Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The perfection of love

When you are dealing with Saint Augustine, I think it impossible to reduce down to a single favorite quote or passage. The great Father and Doctor of the Church never stops surprising me and that is indeed good. The Second Reading from the Office for this Wednesday in Holy Week is somewhere near the top of the list:

"Dear brethren, the Lord has marked out for us the fullness of love that we ought to have for each other. He tells us: No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends. In these words, the Lord tells us what the perfect love we should have for one another involves. John, the evangelist who recorded them, draws the conclusion in one of his letters: As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. We should indeed love one another as he loved us, he who laid down his life for us.
  This is surely what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself. What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? This is what the apostle Paul said: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we might follow in his footsteps.
  This is what is meant by providing “the same kind of meal.” This is what the blessed martyrs did with such burning love. If we are to give true meaning to our celebration of their memorials, to our approaching the Lord’s table in the very banquet at which they were fed, we must, like them, provide “the same kind of meal.”
  At this table of the Lord we do not commemorate the martyrs in the same way as we commemorate others who rest in peace. We do not pray for the martyrs as we pray for those others, rather, they pray for us, that we may follow in his footsteps. They practised the perfect love of which the Lord said there could be none greater. They provided “the same kind of meal” as they had themselves received at the Lord’s table.
  This must not be understood as saying that we can be the Lord’s equals by bearing witness to him to the extent of shedding our blood. He had the power of laying down his life; we by contrast cannot choose the length of our lives, and we die even if it is against our will. He, by dying, destroyed death in himself; we are freed from death only in his death. His body did not see corruption; our body will see corruption and only then be clothed through him in incorruption at the end of the world. He needed no help from us in saving us; without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot have life.
  Finally, even if brothers die for brothers, yet no martyr by shedding his blood brings forgiveness for the sins of his brothers, as Christ brought forgiveness to us. In this he gave us, not an example to imitate but a reason for rejoicing. Inasmuch, then, as they shed their blood for their brothers, the martyrs provided “the same kind of meal” as they had received at the Lord’s table. Let us then love one another as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us."

It is one up on a piece I wrote for friends unknown in Ireland, but may help contextualize my own poor attempt to say something of worth about an issue foremost in the minds of many.


The Persecution of Christians Looms Larger

Even if the June issue of the journal entitled 'CHRISTVS REGNAT' (which is published twice a year by the Catholic Heritage Association in Ireland: www.catholicheritage.blogspot.com) is still a ways off, I thought it appropriate to put down in writing now, during Passiontide, my reflections on the troubling question of the suffering caused through attack on the Church and on Christians, and the duties we owe to our fellow Christians under persecution. I thank Thomas Murphy for agreeing to the publication of this text also on my blog, DEO VOLENTE EX ANIMO (http://deovolenteexanimo.blogspot.com/). As Mr. Murphy pointed out to me when proposing the topic, the persecution of Christians is very much on the minds and in the prayers of the members of the Catholic Heritage Association and ought to be more so for all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ.

As odd as it sounds, I suppose we ought to be grateful that as a Church we can still attract persecution, that our Christianity has not become so lackluster that the power of Satan simply ignores us in the world. The why’s and the how’s of persecution of Christians today are multiple. A short article can’t really do them all justice, but I hope it can set some things clear and motivate all of us to prayerful solidarity on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who find themselves, for whatever reason, under trial.

Where to begin? Perhaps we should start with the words “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”? This statement teaches by describing what has happened time and again in the history of the Church: persecution and repression, even unto death, have not stifled but rather fostered the growth of the Church. Not only have their courage and singular attachment to Jesus Christ inspired others to martyrdom, but ultimately and often even quite immediately the accounts of the passio of certain martyrs have drawn others to faith in Christ. Similarly, it can be said of confessors of the faith, who laid their lives on the line for the Lord Jesus, even though the supreme sacrifice of their life’s blood was not required of them.

As Christians, we don’t seek banishment, prison, torture or martyrdom for ourselves, nor do we wish these on others, especially not on our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether close at hand or far from us in terms of space or custom. Nowhere does it say in explaining the quote about the blood of martyrs being the seed of Christians that the Church wishes people to be martyred for the sake of its own increment. We don’t solicit names for some list of martyr volunteers, such that the Church might grow and prosper. We know from the teaching of the Church Fathers, from the ranks of the great and saintly Doctors of the Church, of those who went overboard in their zeal for martyrdom; the Church does not accord them the title of saint because of this excessive longing to the point of provocation, to emulate Christ in His suffering and death; no one calls down martyrdom upon himself, despite his readiness and fervent prayer to receive that grace, as long as it be God’s will and not his own.  When martyrdom happens, we stand in awe before the witness of those called to testify with the supreme sacrifice of their own lives to Christ, the King of Martyrs and Confessors.

