Monday, August 29, 2011

Church Marquee

This is at least the third week of my vacation at home when on my daily, early morning walk I have passed by the church marquee in front of a local unaffiliated church carrying the same enigmatic (to say it politely) message: "Broken by Religion - Healed by God". I feel offended by the message but really can't say why.

I do not have the slightest idea even after all of these mornings of being confronted with the "message" as to what it could possibly mean. I'm wondering if the pastor or preacher has been away on vacation and if the janitor or church secretary didn't take matters into his or her own hands and decide to make a statement, perhaps in the old European tradition of sacristans or church sextons who firmly resented their being underpaid and unappreciated by the local clergyman, with whom they were more often than not at odds for many reasons (Bernanos, in Diary of a Country Priest, alludes to this "tradition"). As I say, I haven't the foggiest as to what the thing is supposed to mean and no courage to go knocking on the door to find out what somebody means by that.

Truth to be told, I'm glad that Catholic churches rarely have marquees to display more than the schedule of Masses and Confession times. It's a genre totally foreign to our notion of Sunday as the Day of the Lord. It would be unthinkable, if you had more than one Catholic church on Main Street to have the dear priests competing for Sunday attendance by putting out the title for their Sunday homilies street-side on the marquee, let's say on Friday afternoon. While Father should do his best to teach and edify in the homily and that at least since the Council of Trent and its Catechism, which had detailed outlines for which passages went with the readings for each Sunday of the year, Sunday is nevertheless not Sunday School for us but our day to put ourselves clearly in relationship with the Sacrifice of the Cross and our Blessed Lord Who reigns from that Tree, as we renew with Him in unbloody fashion what He did for us once and for all on Calvary.

An awful lot of our non-Catholic friends not only read their bibles, but they study in groups and alone. In days gone by, we Catholics too studied as children preparing for first Confession, first Holy Communion and Confirmation. Today, we try even to make young couples reflect on the important step they are taking when they ask the Church for Christian Matrimony. All in all, however, the over-sixty crowd were better prepared for Sunday than the under-fifty crowd are today. When you knew your basic catechism, when you prayed daily at home (meals and bedtime, and for certain families even the rosary), then you knew what Sunday was for. You knew you owed everything but especially Sunday morning and Sunday Mass to the Lord. It was serious time and even reason to dress up.

I'm so glad EWTN's rich programming comes into most people's homes these days. There's a lot of great Catholic radio out there too. It sounds like the internet offerings, especially video, get good exposure as well... "Broken by Religion - Healed by God"? What in the world is that supposed to mean? Let us just blame it on an unhappy janitor and get on with the program!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choosing Life in Christ

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16: 21-27

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

What was Peter thinking when he rebuked the Lord and said: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you”? What was Peter thinking? What are we thinking, when we choose other than the way of the Cross of Christ for our life’s path? Do we think we can refuse the Lord’s will and somehow get by, even though in doing so we have refused the Lord Who loves us and knows us better than we know ourselves?

Jesus is telling His disciples and us in today’s Gospel not about everyday preferences or options but about the Last Judgment; today’s message is the fundamental one about who we are or what we are about. And sadly, I must say, there are times when I get the impression that those who are supposed to be knowledgeable in the Faith even while not denying this truth still tend to dismiss our accountability before the Throne of God and to hold the whole matter of the Last Judgment to be something subtle, complex or in one fashion or another hard to sort out, almost, if not altogether, irrelevant. Many of our Catholic people feel as though they are not really accountable before God for how they live their daily lives. And yet today’s Gospel makes the whole matter of Judgment Day and the consequences of our choices appear rather straightforward… “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

The Last Judgment: We must decide; we must take a stand for or against the teaching of the Church as it comes to us from the Apostles and then order our whole life accordingly. The Creed we recite every Sunday at Mass says He (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead and that His Kingdom will have no end. Human life is not just a passing thing; we are destined by God for everlasting life. Make no mistake about it; we cannot escape the ultimate consequences of our choices in this world in terms of the next. God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in heaven. My life does not end with my physical death; I cannot consider my life as crowned only by the tombstone or monument my survivors might place on my grave. My life goes on and my reward is in Heaven. When I’m gone, it serves me little if later generations have read my book or my poem, marveled at the bridge I built or been edified by my paintings. I will not be judged on my smarts, my college entrance exam scores or the number of patents I may have pending.

