Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lead Me, Lord!

Homily at Funeral Mass - Dolores M. Gullickson
Holy Cross Parish, Hutchinson, KS
30 January 2013
I: Wisdom 3:1-9
Resp. Ps. 27… The Lord is my light and my salvation.
II: Romans 5:5-11
Alleluia: John 6:40
John 19:17-18, 25-39

The Pillar of the Cloud by Blessed John Henry Card. Newman
LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.                (At Sea. June 16, 1833.)

“Lead, Kindly Light…”! Bookends, if you will on the Christian experience are the two great feasts of Christmas and Easter: two tiny lights, the star of Bethlehem and the Easter candle entering the darkened church of our Easter Vigil; the two rough wooden structures which bore our Savior, the Manger or feed trough of Bethlehem and the Cross of Calvary. Despite our own hardships, a Christian’s path through life is not so much conditioned by the darkness of our world, that is, by Newman’s encircling gloom, as by the seemingly tiny and kindly light of Christ, which leads us on, where? “O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night is gone…”

Some of you are here with us today to say goodbye to Dolores, to our dear Mother, and that is absolutely wonderful. We are grateful; we are most appreciative. For those of you, Catholic or not, who may not know, who may not exactly understand how we Catholic Christians do that, let me explain that we do it by the light of the Easter Candle and in the shadow of the Cross, caught up by Christ’s will in the song and celebration of the angels in the courts of heaven in this the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Today in our prayer, on Dolores’ behalf and on our own, we have three things to say to God: “Thank you, Lord, for Dolores!”, “Lord, forgive Dolores!” and “Lord, forgive me, a sinner!” We all say these three things today as official Church and each of us will continue to repeat them in our daily prayers for as long as we live.

 “Thank you, Lord, for Dolores!” As the baby of her family and at 87 she outlived an awful lot of relatives and friends. In 1985, she buried our father, her husband Leon, and previously, in 1980, together they had to bury their son, our brother, David. God gave her to us, her children and grandchildren (unto a first great-grand) as a kindly light, a source of strength and teaching. As parents are supposed to be, as baptized people are supposed to be, she was a steady and powerful witness to Christ for us. “Thank you, Lord, for Dolores!” Give her rest now from her labors as a good and faithful servant.

“Lord, forgive Dolores!” Mother was all too aware of her own sinfulness and that of others. She did her best always to pray for others who had died, as well as pray for the living, recommending them to God’s love and to His mercy. She made no secret in these last years of her struggle to be charitable toward those who got on her nerves. Mom would be offended if we tried to glorify her or make of her a saint. She believed in the Church’s teaching about Purgatory; it made perfect sense to her, as it does to any thinking person, that our sins have consequences, that the God Who loves us would not only have us seek forgiveness in Confession, but would also have us purged of the consequences of our sin after sacramental absolution, would have us refined like gold in a furnace through self-imposed penance in this life and if need be a winnowing or threshing process after death and before heaven to eliminate what chaff might yet be left clinging to us to be eliminated such that we might come before Him and be with Him in glory forever, without wrinkle or spot or anything of the sort. In this Holy Mass and in every Mass and prayer we offer for the repose of her soul or for our own dear departed family and friends, we beg the infinite merits of Christ our Savior for them and for her: “Lord, forgive Dolores!” Please, do not fail to pray and sacrifice for the Poor Souls, do not forget to remember Dolores at the Altar. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord! And let perpetual light shine upon them! May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!

And thirdly: “Lord, forgive me, a sinner!” Newman again: “I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path, but now lead Thou me on! I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, pride ruled my will: remember not past years.” The Church wills funerals not only for the deceased and for the consolation of those left behind. The Church, God really, our Creator and Savior wills funerals for all of us too! A certain fear and trembling should be part of the experience for us all. I pray that this celebration would inspire us one and all to seek repentance, to seek Christ’s mercy for our sins and failings: “Lord, forgive me, a sinner!”

Each year for about five years now in January, as the Christmas Season in Ukraine begins to wind down, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Kyiv celebrates a social evening to raise funds for the new cathedral. At this year’s event, a friend of mine introduced me to a young woman who had already received the status of professor; she had published books in various languages and gained a measure of international acclaim. Not five days later, I received notice of her death in a one car accident, when the driver of the car in which she was a passenger lost control on a patch of ice and went off the road. We know neither the day nor the hour.

