Sunday, July 29, 2012

All Things not Being Equal?

This morning, by chance, I read a masterful homily of St. Augustine in which, among other things, he distinguishes clearly between a "public reprimand" and "fraternal correction", citing the Gospel basis for utmost discretion when it comes to fraternal correction:

"Let’s act like that, because that’s how we should act, not only when someone sins against us, but also when anybody’s sin is unknown to someone else. We should rebuke privately, censure privately, and not betray people by wishing to censure them publicly. What we are wanting to do is to rebuke and correct; what if some enemy of theirs wants to hear about something he can punish? A bishop, for example, knows someone or other is a murderer, and nobody else knows he is. I want to rebuke him publicly, while you are looking for a chance to bring an indictment. Well of course, I will neither give him away, nor ignore his sin. I will rebuke him privately, set God’s judgment before his eyes, terrify his bloodstained conscience, try to persuade him to repent. That is the kind of Christian charity with which we should all be equipped." (Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (pp. 133-134). New City Press. Kindle Edition.)

The great father and doctor of the Church from Hippo in North Africa sees it right to publicly denounce behavior, but argues generally against public denunciations of the one who so behaves. Apart from the exceptional clarity of his words, it would be hard to find novelty in the teaching of the great saint. St. Augustine states quite clearly that a bishop does not necessarily fulfill his shepherding task by means of public denunciation of sinners; he must teach what is right and wrong in principle, while correcting the sinner or wrongdoer in private, face to face. The Bishop of Hippo was hitting hard against the sin/crime of adultery. Maybe a pamphlet should be made of this particular sermon and pressed into the hands of not few adults in our parishes today? All things being equal, his words are immediately and universally accessible in this case yet today.

My question is, why did St. Augustine find this approach sufficient? Why for centuries did many good and excellent bishops find this to be the route to go? We're saying more than "Hate the sin; love the sinner"! We're saying that it is the will of Christ that I not be the cause of another's scandal by reason of my public denunciation of someone whose something may not generally be known. I think I'm referring to the shock and confusion of good people, holy people, smart people, who are or were 20, 30, even 50 years older than me and who over the years, while condemning the sin, expressed honest perplexity over the public wrath directed especially toward priests guilty (seemingly) of having taken advantage of others and most particularly of children and youth for their own ends. Moral outrage over the thing itself is clearly justified and its expression, we hope, will shine light into dark corners and caste out real demons. The other side of the story would seem to include good names destroyed and prison sentences wrongly imposed. In the U.S. big money has exchanged hands, seemly to ease pain or in reparation, but more credibly in many cases for the sole purpose of punishing Church institutions for silence and complicity. I remember the old bishop who ordained me, he was at the time we spoke (just an old, retired bishop and a very young priest) already I suppose 80 years of age, some thirty years ago and not that long before his death, I remember him troubled by the rage which had begun to appear on the American scene at that point, he clearly aware of what was going on, but troubled by an approach to sin/crime which St. Augustine might have found contrary to the Gospel.

We've all read the psychology and we know the lies of the predator unwilling or unable to change his ways. Knowing too the shadow world in which much of this takes place, thinking of the story of Daniel and Susannah's virtue and how rapid the turnaround among the people once God spoke through the boy, then visiting upon wicked old men, whom they knew to be so but found no way to denounce or condemn until a child condemned them with the words of their own mouths, then how do we today justify the rage? The other day on YouTube, I happened across some old Bolshevik or Communist propaganda films denouncing the wicked ways of Czarist Russia and the complicity of the Russian Orthodox Church of such dissolute living, such hypocrisy on the backs of the poor. There was certainly some truth to what was displayed, but the object of such public (newsreel) denunciation was to destroy the establishment and take over the public square in its place. There followed under Soviet regime not only the killings and banishment to Siberia of the Old Guard, but for godless ends also the extermination under first Lenin and then Stalin of millions of those same poor now themselves vilified as impediments to the progress of the great socialist state.