We must choose the Lord as our God, just as God’s People in the Old Testament have always been called to choose; we cannot turn our backs on Christ’s Cross or refuse our share in that Cross. The Chosen People had to leave all else for the service, the worship of the living God. This was the only adequate response to God’s generous love and favor toward them. Jeremiah bemoans this very fact in the first reading for today’s Mass: all the pain which serving the Lord as his prophet has brought to him, but he finds it irresistible to serve the Lord and to fulfill the prophetic mission entrusted to him by God. “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Jeremiah knows that he belongs to the one, true God and can do no less than serve Him, no matter what it costs him.

We, the people of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood, cannot make our own way through life without God in the person of Jesus Christ; our short-term and often selfish calculations or uninformed judgments just don’t carry weight; they don’t count. What counts are God’s will and our correspondence to that will. When Peter hedges or tries to contradict the Father’s Will, Jesus, Who knows God’s will as only the Son can, Jesus says to Peter, don’t tempt me: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  We cannot simply go with the crowd and seek our own convenience or comfort. None of us can honestly create our own little story, our own little truth amongst others, as if our wishing made it so.

Number 163 of the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (called YOUCAT) answers the question: What is the Last Judgment? And comments: “When Christ comes again in glory, his full splendor will shine upon us. The truth will come plainly to light: our thought, our deeds, our relationship to God and to other men – nothing will remain hidden… Here it is decided whether we will rise to eternal life or be separated from God forever.”

I find an explanation that helps me understand what was so seriously wrong with Peter’s negative reaction to Jesus’ prophecy of His Passion in a piece which our present Holy Father wrote back in 1992 about the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Even for the believing man who is entirely open to God, the words of God are not comprehensible and evident right away. Those who demand that the Christian message be as immediately understandable as any banal statement hinder God. Where there is no humility to accept the mystery, no patience to receive interiorly what one has not yet understood, to carry it to term, and to let it open at its own pace, the seed of the word has fallen on rocky ground; it has found no soil.” (MARY, The Church at the Source, Ignatius Press, 2005, page 71)

My choices must be Christ’s. The prophet Jeremiah found it a rough path but an irresistible and right one. Don’t attempt to deceive yourself or your children about choices which fall short of the heights of Calvary. We can indeed be wrong as Peter was (Get behind me, Satan!) If we do not repent as Peter did, we will be called to account. 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

Jesus responded firmly, let’s say, sternly to Peter because of Jesus’ love for Peter and His will that Peter share fully in the great work to be accomplished for the salvation of the world. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which we are called to share each and every Sunday we have that inestimable gift which belongs to those who enjoy the fullness of life and truth which is ours in the Catholic Church; in the other Sacraments and especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we have the means to return to the path which leads to life if sadly we have gone our own way. No matter how much it may hurt, we must, we can do no better than choose the Way of the Cross. Ultimately, it is the only choice which counts.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Wounded by Love?

MAGNIFICAT's "Meditation of the Day", for 26 August 2011, caught my attention firstly for its title: The Pining of the Wise Virgins. It comes from the Paulist Press edition of the complete works of Blessed Angela of Foligno and helps me with my difficulty in facing the "dark night" imagery of St. John of the Cross, which although it may not strike me as esoteric certainly hits me as less than universally applicable as a description of the obligatory hurdles the ordinary Christian must clear in his search for the living God. As far as I am concerned Bl. Angela is on to something.

Let me share this lovely piece, just in case you are not a MAGNIFICAT person:

"Love has various properties. Because of love, and in it, the soul first grows tender, then it pines and grows weak, and afterward finds strength. When the soul feels the heat of divine love, it cries out and moans... Assurance of God's presence engenders tenderness in the soul. In this state it is satisfied with consolations and other similar gifts. But in the absence of these, love grows and begins to seek the loved one. If it does not find him, the soul pines. It is then no longer satisfied with consolations, for it seeks only the beloved. The more the soul receives consolations and feels God, the more its  love grows, but the more, likewise, it pines in the absence of the beloved.
But once the soul is perfectly united to God, it is placed in the seat of truth, for truth is the seat of the soul. It then no longer cries out nor complains about God, nor grows tender or pines away. On the contrary, it acknowledges itself to be unworthy of every good and every gift of God, and only worthy of a hell more horrible than the one which exists. Wisdom and maturity are established in the soul. As a result the soul becomes ordered and so strengthened that it can face death. It possesses God to the fullness of its capacity. And God even expands the soul so that it may hold all that he wishes to place in it. The soul then sees the one who is, and it sees that all else is nothing except insofar as it takes its being from him." 
I particularly treasure the image of wisdom and maturity being established in the soul through genuine love. May the Bridegroom draw us to Himself!

