Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Passion according to St. Mark

This year (Year B) in the three year cycle of our lectionary, for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, the Gospel Reading before the procession with palm branches and the Passion account itself are from the Gospel of St. Mark. As I prepared myself for tomorrow morning, for some reason, I asked what is different about the account from St. Mark chosen for this day. I found three striking differences from the prescribed Passion accounts, both for Year A from St. Matthew and for Year C from St. Luke.

Only the Palm Sunday account of St. Mark begins with the Anointing at Bethany; only St. Mark concludes with the account of the Deposition and of Jesus' burial; only St. Mark mentions the disturbing incident of the young man wrapped in a sheet following from Gethsemane, who when seized by Jesus' captors, drops the cloth and runs off naked into the darkness.

I think it would be wrong to build a Palm Sunday homily around commenting on these peculiarities of the account of St. Mark. In churchgoing societies, Palm Sunday is the one sure annual exposure for most people to the Passion of our Lord. People don't all make it to church on Good Friday to hear the reading of the Passion according to St. John.  The first and second readings on this Palm Sunday do not change; they are the same in all three years and understandably so, as they work most eloquently to mediate the central message of the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The preacher should take his cue as to what is most important from them.

If I had to say something about these three "peculiarities" of the account from St. Mark, I would speak of my impression that all three highlight humble followers: "a woman", "a young man", Joseph of  Arimathea, Mary Magdalen and Mary the mother of Joses. As followers, they are witnesses and perhaps something more: the woman by her anointing of His Body, the young man who failed in his intention to follow Jesus to judgment and fled in fright, those who took down His lifeless Body from the Cross and laid Him in the Tomb. Their actions all seem helpless gestures in the face of events centered upon the Person of Christ and of which He alone is the Protagonist. All we can say is that none of these witnesses nor their efforts has been forgotten, neither in St. Mark's Gospel nor in the Mind of Christ.

St. Gregory Nazianzen in a pre-Passover homily (2nd Reading from today's Office) invites us to see our role in our following, in our witnessing through sharing in the great events of the Passion of Christ:

“I will say more: we must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.

  If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.

  If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshiped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.”

O Jesus, by Thy Passion
Thy Life in us increase...
Thy Death for us did fashion
Our Pardon and our Peace. 


Friday, March 30, 2012

God, The Living God!

 I'm beginning to think that if I could recreate myself I'd wish to be a scholar of St. Augustine. As that is folly, I'll do second best, and marvel time and again at certain treasures of his that I wish I had discovered when I was 40 years younger! 

What do you make of that phenomenon called atheism, when you come across such lines as these at the opening of St. Augustine's commentary on Psalm 14?

"2. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" (ver. 1). For not even have certain sacrilegious and abominable philosophers, who entertain perverse and false notions of God, dared to say, "There is no God." Therefore it is, hath said "in his heart;" for that no one dares to say it, even if he has dared to think it. "They are corrupt, and become abominable in their affections:" that is, whilst they love this world and love not God; these are the affections which corrupt the soul, and so blind it, that the fool can even say, "in his heart, There is no God."  [St. Augustine (2010-03-28). St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms ( Psalm XIV; Kindle Locations 2408-2413). Kindle Edition.]

 The great and saintly Bishop of Hippo cannot be accused of naivete; he had, as his Confessions attest, been "around the block". Perhaps we need to tremble more when we encounter "atheists" today, relying on the diagnosis of the great Doctor of the Church and seeing such souls really as corrupt and only (?) therefore so foolish as to deny God? In doing so, I think we might appreciate better the dangers to the soul of anyone given over to practical atheism, of living for the day (carpe diem), of living as if there were no God. Such is dissolute living and perhaps draws the soul closer to the edge of the abyss than debauchery?

There is no doubt in my mind behind the method to the madness of the Bolsheviks and Soviets here in this part of the world, who for decades raged and foamed at the mouth over simple folk who insisted on praying. I often think of the etymology of the Italian word for "bad": cattivo, as from the Latin captivus diaboli, in the grasp, a captive of the devil. I think we need to pray harder for those who lose their faith than the Forgiving Father in Luke 15 must have prayed for the return home of his Prodigal Son.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All!

St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 85, found in the 2nd Reading for the Office of this Wednesday of the 5th Week of Lent, caught me off guard and specifically this paragraph:

“We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.”

Jesus, Truly God and Truly Man: our world is more apt to have the opposite problem with Him from that of St. Augustine’s world. We are more apt to be “at a loss” at the juxtaposition of our notion of Jesus and seeing Him as He is, as God. Why is that so, as I think it is? I think a lot of contemporary Catholics are shook when constrained to say "Jesus" and "God" in the same breath. Why is that? Why are we so different from St. Augustine's people? Please note that I am speaking about a propensity, even though I could for some be discussing an error, a heresy, a denial of the fullness of the truth about the God Who made us and saved us in Christ.

