Saturday, February 28, 2015

Live and Let Live

"On receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body and life. May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Saviour, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!"  [Saint John de Brébeuf]

St. Ignatius of Antioch has left us with the most articulate supplications from his journey across the Mediterranean region to his death in the circus of Rome asking that no one stand in the way of his full identification with His Lord through martyrdom, by being ground into a Eucharist flour by the teeth of the beasts. The texts we have from the North American martyrs, as they sought to prepare themselves for the seeming inevitability of terrible torture and death at the hands of evil men who would deprive their people of the light of the Gospel, are no less compelling for me.

I don't know if we will achieve the same clarity in sorting out the premonitions and preparation for death of Borys Nemtsov or Nadyia Savchenko. What is clear to me, however, is that their tormentors and murderers are no less godless and hate-filled than were the powers which deprived Antioch of its great and beloved bishop or gave North America its proto-martyrs.

As papal representative here in Ukraine, I am among the privileged witnesses to efforts from people of good will from around the world to save and free Nadyia from the clutches of the death dealers who took her hostage, carrying her far off from her beloved Ukraine. They seek, I suppose, not only to break and destroy her, but trample Ukraine under foot as well. Wickedness arches its back and raises its ugly head against the revolution of dignity! That someone for whatever motive might contest such an interpretation comes as no surprise.

Each of us who are believers in our struggle to conform our lives to Christ must pray about our witness and do so in the mirror of the perfect witness of the Church's officially recognized martyrs. I find myself a bit flagging these days in terms of what that might ultimately require of me in faithfulness to the Truth which comes to us from God alone. I don't envy people and their various struggles in situations on this side of death; that goes doubly for those who are called to witness to Catholic truth. First in my thoughts and prayers these days, in that regard, is Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco as he goes about holding for the Catholic character of the schools of the Archdiocese. I need to, but I think we all as serious Catholics need to pray for the grace of the virtue of fortitude. One does not choose martyrdom and the wisdom of the Church Fathers counsels not to provoke it either.

We pray for others and for ourselves, borrowing thoughts and words from St. John de Brebeuf. We ask that the Lord would guide us to choose Him, to choose the better part.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Culture of Death - Revisited and Rejected

One of my enduring memories of a first visit to Vienna in 1978, with an American family descended from people who fled the Burgenland back before the first world war, was of visiting cemeteries, both the musicians' section of the Zentralfriedhof and a lesser cemetery where Mozart's grave is to be found. Talk was of an expression I had never learned in high school or college German classes: "schöne Leiche". Although there is much more to the expression, you get the gist of it from this little guide book explanation:

"When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was at its peak people paid heavily to make sure they would be remembered. Their obsession of a "schöne Leiche" (a beautiful corpse), embalmed for the memorial service, prompted them to save money to ensure their send off was as grand as possible."

Actually, I think there was a whole world of connotations behind the wish expressed with the Viennese salutation, "schöne Leiche!", but my interest lies with the almost desperate fixation with putting on a nice funeral. It goes way beyond the usual American funeral home exchange of "he looks good" or "isn't she beautiful?"... It points to the all-pervasive character of what we know from the language of Pope St. John Paul II as the "culture of death", of that clinging to the this-worldly at the expense of everything and everybody. It points to the dark and profoundly pagan of our world Anno Domini 2015, which has not yet been enlightened by Christ, Risen and Glorious, in His victory over sin and death. 

The evident references from the "culture of death" refer to abortion and infanticide, to euthanasia, and to contraception, which has cut sexual intercourse loose from its life-bestowing moorings within the stable context of traditional marriage and family life. Beyond that, there is the use of condoms and shields in an attempt to block contagion of the consequences of sharing injection needles and bodily fluids on a promiscuous basis.

People begin to balk when you class most forms of plastic surgery, hormone treatments and late life physical culture as belonging to that same culture of death. What else could it be? We know we can't cheat death and hence keeping up such appearances, when it goes beyond basic health and hygiene to obsession, smacks of "schöne Leiche". I noticed the other day pictures showing up in my adware columns of a rather buff elderly man with a round head, wearing a rather tight pair of jeans. The pictures are the same ones which have been in airline magazines for years. A virtual "schöne Leiche"? Well, perhaps he is. If his funeral has not already taken placed, no doubt he'll want it to be closed casket, with an airline magazine picture near by.

My thoughts keep returning to Cain and his unrepentant worry, under punishment by God for having slain his brother Abel, that in his banishment someone might kill him. Cain wandered off, leaving life and family, for banishment, marked by God and hence assured of a seemingly pointless longevity. Some time back Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church here, the one separated from Moscow, cursed Putin as an offspring of Cain. Lots of others in this part of the world, who fall roughly into the oligarchic class and their retainers, would seem to merit the same condemnation, as they go about killing their brethren, turning their backs on their own, with no seeming other concern than that they be assured their this-worldly prerogatives, the heck with their date with Eternity and the Terrible Judge. When you are "worth" billions, it would seem reasonable you could find at least a billion to bail out the country you helped destroy, no?