properantes adventum diei dei

Getting the Word out on WYD 2011

Telling it like it is: Thank you Father Barron!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clear and Distinct Ideas

"The interior life, which presupposes the state of grace, consists, as we have seen, in a generous tendency of the soul toward God, in which little by little each one's intimate conversation with himself is elevated, is transformed, and becomes an intimate conversation of the soul with God. It is, we said, eternal life begun in the obscurity of faith before reaching its full development in the clarity of that vision which cannot be lost.
Better to comprehend what this seed of eternal life, semen gloriae, is in us, we must ponder the fact that from sanctifying grace spring forth in our faculties the infused virtues, both theological and moral, and also the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; virtues and gifts which are like the subordinated functions of one and the same organism, a spiritual organism, which ought to develop until our entrance into heaven."

The above quote from Fr. Garigou-Lagrange, OP, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (as reported on the web site of the same name), reminds me of my first nuncio in Vienna, Archbishop Michele Cecchini, and his highest compliment for another person: "He has clear and distinct ideas". How can anyone be less than satisfied with the great Dominican's ideas?

Having faced high school and college in the 1960-70's, I am all too familiar with the sort of know-it-all deconstruction which expressed dissatisfaction with the "old school" while offering only fuzzy/warm obscurity as a substitute. If I had a wish for length of days, sight and hearing, clearness of intellect and health, it would be such that I could learn all the lessons I was denied in my youth. May we never stop learning!

Happy reading!

"A man illumined by faith thus advances toward God by the two wings of hope and love. As soon as he sins mortally, however, he loses sanctifying grace and charity, since he turns away from God, whom he ceases to love more than himself. But divine mercy preserves infused faith and infused hope in him as long as he does not sin mortally against these virtues. He still preserves the light which indicates the road to be followed and he can still entrust himself to infinite mercy in order to ask of it the grace of conversion.
Of these three theological virtues, charity is the'highest, and together with sanctifying grace, it ought to endure forever. "Charity," says St. Paul, "never falleth away. . . . Now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity." (12) It will last forever, eternally, when faith will have disappeared to give place to vision, and when hope will be succeeded by the inamissible possession of God clearly known.
Such are the superior functions of the spiritual organism: the three theological virtues which grow together, and with them the infused moral virtues that accompany them." (from Chapter 3 of Part I)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

What is the Love of God?

On today’s feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, I took the time to read his treatise entitled On Loving God in part as an act of reverence or homage toward this great doctor of the faith, but also a bit by way of wanting to reassure myself once again in the face of so many people who can’t do other than heap blame on his head from preaching a crusade…

Bernard is timeless and can teach us so much about loving God as we should:
“But it will be well to note what class of people takes comfort in the thought of God. Surely not that perverse and crooked generation to whom it was said, "Woe unto you that are rich; for ye have received your consolation" (Luke 6:24). Rather, those who can say with truth, "My soul refuseth comfort" (Psalm 77:2). For it is meet that those who are not satisfied by the present should be sustained by the thought of the future, and that the contemplation of eternal happiness should solace those who scorn to drink from the river of transitory joys. That is the generation of them that seek the Lord, even of them that seek, not their own, but the face of the God of Jacob. To them that long for the presence of the living God, the thought of Him is sweetest itself: but there is no satiety, rather an ever-increasing appetite, even as the Scripture bears witness, "they that eat me shall yet be hungry" (Ecclus.24:21); and if the one an-hungred spake, "When I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it." Yea, blessed even now are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they, and they only, shall be filled.” (Kindle Highlight Loc. 168-77)

Watching World Youth Day 2011 from Madrid, Spain, I cannot help but pray, borrowing words from St. Bernard, that our youth all over the world and throughout the Church might be that “generation” which “…not satisfied by the present should be sustained by the thought of the future, and that the contemplation of eternal happiness should solace those who scorn to drink from the river of transitory joys.  May it be so, please God!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conscience as Primordial Vicar of Christ

Without exaggerating, I find this one of the truly all-time brilliant descriptions of conscience discerned or distinguished in the midst of other voices or a world's competing noise/attractions.