I think each of us has a role to play in turning the page, in reestablishing proper measure in society and in human relations. We do not wish to be the accomplice to anyone's sin, nor the unknowing accomplices to the agendas of our world's new godless, who would only tear down rather than build and plant. Some say it is too little, but more than any other approach I get excited about all the good I see in the homeschooling movement and the vitality which it encourages in children, the first of who have now come of age and are making life choices. Chesterton and many others have argued for a smaller, familial, more interpersonal approach to building society. Being myself from relatively a small-town background, I have never ceased to marvel at how intimate and person-to-person big city neighborhoods are. Family and folk written small are indeed the building blocks not necessarily of what is great but of what is true, good and beautiful. Playing strange as most folks do today is indeed "playing" and far from real or reasonable.

We cannot live without the words of Christ; may His Gospel reign supreme!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saint Volodymyr

The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah is, for some reason, hitting at me or at my thoughts most insistently in these days. Whether I find his message for me today impelling or haunting is hard to say. As a part for the whole let me take the 1st Reading from this Saturday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time:

The following message came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Stand at the gate of the house of the LORD, and there proclaim this message: Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD! Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I may remain with you in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: "This is the temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD!" Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land I gave your fathers long ago and forever. But here you are, putting your trust in deceitful words to your own loss! Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: "We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again?" Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I too see what is being done, says the LORD. {Jeremiah 7:1-11}

The question which arises is an old one for me, which I never quite answer to my own satisfaction: Why should the prophet's verdict go any easier on us today? Can we withdraw ourselves from the judgment of the Lord if we have little more to recommend ourselves than did Jeremiah's interlocutors at the time of the Babylonian Captivity? Maybe despite the fact that no one seems to have carried off the material treasures of the visible temple, maybe even so we find ourselves destitute and in exile? 

Just yesterday, I was troubled by the "optimism" or superficiality of an Olympic themed video apology for the Church's investing heavily in sports training as a way to recover our troubled and confused youth (see CNS). It could be that the featured chaplain is on to something, but I am rather inclined to listen to an old and respected coach who observed that sports today is little more than a mirror of that society of ours which seems to be in free fall: young individual performers with no life beyond training and competition for medals, team sports in decline, drugs, sex and violence invading the playing fields and locker rooms. At home, in the newspaper, I read a piece about a graduating senior girl who had been on her high school's boys wrestling team but was looking at a scholarship from a girls team for college; she didn't have the upper body strength for college men's wrestling, she said. Granted, it was a public high school, but this is one of  myriad examples one could cite to illustrate why "sports" is not necessarily the lighthouse pointing to the safe harbor in the midst of youthful turbulence. 

Elsewhere (Chapter 24) Jeremiah speaks of two baskets of figs: one good and one bad. The good figs would represent those carried off into exile in Babylon, now busily putting together an ordered life for themselves far from home and temple, and the bad were those left behind or clinging to the Land, the Temple and appearances. "But here you are, putting your trust in deceitful words to your own loss! Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: "We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again?" Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I too see what is being done, says the LORD."

The continued existence of the temple is not the assurance. Mark's Gospel begins with a call to repentance. I don't know how we can get around consistently, credibly pronouncing judgment in God's Name, just like a genuine Old Testament prophet, just like Jeremiah. I suppose the consumption which accompanies Olympic games, like the forty million something spent on the opening ceremony in London, may say something noble about the human spirit... Just try and convince me! Just try and argue that direct aid to alleviate suffering is a bad investment because it doesn't address the roots of the problem or problems which occasion misery.What would Jeremiah say about all the blood shed today: in abortion clinics, through euthanasia, by destabilizing regions, trading arms and drugs? Granted, many of those movers and shakers claim no need for the traditional temple, but they are not without their so-called sanctuaries.

Yesterday, in my last Ukrainian class before the summer break, my prof had me read a little story about a wise old man, wealthy, who with death approaching called his only son and handed over his money to him, telling him to travel and make homes for himself everywhere to which he might turn in time of need. Time passed and the son returned to his father, who asked him how his expedition went. The young man described having spent money to built palatial little places on every height and along every stream which suited his fancy. Old Dad lost his patience and labeled the son a fool for not having understood the import of his words and, namely, that he should have used the money to help others such that in time of need they would in turn welcome him.

