Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Don't Sell Cardinal B. Short!

"Even the 1983 Code of Canon Law can be considered a consequence of the Council. I must emphasise that the form of the post-conciliar liturgy with all its distortions, is not attributable to the Council or to the Liturgy Constitution established during Vatican II which by the way has not really been implemented even to this day. The indiscriminate removal of Latin and Gregorian Chants from liturgical celebrations and the erection of numerous altars were absolutely not acts prescribed by the Council.

With the benefit of hindsight, let us cast our minds back in particular to the lack of sensitivity shown in terms of care for the faithful and in the pastoral carelessness shown in the liturgical form. One need only think of the Church’s excesses, reminiscent of the Beeldenstorm (the statue/image storm) which occurred in the 18th century. Excesses which catapulted numerous faithful into total chaos, leaving many fumbling around in the dark.

Just about anything and everything has been said on this subject. Meanwhile, the liturgy has come to be seen as a mirror image of Church life, subject to an organic historical evolution which cannot - as did indeed happen - suddenly be decreed per ordre de mufti. And we are still paying the cost today."

This last response of the Eminent Cardinal Church Historian (most notably for me the second paragraph), translated into English by Vatican Insider and reported by Rorate Caeli among others, received a lot of flack in RC's combox. Those who dot the Cardinal's i's and cross his t's take a conspiracy theory as their point of departure and ultimately move again to reject the Second Vatican Council, suggesting an ancient Roman solution to the problem: "C. delenda est!", as if burning the house the Council built to the ground and salting the earth had value beyond its rhetorical flourishes... Sorry, that is harsh, but I think less ingenuous that the spitting rage and cynicism which dismisses the observations of Cardinal Brandmüller.

The German Cardinal's analysis of the phenomenon fits my experience as an adolescent of what happened. What we were learning in high school, what we saw in the first published liturgical texts, didn't necessarily prepare us for some of what then happened: the sudden appearance in our cathedral of an aquamarine colored Formica table altar, the overzealous Irish pastor of the country parish who got men and a truck and hauled all the statues out of the church to the cemetery and smashed them into an open grave, before returning to remove all of the decorative stucco in the church to reveal the bare beams of the ceiling. Not conspiracy theories but the odd spirit of the times explains such excesses: "Excesses which catapulted numerous faithful into total chaos, leaving many fumbling around in the dark."

I honestly think that a cool-headed return to the Constitution on the Liturgy could only light the path to the urgently needed and just begun reform of the reform. The reform of the reform is indeed the premise for the recovery of the broken strains of the liturgical tradition, which will indeed come to be some day thanks to the mutual enrichment brought about though a generous celebration of the EF in parishes and elsewhere alongside the OF.

In all of this, I would be remiss if I did not heartily recommend to priests an attentive study of the rubrics for the proper celebration of the OF and a discovery of the joys in celebrating ad Orientem, joys for the priest celebrant and perhaps even more so for the people hungry for a true and unambiguous focus to worship.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Come to the Lord's Feast!

Tell me how I'm supposed to take these words of St. Augustine about the invitation to the Lord's nuptial banquet and about how He wished to fill the hall after the refusal of the invited guests:

"From the squares and alleys came the Gentiles; let the heretics and schismatics come from the highroads and hedges. Compel them to come in. Here they can find peace, because those who put up hedges are seeking divisions. Let them be dragged from the hedges, wrenched from the thorns. They are stuck fast in the hedges, and they don’t want to be compelled. “Let us come in of our own free will,” they say. That wasn’t the order the Lord gave: Compel them, he said, to come in. Let necessity be experienced outwardly, and hence free willingness be born inwardly." (Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (p. 183). New City Press. Kindle Edition.)

