grows and spreads in time and space:
"When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
  ‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’" 

Obviously, living in Ukraine it is not hard to take such words of the Lord almost literally and to fixate on the menace which refuses to let Ukraine live at peace, sovereign within its 1991 borders. That is another matter and actually my distraction was quite another. Beyond thoughts about these days maybe being the end times or that simply here we have no lasting dwelling, and that we should never put our confidence in monuments of stone, I was asking myself where we as a Catholic Church, whether Byzantine or Roman, can call ourselves to home. What entitles us to say that we are established in a given place, that we belong there and must not move on?

Years ago at an archaeological exhibit in Jerusalem on early Christian churches in the Holy Land, I learned about the countless little churches built there of stone and all having similar hollow cornerstones. Archaeologist speculated on what might have been the content of these cornerstones until they found a couple still intact after more than a thousand years. They were full of coin and inscriptions led one to conclude that, way back then to slow the pace at which wealthy people were building and endowing  these lovely little churches, local bishops had established the rule that the cornerstone had to contain equal value in coin to assure the church's repair or restoration at need. No one was allowed any one shot flashy "fireworks", if you will, but provision for the ordered growth and maintenance of places of divine worship was assured by making the donor or benefactor pay twice.

I guess that is not our problem anywhere in the world today; correct me, but I don't know of any place where people are standing in line for permission to help with church building. Today's rich and famous aren't begging to build houses of worship. Most of the big charitable funding agencies won't even give you a second look if in your poverty you tell them what you really need is a church building for your people. Clinics, social halls, maybe, but not a church or a chapel, please! And yet, it seems to me that it is the place where we worship God Almighty, where we give Him His due, that defines us for who we are as His people. But how do you do that in the absence of people with means when you are for all practical purposes destitute yourself? Israel under tents for forty years in the desert!

One of the great parts of the story of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Mission Societies, was making the establishment of the Church possible in places where it wasn't yet or wasn't strong enough to stand on its own. From the very first days of Christ's Church we've known that God's People are destined for more than cemetery space, more than worshiping in the catacombs, if you will. We admire churches for their beauty, for their majesty and size in some cases, but more importantly we admire them as ongoing projects in brick and mortar, marble, glass and steel, which like the legendary Gothic cathedrals are never really completed. Church buildings mark where we stand and where we belong on God's earth.

I think of the just over one hundred years of my home town cathedral, which has been lovingly roofed and tuck pointed a couple of times in that century, which has known four distinct altars of celebration over the course of those years and two major renovations, leaving aside stories about stained glass, baptisteries and pipe organs. Church art and architecture is an expression of devotion toward God, a testimony of faith, but just as importantly, it is a clear statement about the Church's belonging.

Maybe it is too much to say, I build and therefore I am, but by way of a negative statement, impeding a faith community in its building a house of worship is fundamental aggression against who I am as Church. As the so-called "caliphate" demolishes ancient Christian churches it not only destroys a monument to the past, it denies to the community today its ongoing project of realizing itself in worship of the living God, yes also through building and restoring again and again that proper and sacred space.

"Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ " Yes, Lord, most assuredly, but until You come again I'll need to get back to building and seeking out that coin which maybe I don't possess in sufficiency to see to it that the project goes on and Your Church of Living Stones has a face and a foothold in this world.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Don't Rain on my Parade?

I think I troubled my early morning "Christ the King mood" by reading an article in the National Review Online rubric "Postmodern Conservative". The article by Peter Augustine Lawler is entitle Against Rage and Despair (you can see how entrapment of good Christians sometimes happens: seeing the rubric, I should have steered clear!). The article seems to be an encouragement to cultivating wholesome friendships as the path through life's storms. (as in period)?

Without wanting to criticize anybody, let's just say that in the face of such I find myself again invited to look beyond the grass which withers and the flower which fades. Yes, Peter, I noted that you referred to the Lord as friend, too! Ultimately, however, our faith is more than an all too human intimacy based solidarity with Jesus: the Song of Songs motif does not stand alone at the pinnacle of our spirituality. The Lord is King, in splendor robed, robed and girt about with strength! The whole thing is about principalities and powers and my loving Lord is indeed more than a friend in time of need, He is my Rock, my Fortress, my Deliverer.

