Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ecology and Faith in God Made Man



119. Nor must the critique of a misguided anthropocentrism underestimate the importance of interpersonal relations. If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships. Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (Laudato Si)

This paragraph is the most important one for me in the whole of the Holy Father's new encyclical dealing with ecology. Even Pope Francis realizes how voluminous and wide-ranging this document is, but I doubt if he would begrudge me my pick of N. 119.

From a practical point of view, what he writes about sober living is intuitive and speaks to me of my childhood and how well we as a large family were able to live on so little never as children sensing that we lacked for anything, But I will stay with this paragraph and say, if you can ground yourself so, all else then falls into place.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

True Devotion


The Saint Louis de Montfort Collection [7 Books]
Saint Louis de Montfort
 (2013-10-12). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Even before his early training was completed he had gained a reputation for heroism, love of the Cross and love of Mary, and it was at this time that the Queen of Heaven began to claim him as her own. (p. 682).

This collection might just be what you were looking for, if besides a fine English translation of St. Louis-Marie's principal writings you are also seeking reassurance concerning this preacher, religious founder and missionary who from his own times has been so often maligned. There is a kind of censorship which struggles mightily to keep his writing and ideas out of the hands of the faithful and this now for two hundred years.

The commentary, part written by Frank Duff, faces straight on all of the objections to St. Louis-Marie and answers most people's questions satisfactorily. It dates from 1965 and as such does not account for the enthusiastic witness of Pope St. John Paul II to the saint and his description of the nature of True Devotion to Mary: Totus Tuus. 

There are lots of good books on him now, but I guess I am glad I picked up on this one. 


Big Thoughts in Small Packages


St. John Fisher
McNabb, Vincent
(2015-05-28). Mediatrix Press. Kindle Edition.

“He added that the Baptist in olden times regarded it as impossible for him to die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage; and that, as it was not so holy at that time as it has now become by the shedding of Christ’s blood, he could encourage himself more ardently, more effectually and with greater confidence to dare any great or extreme peril. (Kindle Locations 706-709).

Being on vacation and having a summer storm roll across the prairie and change my plans for the day, I decided to look for something on St. John Fisher, as today we celebrate his memorial together with the other great martyr of his day, St. Thomas More. My first thought was to go back to the saint's commentary on the penitential psalms, but I have a copy in Kyiv and was hoping by now it might be available on Kindle, but alas. Well, this little biography popped up and did so as coming out of the 1930's, but obviously interesting enough to come out new and also in my favorite reading format.

It is a very short biography and I was able to read it this morning before lunch in the midst of other little tasks. It is thoroughly enjoyable and to my mind terribly relevant as is to be noted from the above quote. John Fisher comes out terribly noble in the whole thing and with a story of his living and dying which is typical of my impressions of the devil's will and struggle to hide the grace of martyrdom when it is given to the Church. Father McNabb has done us a great service in and through his analysis of the phenomenon of martyrdom. 

Typical of the accuracy and poignancy with which McNabb makes his brief points about the martyr is this quote about Fisher and More by comparison with other great English Catholic martyrs who came after them:

"It was the first time that Catholics— clergy and laity— were called upon to suffer officially for the supremacy of the Pope. For them and for all the martyrs of Henry’s reign, this is their unique honour that they died solely for the Holy See. The later martyrs died not only for the Holy See but mainly for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Altar." (Kindle Locations 1101-1104). 

I am wondering if we couldn't offer this little book as a manual for the witness required of us today, where we face threats to our faith and the Church's moral teaching from Henry VIII types maybe not sporting a crown, but just as determined to have their own way in everything and at the expense of the truth which comes to us from God.


As Relevant as ever to our Situation Today

"Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God? "And if the righteous one is barely saved, where will the godless and the sinner appear?" As a result, those who suffer in accord with God's will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good." (1 Peter 4: 12-19)

For Mass this morning, I chose to celebrate the optional memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs; I was drawn to the readings presented in the lectionary for the memorial as well. The Epistle struck me as all together relevant to what we are experiencing as Catholics in our day and time. If persecution must come, it is good that we face it with perspective, with our eyes wide open.

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, one a bishop and one a layman, pray for us!


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Faith as Confident Assurance

 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) – 21 June 2015
St. Mary’s Parish in Salem, S.D.