It is not the case, you say? Maybe it is not your case? I don't know. My suspicion is that St. Augustine's people were thoroughly evangelized, rightly catechized; Jesus was indeed God for them, God the Son, and their struggle was to see Him as One like us in all things but sin, to see Him as Truly Man. My thesis would be that we on the other hand are less than rightly catechized. There are lots of components that go into that thesis and most of them take their point of departure from how we behave in church. I think that our sense of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our Tabernacles has been eroded. Some of it is attributable to contemporary church design and decoration, artwork if you will, or the poverty thereof. Some of it stems from the lack of rigor or total failure to teach proper decorum for our behavior in church. Most people would have no idea of my reference if I were to recall how "three point landings" were anathematized when I was a child: "Standing, sitting or kneeling up straight, but no three point landings, please!" Sister or Father would say. Church was serious business and any child will tell you that serious business is not oppressive; there is a distinction.

Apart from St. Augustine, what got me started on this line of thinking were two things: the genuflection prescribed for the Et Verbum Caro Factum Est in the Creed on the Solemnity of the Annunciation and a few frightful YouTube video moments of oriental drumming from Los Angeles, which were supposed to be tied to prayer or liturgy? What can I say? Water and oil only mix for as long as you keep agitating them.

Appeals for liturgical decorum, for silence in church, for beauty and good order are more than matters of taste or style. Is it any wonder that many people today are "at a loss" when it comes to confessing Jesus as Truly God?

Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All,
How can I love Thee as I ought?
Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore!
O make us love Thee more and more!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid!

In the body of Christian literature, in our treasury of writings really, there is no small amount of counsel offered to potential martyrs as to how they should behave: when to flee and when to stand up and be counted, if you will. The bulk of the advice given over the centuries is far from what might be classed suicidal or breakneck. A constant concern would be whether the individual or the given Christian community is ready or able to receive the grace of martyrdom from God’s Hand.

No doubt those who are well versed in the lives of the saints will be able to prove the lie of what I am about to affirm, and namely, that martyrs generally are not solo virtuosos. Christian martyrs are not lone rangers. Apart their life already prior being one of communion with God, we have countless examples of martyrs over the centuries accompanied to their supreme witness of faith by the community of faith itself. I'll just mention the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch on the road to Rome and his execution for the crime of being a Christian leader. In fact, when dealing with those whose witness was indeed solitary the Church often anguishes over long years before issuing a decree attesting to that martyrdom.

To a less extreme degree, we can say the same of confessors and doctors of the faith. If they were controversial, if their witness to the faith which comes to us from the Apostles was solitary, we’re sometimes hard pressed to give them their due, whether during their lifetime or thereafter. Scripture gives us the credentials for recognizing a prophet and characteristic of their message is that it have more of the condemning than the consoling tone to it. The community is generally condemned for its exaltation of preachers who tickle their fancy. Even so it would be hard to find a saintly prophet who has never found at least one place, one community, a house or a city where he was welcome.

Europe these days (Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia) are listed by some reporters as hot spots where numbers of Catholics are standing behind renegade priests demanding the option to marry or regularize de facto living situations in violation of Church precept and their ordination promises, as well as to admit those to Holy Communion who are openly and publicly cohabiting outside of marriage (call it “remarriage” or a civil union to spite the law of the Church, which upholds the prior sacramental marriage bond). The press talks all of this up, of course, and no doubt every journalist has a personal agenda in reporting such instances of rebellion. One almost gets the feeling that if you want to be a faithful Catholic or a priest holding to the fullness of truth which comes to us from the Apostles, then you’ll be going it alone, at least in certain parts of Europe.

Personally, I don’t believe it's that bad. It is not the case that such rebellions universally or even extensively touch regular Catholics; these people might be vocal and aggressive but they are still fringe. The light of the fullness of truth will not be eclipsed by either the darkness of some people's desperation, or some priests' self-pity or the self-indulgence of those who don't really pray. Today’s Gospel (John 5:31-47) for Thursday of the 4th Week of Lent brought light and encouragement to my day early on:

“‘Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid; but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is valid. You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth: not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this. John was a lamp alight and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave. But my testimony is greater than John’s: the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself. You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape, and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one he has sent. ‘You study the scriptures, believing that in them you have eternal life; now these same scriptures testify to me, and yet you refuse to come to me for life! As for human approval, this means nothing to me. Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you. I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else comes in his own name you will accept him. How can you believe, since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God? Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you place your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be your accuser. If you really believed him you would believe me too, since it was I that he was writing about; but if you refuse to believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?’”

