Sunday, February 1, 2015

Passing the Torch in Battle

My Battle Against Hitler: 
Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich
Von Hildebrand, Dietrich; Crosby, John Henry
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. 
Kindle Edition.  (2014-10-21).

"God is offended regardless of whether the victim of a murder 
is a Jew, a Socialist, or a bishop. Innocent blood cries out to heaven." 

"We know from the memoirs that the main instrument by which Dietrich von Hildebrand fought against Nazism and for the independence of Austria was the journal he founded in Vienna, Der christliche Ständestaat. He fought as a philosopher; he fought at the level of first principles." (p. 245).

As I am discovering, there are lots of enthusiastic reviews of this book to be read. It is absolutely great both for the account of those years of struggle against Nazism and Anti-Semitism, as well as for the English quotes from articles which appeared in his famous journal and thereafter from New York. So much of von Hildebrand in his fight against National Socialism and its associated errors, against the background of the tired old world of his day, could serve as a mirror to challenge the feckless in our own day and time, perhaps even more doped and duped by post-Enlightenment relativism than was his world of the mid-20th Century. The struggle for objective truth, in defense of the primacy of the human person within community, under the Kingship of Christ, continues.

One of the questions which I kept asking myself throughout the book was whether a true Catholic Christian, a thinker, a writer, a lecturer, could be sensed as such a threat to its very existence by a lying regime today:

"The meeting was also very gratifying for me. Fr. Alois told me that, among other things, the conversation touched upon me and my journal. Papen said, “That damned Hildebrand is the greatest obstacle for National Socialism in Austria. No one causes more harm.” This made me very happy because it meant that my work and my battle in Austria had not been for naught." (p. 227).

Von Hildebrand and his family fled Austria just ahead of Hitler's troops and the Anschluss. Though he himself would not revel in such a distinction, the Gestapo had him at the top of their wanted list after Austria's government leaders; von Hildebrand with his pen seemed to have been enemy N.1 of the Third Reich.

None of us can aspire to such worth in the face of evil, but we can certainly pray that the Lord in our day and time would raise up such warriors in the defense of righteousness.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

From the Top of Mount Nebo

Today’s Office, the First Reading from Deuteronomy 32:48ff. includes the account of the death of Moses:

“The Lord spoke to Moses that same day and said to him, ‘Climb Mount Nebo, that mountain of the Abarim range, in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan which I am giving the sons of Israel as their domain. Die on the mountain you have climbed, and be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Because you broke faith with me among the sons of Israel that time at Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not display my holiness among the sons of Israel, you may see this land only from afar; you cannot enter it, this land that I am giving to the sons of Israel.’”

As we read, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land because of the incident in the desert of Zin, where he, the prophet, and Aaron, the priest, failed to display God’s holiness to the sons of Israel. From the entire text you get the impression that, great as he was in the eyes of God, Moses did not “make the cut” and ended up in Limbo, because he had not mortified himself sufficiently in accordance with God’s will.

It is only an impression on my part and one more than anything provoked in me as I look at myself, a sharer in the ministry of priest, prophet and king, which Jesus, the Holy One of God, entrusted to His Church. 

Time for an examination of conscience! Not because Limbo is an option for this priest, but because beyond Hell confinement in Purgatory for however long is an undesirable consolation prize, unworthy of all I owe to the One Who first loved me, the Christ, and to His Church.

Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, in the part reserved for the worthy reception of Holy Communion, devotes Chapter VII especially to the priest, his examination of conscience, and purpose of amendment (Kindle Locations 2854-2881). Here are the points he offers, which to my way of thinking have lost none of their relevance toward shaping a priestly heart and obedience, capable of manifesting to those entrusted to his care, the holiness of God:

“Above all things the priest of God must draw nigh, with all humility of heart and supplicating reverence, with full faith and pious desire for the honour of God, to celebrate, minister, and receive this Sacrament. Diligently examine thy conscience and with all thy might with true contrition and humble confession cleanse and purify it, so that thou mayest feel no burden, nor know anything which bringeth thee remorse and impedeth thy free approach. Have displeasure against all thy sins in general, and specially sorrow and mourn because of thy daily transgressions. And if thou have time, confess unto God in the secret of thine heart, all miseries of thine own passion.”