Whether we are talking about moral living or choosing to follow God's will for my life (vocation choice), my question is whether being touched by that tiny whispering sound, as Elijah was, is or has been rendered more difficult today. I know the answer: It cannot be any more difficult than it was back then remembering that Elijah was very much alone in a world gone thoroughly mad and pagan. His whole-hearted response to God's call was by God's command and in His Hands the beginning of a reconquest, a restoration.

There have been no few Elijah-like "giants" in the course of these two millennia of the Lord's time (A.D.). We need only mention St. Benedict. My question is how all of the rest of us can hope and pray for good boys and girls who are at least as in love with Our Lord and His Blessed Mother as the children of Fatima were. Children, as they were, really facing off and winning against the hardened unbelievers and conspirators against faith of Portugal at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Maybe it is as simple as the Holy Father's WYD 2011 message exhorting not to be ashamed of Jesus... for the sake of His uncompromising love and total sacrifice. Maybe it is as simple as acquainting children with Jesus from tiny and... letting the little whispering voice do the rest?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Prayer as Linear

The Exception to the Rule

In a recent contribution by Fr. Thomas Kocik to a debate which (it would seem) pits theology against posture/orientation in liturgy NLM - Form and Function Discussion I am a bit at a loss to understand why anyone could have the impression that anything orthodox or right-thinking in our theology of the Eucharist would militate against returning to worship, according to the existing rubrics just as it has always been possible, ad Orientem. I cannot help but see praying the Eucharistic prayer with everyone facing toward the Lord as anything less than an essential component (please, sooner rather than later) to any serious effort at healing the rupture or loss of continuity within the tradition.

I remember years ago going with a group to visit the church in Rome named Santo Stefano in Rotondo. Why exactly we went and as I group I do not know because there wasn't much to see as the floor inside the church had been taken up and there were archeological digs going on everywhere inside. I say this so as to make it clear that I did not experience liturgy in this ancient round church with the altar in the center. My suspicion would be that the "in the round" part of the name of the church pointed to the anomaly of it all. This building was an exception to the rule. The tradition leaves us for the most part with linear houses of prayer and even those little baroque jewels elsewhere in Rome with hardly a straight wall or column inside are no exception in terms of the arrangement of the altar (even the Pantheon as a Christian house of prayer is no exception) not in the middle but to one side.

I think it is a mistaken tactic to argue in favor of ad Orientem on the basis of the ascendency of the sacrificial character of the Mass over the table/feeding, meal/banquet... communion notion. Would it not be better just to say that our whole tradition of prayer and adoration is linear? The sobriety of our transcendent faith keeps us from hopping ecstatically or as if in a trance around some campfire. The reason that monastic choirs face each other probably has more to do with the one big book shared by all and turned from side to side in days back before the printing press than it does with anything else. 
Our Canon, our prayer is addressed to the Lord and we kneel or stand before Him, facing Him.... together.

(Label this one an opinion piece, please.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2 Great Thoughts on the New Missal

Antidote to Secularism

I just finished the little "Roman Missal Companion" published by MAGNIFICAT. It's great both for the commentary by Prof. Anthony Esolen on the more conspicuous changes in the ordinary of Mass, as well as for the introduction and editorial articles provided.

Personally, two notions impressed me from the editorial section of this booklet.

Firstly, Father Cameron, OP, illustrates the Church's intention to give "her worship a heightened sense of the sacred" by noting an insight from the theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg from 1996 on facing the challenge of secularism:
"If members of a secularist society turn to religion at all, they do so because they are looking for something other than what that culture already provides... What people look for in religion is a plausible alternative, or at least a complement, to life in a secularist society. Religion that is 'more of the same' is not likely to be very interesting..."  (page 9)

Secondly, Father Mulcahey, OP, touches simply but profoundly on the notion of the ars celebrandi:
"For priests and other ministers of the liturgy, the new English Missal is an opportunity to re-learn and then to do what the Roman Rite requires. We all know that after Vatican II the Mass was often celebrated more informally and with more self-expression by the celebrant. Without being overly rigid, we do greatly need this reminder that in the liturgy we are ministers, servants. We have our roles in the Mass in obedience to the Master, and must not obtrude ourselves into everyone's attention. The principal actor at Mass is Christ crucified, and having to pay closer attention to a new Missal can help put us in our places." (page 13)

While not wishing to repeat the thoughts on Liturgy and Reform which I have shared on my previous blog, Island Envoy, I'd love to know what Father Mulcahey thinks about worship ad Orientem also in service of this notion of the priest celebrant as servant and not protagonist at Mass. 