Western society is obviously not well; little seems to be done in defense of Cain's victims around the world; it all seems to fall back on the Eternal Judge and His Justice. Then again, I suppose it is worth recalling from Genesis, that there is no word of Adam and Eve intervening to punish Cain for killing his brother Abel; the matter seems to have been left for God. Be that as it may, I still think you and I are called to look the culture of death in the face and rejecting it choose life in Christ, in adherence to the fullness of the Gospel.

Let's leave "schöne Leiche" to the Cains and to empires long since fallen. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mutual Enrichment?

A dear friend of mine from the Caribbean wrote me to ask if I was going to discuss these Zenit quotes attributing a certain stance to the Holy Father regarding the reform of the reformed liturgy. While I was thinking about it, Joseph Shaw came out with a super article over at LMS Chairman. I recommend the article as totally respectful, super level-headed and thought provoking.

He is right in affirming that although the Ordinary and Extraordinary are two Forms of the same Roman Rite, well, to simplify a bit, they don't really mix all that well. Mr. Shaw might even say they don't mix at all. I am fine with that, not only because of the reason with which he argues the point but because of the very different character/nature of the two forms. Especially when it comes to the profound silence of a Low Mass, we are talking about something which is totally foreign to the Novus Ordo daily Mass crowd. Taking one or the other as your point of departure and proceeding to cut and paste cannot be justified.

Our author counsels using the freedom which is ours since Summorum Pontificum and offering the Extraordinary Form liturgy in a parish at its own time, not supplanting Ordinary Form offerings presently on the parish schedule; he is confident people will be drawn to the Mass of the Ages. One of the great scandals or tragedies of the post-conciliar reform was the arbitrariness and often violence with which it was imposed. I applaud Joseph for his sensitivity in this matter.

Nonetheless, the Ordinary Form cannot be left to so much in its regard which has been and is abuse, especially with regard to music, preaching, dance, exaggerated offertory processions, riotous exchanges of the sign of peace, and the casual saunter to dead run Communion processions which leave no sense of the Real Presence. I think that decorum, respect for the rubrics which are there and opting for preparing the gifts and praying the Eucharistic Prayer ad Orientem are not impositions on people but the minimum to be sought after (in all charity) in faithfulness to the Second Vatican Council. 

Our dear Pope Emeritus Benedict did not give us a blue-print for whither the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms should lead us, but at some point we hope and pray that the Supreme Legislator will deem it time to intervene. When that day comes, I am convince that the arbitrary which has plagued us for nearly a half century will give way to something which we "Romans" too can call Divine Liturgy.

Anyway, read Shaw and pray for a restoration of our continuity with a tradition as old as the Church itself!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Return of the King - A Happy Ending for Middle Earth?

Somehow I got myself drawn into Italian politics at least as waged by the La Stampa group and its vaticanista ancillaries; this is the conclusion I draw from a rather special article published by that newspaper celebrating the return of ostpolitik in all its glory to Vatican diplomacy in the person of our dear Cardinal Secretary of State (here). It reads like a passage out of the Lord of the Rings, celebrating the return of the king and hope for the future of Middle Earth.

The start of my involvement was an urgent request for an interview from Vatican Insider, the almost instantaneous publication of the same and a super readiness to correct redaction errors except for the spelling of my baptismal name. Interestingly enough, although Vatican Insider did a Spanish translation of the article they have not done one in English, which leads me to my conspiracy theory. Don't get me wrong, I like the article and have congratulated the author personally; he did a good job (here). You won't convince me, however, that it wasn't always intended from the start to be a building block for the La Stampa piece. The thing was intended for Italian consumption; anything "important" they do comes out simultaneously in English. I won't accuse anybody of attempting to censor a clear statement of the position of the Holy See on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Be that as it may, none of this would really have bothered if the article had not been an over the top celebration of so-called Casarolian ostpolitik.

No doubt curious minds or conscientious types might have googled the word for a definition:

Ostpolitik  ˈɒstpɒlɪˌtiːk/

[noun historical]  the foreign policy of western European countries of detente with reference to the former communist bloc, especially the opening of relations with the Eastern bloc by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in the 1960s.

The word can only be applied to the diplomacy of the Holy See in a derivative sense. Without any variable options to a detente equation such as were available to a nation state or major world power, like arms or commerce, Casarolian ostpolitik was little better than an attempt by the Holy See at appeasement of various Iron Curtain countries in hopes of easing the persecution of Catholics and the restoration of some sort of church structure, while hoping for better times or more progress in "taming the beast". You might ask why the Italian vaticanisti insist on touting such as part of the glory days of Vatican diplomacy.

For days I have been ruminating about ways to address the powerful appeal of Myroslav Marynovych to the Holy Father to be also a loving father to his Catholic family in Ukraine (here). I will not defend my part in the Vatican diplomacy he sees as obscuring the pure light of Christ's Gospel, which rather we have the mission to witness for all the world to see. Perhaps his most telling insight for me is this:

"For many Vatican diplomats, the Ukrainian Church is divided, naïve, unskilled in diplomacy – it does not exist as a center of power. For them, it is only a trouble-maker that creates problems in relations with the only real center of power in our area, the Moscow Patriarchate. And the Moscow Patriarchate’s clear, scandalous sins do not trouble the diplomats: they will give it priority as long as it remains influential in inter-church relations."