Job 38: 1, 8-11
Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.
2 Corinthians 5: 14-17
A great prophet has risen in our midst, God has visited his people.
Mark 4: 35-41

Let me start by wishing all of the fathers here present a happy Father’s Day. We pray for you and we also remember in prayer and petition all our fathers who now sleep in the peace of Christ in expectation of the glorious day of Resurrection.

Father’s Day fits rather well with the readings assigned for this 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. God-given and God-willed fatherhood, within the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, is a blessing upon the human race which comes to us from the Creator of all that is. God Almighty orders the universe and, just like Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, He calms the storms which toss us to and fro. All fatherhood comes from God and in turn reminds us of our Heavenly Maker. Dad might not always be fully in control within the family, but all imperfections and weaknesses taken into account, he still reminds us of God, the Father of all.

In my childhood, however, I always had the impression that Mother’s Day was easier to celebrate. Our family budget was very tight in those years and so Mom received a rational gift, the same gift practically every year, which was often given on account for later in the month of May, when the danger of frost had come to an end. We gave her the bedding plants which decorated the planter in front of the house and I think the best part about the gift for her was the trip to the greenhouse; she got to choose and shop around while she was there! With that same Mother’s Day logic, I suppose we should have found some annual home or yard improvement gift for Father’s Day, but at least in our family it never came to be; maybe that is why Dad’s Day never developed that same annual rhythm or naturalness.

In the first reading today, God speaks to Job and reminds this holy man, hard pressed and suffering as he was, reminds him of just Who is boss in this world, Who created everything, established the world and keeps the universe in order. The Book of Job is a profound and beautiful story; we bow to its teaching, but it would be hard to see just how it touches our lives. Do we really depend upon God for our needs? Do we really place our lives in His hands?

With that we still have not come to the primary question posed by the Book of Job, about why an all-powerful God would allow suffering in the life of a just man, like Job, who should be enjoying God’s favor and not sickness or hardship. To some extent that question is not even brought up in our secularized world; to some extent we have written God out of the scene; He doesn’t really come to mind. As much truth as there may be to that, I do not think that we are all that different from people of any day, any place or any time. Look at the disciples in our Gospel passage from St. Mark: “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” The disciples are taken completely by surprise: these men who have chosen to follow Him, who are constantly in His company, and yet until He calmed the storm it really had not yet dawned upon them just Who Jesus is. He is God. “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Granted, we are not commercial fishermen and for the most part our issues in life, our real fears and frustrations have little to do with the wind and the waves. In a sense, though, it doesn’t really matter what terrifies us, but rather why it is that we lack confidence in the power of God to save, why we are of such little faith. Granted that we do our best in life for both work and family, we do our part to row that boat; the challenge seems to be not to forget that it is God Who rules over all things. The test or the challenge seems to be in explaining how we do or don’t expect Him to save us from persecution and harm at the hands of our enemies, to save us from so many kinds of misfortune which descend upon us through no fault of our own (think of companies which go under and throw their workers out on the street in search of a new job!).

“Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Much of life seems wild and untamed in the awful sense of the word. That’s probably why motivational speakers make such a good living; they capitalize on people’s fears and dreams; we in turn forget the basic wisdom of any number of nursery rhymes which dismiss the power of positive thinking as so much humbug. “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Only God in His perfection wills things into being; we, His creatures, have to work, toil even, to eke out a living.

Where then does God’s will for us come in? Ultimately it is a matter of our happiness with Him forever in Heaven. In Jesus’ parable about the poor man Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus has Abraham explain Lazarus’ eternal reward as consolation and comfort for all he suffered in this life and the condemnation of the rich man and his like, who partied their lives away and did not in charity come to Lazarus’ aid. We don’t necessarily have to see God’s love in this life manifest in prosperity or creature comforts; as we suffer, Jesus can seem to be asleep, having left us in peril of the winds and the waves. We need to keep rowing and praying for His deliverance.

What is the secret to happiness? Must the just suffer in this world? We are taught that Jesus revealed Himself glorious to Peter, James and John in His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. He shone forth there in conversation with Moses and Elijah to signify that in the Person of Christ both the Law and the Prophets reached their fulfillment. This was supposed to convince them of God’s power to save and to keep them from succumbing to the scandal of His horrible death and suffering upon the Cross. It doesn’t seem to have worked, as in their terror and loss they ran away even so.

