Saturday, September 29, 2012

Witness, yes, Martyrdom

I remember years ago someone telling me about Cardinal Lehmann’s apartment in Mainz, that the whole floor and all the furniture were covered with books and articles, most open to a specific page, indicative that they were being read in snatches. In our age of ebooks, and with no claims to the label “voracious reader”, I guess I find myself in a similar situation with various books open on two different laptops and a Kindle reader. Maybe having things lying around would draw me back sooner, especially to those I treasure a great deal. These days I stumbled back upon Blessed Angela of Foligno and finished reading what is labeled as her Second Essay, from which I’d like to quote the final paragraph about the Holy Eucharist:

“Therefore, we should approach that table and that great and good thing with the utmost reverence, fear, and trembling, but above all, with exceeding great love. The soul should approach to this Sacrament humbly, exalted, and adorned, for it goes to that which is the height of all beauty and perfect glory, supreme holiness, happiness, blessedness, exaltedness, and nobility, all sweetness and all love, which has the sweetness of love without end. Thus, the soul should go to receive the Sacrament, in order that it may itself be received. It should be pure, that it may be purified; alive, that it may be quickened; just, that it may be justified; ready that it may be incorporated with God uncreated who was made man, and that it may be one with Him to all eternity. Amen.” [Angelina Foligno (2009-02-06). Divine Consolation (Great Christian Mystical Writings) (Kindle Locations 2145-2151). Revelation Insight. Kindle Edition.]

A good year ago now, when last I did any continuous reading from this lovely book, I commented to the effect that her enthusiastic comments about embracing suffering through embracing the Cross of Christ, were not exactly for the weak of heart or will. My ongoing and long-term reflections, not so much on readiness to embrace martyrdom as, let’s say, on turning the other cheek, move me to try and formulate an appeal for fewer arched or hunched backs (less rebellion) against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, especially as those are concerned who ought to be nurturing and supporting us and then come to find out are revealed as the very ones who, even as shepherds, are either neglecting the flock or tearing the sheep limb from limb.

Here’s a quote stolen from another piece lying around, which I happened to “trip over”:
God knows what you suffered [but] we know that your journey is very sorrowful. (“Deus scit, quae patis [sic pateris]. Scimus dolorosissimam esse Vestram viam.”ACO, Ruteni 2, pos. 380/28, fasc. 2, annex to f. 82r, translation of letter from Ukrainian priests to Budka, St. Josaphat Church, Toronto, 10 January 1929.)

These words addressed by priests to their own bishop, the first Greek-Catholic bishop in Canada, now Blessed Nykyta Budka, bishop and martyr, ring prophetic in terms of the real sufferings in Canada which would not that many years later pale in comparison to what he suffered at the hands of the Soviet repression “machine” which sought to totally annihilate his beloved Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and him in the process.

You don't know, I don't know, we don't know what our loving Lord has in store for us this side of heaven. He invites us to watch and pray with Him. He encourages us not to fear or hesitate, in that His yoke is easy and His burden to be shared by us is light. I think Blessed Angela would probably not argue with me in saying that the call to holiness for each and every one of us should lead to our being tagged "confessor of the faith", which involves much pain and personal sacrifice. Such witness, Christian witness, is the forecourt to glorious martyrdom. There's all kinds of video and other commentary out there to note this our age (the last 100 years) as unparalleled for the numbers and frequency with which Christians have been called to share in Christ's supreme sacrifice through their own identified with His: through martyrdom. What is it with all our squawking? What is it indeed? Why do we so rebel against that which is or can be our portion and our cup?

The solemn opening of the Year of Faith is nearly upon us. Blessed John Cardinal Newman reveals in a lovely little novel that there's more to it than being raised in a Christian home environment and learning the truths of the faith: 

"CALLISTA A TALE OF THE THIRD CENTURY BY JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN   “Love thy God, and love Him only, And thy breast will ne’er be lonely. In that One Great Spirit meet All things mighty, grave, and sweet. Vainly strives the soul to mingle With a being of our kind; Vainly hearts with hearts are twined: For the deepest still is single. An impalpable resistance Holds like natures still at distance. Mortal: love that Holy One, Or dwell for aye alone.” [Newman, John Henry Cardinal (2009-12-14). Callista : a Tale of the Third Century (Kindle Locations 4-25). Evergreen Review, Inc.. Kindle Edition.]