Wow! True or false? Makes me sort of feel like Cain from our Genesis readings at Mass these days: Am I my brother's keeper? Apart from natural first duties to my own Catholic family, Marynovych makes the point that genuine ecumenism takes its cue from the Divine Will, from Christ Jesus Himself, Who would have all of us baptized into His Death also living as one in His Church. There is little consolation in being able to appeal to centuries of calculated "diplomatic" intrigue as, well, "the way it is done in this world".

Marynovych points a finger at us diplomats, blaming us for stifling the Pope's ministry on behalf of the oneness of Christ's flock, or in his words:

"So the Pope, a brave pastor and moral authority, is forced to be a careful diplomat who is afraid to name the cause of the pain which his flock is suffering. However, I think it’s even more dangerous that diplomacy and reluctance to spoil relations with Moscow has invaded the domain of the Catholic faith. Calls for reconciliation hang in the air if the main prerequisite of all reconciliation, truth, is not secure. If the Church does not establish and defend the truth, it cannot carry out its peacekeeping mission or establish appropriate relations with other sister-churches."

Truth to be told, powerless as we are, the diplomatic part is easy for the Holy See and we are out there on all three points: 1) respect for a sovereign nation's territorial integrity is fundamental to international law and Russian annexation of Crimea is a gross violation of this body of customary law governing relations among states; 2) the chaos reigning in Donbas does not free Russia for its obligation to peacemaking: borders should be closed without delay to stop the flow of combatants and arms enabling Ukraine to establish order on its territory; 3) humanitarian aid is desperately needed by Ukraine, which should coordinate any flow of aid with the help of international agencies like the Red Cross. Speaking that truth does not accomplish it, but perhaps the Holy See still possesses some moral authority, such that other nations would be encouraged to seek a lasting peace for Ukraine and the world in adherence to the truth and in justice.

Ecumenism is harder, much harder, but not impossible, as it is ultimately God's work and not our skill which will bring Christ's Church together in love. We must remain faithful and offer the convincing witness of our profound respect and ardent love for all of the Churches now in communion with each other, with and under the Successor of St. Peter to whom Christ entrusted the mission of strengthening the brethren, of binding the Church together in love.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bellarmine on Papal Authority and Curial Reform

On Temporal and Spiritual Authority (Natural Law Paper)
Bellarmine, Robert 
(2013-07-16). Liberty Fund Inc. Kindle Edition.

"The reason why there is not a greater abundance of examples in the New Testament is that God wanted to begin his Church with poor and humble men, as is said in 1 Corinthians 1, so that the growth of the Church would not be reputed the work of man, which would have happened if it had grown through the favor of princes. Indeed, to the contrary, in the first three hundred years God wanted the Church to be oppressed with all force by rulers all over the whole world, in order thus to demonstrate that the Church was His work and that it was more powerful in suffering than they were in oppressing it." (p. 15).

The bulk of this book is a refutation of Barclay's critique of Bellarmine's theory of the Pope's exercise not only of spiritual authority but even of temporal power for cause. The primacy of the spiritual sheds light on the Pope's power to depose kings and princes for the sake of saving the souls of the Catholic subjects. As bizarre as it may sound to us today, realism permeates Bellarmine's discussion; the writings of the great Jesuit Cardinal merit our thoughtful attention. They should shake us out of complacency or resignation in the face of a world which seeks forever to deprive us of our baptismal birthright.

Needless to say, it is not a book for everyone, but I am glad I picked it up. Given all the talk about reforming the Roman Curia, I found the last short essay, written and delivered to the Holy Father for his counsel, to be particularly enjoyable: On the Primary Duty of the Supreme Pontiff (pp. 406ff.)

Bellarmine speaks here about the Pope's universal mission as being the most important of his threefold exercise of power (universal, particular, temporal) and, since he cannot govern everywhere immediately or directly, the crucial importance of naming good bishops for the sake of the flock. He points out areas in need of reform in this regard, most of them still applicable today:

"It seems to me that there are six issues that need to be reformed and they cannot be neglected without harm." (p. 411)

1. long-term vacancy of churches (Bellarmine things vacancies should be filled within three months!).
2. the advancement of less than useful prelates: churches should be provided with good people, and not people with good churches.
3. the pastors’ absence from their churches (with bishops or cardinals often at the Papal Court working and enjoying the benefice of a neglected diocese).
4. spiritual polygamy, that is, when many churches are assigned to one person (Bellarmine singles out the case of Cardinal-Bishops holding more than one benefice).
5. the easy transferring of bishops from one church to another, which can be seen especially in six cardinal bishoprics and in the Spanish bishoprics.
6. that bishops resign without legitimate cause (this being the only one for which I cannot find a contemporary instance).

St. Robert Bellarmine is not in the least blase` about the Church and the Papacy, but by the same token for all his faith in its supernatural character he gazes up and points out its foibles with a clear eye.

Accolades for Stefania Tutino: she has produced an eminently readable English edition, rich in bibliography and explanatory notes.