Your challenge and mine would seem to be to do better than Jesus’ disciples, to be unto ourselves as God is to us. While understanding our weakness and our slowness to comprehend His plan for our consolation and joy, we need to chide ourselves in tough times, as He did the disciples before calming the wind and the waves. “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

We cannot expect everyone to understand, but still we give witness to the reason for our hope which is centered in Christ Jesus. Others may even despair of life and its hardships, but in faith we confess the One “…whom even wind and sea obey”.  

Continuity over Rupture any Day

The Feast Of Faith
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal
(2010-01-15).  Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Faced with the political and social crises of the present time and the moral challenge they offer to Christians, the problems of liturgy and prayer could easily seem to be of second importance. But the question of the moral standards and spiritual resources that we need if we are to acquit ourselves in this situation cannot be separated from the question of worship. Only if man, every man, stands before the face of God and is answerable to him, can man be secure in his dignity as a human being. Concern for the proper form of worship, therefore, is not peripheral but central to our concern for man himself. 

So it seemed worthwhile to present for publication a collection of pieces on the question of Christian liturgy. They arose in part from the needs of my official ministry and in part from the reflection which is inseparable from it. All the chapters were revised and reedited for this publication. They can be no more than fragments, characterized and no doubt limited by the particular contemporary situation; yet perhaps for that very reason they may help others to come to grips with today’s issues. 

All that is written here is governed by the one fundamental question, namely, how, under modern conditions, we can pray and join in the Church’s praise of God, and how we can see and experience the salvation of man and the glory of God as a single whole. 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 
Munich, Ash Wednesday, 1981
 (Kindle Edition, p. 8).

No doubt  one of the reasons I missed this precious volume years back is that it only became available for Kindle in 2010. It seems most folks I talk to know and treasure this book already. Well, I am glad I finally made its acquaintance. If you haven't read it, by all means do.

In these days of my vacation, I have had conversations with acquaintances, with friends young and old. One very good priest, younger than I am by several years, told me that with Summorum Pontificum in 2007 he became optimistic to the point of conviction that in less than ten years from that date we would have a handle on liturgical abuse, that the Ordinary Form would become something truly noble in the art of its celebration. Alas, says he and more than alas, alas, say I! Abuse and banality still abound.

Nonetheless, I am pleased that Cardinal Sarah has a mandate from Pope Francis to set forth efforts at liturgical reform and renewal after the mind of Pope Benedict XVI. For myself as a bishop, I will not abandon the fundamental notion of letting the wheat and tares grow together, ever mindful that the desired effect of the mutual enrichment longed for by Pope Benedict will never resolve itself in a sufficient reform of the reformed liturgy. This is an essential point of The Feast of Faith. I am thoroughly convinced that the point behind the juxtaposition of the two legitimate forms of the Roman Rite has to be preparing hearts and minds for a restoration which will enable real progress toward the kind of organic growth for the liturgy which failed to come out of the Second Vatican Council.

I am sharing my conviction these days in this fashion:
The reform of the reform is not possible for two reasons: 1) the vernacular cannot be defended from improvisation; 2) the Ordinary Form is shot through with options: both reasons which render the Ordinary Form to be arbitrary in form and expression, even when celebrated in faithful  adherence to the rubrics.

The vernacular cannot be defended from improvisation:  I see this all the time in Ukraine, where native Ukrainian speakers, both priests and laity, are perpetually "bettering" the text with other word choices and formulations. I have noticed it this summer with elderly priests even here in the Midwest. The Holy Sacrifice seems per force condemned to be treated as if it were a didactic text, a lesson to be filled as judged necessary by the speaker of the text with adjuncts and paraphrases.

This cannot be. Divine worship is not a free wheeling magisterial exercise left to the discretion of the prof. Such fiddling with the text renders the liturgy tedious to the listener familiar with the text, who may agree or disagree with the adjustments to the wording made by the priest or lector/commentator. No amount of threatening can rein in something inherent in the use of the mother tongue. I remember back in my first posting in Rwanda in 1985, when the bishops decided to change the words of the Our Father: no doubt they knew their language better than the missionaries who had given them the text, but I gave up in exasperation on trying to learn the most fundamental Christian prayer in that difficult Bantu language.