Here are his points for which he invites the priest to… Lament grievously and be sorry, because thou art still:
- so carnal and worldly, so unmortified from thy passions,
- so full of the motion of concupiscence,
- so unguarded in thine outward senses, so often entangled in many vain fancies, so much inclined to outward things,
- so negligent of internal;
- so ready to laughter and dissoluteness, so unready to weeping and contrition;
- so prone to ease and indulgence of the flesh, so dull to zeal and fervour;
- so curious to hear novelties and behold beauties, so loth to embrace things humble and despised; so desirous to have many things, so grudging in giving, so close in keeping;
- so inconsiderate in speaking, so reluctant to keep silence;
- so disorderly in manners, so inconsiderate in actions;
- so eager after food, so deaf towards the Word of God; so eager after rest, so slow to labour;
- so watchful after tales, so sleepy towards holy watchings; so eager for the end of them, so wandering in attention to them;
- so negligent in observing the hours of prayer, so lukewarm in celebrating, so unfruitful in communicating;
- so quickly distracted, so seldom quite collected with thyself;
- so quickly moved to anger, so ready for displeasure at others;
- so prone to judging, so severe at reproving;
- so joyful in prosperity, so weak in adversity;
- so often making many good resolutions and bringing them to so little effect.

The language of my edition might be antiquated, but the message has lost none of its application, in our day and time, to priests and bishops, young and old. The chapter ends on a frank, but truly encouraging note:

“If a man shall have done what in him lieth, and shall repent him truly, then how often soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted, and live. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him.” (cf. Ezekiel xviii. 22, 23)

Deuteronomy says that Moses died and was buried in a ravine on Mount Nebo at 120 years of age, still vigorous and having his eye sight. He must have been clearly aware of the price he had to pay for his unmortified behavior (his impatience with the people?).

My prayer would be that The Imitation or some other aid or person would rescue us, priests and bishops, from whatever the distraction which keeps us unmortified and thus hindered in showing forth to God’s people His great holiness, His loving will for us to enter into His rest.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Apocalypse Now?

I signed up for this program which sends you a daily email such that if you remain faithful, you can read the four Gospels in the course of one year. I kind of like it, even if I find the commentary at times puzzling. Today's reading would be an example in that it anticipates the persecutions to come, as if they needed to be prophesied and were not already part of the baptismal "package", if you will. Yes, Jesus' words are prophetic, not so much in the sense of predicting something to come, but in the sense of teaching a hard and for some unexpected truth about the here and now: Matthew 10:16-25:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."

Simply stated, to my mind the commentary title "Day 30 - The Coming Persecutions" is a misnomer or distraction. The Lord Jesus is describing the tribulations to be expected by a disciple; this is what sharing in the Cross of our Savior means.

Then again, maybe the email's approach is the right one, because we are all so into denial about the spectrum of consequences to being buried with Christ in Baptism. I cannot help but think of the stir which Cardinal George's "prophecy" about his successors in Chicago having to expect imprisonment and martyrdom. We need to understand just what all might come our way if we are faithful to the Gospel.

Nonetheless, I think Matthew's Gospel here in this passage is providing reality therapy for missionaries and preachers who will be rejected and even "flogged", for betrayals within one's own family. I know it comes to me hard: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."...


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shakespeare and Chant?

Over at 1Peter5 there is a piece entitled: Liturgy, Adaptation, and the Need for Context by Adam Michael Wood. The man is well versed and plays with the topic such that he would leave spinning the heads of liturgical aficionados straight across the spectrum. He brings up a lot of good questions and does so with a bright, sort of sprightly abruptness. 

Read the article and stay with him to the end. You may not agree, but I find him constructive throughout and seriously reassuring in his concluding sentences:

"If it is true, as Odo Casel observed, that modern people are unable to perform a true act of worship, then we must engage in a process that transforms people and guides them out of modernity, out of the abyss of secularism. This work includes both catechesis and community development outside the liturgy as well as careful adaptation of the liturgy itself and the elements that surround it.

