Monday, November 26, 2012

Take and Read!

A Bitter Trial 
Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes 
Expanded Edition Edited by Alcuin Reid 
Kindle Edition (2011-10-20). 

For some odd reason the conversion of St. Augustine and the prompting he received came to my mind as I was reading and choosing a title for my little review. Although this particular little book (Thank you, Ignatius Press!) does not rate being categorized as anywhere near sublime or sacred, it has its points and may just be what one or another not so hardened iconoclast needs to read in order to get the process of softening his or her heart started.

Evelyn Waugh is at his best here arguing in defense of tradition and doing so very humbly as if it were only for England, seemingly willing to let the Continent and America go their own way. Waugh makes graphic and historical what the Holy Father means by rupture. 

By the same token, in order to recover our roots and mend the rift, it is clear that fostering the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman Rite becomes the only sane alternative to storming the castle or setting up battlements. Waugh bemoaned the loss of the pre-Pius XII Holy Week: whether we'll find our way there for kick-starting the organic development of the Liturgy or from some place else, the voice of Evelyn Waugh needs to play into the mix not as a minority report but as the voice of reason.

I take heart from the new English of the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal and even more so from what looks like a renaissance of sacred music and chant. The arbitrary and what Waugh called "rowdy" has to be set aside. 


Just Baffled

Simon Called Peter 
In the Footsteps of a Man Following God 
IGNATIUS PRESS    SAN FRANCISCO  (Kindle Edition). 2010. 

Every once in a while, I pick up a book on someone's recommendation which I absolutely dislike. That is not the case with this little book of meditations on Gospel passages referring to St. Peter in relationship to His Lord. For some reason, however, the book baffles me; I cannot identify with it although I appreciate its wealth of spiritual intimacy, let us say.

If anyone else has read it or has it on the shelf to read sometime soon, I would be grateful when you are done if you would share your thoughts. I will never regret the expense nor the time spent reading, but I will never go back to it for homily ideas or for reassurance. For some odd reason Dom Lepori's Peter and mine, if they are the same Rock upon which Christ built His Church, don't seem to be on the same wave length. As I say, a lovely little book, but I find it hard to reconcile Dom Lepori's choice with that of the Lord Jesus. I must attempt my own profile of St. Peter, I guess. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

With a Special Thought to the Older Priest

Pope Benedict XVI  
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives: 3
 Image. Kindle Edition. (2012-11-21).

"This short book on Jesus’ infancy narratives, which I have been promising to write for some time, is at last ready to be presented to the reader. It is not a third volume, but a kind of small “antechamber” to the two earlier volumes on the figure and the message of Jesus of Nazareth."

Impulse buying had me purchasing the Holy Father's latest on the very day of its availability and, well, I just couldn't put it down. Excuse my particular recommendation for my contemporaries and older, but, with the sort of thing we were generally exposed to as exegesis back in the seminary, this book, maybe more than the other two, comes to me as refreshing and authoritatively reassuring.

Some of the first day reviews of his commentary attempted sensationalism, but in point of fact Pope Benedict's Volume 3 contributes more to one's appreciation of the historicity of the Gospels than did his preceding two. There is no debunking or iconoclasm to be found.

Read it if you can this Advent! I think it will put new light and color into your Christmas.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Last Judgment

The first reading for this the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, from Daniel 12:1-3, stirred up a few thoughts and reminded me of another powerful angel from the Apocalypse (from the back wall of the Cathedral of St. Volodymyr, here in Kyiv) which dominates the consciousness of many who live in this city:

‘At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who mounts guard over your people. There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.’

Just recently, the Holy Father presided at Vespers for the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo's fresco work in the Sistine Chapel. There the Last Judgment Scene dominates in incomparable fashion, but the whole ceiling draws us into a constellation very different from that of every day. There we are part, we are immersed in, joined to something monumental, yes, greater than us, but yet to which we very much belong. The Sistine Chapel acclaims the glory of God while affirming our dignity and destiny.

The Last Judgment in the Cathedral of St. Volodymyr, the Orthodox Cathedral not far from where I live and just up from the nearest metro station, is painted on the back wall over the main portal, confronting you, especially that angel with the scroll and the scales glowering back at you as you leave church after having made your visit and said your prayers. Victor Vasnetsov painted much more recently than Michelangelo (1862-1882) and maybe felt the need for a more deliberate confrontation of the sinner in his day and time? 19th Century Kyiv certainly wasn't Papal Rome at the time of Michelangelo, but maybe the two artists just chose different approaches to the same humanity, which since the dawn of time is steadfastly called by the Lord and His Church to adhere to the fundamental message: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!" 