There is another text  and more familiar to me than this one from St. Augustine found in the Liturgy of Hours, where he carries on a little dialogue, if you will, with the schismatic, telling him he refuses to let him go. The determination of St. Augustine in both cases, this second one argued from shared Baptism and Sacraments and the other from the Lord's own command: "Compel them to come in!" leave me somewhat speechless. Some of our separated brethren would no doubt pose the question, "Well, who is it that has built the hedge or is caught in the thicket, you or I?" 

Who is it that refuses to come in? How dare I claim priority? There's nothing new in this, as if only our day had discovered free will and respect for the dignity of the other. I would rather suspect that more than one schismatic might have rebuffed St. Augustine in just the same way. That's not the point. I need not be comparing or putting myself pridefully on a pedestal. It is just simply and profoundly that I have to know where I am coming from and act consistently, hearkening to the Lord's command. In all humility, I cannot be unsure of my calling which is from on high, which is to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; I cannot fail to heed the Lord's command, "Compel them to come in!"

What about free will? Yes? And... What about Augustine's seeming reply to that objection as well: "Let necessity be experienced outwardly, and hence free willingness be born inwardly." It is not unlike the frequency with which over the years I have found myself uncomfortable with those marriages where the Catholic party doesn't want to "foist his or her religion on the other party", they say... Is it or is it not the pearl of great price? Should we or should we not be burning to share what is dearest to us with the one we love the most? "Compel them" the Lord says, yes, "Compel them". 

A type of door-to-door, soapbox, street-corner preaching Christianity is not what I'm advocating. Being so verbal is foreign to the Catholicism of the ordinary man or woman in the pew. The efficacy of our witness, if you will, is underscored by the obedience of our moving on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation to assist at Holy Mass. The "compelling" part starts at home. "As long as you're under my roof, son, you're going to Mass with Mother and me!" Let necessity be experienced outwardly, and hence free willingness be born inwardly."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wars of Religion?

The Crimean War: A History. 
Figes, Orlando
Macmillan. Kindle Edition. (2011-04-12).

Some time back an ambassador friend told me about this book he was reading. He posed some specific questions concerning Russian Orthodox interests in the Holy Land and the earnestness of struggles among the various Christian factions over their rights or prerogatives in the various holy places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and wherever. My friend marveled at Figes' thesis that religion as much as anything precipitated the Crimean War. He himself being a European, he found it hard to believe that little more that 150 years ago in what many consider a different type of warfare, a close fore-runner of World War I, that Christian people could still get so worked up about such.

He seemed satisfied with my explanation and planted a seed of curiosity which led shortly to an impulse purchase because it really is that easy with Kindle. Anyway, although I am not voracious when it comes to devouring military history, I have been know to read the genre with a certain relish. If you like such, Figes will not disappoint. I truly enjoyed the book and learned that the countless dead from battle, as well as the far greater numbers of people which were displaced marked a trend which savagely continued throughout the twentieth Century and continues today as innocent civilian populations, as refugees, are no longer pushed from one part of a region to another but too frequently almost to the other side of the globe.

More than an analysis of the role played by religion, Orthodox vs. Catholic, Christian vs. Muslim, East vs. West, the book illustrates also through post-war monuments, especially in England, a shift in sentiment toward esteem for the commoner's supreme sacrifice in the service of his country, of his sovereign. In the case of Russia, he lets Leo Tolstoy kind of stand for a world's consciousness transformed by the carnage of what was by far one of the most senseless conflicts of all time and which no one, not even the French really won. Figes would attribute a certain transformation or maturation as happening in the life of Tolstoy, as a result of his time spent in the Crimea.

Religious rhetoric could hardly mask what were naked geopolitical ambitions on the part of all of the War's combatants. Nobody comes out the white knight in shining armor in this one. 