Even the Son of God, Jesus Who spoke with authority and not like the Scribes and Pharisees, had His share of refusals and opposition. We His disciples can expect no different and should not be surprised by weeds amongst the wheat, that by His Will must remain until harvest. Meantime we need to make no secret of our adherence to the truth.

The burden on bishops in all of this is awesome, I know. But no priest and no lay person can excuse himself or herself of posing the question to the hard of heart and posing it over and over again: "But what does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say? What is and has always been the teaching of the Church in this matter?"

The rub in all of this, and hence my opening reference to preparation for martyrdom, is we cannot pretend to defend our faith without being slapped down and spit upon... Praise be Jesus Christ, our King!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Transformation unto Sacred

"In music, the transformation of elements of our ordinary world conveys the message that our ordinary lives can also be transformed. The hitch is: what if the incorporation of music into the liturgy does not involve a discernible transformation? What if the use of styles clearly identifiable with worldly and secular purposes retain their identity in liturgical use? Is the message, then, that there is no transformation? that the secular life-styles are all that there is? I would contend that this is the danger of the present use of secular styles, since the instruments they use, their vocal styling, their simplistic musical construction all retain their secular identity. Rather, it is crucial that whatever musical styles are used in the liturgy, there be clear elements of their sacralization, that their incorporation is unambiguously for the sake of transformation into something sacred. The regular use of a few pieces of Gregorian chant and of sacred polyphony can be enough to signal that difference, to inspire a congregation to higher purposes in their participation in the liturgy."

Mahrt, William Peter (2012-01-16). The Musical Shape of the Liturgy (Kindle Locations 6406-6413).  . Kindle Edition.

For someone who sees worship as, yes, communal or cooperative, but in a linear or vertical sense, giving "the sacred" pride of place in church is only too right. "Sunday-go-to-meeting" is not Catholic and when we try it, it ends up never more than social and a necessarily foreign and shallow prayer. We're made differently. You might say that if we've been properly brought up in the faith and immersed in genuine Catholic culture, then we are indeed Augustinian... our hearts are restless unless we rest in the Lord. Church, Sunday is for the sublime; it is for the sacred, that which has been set aside for God's service, for the service of the One Who alone is truly Holy.

Pushing the Music Agenda

"In encouraging the participation of the entire congregation in the music of the liturgy, there is an important principle: “singing means singing the Mass, not just singing during Mass.” The participation of the people is all the more authentic when they are singing the central and essential parts of the liturgy. This applies particularly to the Ordinary of the Mass, for two principal reasons. First of all, the people’s parts of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) are generally liturgical actions in and of themselves, and not the accompaniment of another action."
Mahrt, William Peter (2012-01-16). The Musical Shape of the Liturgy (Kindle Locations 4304-4309).  . Kindle Edition.

In Mahrt's book, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, which I consider to be one of the bright moments of the liturgical reform/restoration discussion (cf. Mutual Enrichment ), the author makes an important distinction between music in our tradition intended to accompany actions (like processions) and music which is in and of itself an action. Without being too bullish or intimidating about it for us poor priests who die a thousand deaths every time we think about solo singing ourselves in church, Mahrt makes the point that the apex of Latin Rite liturgy is indeed the Solemn Sung Mass. That for background to contextualize the above quote!

In the light of the publication of the 2nd Una Voce discussion paper on the 1962 Missal, Liturgical Piety and Participation , I think it is very important to point out that our "assisting" at Mass, our "active participation" is a reasoned sort of thing which goes far beyond some kind of "doing". Chant Cafe (Jeffrey Tucker) had recently invited analysis of an article published by Fr. Peter Schineller, SJ, in America Magazine about the Jesuit's revisiting the EF and not being able to find his way back to that way of worshipping. Some of what appears in Father's article is a defense of the OF parish status quo relative to active participation and it strikes me as un-reflective or emotive defensiveness and no more. His wanting to go and see is little more than a literary contrivance setting the stage for the statement of an a priori rejection of our lived liturgical patrimony as expressed in the EF.

As I say, apart from my own fear of "flying" (unaccompanied solo singing), I think that what Mahrt advocates as a Sunday Worship Music Program would be far less demanding and more enriching for priest and people than the usual parish hymnody. Just as for most people the "And with your spirit" hurdle proved imaginary or contrived, so I think that moving people from hymn singing to doing what Mahrt rightly states to be the congregation's parts ( Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei ) and working on a choir or schola for the Mass propers (Introit, Gradual, Communion) might shock any honest man or woman into discovering that all of a sudden they are getting more out of Mass because they are into the flow of it as it was always meant to be.