I'm not going to condemn investing in sports, that would be wrong. I think I'll let Jeremiah sink in a bit more and invite my readers to do the same. Neither the stadium nor the temple as such is the guarantee of that which makes for life to the full, namely living in the presence and according to the will of the only GOD, living and true. We speak quite glibly of the "domestic Church" with little or no understanding that we, as parents or as presbyters, are responsible for mediating in that context and beyond the loving presence of the God Who made us and saved us and Who calls us to Himself in glory.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Slavery, Exodus, Discouragement and Egypt's Fleshpots

Psalm 73, 13-28

“Is it in vain that I have kept my heart pure, washed my hands in innocence?  For I am afflicted day after day, chastised every morning.  Had I thought, “I will speak as they do,” I would have betrayed this generation of your children.
Though I tried to understand all this, it was too difficult for me, till I entered the sanctuary of God and came to understand their end.  You set them, indeed, on a slippery road; you hurl them down to ruin.  How suddenly they are devastated; utterly undone by disaster!  They are like a dream after waking, Lord, dismissed like shadows when you arise.
Since my heart was embittered and my soul deeply wounded, I was stupid and could not understand; I was like a brute beast in your presence.  Yet I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand.
With your counsel you guide me, and at the end receive me with honor.  Whom else have I in the heavens? None beside you delights me on earth.  Though my flesh and my heart fail, God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
But those who are far from you perish; you destroy those unfaithful to you.  As for me, to be near God is my good, to make the Lord God my refuge.  I shall declare all your works in the gates of daughter Zion.”

 Again and again these days I have been confronted with the challenge of "what-to-do?" in the face of real discouragement in the lives of Christians (If the shepherd is not concerned or worried, who then?). By way of example: I had the joy of welcoming Archbishop Elias Chacour, Melkite Metropolitan of Akko, Nazareth and all of Galilee, as my house guest and in conversation with him I could update myself from my own experience in the Holy Land (1993-96) concerning the situation of Palestinian Christians today. Also, a chance encounter with the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad at the national pilgrimage to Our Lady of Mount Carmel here in Berdychiv followed somewhat along the same lines. For some years now, but especially today there is reason to worry about the survival of a living Christian presence in the Middle East: the Church in the Holy Land, Syria or Iraq could easily go the way of the Church in North Africa; it could dwindle to near nothing. 

Is it just a matter of persecution of Christians? While it certain is that, it is also a matter of hardships shared and the disadvantage of being the small or weak link in a taut chain. In a sense, whether we talk about a politically unsettled Middle East or about what drives people to emigrate from Ukraine (an interesting article), it is fundamentally an economic  question for young people: "How do I as a member of a disadvantaged minority or someone who is for whatever reason disenfranchised accept responsibility for the hardships I might be able to spare my children by emigrating?" It is a terribly tough question.

Reflecting on emigration or trying to resist it and keep the best and the brightest in a given place for the sake of maintaining a presence, in this case, a Catholic presence must be a very modern thing. I'm sure my great grandfather and grandmother (even if they weren't Catholic) didn't have anyone pushing them to stay in Western Norway back in the 19th Century, except perhaps family who were sad to see them go. Although my own immediate family never strayed from the Midwest of the U.S. I am sure that my own parents never took into consideration whether they owed their presence to a certain city or town when a promotion came up which required that Dad move to another place. Elias Chacour in his first book "Blood brothers" makes the case most eloquently for roots and belonging; I have a Cardinal friend in Germany who makes a powerful case for the images at the core of his being which root him in the Silesia he and his family were forced to abandon. Rootedness is to be respected and when it is violated it certainly ranks immensely great among the reasons for one's anguish. But I do not owe any personal contribution or my continued existence to any specific quadrant on this blue planet. I must not necessarily at risk of life, limb, or modest prosperity stick to any given place; I can, with family and all, move on. So many exoduses or emigrations have enriched other parts of the world.

 As I say, again and again these days I have been confronted with the challenge of "what-to-do?" in the face of real discouragement in the lives of Christians. The issue for me is not one of holding the hill or holding the banner high in any given place on earth, but rather one of being confronted more often today among fellow Catholics by discouragement, by that spiritual impoverishment, oppression or slavery to which we let ourselves fall victim, which is so unbecoming of one who has set his heart on the Lord. Why would anyone be, why do I encounter people discouraged with living the Christian life? Can discouragement come from anywhere but the Evil One, from longing to return to slavery in Egypt, to the fleshpots of that land, to wishing no more than leeks, melons and a burial plot? Perseverance in faith and in living the Christian life becomes heroic, which it is, but which in various places and times has also been the common patrimony of God's folk, be it a parish or even grander. Are we worse off today? Is there someone to blame? Can I point a finger and say "If it weren't for you we'd be prospering"? 