What is wrong with an improvised liturgy, you ask? Well everything if you understand the nature of Divine Worship as it is always and everywhere. If the truly sublime is not untouchable, well, at least it is approached with profound reverence and as something handed down to us.

The Ordinary Form is shot through with options: What genuine masterpiece, in and of itself, what work of art is constructed of interchangeable parts? The ingenious, for all its merit, seems bent on claiming its own praise. The reason for resistance to the so-called concert masses, compositions of Beethoven or Mozart or Verdi, is their ability to bring prayer to the music hall, while failing to serve in the cathedral as accompaniment for the unbloody renew of Christ's Sacrifice on Calvary. Back to options and choices, how can you have more than one right answer to a multiple choice question?

The Ordinary Form, as celebrated generally in parishes today, seems to be at cross purposes to Cardinal Ratzinger's definition of prayer, which I see no reason to contest:

"Prayer is an act of being; it is affirmation, albeit not affirmation of myself as I am and of the world as it is, but affirmation of the ground of being and hence a purifying of myself and of the world from this ground upward. All purification (every via negationis) is only possible on the rocklike basis of affirmation, of consent: Jesus Christ is Yes (cf. 2 Cor 1:19f.). Conversely, in the purification which issues from this fundamental Yes we discover the active power of prayer, which (a) yields a deep security in the affirmation of being, as a foil to the hectic world of self-made man, yet which (b) is by no means a flight from the world but rather entrusts people with the task of purifying the world and empowers them to carry it out." (pp. 27-28). 

Regardless of where my friends and acquaintances stand on the topic of the restoration of the Mass of the Ages, all agree that the abuse and the trivializing of Divine Worship must stop. Pray with me that the Church will find its way to that splendor which God really wills for us as we go about the business of uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ in the praise of His Holy Name.

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Friday, June 19, 2015

Cain and Abel, a Martyr's Sacrifice

"But Saint Paul and the sacred Scriptures tell us that the quarrelsome man and the troublemaker, who is never at peace with his brothers, cannot escape the charge of internal dissension even though he may die for Christ’s name. For it is written: He who hates his brother is a murderer, nor can he attain the kingdom of heaven. God cannot abide a murderer. He cannot be united with Christ, who has preferred to imitate Judas rather than Christ."

This quote is from St. Cyprian's treatise on the Our Father, which we are reading these days in the Office of Readings. He illustrates his point with the account of Cain's unworthy sacrifice and his murder of his brother Abel, the righteous one.

The great Father of the Church gave me pause to reexamine something I had somewhat thoughtlessly held about the sacrifices of the two brothers ever since my childhood and namely that Cain's sacrifice did not please God because he did not offer up his very best. That is fine as far as it goes, but it misses the point that Cain's very best would have to have included his heart, which somehow or another just wasn't in it: "the quarrelsome man and the troublemaker, who is never at peace with his brothers, cannot escape the charge of internal dissension even though he may die for Christ’s name."

To say it another way, God rejected Cain's offering because his heart was not in it. Cain slew his brother Abel out of a jealousy which had held his heart bound since long before the sacrifice incident. 

Hypocrisy we know and condemn, but the point here is slightly different, which may explain why it was lost upon me as a child. There is nothing pro forma about offering sacrifice; we must place our heart, our life, all that we have and are upon the altar with our gift; otherwise, it is not a true sacrifice at all, it is not worthy of the God Who loves us.

Ultimately, this is the genius of St. Louis de Montfort and what he describes as becoming Mary's and therefore God's slave, totally dependent, as opposed to being a servant with something less than that true, because it is total, devotion, which is the least we can offer our Creator and Redeemer, through the Mother of God, who by her total submission to the Divine Will was able to make a gift of her Son for the sake of us all.

Cyprian is saying that martyrdom does not serve you if your heart is not in it. St. John de Brebeuf's diary, just like the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, illustrate that martyrdom is not something we snatch for ourselves or that takes us totally by surprise, but rather something we pray ourselves into in accord with God's will.

Let us pray that death, whether it be a peaceful or violent one, does not catch us "the quarrelsome man and the troublemaker, who is never at peace with his brothers..." Would that our daily sacrifices here and now come before the Lord as acceptable, because presented by a humble and contrite heart, something He just cannot spurn.