I think that some people really ought to read Mahrt's book and find the wherewithal for "jumping the music hurdle"... And with your spirit!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Personal and Communal Conversion for Evangelization

 RORATE CAELI calls attention to a powerful address given by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in France and reported in English translation in full by Paix Liturgique. It is entitled The Extraordinary Form and the New Evangelization .  I really think people should read the full text, but here is the concluding part of the talk, which to say that I find it thought provoking is an understatement:

"The five wounds of the Church’s liturgical body I have mentioned are crying out for healing. They represent a rupture that one may compare to the exile in Avignon. The situation of so sharp a break in an expression of the Church’s life is far from unimportant—back then the absence of the popes from Rome, today the visible break between the liturgy before and after the Council. This situation indeed cries out for healing.

For this reason we need new saints today, one or several Saint Catherines of Sienna. We need the “vox populi fidelis” demanding the suppression of this liturgical rupture. The tragedy in all of this is that, today as back in the time of the Avignon exile, a great majority of the clergy, especially in its higher ranks, is content with this rupture.

Before we can expect efficacious and lasting fruits from the new evangelization, a process of conversion must get under way within the Church. How can we call others to convert while, among those doing the calling, no convincing conversion towards God has yet occurred, internally or externally? The sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of adoration of Christ, the greatest mystery of the Faith, the most sublime act of adoration is celebrated in a closed circle where people are looking at each other.

What is missing is “conversio ad Dominum.” It is necessary, even externally and physically. Since in the liturgy Christ is treated as though he were not God, and he is not given clear exterior signs of the adoration that is due to God alone because the faithful receive Holy Communion standing and, to boot, take it into their hands like any other food, grasping it with their fingers and placing it into their mouths themselves. There is here a sort of Eucharistic Arianism or Semi-Arianism.

One of the necessary conditions for a fruitful new evangelization would be the witness of the entire Church in the public liturgical worship. It would have to observe at least these two aspects of Divine Worship:

1) Let the Holy Mass be celebrated the world over, even in the ordinary form, in an internal and therefore necessarily also external “conversio ad Dominum”.
2) Let the faithful bend the knee before Christ at the time of Holy Communion, as Saint Paul demands when he mentions the name and person of Christ (see Phil 2:10), and let them receive Him with the greatest love and the greatest respect possible, as befits Him as true God.

Thank God, Benedict XVI has taken two concrete measures to begin the process of a return from the liturgical Avignon exile, to wit the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the reintroduction of the traditional Communion rite.

There still is need for many prayers and perhaps for a new Saint Catherine of Sienna for the other steps to be taken to heal the five wounds on the Church’s liturgical and mystical body and for God to be venerated in the liturgy with that love, that respect, that sense of the sublime that have always been the hallmark of the Church and of her teaching, especially in the Council of Trent, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei, Vatican II in its Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and Pope Benedict XVI in his theology of the liturgy, in his liturgical magisterium, and in the Motu Proprio mentioned above.

No one can evangelize unless he has first adored, or better yet unless he adores constantly and gives God, Christ the Eucharist, true priority in his way of celebrating and in all of his life. Indeed, to quote Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: “It is in the treatment of the liturgy that the fate of the Faith and of the Church is decided.”

Bishop Athanasius Schneider,
Réunicatho, 15 January 2012

In a way, life is easier for me here in Ukraine because Holy Communion is normally distributed by intinction and hence on the tongue. I had the privilege of distributing Holy Communion in the Latin Cathedral of Lviv on 1 February, for the opening of the jubilee celebration for the 600th anniversary of the translation of the episcopal see from Halych to Lviv. In the front part of the Cathedral where there are no pews, everyone kneels where they are for Communion and the priest comes around.

When Bishop Schneider speaks of "conversio ad Dominum" as a prerequisite for the new evangelization and links the physical turning "ad Orientem" to the change of heart, suggesting that linear worship focused on the Lord is apiece with such a conversion, he offers us a worthy insight and a challenge.

What renders the firmness and determination of the  Bishop most credible for me is his paralleling it to the Avignon exile of the Papacy and the intervention of St. Catherine of Siena to return the Pope to Rome. As then, so now, the decision to return will be made on high... and with much fear and trembling. We dare not repeat the violence of the 1970's which brought this rupture to be.



Liturgy and Music

Although I am personally too much of a music illiterate to get the maxim benefit out of the sections of this book referring to chant and polyphony, I have to agree with the reviews that this book is a real blockbuster and the perfect gift for any church musician. If the church musician himself or herself buys the book and likes it, they should share it with their priests. Priests who are musically illiterate (like me) should still read the first and last parts of this wonderful book.