Quarantine against Contagion - Saving Lives through Excommunication

"A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”" (Mark 1:40-41)

The First reading for this Sunday, taken from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46, would have been cause of consternation for my dear, long dead, favorite uncle. It would probably have put him off such that he paid no more attention awaiting the priest's homiletic explanation, then, no doubt, only to be miffed that not a word was spent on this thing about leprosy and contagion:

"The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘If a swelling or scab or shiny spot appears on a man’s skin, a case of leprosy of the skin is to be suspected. The man must be taken to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests who are his sons.  ‘The man is leprous: he is unclean. The priest must declare him unclean; he is suffering from leprosy of the head. A man infected with leprosy must wear his clothing torn and his hair disordered; he must shield his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” As long as the disease lasts he must be unclean; and therefore he must live apart: he must live outside the camp.’"

Had he then by a Sunday afternoon visit from his favorite (back then not even thirty years of age) priest nephew, in response to his irritated insistence, I would have attempted to settle the matter by saying the Church intended with this text to document why in the social-cultural context of the day it was so daring of Jesus to even speak to a leper, let alone touch him and perform a miracle of healing. No doubt my uncle would have let me off the hook, albeit without the satisfaction he desired in terms of an explanation for a scene without corollary in his then many years of life, reflection and experience. I am not saying that if this reading had been the occasion for a specific teaching, somehow applicable to our day and time, that my uncle would have accepted it; he would have had lots more questions for me but they would have been beyond annoyance that the passage had been passed over in silence and centering on something very concrete and substantive.

In attempting to make sense of Russian aggression here in Ukraine, I read a lot of articles by Paul Goble, who reviews and comments on a broad spectrum of Eurasian issues, referring for the most part to Russian sources. I  rarely agree with the people he quotes and don't always agree with his analysis, but I do not regret the time spent on helping me form my own mind on the issues.

The other day he posted an article on attitudes toward marriage and family in the Russian Federation, entitled "Widespread Support among Russians for Non-Traditional Families Disturbs Orthodox" (here). It would seem that Russians differ little from people in the "wicked West", so eagerly condemned by President Putin and the Orthodox Church of Moscow. There, as in the West, cohabiting before marriage, bringing forth children outside of wedlock, excluding children entirely from marriage, not marrying, and much more seem to go, yes, even in the bosom of Holy Mother Russia. This is not reason to gloat or scoff, but rather to reflect on what faces us all. One could even express understanding for Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's talk about a "strategic alliance" among Christians to push a moral agenda. Western romantics are kidding themselves about Orthodoxy of a Russian stamp being better than we or having the answers; no traditionally christian land or region seems to have a corner on moral decadence; we are all in trouble.

The cure` of Ars, St. John Vianney did much more for his parish and the world than spend hours and hours in the confessional. He also worked hard to root out what had been acceptable or common forms of dissolute entertainment in town. He re-channeled lots of energy for good. Maybe that accounts for his popularity today: he led out of his own powerlessness; he was unflinching in his personal asceticism and thereby led people to choose Christ over all. He was judge in Christ's stead only within the internal forum of the confessional; there he spoke the truth and lifted up the penitent in the person of Jesus Christ, who had gladly healed the leper who sought his aid. For a whole people or tribe, as valuable as a multiplication of Vianneys would be, it is not enough. Law, precept must protect the whole people from confusion and contagion. Public evil-doers must be cast out; St. Paul would say for the sake of their own salvation. They must be cast out for the sake of the whole.

That is where Leviticus of this Sunday comes in for me and that would be an essential component of anything I could say on this Sunday about the mercy of Christ toward those who present a mortal danger for the community.

At some point in the desert on their Exodus journey to the Promised Land, in those forty years of forging a People for God, the excommunication of loved ones diagnosed with leprosy was surely an innovation and must have come very hard and been met with rebellion. Imagine the Levite or priest proclaiming Dad or Mom "unclean" and driving that person from the camp! The issue was contagion and the goal was to spare the community, not so much in punishment of the afflicted person, but for the preservation of the whole people from the rigors of this dread illness.

Up until about a half century ago, people understood (without necessarily liking it) the good sense of moral quarantines as well, even of excommunication as medicinal perhaps for the evil-doer, but more importantly as defensive of the culture and protective of a nurturing environment for innocence and virtue, already sorely tried by the wickedness and snares of the devil. The battle against principalities and powers was certainly more real than it is today and common wisdom ratified attempts by authority to reduce the amount of harm and confusion public sinners could cause the community by labeling them "unclean" and casting them out. The routine link between Confession and Holy Communion with the longer fast also served to preserve non-communicants from judgmental stares.

When the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983, it was noted that causes for automatic excommunication had been drastically reduced: notably committing or materially cooperating in a procured abortion remained on the list, both because of the gravity of the crime and because of the real moral danger its scandal presented for the whole body of the Church. Within the Church today, there is what has been labelled a "mercy party" seemingly oblivious to the dangers of  unmanaged or unmanageable moral contagion in the midst of the people.