"Whatever (valid) form of the liturgy you are celebrating, and in whatever language, it is not enough to simply “Say the Black, and Do the Red.” Nor is it enough to mean well and be sincere. Both literally and metaphorically, we must teach people how to sing, or else what we ask them to sing is of little consequence.

"The liturgy requires a context. We must provide it."

I think one can fairly draw the conclusion that Wood is calling for a new approach or metaphor for addressing the liturgical disarray which plagues us despite denials. Fair or not, he chooses an option which is neither a "reform of the reform" nor a "restoration as reset" for the sake of setting forth the organic development of the liturgy. 

He's written an article not the definitive monograph; he has played the devil's advocate and done so well. Such cannot be ignored, even if attention to our patrimony precisely because it is caught up into the worship we owe to God would seem to demand more respect for the Mass of all times and much more attentiveness to the discontinuity or rupture laying the Ordinary Form open to so much abuse.

The wise counsel of exposing the two forms to each other for the sake of the mutual enrichment must indeed be treasured.

 Adam Michael Wood, the blithe spirit notwithstanding, I renew my urgent plea for turning worship in the Ordinary Form to God, ad Orientem. This and more is due to Adam's un-quantifiable "Globe theatre" audience.

The Other Mendicant Friar

Today's Second Reading from the Office of the memorial for the Angelic Doctor is taken from a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest, entitled: The Cross exemplifies every virtue:

"Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
  It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.
  If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
  If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.
  If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
  If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
  If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.
  Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

For those eager to keep at least at arm's length a life of sacrifice and self-abnegation, the words of this Dominican "giant" go in one ear and out the other, bypassing the heart and conscience. Even for good people, ignorant of our Catholic roots, many haven't a clue as to where to start with such. We need an awakening, all of us, I fear. This would be my prayer intention for today.

To "hobbyhorse" for a moment, this brings me back to the urgency of recovering our Catholic culture. The passing of a dear friend of our family, last week shortly after their 69th wedding anniversary, brought back stories from my Mom about Fritz and Dad "having to pay" for sleeping in on New Year's Day and having to go to the over-filled Pontifical High Mass at noon and kneel on the stone floor in the back of the cathedral. I could laugh with Mom's generation, but younger folk need every detail of the story about young adults explained. Even then I doubt if people under 50 can really understand, as they do not even comprehend the simply beautiful interplay of choice and obligation, obviously cloaked in devotion, which brings forth laughter from 65+ years ago.

We are a very long way from the world of the mendicant friars, like Francis and Dominic, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. We talk up poverty, but these men mostly refused to ride a mule, let alone get into a carriage; they walked clear across Europe and back. Most of them didn't live to be 50, because of the deprivations which were typical of the mendicant lifestyle of their day. St. Elizabeth of Hungary or Thuringen pleaded with her confessor after having given away all which was hers for the privilege to be able to beg door to door.... in imitation of Christ. Do we really understand what these people understood by saying with fervor and determination that they wished to follow Christ in His poverty? I think not. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta and her sisters today come close and meet misunderstanding and criticism for failing in efficiency in helping the poor to escape their poverty. It is indeed another world.

Another of my favorite authors, Lorenzo Scupoli, in his classic, The Spiritual Combat, taught very clearly what our priorities should be, especially in a world other than that of the mendicants and even other than his world, so caught up in missionary zeal:

"For, although in itself the conversion of souls is dearer to God than the mortification of an irregular desire, yet it is not your duty to will and perform that which is in itself more excellent, but that which God before all else strictly desires and requires of you. For He doubtless seeks and desires of you self-conquest, and the thorough mortification of your passions, rather than that you, wilfully leaving one of them alive in you, should perform in some other direction some greater and more notable service for His sake. Now you see wherein the real perfection of a Christian lies, and that to obtain it you must enter upon a constant and sharp warfare against self..." (p. 4, Kindle Edition)

St. Thomas Aquinas rightly exhorts us to embrace the Cross like Jesus did. He teaches us what that implies. May our hearts be open and the adventure of self-conquest through obedience to the Divine Will allow Christ's Light through us to shine upon our world!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Just an Impression?