What I like best about it, after reading the book of Laszlo Dobszay (Part I and Part II), is that William Mahrt brings you almost to where Dobszay wanted to go with liturgical renewal, but without confrontation, upheaval or anguish. He's a man after my own heart.

As I am able, I'll comment on a couple of fine ideas from that book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

No Regrets

Whether to class it a transgression against Lenten sobriety or not, I don't know, but I just finished reading the most enjoyable book to cross my path in an awful long time:
Georg Ratzinger 
My Brother, the Pope 
As told to Michael Hesemann 
Translated by Michael J. Miller 

(2012-02-17). My Brother, The Pope. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Although my commitments would not allow me to read it through in one sitting, I confess I found the book hard to set down. Thrillers and who-done-it's can be so spell-binding I know, but what I found irresistible about the latest Ratzinger interview book was the finely drawn and over a lifetime family portrait which Michael Hesemann has helped Msgr. Georg Ratzinger gift to the world.

 As odd as it may sound, we can be very thankful that the youngest son of this family became Pope such that we could have occasion to know his world, starting from his lovely family. I cannot envy him his world, strikingly beautiful as it is; I can only thank him profoundly for sharing it with me.

I sure hope this book gets a wide reading. It can reassure the older of us and teach the younger of us about family, faith and friendship.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Flower for you on your day!

The Second Reading of the Office from the 2nd Saturday in Lent, From the treatise on Flight from the World by Saint Ambrose, bishop, labeled “Hold fast to God, the one true good”, captivated me this morning and channeled a rush of thoughts which have been mine and I've been trying to sort out now for some time. Permit me a rather lengthy excerpt:

“Where a man’s heart is, there is his treasure also. God is not accustomed to refusing a good gift to those who ask for one. Since he is good, and especially to those who are faithful to him, let us hold fast to him with all our soul, our heart, our strength, and so enjoy his light and see his glory and possess the grace of supernatural joy. Let us reach out with our hearts to possess that good, let us exist in it and live in it, let us hold fast to it, that good which is beyond all we can know or see and is marked by perpetual peace and tranquility, a peace which is beyond all we can know or understand.
This is the good that permeates creation. In it we all live, on it we all depend. It has nothing above it; it is divine. No one is good but God alone. What is good is therefore divine, what is divine is therefore good. Scripture says: When you open your hand all things will be filled with goodness. It is through God’s goodness that all that is truly good is given us, and in it there is no admixture of evil. …
Since God is our refuge, God who is in heaven and above the heavens, we must take refuge from this world in that place where there is peace, where there is rest from toil, where we can celebrate the great sabbath, as Moses said: The sabbaths of the land will provide you with food. To rest in the Lord and to see his joy is like a banquet, and full of gladness and tranquility.”

Such words, despite our shortcomings, bring joy and encouragement to a believer’s heart. They cannot help but be tainted or better certainly tinged with a bit of anxiousness as we who believe in the Creator and Redeemer of the world wonder about their impact on a massive part of that world made up of nominal Catholics or Christians, not to mention the omnipresent throng still not washed clean of sin in the waters of Baptism and still very much in the grasp of a supposed light-bearer (Lucifer), who is none at all.

My thoughts, as I say, have been filled with "what if's" about (among other things) a certain democratic (?) administration's dogged determination to engineer society and press certain goals even if it means denying certain fundamental human rights and destroying really while they are at it space in general society for truth and human dignity, and either corrupting entirely or banning the Catholic Church from the public square in the course of getting it done. How do you confront such a power play? Do you stage a revolution? Stalin, they say, was capable of calculating his chances of success on the basis of a head count of the divisions at his enemy's disposal. A liberal establishment is pushing ahead confident in their own head count I am sure. Do we shout? Do we rebel? Will our appeal to the masses succeed? Can we muster the "troops" at the ballot box, given that the wily liberal establishment is convinced we do not and cannot command the numbers needed to make a difference?

I think we would do better to rest in the Lord, that is, once we've made our appeal and made our stance known, to take refuge in the Lord, font of love, beauty itself, source of all truth. Let me anticipate your question and respond that I really do not understand why such an approach like that of St. Ambrose is referred to as "flight from the world". Conceding to anyone or to any group of people or nation a fairly successful record of fighting tyranny, even so the victory of truth lies elsewhere, it does indeed lie in God's hand, it is His gift. Taking up arms and revolting against wrong is not in and of itself the way things are concluded. I cannot help but note that the most positive balance (one year later) I have heard and that anyone is drawing from the "Arab Spring" is that the cards have been reshuffled. Things will not necessarily be better with the further passage of time just because of those clashes and that bloodshed of now over a year ago. The "gods" don't necessarily demand their sacrifice. These uprisings do not depart much from patterns of revolution (for the good or for the bad) which have recurred over the course of centuries now starting with the French Revolution, where even guillotines didn't help much ultimately in clearing the playing floor in the contest for the minds and hearts of people, and for the sake of the triumph of justice and of truth.