For many Catholics like the Russians in the survey, upholding certain moral standards is a matter of indifference and "experience" at the expense of virtue is regarded as somewhere between harmless and helpful. This is contrary to all we have ever been taught over the centuries; it is counter-intuitive or to quote a slogan, "Measles parties are a bad idea". They talk about the "new PC" (political correctness) on college campuses, which goes about damning anything and anyone contrary to their extended LGBT+ agenda. Perhaps those who shortened the list of grounds for excommunication in the Code were deluded; perhaps today it is time to batten down the hatches, close a few windows and save the children from the harsh winds of moral turpitude; perhaps, really, it is time to create space for the Good News of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is time not to retreat but to fight back.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Emperor's New Clothes - It Goes Both Ways

My earliest recollection of a children's story as a thought piece has to be of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes". For a tale, it is incredibly multifaceted and gives the edge to the clear-sighted simplicity of childhood. If you have never read the tale, well, you are missing a fundamental life lesson (here). If you know the story or once you are up to speed, here's the closing few lines:

"Well, I'm supposed to be ready," the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror. "It is a remarkable fit, isn't it?" He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.
The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn't dare admit they had nothing to hold.
So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.
"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.
"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't anything on. A child says he hasn't anything on."
"But he hasn't got anything on!" the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

When you are small, you laugh at the silly king, so completely taken in by scoundrels and abandoned to his folly by his courtiers; that a child should know better, of course, moves our whole post-infancy crowd to righteous pride in the face of adult dissimulation. As you grow and experience something of life, attention shifts from the silly, vane king, not so much to those in criminal fashion who robbed him, but to all those around him accomplice to their crime, as well as those on the street who dared not point out the king's folly, proving themselves at least fearful if not self-interested to the point of disloyalty to their emperor so exposed to potential ridicule.

I doubt if there are many out there like Hans Christian Andersen today, who are writing things so profoundly childish and fun, yet subtle and insightful to the nth degree. The life lesson to be taught, if you will, is directed neither to the emperor nor to the smart little boy, but to this world's courtiers. Sadly, the "better-than-thou" crowd immediately find manner to point fingers at those who have managed to wiggle their way into somebody's entourage, tisk-tisking them for their self interest at the expense of the man or woman they supposedly are vowed to serve. Let's be kind and term that a first reading of the tale and express the hope for growth and maturity and a look at ourselves generally, as we go about too often giving the difficult other enough rope to hang himself.

Archbishops aren't exactly emperors, even if perhaps just as vulnerable to vanity. As a category, however, we are certainly often the target of the self-interested flattery or fawning which is akin to some people's strategy for strange dogs, out in the open, extending a hand and a gentle word in hopes of fending off a bark or a bite.

Believe it or not, the great Feast of the European Patrons, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, was what got me off on this funny track.  From the Old Slavonic Life of the Saint quoted in today's office:

"The following day, he assumed the monastic habit and took the religious name Cyril. He lived the life of a monk for fifty days.
  When the time came for him to set out from this world to the peace of his heavenly homeland, he prayed to God with his hands outstretched and his eyes filled with tears: “O Lord, my God, you have created the choirs of angels and spiritual powers; you have stretched forth the heavens and established the earth, creating all that exists from nothing. You hear those who obey your will and keep your commands in holy fear. Hear my prayer and protect your faithful people, for you have established me as their unsuitable and unworthy servant.
  “Keep them free from harm and the worldly cunning of those who blaspheme you. Build up your Church and gather all into unity. Make your people known for the unity and profession of their faith. Inspire the hearts of your people with your word and your teaching. You called us to preach the Gospel of your Christ and to encourage them to lives and works pleasing to you.
  “I now return to you, your people, your gift to me. Direct them with your powerful right hand, and protect them under the shadow of your wings. May all praise and glorify your name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
  Once he had exchanged the gift of peace with everyone, he said: “Blessed be God, who did not hand us over to our invisible enemy, but freed us from his snare and delivered us from perdition.” He then fell asleep in the Lord at the age of forty-two.
  The Patriarch commanded all those in Rome, both the Greeks and Romans, to gather for his funeral. They were to chant over him together and carry candles; they were to celebrate his funeral as if he had been a pope. This they did."

Not vanity, on the part of the emperor, not self-interest, on the part of his courtiers, but genuine humility and a complete outpouring of self to the greater honor and glory of God, distinguished young Cyril and were confirmed and exalted by papal decree at his death.

Children can be devastating in their clear-sighted condemnation of vanity and for that reason alone they should be lovingly urged, yes, constrained, to hold their tongues, until years of innocence pass and they can see beyond the king's folly to his courtiers' self-interest, leaving him perhaps exposed out in the cold. Adults not at court should see the wisdom of holding their tongues and not damning the courtiers until they renounce their own self-interested ways and fawning approach toward whomever it is they may not know but certainly whose bark or bite they wish to avoid.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius found themselves caught up in the intrigues of the courts at Rome and Constantinople; they found themselves hounded by "interests" often cloaked in religion, especially from German lands. They gave incomparable gifts in terms of faith and culture to the Slavic peoples, while courting only the King of Heaven.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Secrets Told to Children by the Mother of God

"During the two weeks she told me three secrets but I was not to speak about them to anyone and so far I have not." (from a letter of St. Bernadette - Office of Our Lady of Lourdes) Bernadette recounts one of the details of her Marian apparitions. 