May we do all within our power this year to share the faith, the pearl of great price! The number of confessors of the faith must increase such that the "Callistas" called forth to martyrdom might have their witnesses and those who give thanks might be many!


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Clear and Distinct as Gift

With a genuinely upright enthusiasm, I wish to thank RORATE CAELI for posting the YouTube video interview in German with Fr. Schmidberger. This priest has always distinguished himself for his clear and distinct ideas, for the noble and profound way he makes his analysis. This video is no exception.

As much as it pains me to hear him step back from the path of full communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, where only it is to be found, Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia, I can deal with and appreciate his level-headed-ness.

As I was listening to the interview, however, it came to me that the possibility of renewing the excommunication and extending it to all who adhere to the brotherhood if they refuse the Holy Father's extended hand, ought perhaps to be excluded for another reason and that on ecumenical (within or without the Church) grounds. Excommunication, as an imposed penalty today, should be salutary in its intent and working. Excommunication should work for the Church today like it did in the words of St. Paul. I turn the man (cohabiting with his father's wife) over to Satan in hopes of saving his soul and in the meantime eliminating a cause of great scandal within the body of the Church. After so many years away from us, you would have to find arguments for convincing me that a renewed or extended excommunication would bring the brotherhood to its knees and home to Peter, or that the brotherhood's continued separate existence through scandal, by reason of our acquiescence to the separation, risks the kind of scandal among Catholics which could put the eternal salvation of members of the Catholic Church at risk. 

Ecumenical, I say, because I doubt if the penalty of excommunication could be effectively used today to return anyone who is still separated from us to full communion.

 The question for me and I think for Fr. Schmidberger is always the same: What happens when that clear-headed elite of which he is the stellar example passes from the scene? Who will steer the course? Whence comes the indefectibility or infallibility? 

We must redouble our prayers for the unity of Christ's Church cum et sub Petro.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Zeal for Your House consumes me

During the Holy Father's visit to Lebanon I had the great fortune to find time to read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ECCLESIA IN MEDIO ORIENTE. My own three years spent in Jerusalem mark me with more than a dispassionate interest as do a lifetime of encounters with friends and family by marriage from the Lebanese and Syrian diaspora. Beyond that, it is not too far-fetched to seek applications of the Holy Father's synthesis and teaching on the fruits of that particular synod for my present world, Ukraine. More than anything else, I guess I was eager to learn what the Holy Father was going to say about an effective Christian witness in a world of very scattered allegiances. He did not leave me disappointed. Let me quote from two early paragraphs in this admirable document:

3. In the context of the Christian faith, “communion is the very life of God which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ”. It is a gift of God which brings our freedom into play and calls for our response. It is precisely because it is divine in origin that communion has a universal extension. While it clearly engages Christians by virtue of their shared apostolic faith, it remains no less open to our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, and to all those ordered in various ways to the People of God. The Catholic Church in the Middle East is aware that she will not be able fully to manifest this communion at the ecumenical and interreligious level unless she has first revived it in herself, within each of her Churches and among all her members: Patriarchs, Bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons and lay persons. Growth by individuals in the life of faith and spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church will lead to the fullness of the life of grace and theosis (divinization). In this way, the Church’s witness will become all the more convincing.
5. According to Acts, the unity of believers was seen in the fact that “they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of  the bread and the prayers” (2:42). The unity of believers was thus nourished by the teaching of the Apostles (the proclamation of God’s word), to which they responded with unanimous faith, by fraternal communion (the service of charity), by the breaking of  the bread (the Eucharist and the sacraments), and by prayer, both personal and communal. It was on these four pillars that communion and witness were based within the first community of believers. May the Church which has lived uninterruptedly in the Middle East from apostolic times to our own day find in the example of that community the resources needed to keep fresh the memory and the apostolic vitality of her origins!"