We certainly have, by the grace of God and His favour, a mission to accomplish for the sake of the life of the world, on behalf of the salvation of those whose lives we touch. Will we be Christ for others during a short life or long? Does it really matter whether our days allotted be many or few? Life is not ours to plan; 8 or 80 years, what matters is this one step and how we witness to Christ today. “Lord, forgive me, a sinner!” In the light, the kindly light of Christ, let us seek to move forward, despite mistakes, despite our sins, praying that He will direct our path through the darkness which surrounds us. If only I had…. If only this…. or that… or these… If only then well those…. Well what? Funerals should remind me to live as a penitent, in intimate and humble communion with Christ’s Church, at one with Him in faith, hope and love. “Lord, forgive me, a sinner!”

At the Foot of the Cross the Blessed Virgin Mary, sinless from the very moment of her conception and despite her perfection of body and soul, would no doubt rather have had things turn out somehow differently. Caught up as she was in the agony of her dearly beloved Son, it was but a little light there for her. We stand with her in the shadow of the Cross grateful as she to take life one step at a time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mea Pars Deus

This Christmas Season gifted me, after "Latin" Christmas, with the full Octave from 7 to 14 January, of exposure to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy here in Ukraine: cathedral liturgies, an episcopal ordination, solemn parish liturgies, a private daily liturgy in the Bishop's chapel, most in Ukrainian and the whole ordination in Church Slavonic. I was more impressed than ever with a Divine Liturgy marked in its character by an emphasis on intercessory prayer; it is truly liturgy as a prayer of ongoing and earnest petition. It is an oriented liturgy directed to the East, it is an ongoing dialogue, it is very much sung, and much of the celebrant's prayer is sotto voce. It was an intense, week long experience which nonetheless gave me time to reflect on our own Roman Rite and its needs in reform.

The Roman Rite has its own genus and that is where I am at home; that is where I belong. Nonetheless, the exposure I am receiving here in Ukraine to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy in the variety of its Slavic expressions which exist here side by side enriches me and fills me with awe. The TLM as it has always and everywhere been celebrated in the Roman Church has a greater affinity to the Byzantine Liturgy than does the Novus Ordo as commonly experienced in various parts of the world. If the NO were oriented, if priests faithfully observed the rubrics of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, if Holy Mass were only accompanied by truly sacred music, if Communion on the tongue were to return universally, then, I think it would find its way back into the great tradition of Catholic Divine Worship.

My Byzantine Christmas Octave aided me in my reflection on one of the other challenges to recovering continuity with our liturgical tradition, that is, with all that is required for healing the rupture and returning the Roman Rite to the path of organic development. More specifically, the challenge for me and I suspect for others is one of comprehending the role of silence in the Roman Rite, which is indeed one of its hallmarks and something foreign to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy. In the Byzantine Liturgy, if the celebrant is not singing then the choir and congregation or a cantor or deacon is. It is a layered experience even during what we would call the Eucharistic Prayer, not unlike the dynamics of the prayers at the foot of the Altar of the TLM, where at Solemn and Pontifical High Masses the choir is singing an antiphon while the bishop or priest and ministers are on another track if you will. I remember getting totally distracted because of the choir once at a Solemn High Mass in the cathedral at home, as a young adolescent, and completely losing it during the Confiteor, with Monsignor firmly telling me to start over and concentrate on getting it right. As I say, even the Eucharistic Prayer in the Byzantine Liturgy is layered as the celebrant and concelebrants quietly pray as the choir sings the Sanctus. They finish and the Institution Narrative is sung aloud with choir and congregation responding Amen, Amen, Amen. It is a beautiful world, but not the Roman one.

Many of those I have read recently rightly point out the fact that the pauses to be observed in the Novus Ordo are not the same as the silence which has its place not only in the priest's private Mass but even in the Pontifical High Mass of the TLM. Not that long ago (here) I started to grapple with this difference and what a challenge it represents for some (perhaps a greater challenge than even using Latin as the liturgical language). The question, or a question to be faced, is that of seeing or understanding how silence binds all together in a liturgical action which is directed to God, not anthropocentrically dialogical but in a sublime dialogue between Christ and His Bride the Church, a loving action which in the Roman Rite is not only a feast for the eyes (beauty in symmetry and the arts) and for the ears, but moreover and importantly, in way that Byzantine Liturgy is not, a dialogue of rich silence, not at the Altar where the celebrant is quietly praying the Canon of the Mass, but in the ambience of the church building for its whole length and breadth, where all are focused together on Christ (Oriens) and His great Sacrifice for our salvation.