If such books interest you, to my mind I would recommend it as well worth the read. For some of us who live in that part of the world, even 150 years plus later, there's still evidence that a new generation of oligarchs are not the least bit disinclined to send youth to the slaughter or ride rough-shod over other peoples and cultures for the sake of an empire or reign which cannot endure.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Immaculate Heart / Assumed into Heaven

We're having our first major break in the summer heat here in Kyiv with nigh unto 48 hours of rain (hardly  what you'd call intermittent either!) and much cooler temperatures. I'm enjoying it for no particular reason except that it puts me today in the mood to recollect, ever so fondly, both concerning my birthday saint, the martyr for brotherly love, St. Maximilian Kolbe, as well as concerning tonight's vigil Mass and looking forward to tomorrow's solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (31 January 1673 – 28 April 1716), and countless other great men saints are a constant and for some also unexpected challenge to the hearts and sentiments of many Christians, just because of the way and intensity with which they expressed unbounded confidence in and love for the Mother of God. Too many Christians play shy when it comes to Mary the Mother of God and we object when we are confronted by her saintly courtiers. Thinking of the Pope who gave  Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort  new popularity during our lifetime: How many Catholics, since October 1978, haven't stumbled or flinched when confronted with the explanation behind the motto of Blessed Pope John Paul II, TOTUS TUUS? These recent years and decades have been ones for many Catholics of struggling with the role of Mary, ever Virgin, in our lives. For some folk that struggle finds its focus or is precipitated in the contemplation of her Assumption, body and soul, into Heaven. Death and decay did not touch her body; she is with her Son in glory in the fullness of her holy humanity.

While some people might contend that a priest's greatest challenge is to preach well on a very theological, if you will, solemnity, like the Sunday of the Most Holy Trinity, I would say this is only apparently so because priests often miss the turmoil within the hearts of those down in the pews listening on 15 August. Sometimes we misread the puzzlement of people over a given reading, whether it be the first reading of the Vigil Mass about the Ark of the Covenant or the Reading from the day from the Book of Revelation with images of the Woman and the Dragon. I had a wonderful uncle who was baptized only at past age 60, a devoted husband who had always faithfully accompanied my aunt to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and finally, as much out of love for her as not, took that final and definitive step and requested baptism as a Catholic Christian (as a teenager I was his sponsor!). He was a good man and a devout Catholic. Even so, I remember he'd get quite frustrated each year on the Assumption and ask why somebody couldn't just clearly say what they were talking about. I wish I had listened better to his grumbles, instead of just writing them off to incomplete catechesis. In reality, I think my now long departed uncle and many others rather found and find themselves dumbfounded by the mystery of love which the Church proclaims in the Assumption of Mary.

It is as if it were all too much, that we really don't want to see or cannot bear the mystery of God's unbounded love, shining through Christ's redemptive Sacrifice and manifested in all its implications in Mary His Mother now sharing His Throne and His Glory fully in heaven, as we only hope to be able to do on the last day. As they joyfully protest their love for Mary, people like Blessed John Paul II, Maximilian Kolbe and Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort leave us breathless and lagging behind.

I hope this Holy Day gives you a little pause, some freedom to contemplate such love and by drawing closer to Mary enter more fully into the mystery of our eternal salvation. One of the blessings of a happy and wholesome home life would be that it gifts a child with a sense of the presence of God. Apart from home and hearth, many less fortunate Christians are nonetheless blessed by the schooling they receive at Mary's knee. Pope Paul VI spoke of his longing to linger in the school of Nazareth, in the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Would that we all could!

Some of the great masterpiece paintings of all time show the mystery of the Assumption of Mary as including a contemplation of her empty tomb. Assumption artwork is often of rare beauty.

Perhaps the greater challenge is trying to fathom the implications of that which Mary did really and always absolutely, namely her attentiveness to the Word of God, as she took Him unto herself in obedience as His maid servant. Obedience has its yield. Love is to be found nowhere else. We should never leave her side, nor should we ever lag in racing to keep up with these saintly men who were forever outdoing themselves in protesting their love for her, the first and best disciple of her Son.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Where is God?