I pray for the successful reception of the New Missal, for all that means in terms of liturgical music, and hope (where the building permits without major financial outlay) that the OF would always be celebrated ad Orientem. All I can say to the hesitant is "Try it, you'll like it!" The showmanship reflexes will quickly fall away and people will find themselves praying: Sursum corda! Habemus ad Dominum! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Summer's Literary Great

 Dead Souls?

Thanks to a little encouragement from a friend, I was able to fill a "literary lacuna" this summer by reading and thoroughly enjoying "Dead Souls" by Nicolai Gogol. If you live in the US and are a Kindle person, you can order Gogol's complete works, including the above mentioned novel, free of charge.

I don't know when I have read such a relentless (intended positively) concatenation of character studies of mostly men, but also of a couple of women, all placed on the scales of life, scrutinized and found wanting. The novel spares no one from least to greatest except for priests (whew!). If the book wasn't so humorous and were it not for the appearance in its final chapter and for the counsel provided by Murazov, the great landowner, to three of the book's very different and tragic souls, then the emptiness, folly or futility of so many lives would probably send one screaming.

As it is, I find myself wondering why Dostoyevsky gets such high marks and Gogol comes up short in the anthologies. If you know Gogol or after reading him have some thoughts about why this Slavic Dickens hasn't made the cut, let me know!   

Saturday, August 13, 2011

He Answers All Our Needs

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

“’O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.” (Matt. 15:27-28)

 “(A)ll who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer, their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)

When I was a child we were given pointers for identifying a Catholic church when we were traveling on summer vacation. One counsel was that if on entering the vestibule of the church you found there a cloakroom, then you knew it was not a Catholic church. Orders from Sister were to turn around and leave immediately! 

What is a house of prayer anyway? Today there are some Catholic churches with cloakrooms and many more with greeters at the door; times change. Years ago a common excuse folks gave for abandoning their Catholic faith in favor of some other group was that at the Catholic church it was all too cold and impersonal (no cloakrooms and no greeters: no fellowship and no coffee and donuts!). What is God’s house of prayer supposed to be like? What is a house of prayer? 

I don’t know if people still use that excuse of no fellowship, of our being too impersonal as a reason to turn their backs on us. Perhaps not on that account, but on another I am sure they still go away, namely when they disagree with Father. Instead of going to the next parish, some people get upset and offended when Father rubs them the wrong way and they abandon the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church altogether, in favor of something they might find user-friendlier, while trying to put the blame for their departure on the priest. Some stop going to church entirely with this same (sorry! dishonest) excuse. Go figure! In these peoples’ minds, no doubt, the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel would have been justified in stomping off in a rage, thoroughly offended by the treatment she received from the disciples and Jesus.

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Faith and prayer: where are you at in terms of them? Can you compete or compare with the Canaanite woman in her tenacious supplication: “Have pity on me Lord, Son of David! … Lord, help me. … Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”? Faith! Tyre and Sidon is, as it was in Jesus’ day, foreign territory. Stranger as she was to God’s people yet she came to Him in her need. 

How much could this woman have known about Jesus? What excuse could we possibly have for not depending on the Lord, Who has washed us clean in the waters of Baptism and strengthened us through the grace of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and Who tends us and absolves our sins through the ministrations of His priests, who feed us with the Body and Blood of the Lord? For us today, unlike the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus and His disciples are not just passing through town but He, the Lord, is present in our lives and sacramentally present here in our parish church, our house of prayer. 

There was nothing simple or superficial about this woman. She had faith and she faced the cold shoulders, the annoyed and puzzled looks of the disciples; she kept coming back, each time referring to Jesus as Lord, as Dominus, that is as God. Her faith, humble and sure, was in the Son of David and in His power to cast out the demon tormenting her daughter. Can we do any less than turn to the Lord, always so close to us, in every moment and regardless of our need?