Following the Holy Father's visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, two blips went across my radar which both independently and in contrast to each other left me troubled: the rabbit thing and the video documentation of the less than respectful (sacrilegious) way the Most Holy Eucharist was passed around in the crowd at the outdoor Mass with the Pope. Many push back from both insisting that we not overreact or read too much into either. 

In the case of the rabbit thing, efforts have been made by the Vatican to assuage those feeling offended and perhaps to counter the most aggressive (German speaking?) campaigns to set something like a "catholic family quota" where after confessors are supposed to forgive most anything in the realm of birth control. Hence, I suppose the repeated appeals of the Holy Father to people to get themselves to confession. 

The outrage or "slow burn" over the Holy Father's choice of words is justified, because once again some, if not many, are taking advantage and pushing their anti-life and anti-marital chastity agenda. Unintentional or not the "barn door" was left open and unguarded. The best efforts on the part of others to witness to the fullness of Gospel life in and before marriage are being snowed by those who scorn big families and deny the role of asceticism in the life of all Christ's followers. The allusion to the classic "rabbit putdown" played right into the hands of those who have no time for self-sacrifice within a life-long marital commitment, let alone for the glorious Catholic procession of virgin martyrs which extends over all the centuries, starting with St. Agnes and continuing on through St. Maria Goretti, regularly punctuated by single-hearted little boys and young men like St. Dominic Savio, St. Charles Lwanga and his companions. An exhortation to perseverance, to holy indifference and to entrusting of our lives and the Church to Christ the King, directed toward all those who feel offended or simply nonplussed, is certainly in order.

The obvious disrespect shown to the Holy Eucharist at outdoor Masses, not only in Manila or Rio, but perhaps despite best efforts even in St. Peter's Square, has to do with attempting the impossible. Communion for so many people at once cannot be organized and organizers' attempts to go through with it end in "accidents", in disrespect, if in no other way than by rendering casual or bland/routine the encounter with the living Lord, Christ our God, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Those responsible for organizing the occasions must stop "trying" and draw the conclusion that it cannot be done without disrespect and hence should not be done. Open fields, beaches and giant public squares do not lend themselves to a devout reception of Holy Communion and higher authority should recognize this and bring others to face up to the fact as well.

I remember as a child, before the Council, that Holy Communion was not distributed at Funeral Masses with the body of the deceased present. In the parish, that meant suppressing the early morning Mass (bination was not an option) in favor of a Communion service for the daily Mass folk, as well as any mourners who wished to receive Communion on the day of burial of their loved one. I am sure there were reasons for the practice; I don't recall what they were. The important thing for me as a child and I suppose for most adults was simply that Communion was not distributed at Funeral Masses in the presence of the body of the deceased. Might I suggest, that for the sake of decorum the distribution of Holy Communion should today be omitted at all Masses where people cannot easily approach the Communion rail or altar step, understood as extensions of the altar at Mass. Apart from the extremely diseducative and often disrespectful (if not sacrilegious) Communion practice common to large gatherings in the open and in stadiums, I think I remember being told by an older generation that Holy Communion, before the Council, was not generally distributed even inside the Basilica at Papal Liturgies (more of a rarity then, of course, than now): reverence no doubt being the primary factor.

Whether an embittered "slow burn" or embarrassed silence, pastoral sensitivity would require much more from bishops and priests vis a vis the "little ones", those whose faith is weak or who lack sufficient catechesis in their lives to be able to sort things out. Why should people today be dispensed from the beautiful asceticism their parents and grandparents fought so hard to practice in marriage just because of king mattresses, central heating and air-conditioning, Iphones, Ipads, big screen TV and XBox? Pastoral sensitivity would seem to demand an honest effort at recovering the sustaining Catholic culture, which once helped people live their sacrament, whether it was Baptism, Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.