No matter where in the world we find ourselves, Christian witness, effective witness may seem to us when confronted as no less and perhaps more of a daunting challenge than it is under the cataclysmic conditions of life facing the peoples of the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Pope's formulation is indeed filled with hope and insight. We are constantly rebuked by our own fainthearted witness to the unity of believers and that no matter where we might live. As we know, it is not always gross error in holding the teaching of the Apostles which divides us; sometimes it is indifference or a lack of love for the other who can and should command our love by reason of the second great command of Christ. 

I can remember studying ecumenism at some point and being advised by a professor that the historical reality of divisions within the body Christian should call forth from us respect for the other who finds himself or herself in good conscience because whatever the reason for the divide, it happened centuries ago and he or she today cannot be accused of wrong. In those same classes we were warned about forging a false peace (irenicism) but basically in the incompleteness of this approach we were abandoned to resignation as to how to how to react to or join in Jesus' prayer ut unum sint. Then there was that sobering platitude invented by someone at some point this side of the Council of Florence that the very last Churches with whom the Roman Catholic will reach communion are the Orthodox. The intimation being that they have suffered too much at our hands to be able to trust our offer of a brotherly embrace.

Ecclesia in Medio Oriente certainly points the way forward to a recovery of Catholic vitality as reflected in the marvelous multiplicity of rites and Churches sui iuris who find their home in that region. What touched others about us in Apostolic times and led to our being described as Christians in Antioch so long ago, a clear witness of communion based on a unified response to the Apostles' teaching, in shared faith, in the service of charity, in the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and in a life of prayer, is ours to have today by the grace of God Who rules the world. I would wish for my Catholics Latin and Greek here in Ukraine and I would wish no less zeal, as described in the four pillars of communion and witness, to abound within the Orthodox world especially here in Ukraine. 

Not long ago I learned about a movement called the "Consensus of Aleppo" which proposes that all Churches adhere to the same date for Easter as set down by the Council of Nicea. When I ask how the project is going, people just look at me cross-eyed. Zeal for Your House, O Lord! Zeal for Your House!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

FIUV Position Paper: The EF and Western Culture

Over at RORATE CAELI I just finished another great position paper in the FIUV series. I highly recommend it. My only dubium, if you will, is whether we are still bound to respond to what was a mid-20th Century misread of Western culture, under the heading "modern man and society". Granted, the culture did lose its religious roots or its piety at the latest in the 1970's: the home expressions of God-centered, Christ-centered living succumbed to the external pressures of extra-curricular activities depriving the family even of a common supper table and prayer; TV did the rest.

If at that time there was a flight from the solemn, the Latin, the hieratic and hierarchic, from beauty and refinement within church space, maybe it had less to do with a rejection of ritual and mystery and more to do with retreating to the last bastion, if you will, and claiming it for religious discourse. Maybe sacred space and time, the beautiful places we knew for making a visit to the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, were sacrificed to accommodate religious discourse as it should have continued to happen in home and school. Maybe the ancient liturgy was crowded out by other things, willfully and ignorantly, maybe the iconoclasm of some in those years got the upper hand by reason of a sudden lack of vitality or vigilance in the body Catholic. 

Perhaps all I want to say is that I have no reason to buy the straightforward thesis that at some point Western civilization became disconnected from ritual and the sense of wonder. I don't think that is why the discursive style of liturgy with all its abuses has predominated over the past 40 years. Just the other day, I attended my very first Japanese tea ceremony, served by the 15th generation grand master, age 89, himself. A goodly number of people in that room couldn't be more secularized, but they lost nothing of the stylized gestures, carefully folded napkins, hot water dipped and poured just so, and how to accept the bowl of tea and which way to turn the flower pattern before drinking... Experience a trooping of the colors at any US Embassy anywhere in the world and realize that ritual has its place even in secular Western society.