Is there not more good out there than one would be led to believe? Certainly! Hence, while on the one hand it seems a tragedy to be resigned to the tyranny of that which is lowest in the human spirit, on the other hand I really can't point to enduring accomplishments from any revolution nor can I sustain a theory about some type of butterfly effect from every smile or good deed done. Mine is not a naive discourse on human perfectibility, but an invitation to reasoned discourse as preferable to armed clashes and ethnic cleansing for the sake of furthering a cause. My witness by a holy life to the primacy of God in the world He created and saved is more eloquent than standing on the barricades and shouting, no matter how youthful and sincere my posture.

International Women's Day (March 8) is a national holiday in Ukraine; the next day (March 9) is the birthday of Ukraine's great patriot, Taras Shevchenko (2012 marks his 198th birth anniversary). Both events are celebrated here with flowers or better with a flower. On the street these days almost every lady was carrying on her way, but different than usual, on her day she was clutching her flower. Yesterday, Shevchenko's monument in front of the university which bears his name was surrounded by national flags and flowers. My own personal reading of these days, speeches and advertising aside, is a positive one. I am genuinely impressed by all of the tender and truly noble sentiment I have encountered in passing, viewing strangers on the street, and in brief exchanges with people, citizens, speaking their mind especially about what Taras Shevchenko means to them.

In the course of our education, we learned about people like Cincinnatus, who left off on plowing his field to answer the call of the Roman Senate to defend his people and when the job accomplished he returned to his plowing, or like the so-called philosopher king, who would govern his people best. Since we have not here a lasting dwelling place, I suppose some would find it sufficient to continue organizing ourselves for voting out, throwing out or rebelling against tyrants or those who do not rule in the best interests of their people. I don't think that Taras Shevchenko would have made a very good "president for life"; his gift to his people and to the world was another and far more precious; it was a timeless gift as well. One need only take up his writings again to appreciate the wisdom of a true patriot and the noble love for country yet today this man can continue to foster for the building up of a people.

A flower doesn't necessarily resolve domestic tensions or even guarantee full respect for the dignity of women; one man's poetry and thought is not a blueprint for the life of the nation. They are both great, however, in their own way. Such goodness, such greatness needs more cultivation. I firmly believe that what I advocate is not quietism. It is obviously subversive, as it has always provoked the wrath of the Stalins of this world, bearers of a light which is none but their own.

" Let us reach out with our hearts to possess that good, let us exist in it and live in it, let us hold fast to it, that good which is beyond all we can know or see and is marked by perpetual peace and tranquility, a peace which is beyond all we can know or understand."


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Concelebration, Archaeology and Beauty

My friends at NLM were among those who highlighted the ZENIT report on the paper Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera delivered, on March 5th, at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, presenting Msgr. Guillaume Derville's work, La concélébration eucharistique. Du symbole à la réalité (Eucharistic Concelebration: From Symbol To Reality).

By chance I found and read on the internet Msgr. Derville’s work as it had appeared in the Annales theologici – 2009 – 2 of the University. It is an academic exercise and a well done first effort at scholarship. The Cardinal’s presentation of the new book edition of the thesis is inspiring as well. The whole business, however, including some of the expressions of disappointment on the part of a few commentators (also on a French blog) calling for restrictions or regulations on concelebration, left me dumbfounded.

Very simply, I too (albeit for different reasons than the discontent) am at a loss as to what to do with a couple conclusions the Cardinal has drawn starting from Msgr. Derville’s work: “At the same time, and without falling into a ingenuous “archaeologism”, it does provide us with enough information to be able to state that concelebration, in the genuine tradition of the Church, whether eastern or western, is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the Bishop or his delegate, surrounded by his presbyterium and by the entire community of the faithful. But the daily concelebrations of priests only ... do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition… Moreover, the author seems to me to succeed fully when he examines in depth the underlying reasons mentioned by the Council for extending concelebration. This widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the Council texts. And it is logical that it should be so: the purpose of concelebration is not to solve problems of logistics or organization, but rather to make the Paschal mystery present...”