I was talking on Skype last night to a much younger priest friend, who lives half way around the world. He was sharing the challenges facing different groups of young parents he knows in two different cities, as they struggle to band together and give their children the opportunity to study in a school which truly professes and teaches Catholic values. In one city, the public option was so thoroughly debased and permeated by relativism the parents went to work and put together a private elementary school program for 125 children. In the other, the existing so-called Catholic schools had too many teachers who were anything but role models for their children, neglecting sound fundamental moral teaching, so the parents banded together and opened their own Catholic school.

One school's parents were seeking my priest friend's advice as to how to deal with their bishop's opposition to the project, not overt but evident enough to keep potential priest chaplains away from the school. In the other case, a wealthy man in the neighborhood had brought an injunction against the school, even though it was in an area zoned commercial and not residential. Besides urging Father to exhort the parents to courage and prayer, I was able to respond to some canonical questions concerning the celebration of the sacraments on the school premises.

What came to mind as we were talking was a post I had read the other day by Anthony Esolen: More Ways to End the Vocations Crisis, where he speaks about courageously countering the "strategies of suicide", the fatalist mentality which withdraws people from standing up and resisting the spirit of the age, which is death-dealing, to say the least. Much in the same vein, I won't cite the reports of the last days about 75% parish closings in one Dutch diocese or the total disarray of the once great Catholic Church in Belgium. 

Here in Ukraine, many people experience, on top of the trauma of Russian aggression and inner division, a sense of abandonment from all around. It is hard and stirs one almost to angry rebellion against "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" or something like that.

Either Bernadette or Our Lady of Lourdes came to the rescue this morning with a happy thought about secrets told to children. Think of Bernadette! At the time of the apparitions at Lourdes, she was a basically unschooled girl from a rural village. Worlds do change, by God's love, shared in confidence to a child by the Mother of God.

Just as Esolen exhorts to determined action in the face of evil for the sake of the life of the Church, just as parents need to band together to give their children the benefits of a truly Catholic education, so each one of us and all together must do our part to resist aggression from outside and reform Ukrainian society from within. I see signs already that the propaganda edifice, the web of entangling falsehoods which holds whole peoples in thrall is beginning to crumble and unravel. We entrust ourselves to the Lord's mercy and Mary's secrets told to children.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More than Casting out the Money-changers

"Una vera riforma della Curia romana e della Chiesa ha l’obiettivo di render più luminosa la missione del Papa e della Chiesa nel mondo di oggi e di domani." 

In Italian, in the L'Osservatore Romano of 7 February, Gerhard Müller, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, illustrates in close knit fashion what should be the basis of Curial or Church reform. The title translates: Purifying the Temple. My guess would be that the Cardinal did not pick the title; it fits better the media story line we've been hearing ever since the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. The Prefect is as "eminently" eloquent as he is brief in laying the premises for reform in our day and time. The Cardinal's presentation on what has and still does make a reform in the Church is clear-eyed and cool-headed; we need more of such.

Why then does so much of what you read on the topic of curial reform and the upcoming synod of bishops read like a culture wars narrative? It may not be the stuff of an adventure movie or a political expose about some corrupt congressman, but in point of fact Church reform is not about cleaning out anybody's long neglected stable but about something organic, cued by our Lord and Savior Jesus Himself and the millennial tradition of the Church He is not about to leave orphaned. Other than attentiveness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I think it would be a good counsel to avoid "salti mortali" which smack of reinventing the wheel.

These days we celebrated St. Agnes and a new policy for the conferral of the pallium on metropolitan archbishops was announced. Probably for filler, somebody republished the pictures of that "new" pallium copied out of images from the early Church, which Pope Benedict XVI after politely trying for a while abandoned in favor of one much like the traditional one, only with red crosses instead of black. Pope Francis has come full circle back to where we were ten years ago and everybody is pleased. In small matters and in great, much of the will to change or "improve" is born of unrest, of some sort of "itch" not attributable to the promptings of the Spirit.

No doubt the press will have a field day from now until the Holy Father and the Curia go off on their annual Lenten retreat. We must just endure and hope that cooler heads in Rome will prefer the promptings coming from the Lord Who will not leave His flock untended. And so we pray.....

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Yalta, The Place of the Skull?

Depending on your Catholic upbringing and whether you were exposed to classic Crucifixion iconography, you may or may not be conscious of the skull buried at the foot of the Cross and bathed in the Precious Blood of Jesus, Our Savior and Our God. The skull is that of the first Adam, now washed clean of his sin in the Blood of his Descendant, the second Adam, the Christ. The imagery is part of the reason why pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, when they reach the top of Calvary there, are told that this is the axis, the center point of our world and our history, this, the Place of the Skull. This is the place in history, in time and space, of our salvation.

Naturally, the godless and sophisticated pseudo-scientists scoff at such meditations; these offspring of the so-called Enlightenment are too sterile and enamored of death to embrace the poetry of God's great symphony, our hymn to the mystery of God's love and how through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son He chose us from all times to share in the everlasting life and light of His Presence. The earth-bound and destined to die seem more enthralled by other axes or delimiters (think of the neo-pagan attraction to Stone Hendge in England). I think Yalta in Crimea, for Europe at least, is another one of these delimiters, an axis around which much has turned and not just since the infamous conference, starring Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, held there in February 1945.