“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Desperation alone will not explain this woman’s tenacity. If faith were not present she would not have known enough to turn to Jesus. She took advantage of a surprising and unique opportunity, having discovered Jesus in her town. Maybe there is no such suffering in my life or in my family, at least not like there was in hers. Some would try to write her off as desperate and say she had nowhere else to turn. That is true enough, because who other than God Himself, God visible and present to our world in and through His Son, Jesus, who else conquers over sin and death? Who but God casts out demons? And what about us, do we have other options for life? Can we center our lives on anyone or anything other than Jesus? Can we trust anyone else to answer all our needs? Can we do without turning to Jesus and without doing so constantly, in every moment of our lives? Where does our sufficiency lie? Can we do without calling upon the Lord’s Name as if we had no need, or as if WallMart and Dillon’s were sufficient for our daily bread?

Do we pick our house of prayer for its fellowship, its cloakroom, its greeters, its rousing music and powerful preaching or because God’s Altar, His Tabernacle is there and the one acceptable sacrifice of the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ is renewed in unbloody fashion through the celebration of the Eucharist there? Isaiah said it so clearly and his words through the Church have lost none of their force as they are addressed to us today: “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” The obedient and the faith-filled will see God in Christ, now and live with Him forever in Glory.

Simeon and Anna, as elderly people who prayerfully begged God to send His Messiah and deliver His people, spent all their time in the Temple. They were blessed with an encounter with Baby Jesus coming to the Temple on His Mother Mary’s arm. Simeon and Anna received the assurance that their prayers had been answered. You and I might have or certainly do have other duties which keep us from copying their example. Important is that we follow the example of the Canaanite woman, that we recognize Who our Redeemer is, that we turn to Him wherever we might be and that when, especially each Sunday, we have the opportunity to gather with His Church and return thanks to the Father with Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that we do so with that woman’s same focus and determination, confident in the Lord’s power to save us as well.

Faith and prayer: Holy Cross parish is indeed fortunate; you are indeed fortunate to have such a beautiful house of prayer, a place with the Tabernacle front and center, a linear and focused building where our eyes are naturally drawn to Jesus lifted high upon His Cross. The atmosphere is conducive to silence, which is what we need for prayer, for lifting our hearts and minds to God.

Stake out, claim this sacred space for yourselves and for all those you love, for all those who come here to pray. Help make this place God’s house and a ladder to heaven for you and for others. Do so by your reverence, by your posture and your silence; do so by the way you come and go, by being conscious of the importance of this place and of Him Who dwells herein! Wherever you are however, wherever life takes you in the course of a week, live in the presence of God. Don’t miss an opportunity to spy Jesus as you go about your duties at home, at work, at school, wherever. Turn to Him in all your need!

“Have pity on me Lord, Son of David! … Lord, help me. … Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hats Off to the "Facebook Culture"!

In less than 9 minutes, Father Barron says great things about affirming the good, the true and the beautiful (in this case, in the realm of sexuality) by saying "No" to common trends. Any preacher of the Word knows that you can only say so much. This video is a genuine tour de force! It deserves the highest compliments and helps me in dealing with a long-standing and gnawing question I have about the "new media" and their contribution to proclaiming the Gospel.
Ultimately, the best and regular way within a community which understands itself as Christian to share the experience of God, to make Him all that He should be for us, is within the context of an ordered family where, please God, both Mom and Dad are present and witness to the faith they were gifted with at home. Older people all over the Caribbean told me that along side the family, or if the family failed in its mission, the Catholic school of days past was the effective encounter with the Lord, which many times led small children to a faith-filled life even if Mom and Dad did not go to Mass or pray with their children. It was chance, but it happened, thanks be to God, again and again in days gone by.

Today, as I say, people look to the "new media" in substitution for the Catholic school as that outside chance for touching the hearts and lives of those neglected or deprived of the "little Church" as that primary and essential first encounter with the God Who made us, saved us in Christ and Who loves us so dearly. As a blogger and observer of some years, I think it safe to say that full-time and "monetized" bloggers have bigger readerships, but I am beginning to wonder how much of any of our (whether we be blogger by vocation or avocation) readership/subscribers actually read or think about what they often light upon, whether systematically or by chance. Average times spent by readers on a given post would seem to point to something less than serious engagement (How far are we from the kind of flipping through the pages of a magazine which happens in waiting rooms?).