If the above verses from Psalm 73 seem daunting or too harsh, I think it good to remember the lot of Israel in the desert, which almost to a man became discouraged with the results of that first scouting party's survey of the Promised Land: "there are giants there... this land devours its people... we cannot hope to prevail..." and to a man, except for one who spoke up with hope in God's power to save, to a man they died in the desert and did not enter into God's Promise. Egypt was slavery, but through faithless discouragement, their slavery continued in the desert. Woe to the shepherd who does not tend the sheep, woe to the watchman who fails to sound the alarm! I really think we need to spend more time beseeching the Lord for that word which will rouse them, for that word which will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers. One cannot daydream about the fleshpot's of Egypt without becoming discourage, without sin. 

Besides all our efforts to open the treasures of faith in this upcoming Year of Faith, I think we need to call everyone to task, never ceasing to beg the Lord to unleash the power of His Word. Maybe the time of judgment has come and maybe through discouragement countless will fall in the desert rather than enter into the Kingdom. Then again, maybe the Jean Marie Vianney's of our time will do battle and recover the high ground of sanctity for our people, the fortress of prayer and devotion. Maybe nourished truly by the Bread of Heaven new warriors will take the fortress and sanctify the Temple.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting Back into Context

Let me highly recommend, over at Chant Cafe, an article by Jeffrey Tucker: Does the Ordinary Form Have a Voice .

The article stands on its own and should be read and reflected upon by a great cross section of Catholics. Jeffrey's analysis contributes effectively to indicating that which must precede what most experts consider the long term goal of mending the torn garment of our liturgical tradition. We have to move people from where they are now and at their best sometimes, namely in a well-meaning Sunday worship service whose style is a far cry from what it should or could be.

One issue in the article which has recently taken on a new dimension for me is that of "options" (different formulas for the penitential rite, different blessings, even the multiple Eucharistic Prayers and Prefaces). I treasure the options less and less as the years go on and since becoming a bishop I've exclusively used the greeting proper to a bishop (Peace be with you!) and the classic final blessing reserved to the bishop.

Since coming to Ukraine a year ago, I've come to be even less interested in options for two reasons: 1) my exposure to Byzantine Liturgy which is breath-takingly beautiful without any variables other than choir settings; 2) my struggle to prepare to celebrate the Latin Liturgy in public in the vernacular, in Ukrainian. Lots of hours of practice notwithstanding I am just barely able to get through the ordinary parts without stumbling, stammering or misspeaking (freezing up). The proper prayers for each day represent a real challenge.

For a good month now in Ukrainian I've been using the first option of the penitential rite, the Confiteor, and there is something very fine about the limitation (Granted this might be termed making a virtue out of necessity). My own feeling is that for the next edition of the Roman Missal (no rush!) they'll be able to save paper by eliminating sections that are still as good as new in an otherwise worn volume.

Generally my public liturgies here have been in Latin but whether the mother tongue of the congregation is Ukrainian or Hungarian, they are lost. We need to meet them on their territory and improve the vernacular experience for them. As I say, I think Jeffrey is on to something as he urges us to do more by the book or books...

I would be remiss if I didn't urge one and all to make the move toward worship ad Orientem. As I have said before, it is so terribly right and not only for the priest celebrant.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Active Participation - A Gloss on the Video

The great little video about the Latin Mass (more profound than much one is exposed to) brings up quite elegantly, even forcefully, the question of "active participation" on the part of all those who are assisting at Mass. Quoting Pope St. Pius X, the video distinguishes between praying at Mass and doing what the saintly Pope urged, namely getting involved in "praying the Mass" or actively participating.