Part of the art or insight of the novel of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Callista: a Tale of the Third Century”, is to illustrate the inexplicable in all of what came to be for good through the persecution under Diocletian of the Church in North Africa and through the shedding of the blood of Callista in defense of the Gospel. Blessed Newman offers a great and profound gift (and in the form of historical fiction) accessible to all who seek to enter more profoundly into the mystery of the role played by persecution in the life of the Church, then and now, as well as answering the question concerning the stuff of which martyrs are made by the grace of God.  Yes, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”, but the mystery is intimately tied to Golgotha; the Gospel of St. John refers to Christ’s Death on the Cross as His being lifted up and drawing all to Himself, His Glorification, yes, but in and through His sorrowful Passion. We stand speechless on Calvary, whether at the foot of His Cross or that of those whose lives most perfectly emulate His through their martyrdom. We are drawn to Him and to them because of the absolute clarity of the witness of their love.

Time and again, we find people grappling with the injustice suffered by those under persecution and doubly so when it regards fellow Christians. Perhaps this is what makes any measure of persecution which may enter your life or mine so hard to accept. It is simply not fair; you don’t heap abuse on people of good will. It is a theme much rooted in the Old Testament with reference to the suffering of the virtuous man or of the innocent (cf. Wisdom 2:1,12-22). The relativism plaguing contemporary society, which denies the truth which comes from God alone, would beat down everything perceived as putting limits on their pretended options and unfettered choices. Of late, there has been much talk on college and university campuses of the so-called “new PC”, a moralizing “Political Correctness” which tolerates no linguistic bounds (not even standard pronouns: he, she, his or her) to their inglorious self-seeking (much of it centered on the topic of gender). Especially in North America and Western Europe, people berate the Church as tyrannical and judgmental, insisting that matters of personality and sexuality are questions of preference, not nature, of a self-centered longing hardly distinguishable from the caprice of the moment. The loneliness, the abandonment of Calvary is very much a part of this path of suffering, to be borne by those who object to such nonsense. Wickedness rejects virtue and turns its back on God; it pushes away not only fraternal correction but any form of counsel, denying even to parents the right to lovingly tell an errant, not-all-that-adult child that he or she is wrong and far from God.

Even in our supposedly civilized world we find Christians ostracized or otherwise persecuted and taken before the courts for defending marriage, for seeking to save unborn children from abortion, for wearing a little necklace with a cross to work. What is it, if not persecution, when court action threatens the possibility of a Catholic school to be just that, namely Catholic, both in its teaching and in its hiring policy? Our Catholic hospitals come under pressure from so-called good Catholic doctors on staff, who for money or prestige want to admit procedures which fly in the face of the unconditional respect due to the human person. Catholic social services are forced to close their doors rather than accept that they must also favor the placement with same-sex couples of children up for adoption.  Examples of this kind of discrimination against the Church or believing Christians could be recounted without number. Their common point of departure might be a denial of the existence of objective truth, but they are all shot through with the same venom of that black heart described in the Book of Wisdom, which refuses righteousness its due:

“Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” (Wisdom 2:21-24)

This too is persecution, and while short of martyrdom, we pray for ourselves and those thus subjected that by the grace of God they might be of good courage, persevere and through their sufferings bear much fruit for Christ’s Kingdom.

Another image of persecution, however, I would wager is foremost in our thoughts. For most of us, our mind’s eye is filled with images from the news of the last months of the persecution and martyrdom of our fellow Christians from the Middle East and North Africa. Brutal men waving black flags, dumping the lifeless bodies of small children, young men being crucified or shot in the back of the head, or the twenty-one Coptic Christian martyrs brutally beheaded in Libya with the name of Jesus upon their lips! We are confronted with something on the rampage, which touts itself as Islam. It has been almost a millennium, but here we are again threatened with the extinction of Christianity in the lands of its birthplace and first flowering. Not only the Holy Land and its region have witnessed such trials; we need think only of Nigeria and Pakistan. Not only groups professing to be Muslim have been persecuting Christians, as Hindu rage in India would attest. Godless regimes in China and North Korea do not lag far behind in their fury to repress the faith.