Hence, "Hats Off to the 'Facebook Culture'"! It has the marks of what would be closest to a living community of people, not isolated, of people who touch base with those whom they love and admire on a regular basis. Articles like this one of mine don't hack it. Even the impressive volume of 1 minute videos on YouTube from both the Vatican and Rome Reports don't chalk up the numbers.

Am I discounting the importance of the efforts of Word On Fire? Not in the least! Father Barron is feeding and feeding well the apologists who have the faith but will never have time to take the courses. In season and out of season and with every means. Go for it, Father!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Transfiguration - The Reflection Continues

"Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

St. Peter's awkward interjection into the glorious scene atop Mt. Tabor has been for me the scriptural moment of this year's Feast of the Transfiguration. It has dominated my thoughts today. Strangely enough it does so in the midst of an ongoing reflection on my part concerning what it is that we as Church need most surely in our day in the face of hostility aimed at us as Catholics, we being those who as a body/communion are most clearly identified with the Lord Jesus and His Truth, whether we like it or not.

While it is possible that Peter's words might have been inspired by good old Middle Eastern hospitality, I would rather suspect as do many others that the prince of apostles was trying to hold onto a moment he didn't rightly understand. We probably do the same in the face of hostility and persecution: Oh, Lord, show us Your Face! Dear Lord, pitch Your tent among us! Cast a glance and put fear into the hearts of our foes! The almost universal popularity of charismatic expressions of faith, the admiration enjoyed by mediatic, mega-church preachers, despite behind-the-scenes intrigues or the simple fact that the Crystal Cathedral of Orange County is up for auction to the highest bidder... prophecy, tongues, signs of power, wonders or miracles seem to be the path. They may seem to be the way, just as Peter's tent strategy seemed good or right to him on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Let me set another anchor for my reflection with a quote from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange,OP:

"Sanctifying grace and charity, which unite us to God in His intimate life, are, in fact, very superior to graces gratis datae and extraordinary, such as prophecy and the gift of tongues, which are only signs of the divine intervention and which by themselves do not unite us closely to God. St. Paul affirms this clearly, and St. Thomas explains it quite well.

Infused contemplation, an act of infused faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, proceeds, as we shall see, from sanctifying grace, called "the grace of the virtues and the gifts," received by all in baptism, and not from graces gratis datae and extraordinary. Theologians commonly concede this. We may, therefore, even now seriously presume that infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it are not intrinsically extraordinary, like prophecy or the gift of tongues. Since they are not essentially extraordinary, are they not in the normal way of sanctity?

A second and even more striking reason springs immediately from what we have just said: namely, sanctifying grace, being by its very nature ordained to eternal life, is also essentially ordained, in a normal manner, to the proximate perfect disposition to receive the light of glory immediately. This proximate disposition is perfect charity with the keen desire for the beatific vision, an ardent desire which is ordinarily found only in the union with God resulting from the infused contemplation of the mysteries of salvation.

This contemplation is, therefore, not intrinsically extraordinary like prophecy, but something eminent which already appears indeed to be in the normal way of sanctity, although relatively rare like lofty perfection."

On Mount Tabor the Lord Jesus let Peter, James and John hear the Father's voice, they could in an image contemplate the fulfillment in His Person of all that the Law sought and the Prophets longed for. The Transfiguration in and of itself was not the fulfillment:

"As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them, 'Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

The Resurrection, the victory over sin and death, is the event. Our share in His intimate life through love and His gift of sanctifying grace is our share in that victory, foretaste and promise of the world to come. We have here no lasting dwelling place; this is not the time to be setting up tents, if you will. We strive onward with our eyes open and focused on the truth which comes to us from God: the truth about life, about man and his relationships, the truth about our dignity and destiny. We push on with a certain urgency from the vision of Tabor to the reality of Golgotha.

To say seek the higher gifts, strive for virtue in your everyday life, might be to say too little, as people often miss the point as did Peter. It is hard to turn from what Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange tags as "extraordinary" in favor of the eminently "normal" which is at once so terribly profound. Even crystal cathedrals can end up on the auction block!