Over the centuries the greatest fail at Mass has been in terms of active participation; if I may be permitted a judgment, it has been that of giving up on the real effort or work involved in praying the Mass. The Council Fathers knew that, Pope St. Pius X knew that very clearly. The issue is not one of distraction alone but rather of capitulation in the face of what genuine active participation demands of us. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in vol. II: Spouse of the Word, of his work "Explorations in Theology", Ignatius Press, 1991, expresses his reservations about the great old Schott missal, which generations of Germans used for following the Latin Mass. It was a major investment and, as we learn also from Georg Ratzinger, a family treasure. Von Balthasar is not so sure that it really encouraged active participation in church; he seems to think that the book or reading individually abstracts from the mystery, from the sublime action in which we are to take part. I think von Balthasar wants to lay the emphasis on hearing for participation and argues that reading per force takes me out of the loop. I don't know if that is necessarily so, but I'm at a loss as to how to counter his argument.

Let me retreat then from such heady discourse and return to what is a centuries old crisis in matters of active participation. Let me briefly remark that we have seen this capitulation clearly in the great age of monasticism, in the distinction within the great monastic orders between lay brothers, externs, if you will, and choir monks. All served the monastery and indirectly contributed to assuring the singing of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of Hours, but some did it in choir singing and others by the sweat of their brow, perhaps not even literate, perhaps sustained only by their rosaries and their Angelus prayer. On the eve of the Council, 50 years ago, we saw this capitulation in already centuries old manifestations like the Czech Christmas Mass of J.J. Ryba (from the 18th Century) see video ... It was a great way to spend Christmas in church while Father did his thing reciting Mass in Latin up at the altar.... Praying at Mass or Praying the Mass?

Too much of the last 40 years has been capitulation, withdrawing from the work which is the liturgy and, well, experimenting with all sorts of instruments and musical genres, puppets, banners, you name it. Not good, to say the least!

Apart from rediscovering the rubrics for the celebration of Mass and praying the Eucharistic Prayer ad Orientem, we can only hope that chant will universally make its reappearance and genuinely sacred spaces for worship will be reclaimed. Using the Communion rail again and slowing down this important moment of our participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. 

I don't want to harp, but I think it important for us all to recognize that there's more to active participation than shaking hands at some point.


Just too good not to stop and reflect!

Regardless of whether your goal is the restoration of the TLM or the reform of the reform, this little girl has some powerful things to say to us all.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

He was Amazed at their Lack of Faith

For those of us who because of temperament or prejudice were not swept away with enthusiasm for the charismatic movement in the Church (40 years ago?), these words from the Gospel for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) remain as a sort of condemnation, deserved or undeserved: "He was amazed at their lack of faith." And some would say that's why Jesus doesn't or can't do anything for us: no healings, nothing extraordinary... Years back, I remember a couple German priest friends who said to me with a sense of resignation, that the only hope for sainthood for a great German martyr of World War II was a miracle some place in Latin America; not much chance in the rational atmosphere which reigned in their homeland of recognizing or accepting one should it perchance happen.

There is indeed a sort of rationalism abroad, which is for me more worrisome than that of Jesus being taken for granted in His native place, as Mark's Gospel today describes. While it is a taking for granted of the familiar, it is indeed worse in the sense that today's haughty sophisticate TV and radio talk-show atheists and scorners of religion reject what they have conveniently fabricated as caricature of the faith while bitterly and sneeringly leaving themselves outside of everything in God's universe with their totally irrational and unreasoned big bang or monkey's nephew theories that are nothing more than myths for the godless who settle for too much less than nothing.

In case you are wondering what I'm talking about, I saw a little piece of a YouTube video of Ross Douthat humoring Bill Maher and trying to sell his book "Bad Religion"... Why would you even want to go there Ross? I just don't know! How easily some people give price to the treasures of the Book of Genesis, when the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church approach them with fear and trembling. Where is our faith in the God Who made us and saved us?

"He was amazed at their lack of faith." Yes, rightly so. Our age too is a faithless one, which refuses to ask for a sign. We block the way to the Kingdom for others by our scandalous concessions to unbelief, while refusing to enter ourselves.

Pray for the recovery of faith during this upcoming year of faith: for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for all those who still cause the Lord amazement for their lack of faith! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The call of beauty

I especially like Cardinal Burke's invitation at the end of this video to stop resisting the will and teaching of the Holy Father in matters liturgical.