Once again, even inside church walls at Sunday Mass, I would make an appeal for putting order in the Communion procession, eliminating the hectic brought on by putting too many extraordinary ministers on such that ushers are pushing people to hurry down the aisle (keep moving!) and return to the Communion rail, which gives each person a moment to focus before Father arrives to feed them with the Bread of Angels.

If we would have mercy on the crowds as Jesus did, like He we would give ourselves tirelessly to teaching, both in and out of season. No doubt many hearts are hardened, but as many or more languish like sheep without a shepherd. St. John Paul II used to repeat to various groups that the true pope for most Catholics was the parish priest in their home parish. The nurturing task of teaching persuasively about chastity for the laity, both single and married, rests squarely on the shoulders of those at home. Beyond witness, parents have much to share with their children about the true nature of love and the ineluctable embrace of Christ's Cross which lets that love shine out in all its eloquence.


Friday, January 23, 2015

In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Chapter 14 of Peter Kwasniewski's book "Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church" bears the title: A Threefold Amnesia: Sacred Liturgy, Social Teaching, and Saint Thomas. For what it says about "social teaching", my guess is that it would be the toughest chapter for people who might class themselves or be classed as Catholic neo-conservatives. Personally, I would question the term "amnesia", seeing as how multiple generations in most parts of the world separate us from the regular practice of Divine Worship with the 1962 Roman Missal as the norm. The rupture with our past, with the (T)tradition is undeniable; to suffer amnesia you have to have been in possession of something at some point.

Similar could be said of the role of Saint Thomas Aquinas in seminary studies, which has been contested and often neglected for an even longer period; most of us were deprived of St. Thomas and have nothing to forget. But the toughie for most folks in terms of restoration or recovery would be that of what Kwasniewski describes as "social teaching", also because it flies in the face of commonly held notions about religious liberty in a multi- or a-confessional state and what ecumenism is supposed to mean for a Catholic today. Wise or unwise, I want to talk about this recovery called for by Kwasniewski right in the middle of the week of prayer for Christian unity 2015.

The proviso or caveat placed by the author would be that the three are yoked together; they are inseparable, which might be a problem for some of the less integral minds in the crowd. Kwasniewski promotes all three as interdependent, referring to them in a school context:

"In all the Catholic schools with which I have been associated, I have noticed a striking fact: a person who does not hold onto all three of these things faithfully and integrally cannot, in the end, manage to hold onto even one." (Kindle Locations 2912-2914).

The clincher, however, is his description of classic Catholic social teaching and the point made that the separation between Church and State in the words of St. Pius X is a pernicious error, the reference being to France's Law of Separation from 1905:

"Let us be frank, even if the Franks fail to be so: the sovereign Kingship of Christ over both individuals and nations, in the order of nature no less than that of grace, is denied almost everywhere since the Council, whether by being simply forgotten as one might forget about grandmother’s rocking-chair in the attic, or by being repudiated as an extravagant relic from the benighted Middle Ages. Our Lord’s Kingship is qualified and spiritualized to the point of irrelevance, as if Jesus Christ had not come to change radically our lives and our world." (Kindle Locations 2829-2833).

Who in the western world deals well with such? Who in the Catholic community today would push the principle "error has no rights" to all its logical conclusions? I am just saying... Kwasniewski is undoubtedly right that a full liturgical restoration would make us more appealing to the Orthodox world, but the social teaching part might renew the kind of American "Know Nothing" chatter which tried to frighten people during the JFK election campaign with the menace of the Pope taking up residence in the White House... I am just saying.

The WCC would be at a loss if the Catholic Church weren't not ready essentially to carry the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Why is that? Does it say anything about the formula now in use for decades? A goodly part of the Orthodox world cannot even pray together with us for unity. Perhaps Kwasniewski has something else in mind for Chapter 14. I say this firmly denouncing multi-culturalism and insisting on the primacy of truth as it comes to us from God. Again, I am just saying... If you read his book and have thoughts as to where Kwasniewski wants to go with a Catholic social model developed on the rebound from the loss of the Papal States and why he wants to yoke it to the other two truly sublime "steeds" let me know.