 Perhaps the Cardinal has in mind "moderating (?)" those gigantic concelebrations at Masses in sports stadiums? There are definitely some aesthetic issues which must be faced when to protect his bald head from the sun a priest resorts to a ball cap or a straw hat during Mass, concelebrant or not. For the rest, praxis around the world is uneven. I can remember being in Salzburg over 20 years ago for the episcopal ordination of the Archbishop; most of the Austrian bishops did not concelebrate; they were in choir, vested in mitre and cope and laid on hands and prayed the consecratory prayer over the ordinand. The bulk of the German bishops during my 8 years there assisted in choir dress at the public liturgies celebrated on the occasion of meetings of the German Episcopal Conference. In many U.S. dioceses all of the priests have matching concelebration vestments; they look great and carry themselves well not only at the annual Chrism Mass but for ordinations as well.

My point is, that I guess there are other issues: orientation, rubrics, sacred music... which I would like to see faced head on and sooner, as I fear "archaeologism" is not only a nostalgic recreation from insufficient data of a supposed idyllic liturgical form from pre-Carolingian times.

With the scarcity of priests today, in your average diocese there is little call for weekday concelebration. Most priests, even chancery officers, also have parish or chaplaincy duties. I think approvingly of Msgr. Derville’s mention of sick, frail and elderly priests who draw such joy from being able to concelebrate as they lack the strength and/or sight to celebrate on their own. I think of retirement homes for priests, Nunciatures and priests' houses for curial workers in Rome or national seminaries and colleges where concelebration isn't really a question of logistics or organization but rather offers occasion for priestly communities (let me use understatement) to pray together.

Back before the introduction of the Missal of Pope Paul VI, which we are now using in its 3rd edition, I can remember serving the priest's Mass sine populo. Celebrating Mass without at least one server back then would have been unthinkable. As 8th grade boys, we had our week by turns as cathedral sacristan. We got to the cathedral at 6:00 a.m. and set up vestments and all for the first Mass (Low Mass) at 6:45 a.m. by one of the assistants at the High Altar and then set up and served the director of Catholic Charities Mass at Mary's Altar, before preparing everything for Monsignor's daily High Mass with the children's choir for 8:00 a.m. In college yet, we had two elderly priests in the house who celebrated privately and there was always a seminarian vested to serve each of those Masses each day. Despite all of the care and assistance provided in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, I wonder if the sacristy there could manage if every priest who came in every morning to celebrate were to celebrate individually, that is, if concelebration were to be "moderated". Maybe priests shouldn't go on pilgrimage in such great numbers to Rome?

There has indeed been a rupture with our tradition, but restoring the countless number of Low Masses sine populo of another era requires a restoration of Catholic life. I wonder if there are enough home-schooled boys to pick up the slack?

While no one should be deprived of the possibility of celebrating his Mass, I think we must consider the boost of that set time and that brother priest or two with the same commitment. I hope in my younger years my concelebration encouraged my nuncios; I have often in the meantime been edified and confirmed in my devotion by the young priests who have daily concelebrated with me.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

To the Heights of Moriah and Tabor

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Romans 8:31b-34
Mark 9:2-10

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? 
Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died - or, rather, was raised - who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us." [Romans 8:31b-34]

For this Second Sunday of Lent in each year of the three year lectionary cycle, the Church yokes a different Old Testament passage referring to Abraham to a synoptic account of the Transfiguration. In Year B we are on top of Mount Moriah where Abraham obediently prepares to fulfill God's command and sacrifice his only son Isaac, the son of the promise. On both Moriah and Tabor God sheds light on His Will for our salvation in most striking ways. We really should let ourselves be dumbfounded by this all. The yoking, the juxtaposing in the light of these couple sentences from the Second Reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans is enough upon reflection and discovery to confound us more perhaps than Peter, James and John were overwhelmed by what they were witnessing.

How do we, how do I paint myself into the scene? That's really what we are called to do, I think: find our place in the action of Moriah/Tabor. We certainly have course to contemplate from close up the son of Abraham and the Son of God and to contemplate their predicament and ultimate risk facing the Will of Almighty God. We can see them both, Isaac to a lesser degree and Jesus fully so, as bearers of the promise for us who are in no way excluded or intruding, but invited into the scene.

Granted, the Church Fathers generally spoke of Moriah and Sion or Calvary in the same breath, and tradition would have them as one and the same place of sacrifice. Nonetheless, Tabor and Moriah are indeed one, however, as neither Abraham nor Peter, James and John are to be written out of the scene, out of this great teaching about God's love for us, His chosen ones, demonstrated through the sacrifice of His one and only Son. The lesson is certainly about time and eternity, about the recovery by the new Adam, at the Place of the Skull, of God's order in God's love. 