In a little mosaic of quotes from the Book of Revelation, the Church teaches in the First Reading from today's Office of Readings:

"Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits in his presence before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
  It was the Lord’s day and the Spirit possessed me, and I heard a voice behind me, shouting like a trumpet, I turned round to see who had spoken to me, and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands and, surrounded by them, a figure like a Son of man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a golden girdle. His head and his hair were white as white wool or as snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze when it has been refined in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of the ocean. In his right hand he was holding seven stars, out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double-edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force.
  When I saw him, I fell in a dead faint at his feet, but he touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld. To those who prove victorious, and keep working for me until the end, which I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like earthenware. And I will give him the Morning Star. I shall not blot their names out of the book of life, but acknowledge their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. Those who prove victorious I will make into pillars in the sanctuary of my God, and they will stay there for ever; I will inscribe on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God in heaven, and my own new name as well. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne."
[Apocalypse 1:4-6,10,12-18,2:26,28,3:5,12,20-21]

Gospel? Good News? How about getting across the message that in stating that we are loved first and foremost by God, truly we are also jumping up and shouting that in that everlasting love we are not only affirmed, but caught up into the sublime. If I but respond to the grace extended by Him Who stands at my door and knocks, then nobody, but nobody will ever rain on my parade!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Tears Too!

Reading today's Gospel (Luke 19:41-44) I too was moved to tears:

"As Jesus drew near Jerusalem and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, ‘If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you – and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!’"

Those words, "...and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!" are for me what opens up this passage, makes me tremble for my own sins and weep over those of countless brothers and sisters here and elsewhere.

The Lord Jesus extends His Hand; He comes to our aid and if we ignore Him going about our own way, we do so to our own peril. The prophecy about death and destruction has been fulfilled again and again over the years and it is inappropriate to speculate on where the siege-works will be thrown up next and who next will be annihilated. The Prince of Peace will indeed be seated upon His Throne as King and Judge. Our sole refuge is in Him.

Have mercy, Lord! Grant Your people a time of repentance and grace! 

Good News! Things are looking east!

In the midst of Russia's stubborn aggression against this sovereign nation and its internationally established borders (never cease praying for Ukraine and its people!), I received my pre-Advent gift for this year in Bishop Conley's announcement that Advent and Christmas in his cathedral in Lincoln will be celebrated with all looking to the East, to Christ the Dawn Which comes to visit us from on High.

Our world has been looking every which way for far too long. Thank you, Bishop Conley for doing your part to sharpen our focus and turn hearts to Christ!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ecumenism: Quo Vadis

I just finished reading a Catholic friend's editorial on the debacle which surrounds what is referred to here in Ukraine as the "Rivne Memorandum". Rivne is a region in the northwest of Ukraine where Moscow Orthodoxy has held the Byzantine "upper hand" since Czarist times. The Roman Catholic presence there today is important, but tiny, after being decimated in and after the WWII years by Hitler and Stalin. Five Orthodox groupings together with the civil authorities signed the document in Rivne, which is the regional capital. It denounces inter-religious violence, calls for an end to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and formulates the wish that there should be one Orthodox Church for Ukraine, circumscribed by the internationally recognized boundaries of the country and that the Church be autocephalous. An official communique from the Moscow Patriarchate in Kyiv soon followed condemning the Memorandum and a young layman in Moscow, who sometimes speaks on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate observed that obviously the bishops in Rivne had signed under duress. The highest levels of the canonical church condemned the action of their brethren. 

All in all, Orthodoxy shows signs of its profound crisis here in Ukraine and we must beg for God's mercy for our brethren, even though as St. Augustine described his rapport with the Donatist (I believe) they hold us at arm's length and despite all we have in common do not want us as brothers.

This comes on the eve of festivities in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement as structured by a document of Vatican II "Unitatis redintegratio".  My friend in his editorial says that ecumenism in Ukraine is dead. He calls for a renewed commitment to doing what the churches and religious communities of Ukraine are able to do together practically within the structure of the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Communities. I understand his frustration, even if as I have come to understand the reality of Orthodoxy divided here in Ukraine, I have never nurtured illusions about its "Babylonian captivity" going back centuries and under the oppression of various temporal powers, some imperial and some local.