Some of the more upright and honorable among my readers will have to forgive me this one, but I'm going to side in this one with Father Barron who puts Woody Allen and St. Thomas Aquinas in the same camp for a moment in responding to the old question: "What makes the world go round?"

In Vol. III, Creator Spirit, Explorations in Theology (Ignatius Press, 1993), Hans Urs Von Balthasar entitles part of a section of this tome labeled "Crisis" as follows: "Forgetfulness of God and Christians". I like many things about Von Balthasar, but there he says something I cannot abide just because I don't think it is an accurate perception of the world in which we live. Others can judge between us or judge whether it is not just that things have so much changed in the decades which have passed between our writing. Anyway, here's the quote:

 "But where the question is missing, where there is no mediation by philosophy between science and theology, the dialogue between the world and Christianity becomes impossible. Let us once again make the point clear by means of the reproduction of the situation within the Church: if it is already such a burden (often scarcely tolerable) for the layman who is genuinely concerned and asks existential questions to have a clergyman (who knows all the answers in advance) give him information about God on Sundays, then it becomes possible to understand why the world one day felt that it had been sufficiently informed by Christians about God and said so, and why the world has become sick of asking the question that is canalized into the stereotype catechism questions and finds the equally stereotype answers lying ready in advance." (page 322)

Where in the world does this scenario play out? I just don't know! Any child knows that the "catechism" a Christian might "thump" at a world with "existential questions" cannot be other than a life reverently lived which can challenge the other, yes at times, but which is usually there not so much as any sort of a challenge or confrontation but rather as something gracious and wise more suitable for embracing (hence my reference to Father Barron's movie review). It's like in courting, when the young man (with or without his "existential questions") decides that his will to share the rest of his life with the young woman in marriage, head over heels in love with her for who she is, implies a life and faith choice for him who sees her Christian witness as progress in comparison to the way he has been living. The question of God, if you will, receives short shrift perhaps by comparison with times long gone but only because we let ourselves be too impressed by the wind and the waves (read: media, technology, contemporary sophistication, 3D movies, as you like).

I just finished Gogol's little literary masterpiece "Taras Bulba" which, while giving voice in the novel to many people's lip service to religion both Orthodox (Russian Cossack) and Catholic (Polish), actually says more about the beauty of men in the context of the utter folly of the Cossack reign in a chaotic and generally raucous warrior's paradise. The tragedy of Taras' life which takes not only his own two sons but hordes on both sides of the fight into his own self-destructive embrace has no room for "existential questions". With a less than profound bow in the direction of Von Balthasar, I have to ask myself if anyone really asks existential questions or takes umbrage at a Sunday sermon which indeed talks about God. People are caught up in the whirlwind of the created and never catch their breath long enough to contemplate the Creator and Redeemer.

I think Von Balthasar must have known that but for some reason he did indeed write what I quoted above. I am sorry but the issue has never been one other than good old-fashioned idolatry: replacing God with whomever or whatever, be it a person, a thing or a life-style. Before the golden calf in the desert, Israel utters absolute folly and cries, "Here, O Israel, is your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt!" The issue is one of forgetfulness of the one true God, not of existential earnestness but of mind-numbing distraction.

In this upcoming (and very soon!) Year of Faith, we the community of believers indeed need to thump our catechisms, to brush up on the faith and learn once again and take to heart our basic prayers. We need to allow ourselves to be fed, to hang on God's every word to us in Holy Scripture. From ignorant to informed is only a partial description of what is at stake. We're back to good old question No 1 of the Baltimore Catechism: "Why did God make me? He made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in Heaven." YouCat and the CCC say the same with contemporary verve and footnotes. Knowing God, I cannot help but love and serve Him. Heaven-ready, then, I reflect His glory in this world for all to see and embrace. I, we as Christians, as Catholics, become, OK, yes a challenge to the world's idolatry, but we also become prophets like Hoseah, called by God to entice His adulteress first love back to faithfulness and thereby to limitless joy.