What can we say or how does either monumental fresco-ed rendition of the theme for this article of faith touch you or me today? Right at the beginning of what has otherwise been a truly enlightening book on the Crusades, the author, Thomas Asbridge shocked me by playing strange to man's fear of damnation, as if it were no more than a quirk of the Middle Ages. While he may have indeed written a definitive history and advanced the cause of scholarship concerning the period of the Crusades, Asbridge lifts the corner of the veil of his own life's light to show little more than darkness and confusion in his obliviousness to his own ultimate call and the profundity of the nature of his personal accountability before God, the Judge of the Living and the Dead.

Let today’s Gospel from Mark 13:24-32 speak to you again:
Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
  ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

There is nothing idle about living within the context of eternity, focused on that day and hour which is as yet hidden. Rather, human industriousness at any level below that of living and working within, as a part of, that constellation where we are part of God's life sells us short. Noah's flood has past and we live in a world destined for fire. To ignore that or deny it probably explains best the sense of the scowl on the face of Vasnetsov's angel.

As another Church Year draws to a close, we are called to accountability, to make the needed adjustments in our trajectory, such that we remain within that constellation where our Creator and Savior has placed us.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

A little adjunct to yesterday's post

My friend "New Catholic" gave my last post, on the "realism" I see lacking in the demands which Bishop Fellay and/or SSPX put on the Holy Father, some additional publicity, which provoked the whirlwind which one has come to expect from a popular forum like RORATE CAELI. I cannot imagine what he must have edited out!

Yesterday I saw a brief video review of a book by an Italian family author of historical works and social commentary entitled (in English translation) THE BORGIAS - The Black Legend. From his study of the Vatican's Secret Archives the author wants to vouch for the fact that Lucretia never poisoned anyone and died piously as a member of a confraternity... Is hindsight always better? Which authority trumps all others and allows a man to rehabilitate somebody who was part of a story which kept certain apartments in the Apostolic Palace closed for centuries?

I remember a discussion of thirty years ago (with my righteous friend from the post) about discernment, Divine Will/vocation and Divine Providence. He, at the time, was agonizing over choices he thought he had to make and asked me how I was facing the situation. I told him simply that I wasn't facing anything in that matter: that things just happen in my life, really, thanks be to God. God's gentle motions in my life have always required little more than grateful acquiescence on my part and then an unconditional, generous espousal of the lot entrusted to me. Problems arise when I have felt obliged to make a decision or to say: "no, that my life is not going this way". He looked back at me in disbelief and we never touched on the topic again.

I get the impression from the comments on my post that few would doubt my respect for Archbishop Lefebvre and SSPX; I'll let them stare back in disbelief when I say that I am confident that God is running the show, despite the evil He may be permitting, and that I don't need an apology before I give myself entirely to the cause cum et sub Petro, that I dare not claim to win any points sine qua non to be able to make my contribution to the body Catholic for the sake of the salvation of the world. 

Catholic catechesis has been in shambles (a point not to be forgotten, thank you, LONG SKIRTS) for more than 2 generations, but the loss of the sense of the presence of God in our families, the loss of a home-rooted Catholic culture regardless of whether the family is integral or not, disfunctional or not, this is the battle front.

Be realistic and come home! Otherwise, pick up your marbles and move on...?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pick up your Marbles and Move on!

I was trying to decide whether it might be better to title this little reflection "Rules of Engagement", but that sounded too bellicose. Being at a loss all the way around, maybe I should not even attempt to gather and share my thoughts on RORATE CAELI's post of Bishop Fellay's All Saints talk and the commentary engendered by it over there (see Relevant). One of the comments in the combox alluded to the possibility that the missing component in the equation is "honesty": the contributor, who supports SSPX, would claim that many who hold fast to the Lefebvrian position today want no part of Rome or of obeying any authority; they make it up for themselves as they go along. I don't want to believe that possibility and hence the following little attempt to explain why I think that what is missing might simply be tagged "realism".

A goodly number of years ago a priest friend of mine became embroiled in a conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors on an issue of simple justice. My friend is the last person in the world I would ever class as selfish or self-serving; he was always on the side of the underdog no matter what it cost him personally; he could not tolerate hypocrisy, dishonestly, or aggression by the stronger against the weaker. He wanted little for himself really. At some point, he found himself with others in an assignment where all were expected to serve at the whim of the superior. When he balked and protested directly to the superior on his own behalf and on behalf of his colleagues, the superior resorted to pressure tactics, manipulation and verbal abuse. My friend was soon moved to another assignment for refusing to back down. That is all noble and fine. In our imperfect world we often run across similar circumstances. As we are not talking about a marital relationship but rather a work or professional rapport, these things can stand in a broader context and remain irreconcilable though not damning, as the two people must not necessarily live and work together in our big bright world. I know of lots of people in the world of work who change jobs in order to withdraw from an unhealthy or disagreeable environment. If you think about it, this explains partly the Church's discipline for priests being ordained to the service of a specific diocese and yet for good reasons (or not) having the possibility of changing their diocese of incardination, of finding a new place to belong.