I have no illusions that Catholicism will have it any easier with them than St. Augustine had it in his day with all those rejecting Catholic communion. We pray and extend a hand convinced that the one, visible Church willed by our loving Saviour is, by His will and purpose, built upon the Rock of Peter. 


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Living Consoled and Hopeful

"O Lord, what is my trust which I have in this life, or what is my greatest comfort of all the things which are seen under Heaven? Is it not Thou, O Lord my God, whose mercies are without number? Where hath it been well with me without Thee? Or when could it be evil whilst Thou wert near? I had rather be poor for Thy sake, than rich without Thee. I choose rather to be a pilgrim upon the earth with Thee than without Thee to possess heaven. Where Thou art, there is heaven; and where Thou are not, behold there death and hell. Thou art all my desire, and therefore must I groan and cry and earnestly pray after Thee. In short I can confide fully in none to give me ready help in necessities, save in Thee alone, O my God. Thou art my hope, Thou art my trust, Thou art my Comforter, and most faithful in all things."  [Kempis, Thomas A.; The Collected Works of Thomas A Kempis (2007-11-17). The Imitation of Christ (Optimized for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 2616-2622). Kindle Edition.] 

Yesterday, for some reason, I just couldn't get out of my mind St. Jerome Emiliani and the image I quoted from his little "vita" of him being freed for God's service through dungeon and chains. St. John of the Cross and his harsh imprisonment at the hands of his own brothers in religion, who were resisting the Carmelite reform but perhaps actually furthering it by contributing to the process of St. John's own refinement in the crucible of suffering, also came to mind. Known or unknown, beatified, canonized or not, heroic virtue in the face of opposition, a rough and tumble dialogue, if you will, seems to be part of the Church's story, successfully prevailing against the gates of hell, indefectible. Little stories of intense personal suffering, not defiance but humble adherence to the Will of God, triumphs again and again after the image of our Savior Crucified, lifted up unto life.

It doesn't really seem to matter whether we are put in chains by enemies or by interests within the Church itself seeking the upper hand and their own path, rather it seems abundantly clear, no matter what, that shackles accomplish the work to be done by God's will. Yes, the fuller's lye, the smith's fire is indeed at work. Apparent conquests by heterodoxy, laxity or inertia are just that apparent; they aren't even temporary setbacks in the plan of God to save His people from sin and further His reign. It seems thus that His holy will is accomplished. "Where Thou art, there is heaven; and where Thou are not, behold there death and hell. Thou art all my desire, and therefore must I groan and cry and earnestly pray after Thee. In short I can confide fully in none to give me ready help in necessities, save in Thee alone, O my God. Thou art my hope, Thou art my trust, Thou art my Comforter, and most faithful in all things."

One of the words much thrown about these days, a word with which both sides of an argument seem ready or determined to upbraid the other is the word "mercy". It got me to thinking again about two moral theologians who haunted the corridors of my student years in Rome, one as a prof, Joseph Fuchs, and the other as a guest speaker at the college, Bernard Häring. Both had the war years and their trauma to excuse their rationalizations in favor of showing mercy in limit cases. I didn't agree with them as a 22 year old, but it is only now that I understand how thoroughly faulty their approach was: excusing not only a mother's prostitution to feed her children, but per force also any number of executioners collaborating to further Hitler's schemes for the final solution in the death camps. The "I could not have done otherwise" is no exoneration from guilt, and not because God is unflinching but because He is truth. His mercy is indeed unto the forgiveness of sin, even the seemingly unforgivable.

St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to death in the circus at Rome wrote begging his fellow Christians to show him no false compassion by working to spare him a martyr's death. Indeed, while not wishing conflict, dungeon and chains upon the Church, I rejoice when the light of truth shines forth in the lives of God's servants. May their sufferings in union with Christ bear abundant fruit! The example of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, for the sake of the truth, comes readily to mind.