We would like to see the leaders of our home countries championing the cause of justice before international forums, but we find groups like the UN to be generally impotent, and our own leaders diffident if not indifferent when it comes to the persecution of Christians. Nobody seems to care much even about the monitoring bodies meant to inform or document this specific type of terror, even as it happens in Europe. Hearts need to change and, as such, we must be confident and persevering in our prayer. Ours is not only a struggle against wicked men but against the powers of darkness. I would recommend the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel for your regular recitation and devotion.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna!



For some reason, I think I profited from a rather quiet celebration of Palm Sunday. What stands out for me is the particular poignancy of the Hosanna to the Son of David by the children of the Hebrews. The reading of the Passion from the Gospel of St. Mark only further accentuated this feeling for me. Can I trace its origin back to the scene of the anointing in Bethany? Or was it the exchange on the Mount of Olives, about how striking the shepherd would shake the faith of the sheep and cause them all to disperse? Perhaps, more than circumstance, the grace of the moment was the fruit of something cumulative but yet not planned or engineered on my part, yes, truly a prompting, a gift.

I think the poignancy is sort of that: resulting from the sense of a type of interior tug of war, almost a vacillation, a pulling back and forth of my heart between attachment to Christ, the Beloved, smitten for our offences, and flight before the dread of having to share fully in this His cup, which will not pass. The children's Hosanna is neither ignorant nor distorted, but reflects the allegiance we all owe to Mary's Child, bruised, derided, cursed, defiled. Of course, the solitude of the Passion belongs to Jesus alone. Even so, we are to watch and pray, not to have our rest, but indeed to accompany Him beyond the hosannas.

My Holy Week prayer for one and all would be for the grace to watch and pray with Jesus, to draw the tug-of-war just that much closer to a definitive win for attachment to the Son of David. Hosanna! 


G.K. Chesterton: The Most Freeing Person I have ever known!

What's Wrong with the World
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) 
(2012-05-12). Kindle Edition.

"Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed."  (pp. 282-283).

Normally, I read G.K. Chesterton for pleasure, for fun. He's terribly witty and the most wholesome type of entertainment. This little book came my way free of charge on Kindle, but I would not have begrudged paying for it. It is truly a find. Not everyone is convinced that our world would be better with the kind of distributivism which Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc were so keen on promoting. Take and read this book, not for the arguments pointing to distributivism, but for its profound anthropology. Chesterton argues radical social change for the sake of the human person. You might come up with very different conclusions concerning how to better society, but you'll find no better illustration or icon representing the human family. 

Chesterton is marvelously encouraging about the possibility of bringing home the victory and making things, not only better, but right:

"We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be. And for my present purpose I specially insist on this abstract independence. If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed." (pp. 32-33).

Relativism probably has no greater enemy than Chesterton and we have a great ally to cheer us on in our struggle to restore culture, Catholic Culture, please!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No two Points on a Line


The first two articles (here) and (here), by Elliot Bougis, in a series entitled "The Modern Crisis of Authority and the Abiding Prowess of the Papacy", from the blog OnePeterFive, are worth a recommendation on my part. Take them as the author presents them and not as I am about to hijack them for my own selfish ends.

Elliot talks about the ongoing (already for some time and deepening) crisis of authority in the Church as being a result of cultivating charisma-based leadership at the expense of genuine authority. His principal worry, of course, is the Papacy. The articles have personally given me another handle for dealing with or countering a common criticism of today's priests and seminarians. Bougis also offers me points for dealing with the age old question of what good are ecclesiastical penalties without real teeth (it's the canonist in me!).

Permit me a word or two about the issue of those called to the office of priest. At regular intervals in newspapers, usually in those awful Saturday paper religion columns, you encounter articles bemoaning the fact that today's young men don't have what it takes to be the charming and capable priest managers the job description (?) requires and/or that the great men of the past (?) would seem to deserve for their successors: a preacher, liturgist, community organizer, guru, and on and on, all in a charming and preferably good-looking or at least athletic bundle. As the Saturday paper rant goes, sadly, seminaries today are filled with conservative young men, who are no fun, because they can't bring themselves to unbutton that collar and go with the flow, or some variation on that theme.