Monday, July 2, 2012

First to Reflect the Patience of God

There is much out there these days about the eventuality of an SSPX “reconciliation” yet still at this point in time and sadly yet what might still militate against it. The ever popular “Roman Curia conspiracy” theories with numerous twists are legion and in their variations, with their almost wild-eyed descriptions of attempts to scuttle “the deal”. While the common reflection and awareness within the community of the Church is increasingly cognizant that not only 40+ years of liturgical excesses and abuse are indicative of a high-jacking of the post-conciliar implementation process of liturgical renewal, this is not to say that we have not become increasingly aware that outrageous fortune hasn’t also battered the barque of Peter over these years on many other accounts as well (viz. misconceptions of what the Church means by ecumenism, not to mention other topics).

In the last weeks, however, I have begun to get the impression that some people cannot see the differences which have arisen on various topics, between popular presentation of official Church teaching and the stance of the SSPX, as comparable to some of the school differences from once upon a time between Jesuits and Dominicans, allowing the Holy Father as chief arbiter to establish the rules for respectful and continued fraternal disagreement within the community of the Church. I am beginning to fear that some people don’t appreciate the urgency of “coming in” or “coming back”. The facility with which some folk fling their unqualified anathemas would seem reminiscent of the so-called “gospel holiness tradition” which saw separation as a way of preserving both sanctity and orthodoxy. It is not the Catholic way for working out our differences. Whatever happened to the sheep and the goats or the wheat and the weeds growing together until the harvest?

A homily of St. Augustine, cited in today’s Office of Readings is a helpful reminder to me and to all who share the shepherding task. Let me quote from it briefly:

 “And so, my brothers, let us listen to the words with which the Lord upbraids the wicked sheep and to the promises he makes to his own flock. You are my sheep, he says. Even in the midst of this life of tears and tribulations, what happiness, what great joy it is to realise that we are God’s flock! To him were spoken the words: You are the shepherd of Israel. Of him it was said: The guardian of Israel will not slumber, nor will he sleep. He keeps watch over us when we are awake; he keeps watch over us when we sleep. A flock belonging to a man feels secure in the care of its human shepherd; how much safer should we feel when our shepherd is God. Not only does he lead us to pasture, but he even created us.

You are my sheep, says the Lord God. See, I judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. What are goats doing here in the flock of God? In the same pastures, at the same springs, goats – though destined for the left – mingle with those on the right. They are tolerated now, but will be separated later. In this way the patience of the flock develops and becomes like God’s own patience. For it is he who will do the separating, placing some on the left and others on the right.”

I am particularly moved by the notion that the patience of the flock should become like God’s own patience. Patience is our calling, our God-like calling. We cannot turn our backs on others. We do indeed need to live together in this life as visible Church cum et sub Petro. We need to struggle, not so much with our differences, but with our injustices, with the wrongs we do and that we do unto one another. The patience of the Good Shepherd is what we owe to each other for His greater glory and honor.

History teaches us that church councils are not packaged commodities but rather moments which initiate processes in the life of the Church, going on for decades or perhaps centuries, and whose yield may be greater or smaller. The issue may be neither doctrinal nor pastoral but rather one of analysis and application as yield. Lateran IV or Trent: objectively we can point to which had the greater yield, if you will. It is shared opinion that councils are risky business both in their celebration and in their implementation. I think however that it would be grievously wrong for any true Catholic to attribute error in matters of faith or morals to the promulgated documents of an ecumenical council. Formulations might be dated and even tainted by a certain world view, but as a departure from what the Church must believe and teach as coming to us from the Apostles... no!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bonds of Unity

My dear friend, the Apostolic Nuncio in Indonesia, shared with me the link to the homily he preached for the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul: If you don't happen to read Indonesian... the English translation is provided below on the same page in the commentary. I recommend the whole homily for your edification but I'd like to quote at length from what he says, citing the Catechism, about the three concrete bonds which hold us together in the love of Christ in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church:

“… it is very important for every member of the faithful and every Christian community to be in full communion with the Pope. Let us be clear: this communion is not simply a feeling of sympathy for the Pope, nor is it an intellectual interest in what he says, nor is it reduced to some acts of outward enthusiasm towards him. We must be linked to the Pope by objective, visible, concrete bonds, the same bonds by which we are united in the Church. 