There are those outspoken (mostly clerics older than me and not so many even any more) who laud the total elimination of the layering typical of Liturgy East and West since the earliest ages of the Church as one of the great gains for rationality that has come with the NO. The only hint of what was once a beautiful and suggestive edifice of silence is that brief moment of the celebrant's personal preparatory prayer for Communion, before he turns to the congregation to say the "Ecce Agnus Dei..."

What have we lost? My octave of reflection tells me that above all we have lost that common thrust of worship directed toward the Father, in the Holy Spirit, Who sent His Son to heal and save us. As much as a blog is supposed to be a log, I guess I'm logging something for you as coming to a greater clarity in my own life. The silent Canon with the one exclamation (Nobis quoque peccatoribus) is our tradition. Could it work in the vernacular? It works in the Byzantine Liturgy celebrated in Ukrainian.

I'm not ready to say: "This is the path! Follow it!" But I am ready to admit a receptivity through mutual enrichment (thank you, Holy Father!) to organic development towards a restoration of the Bride's proper focus on her loving Bridegroom.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Handing on the Faith

These days of Christmas have been marked by a sense of gratitude in my own life for the awareness of the presence of God in my life, which I have not merited but indeed received from home. Thanks to my home environment and up-bring, the Lord is ever present in my life. The notion of the Year of Faith and how that all works, in terms of that awareness of God's presence active and powerful in our world and in our lives, has been very much at the core of my thoughts these days.

What can I say that will make it easier for parents especially to hand on to their children what was handed on to me so naturally by my own parents? The Year of Faith is an occasion to stir up the flame of faith in the lives of us grown-ups, it is a call to invite others back to Christ or to announce Him to them for the very first time, but above all I see this Year of Faith as an awareness arouser for parents in terms, yes of duty, but better, of the privilege which is theirs to hand on the pearl of great price to those whom they love the most, their children. God made me; He made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be oh so happy with Him in the next and for all eternity.

Yesterday was New Years in the Julian calendar and the feast of St. Basil the Great, the patronal feast of the Basilian Fathers who staff my Greek Catholic Parish here in Kyiv, dedicated to St. Basil the Great. For the second year running I could be there for the feast day liturgy and the parish feast which followed. One of the peculiar things about St. Basil the Great as a new church building is that other than the essential icons, the iconostasis of metal and stone is quite open and so from the presbyterium, when sitting in the apse for the homily or for thanksgiving after Communion while the people are receiving, one can see much more of what is happening in the nave of the church.

After a year and nearly four months here in Ukraine, I am beginning to pick up some of what is being said, so some of what Father Provincial was reading at homily time in the letter of His Beatitude the Major Archbishop to all of the Greek Catholic faithful for the Year of Faith was actually understandable to me. Nonetheless, I asked myself how different my situation was from a little girl out there on the other side of the iconostasis, sitting quietly and listening on her grandmother's lap. We were probably understanding about the same, she for her tender age and I for my ignorance of the Ukrainian language. No doubt with the love of family surrounding her she too, like me at that age, would be positively disposed to loving the Lord back Who has loved and chosen her for Himself. I wished for her the same gifts I received so long ago: help to make the Sign of the Cross and somebody at home, again and again, just with me alone, to accompany me through all my basic prayers until I could pray them on my own, just like learning to walk, surrounded by the attention, encouragement and reinforcement of those who loved me and thanks be to God gave me life.

If I work hard at my Ukrainian, maybe next year for Old Calendar New Year I'll actually understand the homily. As an adult, in no uncertain terms, coming to understanding is up to me. At some point that little girl will be on her own in terms of faith, but for now as servants of Christ her parents and extended family, her parish too, will carry her, please God. May she enjoy and in proportion to her age and ability enjoy immersion in the sea of God's love!