Rather than take on this fantasy description of what it takes to be a priest, many well-meaning people find themselves longing for the days, somewhere but obviously before my time, when a class of humble men existed termed sacerdos simplex or maybe "Mass priest", because all they could do was say the old Mass, not preach, not hear confessions, just or most importantly offer the Holy Sacrifice. Until now I have been taking on the newspapers, in conversations with friends, by classing their demands as unreasonable. You can't write a job description with the bar that high if you want the Church to live on. Besides, a healthy young man in his twenties ought to show a bit of conviction and come off on the inflexible side. If he's loosy-goosy he's a liability for all he touches, not just for the priesthood.

Well, thanks to Bougis, I guess I have an argument beyond that of developmental psychology, which would already wish our seminaries full of straight-laced types. No woman in her right mind would want a free-wheeling type for a husband and the father of her children. Why for heaven's sake should the Church take on these guys? Not my savoir-faire but my submission to God's Law, not my charisma but my humble conformity to the Tradition, not my willfulness but my obedience to Christ and to His Church, position me best for exercising the three-fold ministry of Priest, Prophet and King. It is indeed the message of the Cross: total outpouring unto fullness. Power is strength but not necessarily a category of virtue; authority is something different and it is born from on high, drawing its strength from above. Read Bougis!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Rumble of Thunder?



This Sunday's Gospel [John 12:20-33] has always had something sort of haunting about it for me and this year I guess it presents me with a special challenge:

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them: ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours. ‘Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.’ By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

What bothers me is the judgment element in the reading, the pronouncement that now in Christ sentence is being passed on this world and that the prince of this world is to be overthrown. What do you do with that? I call it haunting, because, at least for this historical moment, I'm not and I don't think most Catholics are fully embracing this reality. It is obvious from the Lord's own words that what is intended is quite definitive, but nevertheless something different than the Last Judgment; it is something already in force, having come to pass, punctuated or underlined by what some thought was a thunder clap and others the voice of an angel. 

The words of Jesus seem to have been sparked by the announcement that there were Greeks who wanted to see Him. The efficacy of Christ's being lifted up unto victory is universal; He draws all men to Himself upon the Cross. For you and for me today, the days have passed since this particular Gospel scene, Jesus has already been lifted up on the Cross and has drawn all men to himself; the hour has passed in that He has brought it to completion. God's name has been glorified in Christ.

What is haunting about this Gospel is that it proclaims all as consummated through Christ's prophecy and the expression of the Father's will and yet much of the Church still stands there two millennia later in a back and forth aside, over whether that was thunder they heard or an angel's voice. 

Once again this year, Lent is coming swiftly to a close; we are about to embark on Passiontide; the Cross becomes our focus right through next week's Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The grain of wheat dies to yield a fruitful harvest. Jesus tells those standing around Him that His soul is troubled by the trial which stands immediately before Him, from this terrible hour of suffering and death for the sake of the life of the world.

I don't know if I can count it a joy or blessing of my life, but over my years of priesthood I cannot say that I have ever been close to anyone caught up in one of many possible forms of clerical careerism: big pastorate, monsignorate, bishop's office. I can honestly say that I've never lost sleep over the honors which have come my way in the service of the Holy See. For me and I think for most priests and bishops, the drama or lack thereof would center more on a certain resignation in the face of Christ's victory, hearing rather the thunder clap and missing the angel's voice. We lack that discovery, that recognition, that fire to be shared with others, one far surpassing Joel Osteen's glad tidings on self-improvement unto worldly satisfaction and sunshiny days.

What haunts me is the question of why this might be so. Why are we not drawn confidently to Christ lifted up on the Cross, to the wood whereby we are saved, not just in a rhetorical sense, but really saved for all that matters? A couple weeks back, people failed to get excited about the publication of a new Vatican directory on preaching. Why this seeming skepticism about the possibility of stirring people to hope? We read from the history of the Middle Ages of the repeated successes of any number of Mendicant preachers; we hear about the preaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which put Europe on the march to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity; the cause for the sanctification of St. Vincent of Lerins documents the countless baptisms, confessions and reforms of life which followed upon his preaching. For me it boils down to whether you are thinking thunder or the voice of an angel.

The object of conversion, of claiming Christ's victory on the Cross for ourselves, is the heart. In a sense, we walk away from a world condemned and turn our backs on the prince of this world, Satan, who has been long since and definitively cast out. The utopia of a Christendom in all its glory does not take center stage. The troubled heart of Christ in His great hour lives within our hearts. Even so, we know that what we heard wasn't just thunder. Ash Wednesday's message and command never loses a bit of its poignancy or verve: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!" Claim your deliverance from the glorious heights of Calvary!