…“What are the bonds of unity?” asks the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And it answers: “Above all, charity ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’. But the unity of the pilgrim Church is also assured by visible bonds of communion: profession of one faith received from the Apostles; common celebration of divine worship, especially of the Sacraments; apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family” (CCC 815). 

… a) The Bond of Faith. Peter and his successors in the Church continue to proclaim: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, a claim which is at the very heart of our Christian faith. The first bond that we must have with the Pope is the profession of faith, through attention, knowledge and adherence to his teachings. The Pope’s voice is not just one more voice among others, like the opinions of theologians or even of individual bishops, but is decisive for evaluating the doctrines taught and preached in the Church and the opinions and theories current in society. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “the task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him” (CCC 100). And again: “The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for” (CCC 2034). 

… b) The Bond of the Liturgy. The liturgy, which has its summit in the celebration of the Sacraments and especially of the Eucharist, is the prayer of the whole Church; the prayer of the one Church formed by the Saints, by the dead in Christ and by ourselves; the prayer of the one Church spread throughout the world and led by the Pope and the Bishops. Therefore, in the Eucharistic prayer of every Mass we commemorate the Virgin Mary and the Saints, the Pope and the bishops, as well as the whole Church spread throughout the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Since he has the ministry of Peter in the Church, the Pope is associated with every celebration of the Eucharist, wherein he is named as the sign and servant of the unity of the universal Church” (CCC 1369). 

How often the Holy Father Benedict XVI reminds us that we have to celebrate the liturgy not as something we invent as we please, according to our ideas, following the trends and theories of the moment, but as a celebration of something greater than us, which we must enter and by which our own prayer is shaped. The Holy Father provides this teaching about the correct way to celebrate the liturgy by the example of his own celebrations, in which a sense of adoration, beauty and the Church’s tradition shines forth. 

I would like to stress once again the importance of faithful observation of the rules about the liturgy given by the Church: bishops and priests, ministers of the sacred liturgy, are not the masters of the liturgy, they cannot change it at will, and the faithful should not assume that liturgical celebrations are merely objects of taste and desire. The liturgy does not belong to anyone and cannot be manipulated by anyone at will! Regarding the liturgy too, we must ask whether we are in tune with the teaching and the example of the Pope. 

c) The Bond of Discipline. “Jesus entrusted to Peter... the ‘power of the keys’ (which) designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (CCC 553). Peter and his successors, as well as the bishops in communion with the Pope, have been entrusted with the task not only of teaching and sanctifying, but also of governing the people of God, giving guidelines and laws, which are to be received with respect and obedience, knowing that “the law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth” (CCC 2037). These rules are not arbitrary decisions of those who exercise power, but through them the divine will is manifested to us. Benedict XVI recalled this truth at the beginning of his pontificate: “My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history” (Homily of 24 April 2005). 

… We celebrate in this Holy Eucharist “The Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul, ... through whom the Church received the beginnings of right religion” (Collect), i.e. the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, as Peter proclaimed. In the Church and through the Church, founded precisely on the rock, which is Peter, we continually receive, nurture and give witness to this faith. 

Let us entrust the person and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI to the intercession of the Holy Apostles. For ourselves and for the whole Church, let us pray that the bonds of faith, prayer and obedience with the Successor of Peter may be further strengthened, so that the Church in Indonesia and around the world may fulfil with renewed vigour the mission entrusted to her by our Lord Jesus Christ." (Source: The Embassy of the Holy See to Indonesia)

Too often, I suspect, in various controversies facing the Church from within or without what we experience as a loosening or violation of the bond of charity might quickly be healed if the concrete bonds of faith, prayer and obedience had not already been broken asunder.

Analyze if you will any contemporary problem we might have within the Church and you will find that at least one of these rules is at issue.

The recovery of the basics of faith and, apart from liturgy, of a life of prayer of communion with the Lord Who made and saved us in obedience to God's law and the precepts of His Church is too urgent.

Pray for the success of the Year of Faith soon to begin!