What about the hard times we are presently facing? Apart from petitioning the Lord to go easy on us His servants, we need to dedicate ourselves to serving Him, God, first and foremost. In his novel Callista: A Tale of the Third Century Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman speculates on the role persecution played in the life and vitality of the Church in North Africa. He looks soberly at persecution and puts real content into the expression "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". Many were lost in the persecutions, but oh so many were refined in the crucible of suffering and became lights not only for their own generation but for the centuries following. 

What should be our hope? We do not and cannot rejoice, for example, in the damage done to our Catholic healthcare and social service systems worldwide by rabid atheists, militant secularists and bigoted relativists. By the same token, as we study and pray, as we, out of a genuine and pure love, refine our arguments and our strategies for service (in the case of healthcare and social services), we draw our hope from the clarity of our witness, (taking a clue from Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity) continually sacrificing ourselves out of love for our neighbor even without all of the sophistication and efficiency which technology and government subsidies can provide. We seek to serve man as he is in God's eyes. Our hope should be to join Christ Who prophesied that lifted up on the Cross He would draw all to himself. 

What do we do in the face of hostility? Maybe we'll know better if we stop balking at accepting our share in the sufferings of Christ, Who gave His life for our salvation.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cognition and Contemplation

Last evening on EWTN's The Journey Home, Marcus Grodi and his guest reflected together or maybe we could say they struggled together with a distinction between faith and recognition, which Marcus had gleaned from an English spiritual author. The two men applied it to a common experience of converts to the Catholic faith, namely, that they come to faith, they experience a conversion, but having been part of a protestant tradition, they still have a way to go to reach the expansiveness, the fullness of Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles. The classic example or illustration of this distinction between faith and recognition comes regarding the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They also applied the distinction in reverse to "cradle" Catholics saying that the recognition is there as habit and is a good thing, but sometimes the faith is deficient or lacking.

I don't want to challenge either them or that English bishop author (whose name escaped me for its unfamiliarity) concerning their distinction, but I'm wondering whether some of the guest's cautious observations about his actual conversion process and the fact that the priest who prepared him for reception into the Catholic Church seemed to be in no hurry might indicate a more essential way to describe our walk of faith, whether by way of conversion from another Christian expression to the Catholic or by way of growth in the faith of our baptism. The guest on the program hazarded the suspicion that the priest was waiting to see humility in his seeker before proceeding. My guess is that Father was a wise man who was looking for signs of the life of virtue, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the only sure signs we have, presided over first and foremost by genuine humility, the only indicators we have of holiness of life, of zeal for the Lord and His Rule.

As Catholics we know that the goal of a life of penance, penitential practice, asceticism is the cultivation of the virtues. Turning our backs on vice or self-indulgence to seek the Lord and His Rule over us, "spiritual combat" as my friend Lorenzo Scupoli called it, is right, is the only good in terms of living uprightly. We are constantly gifted by God and to the extent (a bow in the direction of St. John of the Cross and our whole tradition!) that the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity conquer Satan's pride in our lives, the Lord gifts us again and again with the contemplation of His Face, of the Mysteries, of the great Truths by which only we can live.

Something I read these days in conjunction with the annual celebration of the Baptism of the Rus and the instrumental role of St. Volodomyr in that process, which has marked more than a millennium of people so profoundly that no amount of political machinations and oppression over time have been able to diminish altogether or completely destroy that soul, led me to think again about my own roots of faith and the crisis of faith generally in Western society. Cognition is certainly part of faith; faith and reason belong together. There is a teaching of prayers, a learning of Catechism which must be, but salting that with the "rousing" Sundays of animated parishes of the last 40 years is not enough. The full sacramental life, from childhood on, with the Sacrament of Penance under the vigilance of parents who want their children to be holy/virtuous is a sine qua non. Mom and Dad's faith, hope and charity, their daily prayer and personal sacrifices born out of love are indispensable. The reform of our Catholic Liturgy, the recovery of its sobriety and beauty, securing sacred space and guaranteeing it for Sunday must be.

We've been too distracted and for too long. I hope and pray that no more souls will be lost to our failure, yes to recognize the pearl of great price and sell all to obtain it. Maybe more in line with the tradition and more to the point would be to recognize, unworthy as we are, the responsibility we have for leading others especially children to the Lord by drawing them out, educating them, helping them to choose life and in abundance from God, the source of all good. Beyond faith, what Marcus and his guest termed recognition is contemplation as gifted to the virtuous, who humbly recognize the Lord as the be all and end all of our lives.