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Seeking Agreement in Compromise



"If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ. There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant; the pirate's common-sense begins just beyond it. But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram; as abstract as any theological dogma." [Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 14-15). Kindle Edition.]

 It seems for all my life long, when the season changes, I manage to go through my fair share of cough remedies and paper handkerchiefs. It being Lent, I can wax eloquent on the contingency of this our human existence and set my heart on the world to come, where not only will every tear be wiped away, but wheezing and hacking and sniffling will be banished forever... please, God! Even so, it would be nice to be out and about, enjoying the tenuous rays of a pre-spring sunshine, filled with promise. Alas, prudence condemns one to a certain seclusion so as not to terrorize those others also highly susceptible to bronchial ailments and colds. Though not a good substitute for physical exercise and outdoor camaraderie, Chesterton is freeing and brings me a measure of light-hearted consolation, not without intellectual stimulation.

Putin's withdrawal from the public eye for over a week now has many here in Ukraine hoping for real peace and the possibility of finally getting to the work of nation building. Radical change in Moscow as that something which would grant Russians permission to back down from the cruel adventure of invasion and conquest which has obsessed them now for more than a year would be the best possible scenario for Ukraine. It certainly beats "Minsk 2" anyway, which is what came to my mind reading the little Chesterton quote about being forced to walk the plank.

If it all were not so deathly earnest or tragic, one could almost smile at those Europeans who express impatience over Ukrainian resignation in the face of the Minsk deal which was imposed upon them, as an alternative to slaughter. Why argue with a pirate? Inch out there in hopes of a Hollywood rescue? Let's just say, I hope nobody in the West feels offended if I can't feel too impressed by their efforts which seem to facilitate things for the pirate, coaxing poor Ukraine bound out onto the gang plank.

For a time, people tried to rouse the West from its lethargy with menacing words about who'll be next on the plank. It all becomes too contentious, however, and scorns certain truths and principles partly enshrined in law. Why should I have to find extraneous motivations to coax the guarantors of 1994 to live up to their obligations to defend Ukraine's sovereignty? Pacta sunt servanda! Sorry, I'm just saying.

Back to Chesterton!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vatican Diplomacy Then and Now

Whether so couched to appeal to the issues at stake in our day and time, I found this news piece reporting on a lecture concerning a find in the Vatican Secret Archives, relative to the position taken by the Holy See on the sinking of the passenger vessel, the Lusitania, by the Germans in 1915 to be very telling concerning the operative principles governing stances taken today by the Holy See in matters of war and peace.

Our Lusitania today might not be on the high seas; it might just be Ukraine under attack from one side and abandoned by the other in somebody else's big geopolitical end game. Andrea Gagliarducci reports on a very interesting presentation made recently by the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, on "How did the Vatican respond to the sinking of the Lusitania during WWI?"

The story is based on a series of letters exchanged with Pope Benedict XV by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, and Cardinal Francis Aiden Gasquet, of the Vatican Library. Cardinal Gasquet, who was a Benedictine born in London, was very upset that L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, was not expressing its concern in louder terms, in that the good should be sought above all and hence the Church ought always to speak the language of truth, without compromise. The counter argument from Gasparri, which won the day with Pope Benedict XV, was for prudence calculated to assure the Church's freedom of action in the cause of peace.

Say what you will or blame whomever you want, but it is hard to believe that the diffidence of the Holy See over the Lusitania tragedy gave anyone reason to seek the mediation of the Pope in the peace process of that tragic war. This diffidence continues to be thrown in the face of Pope Pius XII, as we have noted again in the last couple weeks relative to a film intended to tell the full story of all the Jewish lives the Pope is said to have saved in secret. Sadly, here we are again with the tragedy of the Ukraino-Russian conflict, which La Croix still feels licensed to declare civil war, stringing together gratuitous statements supposedly defining the official position of both Pope Francis and the Holy See. Needless to say, not only was the article news to my contacts in the Secretariat of State, but it left them in utter shock. How can someone make such claims?

Be that as it may, I will repeat my sad prediction that history will as surely condemn Pope Francis as it has condemned Pope Pius XII. The problem rests not with the famous "neutrality" of the Holy See, which from the experience of Pope Benedict XV and WWI seems at best ill advised, but with its diffidence in the face of naked aggression and hatred.

Have mercy on us, poor sinners, dear Lord!