This is where my discourse about realism comes in. Tragically let us say, even after being separated from the situation of injustice, my friend would not relent; he continued to seek consequences from others higher up to punish a man who had treated him and many others unjustly. No one denied the truth of his claims but no one was willing to proceed and pronounce judgment; that's not how things work. Realistically speaking, we can say that life this side of heaven is that way. I see parallels in the Lefebvrian case against Vatican II, which cannot come near to claiming that kind of clarity or cogency of my friend's case against his former boss.

To my mind, no one can seriously defend the thesis that the fathers of the council upset the apple-cart. It is utter folly to claim that if Blessed John XXIII had never called the Council we would not have known the tribulation of these years. Who knows if we would be better or worse off today? Despite liturgical abuse, despite the false irenicism distorting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, despite the inadequacy of teaching on religious liberty, democracy or social justice, the alternative closed-ranks defense would have obviated the need for debate on the place of the Church in the world of our time as we would all be required to wear our specific clothing and carry proof of the tax due for being different than the rest in society. This last statement was unfair simply because we don't know how things might have gone.

When Bishop Fellay says that he can't go any farther than he has already gone, I guess I'd like to introduce him to my righteous friend who could not forego insisting on seeing his former boss disciplined for being an oaf (the man's defects did not touch anything regarding the 6th or 9th Commandments). Granted, a few things have gone wrong over the past fifty years and some gravely so, but book burnings have never been popular events and never seen to achieve the results that time and careful scholarship obtain.  Church history keeps coming back to Gioachino de' Fiori and Savonarola... I can't see them ever fairing as well as St. Joan of Arc. I'm sorry!

Monday, November 5, 2012


A couple things recently read have gotten me to mull over again for myself the whole rupture vs. continuity business and not only as it regards our order of worship. When the Holy Father opts for the hermeneutic of continuity it is not only a healthy choice (like fresh fruit in your diet over pastries) it is the only reasonable option. There is no alternative to living within the tradition, dialoguing with it and allowing it to chart my course through life, be "I" or "my" - "me" or "we", as in Church. According to family oral tradition, the men of my great grandmother's generation who heeded the slogan "Go west, young man!" invariably came back from California to the prairie and to the family they had abandoned, if only to recover their bearings. For us I would venture to say that living in continuity is remaining grafted on the vine. Am I saying that a different Vatican II might have spared us the heartache of these last 50 years? No, "instant" is not a category with importance for assessing things (when in the history of the Church has an ecumenical council not also brought trial with it?) and perhaps the "winnowing" which has brought so much to light in our day, will ultimately bear fruit for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The first read was a reflection and plea by Fr. Mark Kirby on his blog, Vultus Christi, to get on with the reform of the liturgical reform by finally putting legislation in place to curb abuse and promote the reform already now overdue. Father's approach called back to mind for me an important book of Laszlo Dobszay, published postumously: "The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite" (T&T Clark, 2010, London). Even more so today, I guess I would hold for Dobszay over Kirby and namely in the sense that there are more arguments in favor of returning to where we left off in 1962 and setting forth organically the development of the Roman Rite. I say this doubting whether something of the sort is even doable. The Holy Father's expression of hope in the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the rite seems more down to earth and promising as a way forward or out of our malaise.

The other thought comes from a book I'm reading and addresses an issue regarding Church life more generally, in so far as it touches upon the quite commonly experienced 20th Century touting of something called renewal, to be preferred (seemingly) over reform, as the way forward for the Church in the midst of social change. Even when the possibility of reform is conceded we can say that for more than fifty years now there has been an opinion abroad concerning reform, which claims it as something other than restoration or regrouping, if you will. This book I'm about half way through by Borys A. Gudziak, "Crisis and Reform, The Kyivan Metropolitanate, The Patriarchate of Constantinople, and The Genesis of the Union of Brest" (Harvard University Press, 1998, Cambridge, Mass.) goes about setting the world stage for the Ruthenian Orthodox revival in the late 16th Century. My mentors here in Ukraine recommended the book to me as a "must read", if I am going to understand something of the origins of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. I am grateful to the author, now Apostolic Exarch in France, for the gift of a copy of the same.