Certainly, the Second Sunday of Lent is there to strengthen us all to face the scandal of the Cross, to assure us of God's love for us in the Sacrifice of His Son. Any and every Sunday Eucharist is an experience on the heights of Moriah and Tabor; this Sunday is a special admonition never to doubt God's love. Moriah puts us back in perspective in terms not only of what be the sacrifice from creature acceptable to the Creator, but most importantly in terms of the Creator's Will to foster the creature who chooses obedience to that Will. With Tabor we pass through the veil of the flesh into a Tabernacle not made by human hands, once and for all assured of God's love beyond all telling and for all times.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I've been drawn back time and again this week to thinking about Jesus in the desert, back to the Gospel from the 1st Sunday of Lent (Year B - St. Mark) and especially to the first two sentences:

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him."

This propensity of mine was propelled, you might say, in part by a couple of chance discussions with friends and acquaintances in these days. What they shared and in two cases who they are have me thinking about "solitude", not loneliness, not isolation, but solitude. The older I get, the longer I live, the more often I experience older people suffering from loneliness. Experience has taught me even before death separates life-long partners in marriage and dear friends, that younger people can find themselves very much alone in the midst of life. There is just too much good video or film imagery out there of the man or woman very much alone in the crowd for me to want to elaborate any more. Struggling with loneliness, however, is not my interest today, but rather solitude as part of life, as an occasion, an opportunity for growth and self-realization.

"He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him."

Decades ago TWA advertised travel packages know as "TWA Get Away Tours". They were terribly popular once upon a time and I can remember any number of Americans traveling to Europe who went that route. The name of the tours took its cue from a kind of existentialist or dreamy wish to escape the hectic and get away from it all. I still know people who try to "get away from it all", that "all" certainly being the pressures of work, but often also general responsibilities including theirs for family. It's a mentality which can help explain the popularity of Las Vegas, I guess. In this expression the "no to whatever" seems to dominate, whereas solitude is something different and I think also fundamentally positive.

In my childhood and youth I was always puzzled by the life-style of holy hermits. They did not necessarily live the life of a recluse. Invariably they spent much of their time counselling other people and even directing the spiritual life of others. Even so, they enjoyed what I understand to be solitude. They alone before God struggled with Satan, as Jesus had in the desert, and like him they were exposed to the wilds, beast or otherwise of this world, and could count only on the ministrations of angels. Solitude is indeed being alone, but being alone with God; it is an essential and active aloneness which may be filled with work and people, not as distraction but as mission and purpose toward/unto God Himself. Solitude is not a virtue or a strength, but rather a condition, an essential part of the Christian life as trajectory toward the fullness of life and grace in the glory of the Resurrection.

Take a walk around the busy center of Kyiv or any major city where people are still out walking from here to there and you'll find out what a rare commodity solitude is. Bluetooth, ear-buds, or cell phone up to their ear and talking to someone, most people are not even alone or quiet with their own thoughts for the time from point A to point B, from the office door to the subway or bus-stop. I can remember from talks with people my age and older in Trinidad, or more often as I had occasion to meet people who were home visiting Trinidad from points north, their fond memories of something their children and grandchildren may never have known, as the joy they had known at home as small children in the presence of mommie's homespun oneness with God, her quiet humming or singing as she went about her house chores. A personal resource or richness has been supplanted in the best of scenarios by stereo recordings, but in most cases by radio and TV, banal sound and even worse advertising. 

Devout folk nowadays go on about taking a day of recollection as their day in the desert. Most good spiritual directors plead for quiet time in our lives, of fasting from phone, internet, TV, radio, facebook (need I continue the litany?). I think Jesus' forty days in the desert were something more and in the very midst of life. St. Francis de Sales was very clear on the difference in the spirituality proper to a monk or a hermit, a ruler or a family person. All, in Francis' design and each in the way proper to his or her state in life, need that alone, that solitude, which makes room for God and a coming face to face with the essential issues in struggling to establish His rule in our lives. 

In my own experience, blessed solitude is there in my life whenever I let it be. My fault and I think it a common one among folk and even priests is that we flee solitude, we fill God's chosen space with all sorts of distractions. I don't think that the remedy is to be found either in some sort of yoga or centering prayer. Truth to be told, if we were to pull the ear-buds, to stow the phone, to turn off all the image makers and sound boxes, solitude could and would come rushing into our lives, allowing us time for the ultimate and before God. I'm not recommending mental hygiene but rather really living, life with all its components, a life which enjoys solitude. 

My childhood definition of prayer is lifting heart and mind to God. The Scriptural exhortation to pray unceasingly, as St. Paul teaches and St. Augustine illustrates, is a matter not of the lips but of the heart set night and day on God. For all who believe, for all whose heart is right, all is possible if we would but renounce sin and then seek perfection by simply stepping out of the thicket of distractions, by pulling a few plugs.