Chance and geography have divided Europe since time immemorial, setting off or into motion certain mechanisms, which are far from reasoned but jealously defended as determinate by these so-called champions of reason and secular values against the Jerusalem axis. Yalta becomes in a way the European axis, if you will. Beyond the realm of the Roman Empire, Crimea was the place of exile and testimony to the martyrdom of two early popes: St. Clement and St. Martin. It played the frontier again in the senseless slaughter of the Crimean War. Perhaps not quite so ancient a demarcation line would be the Elbe River, which St. Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134) looked upon from its west bank at Magdeburg as marking off the Christian west from the pagan east. Interestingly enough, centuries later his brethren would save his bones from desecration by German protestant iconoclasts by carrying them east to Prague.

Certainly from the time of Sts. Cyril and Methodius (c. 815-885) western Catholicism from Germany was pushing east of the Elbe and attempting to impede efforts of the saintly brothers of Saloniki to extend Byzantium's sphere of interest through evangelization into these regions. Constantinople, not that many years later, was successful in pushing north from Crimea to Kyiv and beyond when St. Volodymyr presented the people of the Rus' for Baptism. Centuries later, Muscovy attempted to bring territory west and south under its control, fighting time and again to try and hold Crimea and repeatedly pushing west toward the Elbe. Stalin got what he wished and more in February of 1945 and strong men without warrant divided Europe into spheres of influence, seemingly guided by arbitrary delimiters almost as old as time. The whole thing, I am sorry, smacks of Stone Hendge and shows little or no concern for the populations involved and their dignity.

Most people have some awareness of how burdensome this has been for Catholic Poland but less so for the people of Ukraine. Historians are wont to say of the peace Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, that it actually set the stage for World War II, because of its injustice. The same can be said of the Yalta Conference, which held many peoples bound until 1989 and beyond. It would seem that for some reason Russia today is again pushing to control all within the "mystical" delimiters of Yalta and the Elbe. It would seem that the strong men of the world are also obsessed with respecting those delimiters, as if they were not arbitrary but somehow written in the stars. Calvary denotes the axis of the world's salvation, freeing all for eternity through the Blood of the Cross, and Yalta marks the epicenter of the killing fields, Europe's death-dealing place of the skull.

Rationalists ought to scoff at such determinism, now shouldn't they? Me thinks there is a demon that needs to be expelled. What else indeed could be at work in a Western world unwilling to defend the integrity of today Ukraine, tomorrow the Baltic countries and Poland... all the way to the Elbe?

Yalta, the place of the skull? Not hardly! It is sacrilegious even to think it. Free men turn only around the center point of Calvary, The Place of the Skull, the place in time where God in His love freed us from sin and death, and for the sake of something much better, greater than spheres on influence delimited maybe by Crimea and the Elbe.

Jesus, Asleep in the Boat?

Yesterday I happened to watch a video interview done here for UKRAINE TODAY with a man from Germany who works for a children's aid agency and knows the country from before what he called, without hedging words, "Russian aggression". He said that he'd be going home with the message that, regardless of how ignoble the motivation, Germany, Europe, the World must react to support Ukraine in its fight for survival or face the flow of refugees, homeless, injured, starving and dying, who will perforce be thrown upon them. I have heard this before, months ago, from representatives of the European Union, UNDP and more, but somehow this video seemed even more poignant. In my prayer all I could think of was a supplication to Jesus, the Lord, asleep in the boat, to wake and by His power as God save us, save the Ukrainian people, on these stormy seas.

I ask for prayers from friends and a change of heart for those bent on the destruction of Ukraine. Emotions apart, in an ordered world, we must stand on the fundamental principle enshrined by international law that pacts are to be respected: the world has committed itself since 1991 and many of the big powers again in 1994 to upholding Ukraine's sovereignty within well defined borders which include Crimea. Russia, first and foremost, owes it to itself and to civilization to back off, close the border and protect its neighbor from all who would harm her from outside. Other countries need to come to the aid of Ukraine, perhaps foundering, and gift her with the means of charting a future marked by justice and peace, in truth.

O Mother of God, Cover this People in Your Bright and Protective Mantle!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

At the Heart of Vatican Diplomacy

Over at EPPC, George Weigel has published a fine article entitled "Evangelical Challenges for Vatican Diplomacy". He establishes his premise with a worthy first paragraph and goes on to draw some conclusions and make some suggestions, also regarding problematic relations with certain countries.

"The bilateral diplomacy of the Holy See is unique in world affairs, in that it has little or nothing to do with the things with which diplomats typically occupy their time: trade issues, security matters, visas. Rather, the reason why the Vatican engages in bilateral diplomacy is to secure the freedom of the Catholic Church to be itself in the countries with which the Holy See has, or wishes to have, diplomatic relations. To be sure, in crisis situations, the Holy See’s representative in a crumbling or violence-ridden state can also serve as an honest broker amidst contending local parties, or a voice for persecuted Catholic communities, or a channel for humanitarian assistance. But whatever the situation, the first task of the pope’s representative to another sovereignty is to help maintain free space for the Church’s evangelical, sacramental, educational, and charitable missions, all of which are essential to what it means to be “the Catholic Church” in any human situation."