Gudziak adheres to a very popular school of historians, which saw parallels between the various reform movements in the sixteenth century and the twentieth century's popular sentiment on how to face social upheaval... I don't see it that way. These popular historians or theoreticians are in many ways enlightened folks; those within the Catholic community at the time of the Council would break or did break with the past, star-trekking into the brave new world with their own particular canon and interpretation of the documents of Vatican II. Some are still alive today and some are terribly unhappy with the rereading of the Council in continuity with the whole Tradition which is already well under way. Gudziak's authorities on the Reformation do likewise projecting popular 20th Century strategies or analyses back into the 16th Century.

I distance myself from this school mostly because of my own reading of Hubert Jedin on various aspects of the Council of Trent, done back when I was writing my doctoral dissertation. Jedin held his ground, though immersed in that mid-twentieth century climate which, I think, strove to turn its back on our whole historical patrimony given the horrors of two world wars, Soviet and otherwise godless violence as ongoing, and more. Many of Jedin's contemporaries readily criticized the Council of Trent as an inadequate Catholic response to a world in flux. Jedin did not buy this thesis but rather explained that the way to the future, back then and now, cannot rest elsewhere but on firm foundations which cannot be traced out and built new but must be those of the past; I reform and face the present by retrenching as did the Tridentine Church. To say it another way, no matter how well-read, no matter how smart or clever you might be, if your present is shaky or uncertain, the only way into the future lies in recovery of your past. Hermeneutic of continuity?

Do you remember some years back the big push in radio advertising in favor of a program called "Hooked on Phonics"? The advertisers were targeting parents and grandparents to sell them a tutorial in good old-fashioned phonics, as a way to recover English language skills which schools were no longer imparting. Common sense and/or popular wisdom forbids imagining a world disconnected from its past. God forbid that a faith which comes to us from the Apostles should get caught up in the rupture illogic of abandoning our past or cutting ties with our roots!

I hope and pray that during this Year of Faith parents especially will get caught up in the "back to basics" movement in matters religious. Gudziak describes the perplexity of Polish-Protestant and Ruthenian-Orthodox nobility whose sons chose Roman Catholicism back in the last decades of the 16th Century. I have no doubt that the Lord in His great mercy will not leave His flock untended and will find ways of gathering in a new generation. We owe it to the Lord and to His and our children to do right by them by losing no more time in getting back to basics. I think the liturgical reform or restoration will take care of itself and the Council will bear the desired fruit in a still very unsettled world to the extent that we turn to the Lord, living our faith and gladly sharing it with all of those who are given to us.


Friday, November 2, 2012

My Year of Faith Project

So far my sharing in the "Flocknotes" project to read the whole catechism during the year of faith has been coming nicely (cf. My resolution post) and I haven't missed a day. Today's section on the characteristics of faith should or could be more ingrained in people's lives or their perceptions of what the true significance of life with God in Christ implies. Here's my favorite one:

"Perseverance in faith
162     Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be "working through charity," abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church."

It gives a much more articulate, a richer sense to what me mean by saying that I, you, we, she or he is a "practicing Catholic". Faith is not once acquired and then kept, but must be worked at in strict companionship with the Church. Too many people today neglect perfunctory Mass attendance on Sundays and Holy Days; they never confess their sins; they reduce the moral code to something less than "be nice, if you can". I guess they can claim Baptism, but all else seems to be on their own terms. It does not square with N. 162 of the Catechism, which is not only an authority, but to my mind is also just too evident a truth. 

I fear that our cemeteries (thinking of All Souls Day today) are all too full of memorials to folks who wrote their own ticket in this life, not managing even to be nice much of the time. There has been and continues to be much talk about "secularization", as if that particular bane were the start and not the last nail in the lid of the coffin. It is hardly since yesterday that, to quote my paragraph of the day, "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith."  

 It is a good and holy thing we do, when today and throughout November especially, but always and everywhere throughout the year, we never cease to beg that God show mercy to all who after death find themselves yet not washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, who find themselves less than ready to follow in His train, who find themselves in Purgatory. 

The teaching and exhortation for each of us, encouraging in the great Solemnity of yesterday, All Saints, and in the sober admonition of today, All Souls, is to waste no more time in finally getting around to practicing our faith with all that implies in terms of keeping the white garment of Baptism spotless, in terms of keeping the flame of faith alive in our hearts. Perseverance in faith is rudimentary, timeless in its challenge and a long way from what might be considered the more sophisticated issues tied to combating that polysyllable: secularization.

Reading the catechism each day isn't exactly nourishing our faith with Scripture, but it can bear fruit too in restoring or improving our practice, which serves our perseverance in the faith which will ultimately lead us to the joys of heaven.