Born in 1950, I guess you could say I knew the "old world". The faith was lived in the sense that the home was believing space and Sunday Mass a special anchor, with room for regular confession and a discreet devotional life. Those were the days when Father reminded his flock that parents were bound in conscience to send their children to the parochial school, where Sister was truly pious and garb was never misinterpreted as a pretext or pretense but recognized as a fervent pledge to seek the Lord in all things and above all things.

More than anything, I guess I rejoice in the renewed consciousness today of what it means to be Catholic which seems to be coming to the fore in many places around the world, and I hope for all the blessings which Summorum Pontificum can bestow on a Church which not only needs to recover its liturgical roots, but starting with this Year of Faith, needs to rediscover the elementary truths of faith, the basic prayers and practices which bring happiness now and for the world to come. 

 I wonder sometimes if like all those sad moral theologians whose theories were conditioned by wartime traumas, whether we still must not use a little patience until the last of the iconoclasts and hopeless discursives of my generation don't pass from the scene. Let's just say that we let up our guard and lost out for a number of decades. A return to the military metaphors in dealing with the world around us might not be the worst proposal. Lorenzo Scupoli's "Spiritual Combat" is a classic and a notion worth reclaiming.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Reflective Lifestyle

On this Sunday, I picked up one of the favorites, The Spiritual Combat (Lorenzo Scupoli), and read his chapter 55 on preparation for the reception of Holy Communion. The chapter is rich in counsels on how to prepare for Holy Communion, but I was struck by two references in that chapter, one early and one late, about how that preparation ought to start the evening before, yes, and fill your morning as well. I'm taking the quotes from my Kindle edition:

"In order to stir up within you the love of God, by means of this most Heavenly Sacrament, let your meditation on the preceding evening be upon His Love for you. You should consider how that Great and Almighty Lord, not content with having made you after His own image and likeness, and with having sent His Only-begotten Son on earth to suffer during three and thirty years for your sins, and to endure the most bitter sorrows and the painful death of the Cross for your redemption, was, besides all this, pleased to leave Him with you for your food and support in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar." - Highlight Loc. 1642-46

"With such loving affections, you should exercise yourself in the evening and morning before Communion. Then, as the time of Communion draws near, consider what you are about to take; no less than the Son of God, of Majesty Incomprehensible, before Whom the Heavens and all the powers therein do tremble—the Holy of Holies, the Spotless Mirror, and the incomprehensible Purity, in comparison with Whom no creature is clean; the One Who, as a worm and an outcast of the people, willed for love of you to be rejected, trampled upon, mocked, spit upon, and crucified, by the malice and wickedness of the world. You are about to receive God, in Whose Hands are the life and death of the whole universe." - Highlight Loc. 1675-80

In the days of larger families many a mother might look at me askance and appeal to the hectic involved in getting everyone up and dressed to church on time. My point however is another and namely, how many of us "free agents" give Sunday Communion a thought on Saturday night? I fear we live too restlessly and without any focus. I really don't think that St. Francis de Sales would take me to task for not sufficiently distinguishing between the active and contemplative life. St. Francis was among those who always kept his copy of Scupoli close at hand.

While on the one hand, I would be among the first to urge liturgical reform: ad Orientem worship, respect for rubrics in the celebration of Mass, while striving for decorum and a recollected environment (punctuated by meaningful silences), truly sacred music, removing the hectic from the Communion procession by returning to the Communion rail (or like in Lviv's Latin Cathedral, having the priests go to the people kneeling along the aisles of church for Communion), on the other, external sublime is no substitute for inner focus, for a heart well-disposed to receive the Lord of Glory.

Maybe the start could be bedtime prayer on Saturday night, kneeling down before we climb into the feathers and recalling the love for us of the One we hope to receive next morning? Maybe a first thought in the morning on waking, before the toothbrush, to the Infinite One Who seeks to enter under our roof?

Scupoli described the quest for holiness, for oneness with God, as a struggle, as combat carried on on many fronts at once. May we each and every one play our part in winning the victory for Christ and yes in the hearts of one and all.