Far be it from me to challenge George on anything and certainly not on his basic premise regarding why the Holy See has sought to obtain and establish bilateral relations with 180 nations and has a comparable number of resident ambassadors (150) to those maintained around the world by the big powers, like the USA and China. But neither compulsion nor the Weigel premise, that "...the first task of the pope’s representative to another sovereignty is to help maintain free space for the Church’s evangelical, sacramental, educational, and charitable missions, all of which are essential to what it means to be “the Catholic Church” in any human situation.", explains how this investment in personnel and material (buildings and operational expenses), which amounts to much more than most countries are willing to spend to further cultural, commercial and geopolitical aims, serves the designated purpose. In a couple words, if evangelization is your goal, there are better ways to spend your money.

Without wishing to scoff at my own trade or sell my colleagues all over the world short, I wish to question whether furthering the spread of the Gospel, in the strict sense, by freeing space for the mission of the Church, is indeed the primary goal of Vatican diplomacy. The ancient roots of my trade are tied to papal legation as exercised first at the court of the emperor in Constantinople and then at the courts of western emperors, various kings and queens across Europe. The first residential or permanent legations, of which remain today only Madrid and Vienna, functioned basically as branch offices of the Roman Curia, as was the case for Apostolic Delegates in Latin America and Africa right up until Vatican II. The enduring trait of Vatican diplomacy, however, which explains why now in the post-Conciliar period, despite the radical reduction of bureaucratic work on behalf of Rome for the Church in a given country or continent, is the drive to be present and acting in the public square, in the midst of the nations.

The unification of Italy in 1870, depriving the Pope of the Papal States and confining him to the Vatican for almost sixty years, was a terrible trauma, even if most church historians love to rate it a godsend for the Papacy. Despite what we learned in the Academy about the sovereignty of the Holy See, without territorial hegemony, based on custom/international law as illustrated by the continuous sending and receiving of ambassadors over the course of those years, I believe the case can be made for a concerted will on the part of the Vatican not to be excluded from the public square, aka world diplomatic community. This way of reading it speaks better to the reciprocity of it all, most nations being flattered by this attention from (you choose): the world's oldest monarchy, the central government of world Catholicism, an entity which stands for peace, justice, and doesn't look to improve its balance of trade with the other.

By rights, I owe both George and the reader some thoughts on the other important chapter of international accords, concordats and the like. Highly touted by some, they generally serve the contracting state more than they ever have the Holy See and the cause of the spread of the Gospel. More on that at another time!

It sounds too harsh to say that Blessed Pius IX somehow managed to get his grief institutionalized but that is sort of what I am trying to say. Perhaps the debate some of the Council Fathers demanded on the issue was premature, but the real question is not the one of diplomacy. Since Blessed Paul VI, it has been clear that Papal Representatives in the bilateral sphere have as their first duty to foster the Petrine Ministry, to help the Holy Father strengthen the brethren, bind Christ's Church together in love. Maybe now is the time to look again to see just how we are doing on that account?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Passing the Torch in Battle

My Battle Against Hitler: 
Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich
Von Hildebrand, Dietrich; Crosby, John Henry
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. 
Kindle Edition.  (2014-10-21).

"God is offended regardless of whether the victim of a murder 
is a Jew, a Socialist, or a bishop. Innocent blood cries out to heaven." 

"We know from the memoirs that the main instrument by which Dietrich von Hildebrand fought against Nazism and for the independence of Austria was the journal he founded in Vienna, Der christliche Ständestaat. He fought as a philosopher; he fought at the level of first principles." (p. 245).

As I am discovering, there are lots of enthusiastic reviews of this book to be read. It is absolutely great both for the account of those years of struggle against Nazism and Anti-Semitism, as well as for the English quotes from articles which appeared in his famous journal and thereafter from New York. So much of von Hildebrand in his fight against National Socialism and its associated errors, against the background of the tired old world of his day, could serve as a mirror to challenge the feckless in our own day and time, perhaps even more doped and duped by post-Enlightenment relativism than was his world of the mid-20th Century. The struggle for objective truth, in defense of the primacy of the human person within community, under the Kingship of Christ, continues.

One of the questions which I kept asking myself throughout the book was whether a true Catholic Christian, a thinker, a writer, a lecturer, could be sensed as such a threat to its very existence by a lying regime today:

"The meeting was also very gratifying for me. Fr. Alois told me that, among other things, the conversation touched upon me and my journal. Papen said, “That damned Hildebrand is the greatest obstacle for National Socialism in Austria. No one causes more harm.” This made me very happy because it meant that my work and my battle in Austria had not been for naught." (p. 227).

Von Hildebrand and his family fled Austria just ahead of Hitler's troops and the Anschluss. Though he himself would not revel in such a distinction, the Gestapo had him at the top of their wanted list after Austria's government leaders; von Hildebrand with his pen seemed to have been enemy N.1 of the Third Reich.

None of us can aspire to such worth in the face of evil, but we can certainly pray that the Lord in our day and time would raise up such warriors in the defense of righteousness.