We had a visit today from a group of traditional carolers from a Carpathian mountain village come singing and playing for us today. Just before their farewell carol, they asked permission to sing their prayer for those who had died, just as they do at home going from house to house. Some in the group were men and some were boys. I couldn't help notice that one of the boys did not know the words to the Our Father. It happens. Maybe by the end of the caroling the repetition will perfect what was neglected in infancy and childhood. It is never too late to inform good will and give content in words to the longing of our hearts. Please God that the Year of Faith will be a school of prayer leading all to the knowledge of God and granting us hearing and speech to perceive and thank Him for His presence and power in the world, our world!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Et Verbum Caro Factum Est et Habitavit in Nobis

St. Augustine is incomparable and can truly reassure. I was reading over a homily he preached on Christmas Day. The Gospel read was the same then as now: John's Prologue. One could stop alone to marvel at the Bishop of Hippo's reflection on the dynamic of the word shared through his preaching, but he renders it all absolutely boundless and awe inspiring focusing on the Child born of the Virgin. Let me quote just a bit from one of my Kindle favorites:

The human word and the divine Word 

2. Why should all this surprise us about the Word of God, seeing that this sermon I am addressing to you flows so freely into your senses, that you hearers both receive it, and don’t imprison or corner it? I mean, if you didn’t receive it, you wouldn’t learn anything; if you cornered it, it wouldn’t reach anyone else. And of course this sermon is divided up into words and syllables; and yet for all that, you don’t each take portions and pieces of it, as you would of food for the stomach; but you all hear it all, each of you hears it all. Nor am I afraid, while I’m talking, that one of you by hearing it may swallow it all, so that another would be left with nothing to eat; but I wish you all to be so attentive, cheating nobody’s ears and mind, that each of you may hear it all, and leave all of it for the others to hear too. Nor does this happen at successive times, in such a way that the sermon being delivered first comes into you, then has to go out from you if it is to enter someone else; but it comes simultaneously to all of you, and the whole of it to each of you. And if the whole of it could be retained in the memory, just as all of you have come to hear the whole of it, so you could each go away with the whole of it. How much more, then, could the Word of God, through which all things were made (Jn 1:3), and which while abiding in itself renews all things (Wis 7:27); which is neither confined in places, nor stretched out through times, nor varied by short and long quantities, nor woven together out of different sounds, nor ended by silence; how much more could this Word, of such a kind as that, make a mother’s womb fruitful by assuming a body, while still not departing from the bosom of the Father; come forth from there to be seen by human eyes, from here continue to enlighten angelic minds; go forth from there to all the earth, from here to stretch out the heavens; from there become man, from here make man? (Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (pp. 245-246). New City Press. Kindle Edition.)

The word.... the Word! Thank you, St. Augustine! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Think Again

Timothy Snyder. 
Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. 
Basic Books. 

Ever since arriving here in Kyiv in September 2011 one of the books which people have continually put on my "must read" list has been "Bloodlands". Finally, thanks to a head and now chest cold which took me out of commission over Christmas, I got it read. It is indeed a "must read" for all who wish to not so much understand Eastern Europe, because as I discovered, most folk here are not aware of the book, but I think the book can help any foreigner to contend with Eastern Europe. 

If this big part of the world happens to be your home, Timothy Snyder presents a convincing challenge to your general education and can perhaps provide ammunition for rooting out prejudices. Regardless of your place of origin, reading it just might knock down your house of cards and sober you up for life in a world which even yet today is hardly an "us vs. them" affair. It's not hagiography but it's not nihilism either.

As an American reader from the wide open prairie, that Ted Turner and company wanted/want to clear of population and rename Buffalo Commons, I was struck by Snyder's note that Hitler's idea of clearing Eastern Europe of population and making it the natural resource (farming and mining) for his Aryan land empire was inspired by America's westward expansion at the expense of the Native American Peoples: Manifest Destiny West, in Hitler, became Manifest Destiny East. 

Where, I'd say, Timothy oversteps his bounds slightly, is in maintaining that the Iron Curtain impeded discovery of the magnitude of the Holocaust and of Soviet ethnic cleansing. I'm sure they did somewhat and I am sure that official Soviet propaganda, also indiscriminately consumed by the West did its part as well. But the point is, whether you hold yourself Godless or not, you just don't talk about such, especially when people like Roosevelt and Churchill covered over a reality which was much more tragic than the carnage attributable to the Nazi war machine.

I really hope that this book gets read here in what Snyder defines as the Bloodlands. Maybe a great book like this will help a future generation of Eastern European minorities to deal more respectfully with one another? It is as good a try as any.