Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Lord, shall we use our swords?" Lk 22:49

If at the end of this little "Christmas Wish" video you hissed a little "Yes!" and made some sort of victory gesture with a clenched fist, then you might think about getting in a good Confession yet before Christmas. Our longing be not for either inclusion or in its absence for getting the upper hand, but rather that the Infant King would come and in His mildness preside over the hearts and lives of all!

As hard as it has been for me to attend to other than what is happening right here on my doorstep almost in Kyiv, I couldn't help but be distracted by the coup, so to speak, of TIME Magazine naming Pope Francis the POY, the commentary about that, and now the last few days, all the venom spewing forth from various media forces, depicting the Catholic Church as faction-wrought, in total disarray... On top of it all, the announcement of the awarding of a contract to some Madison Avenue (?) company to study and advise the Vatican on how to get the most out of its radio, television, internet and print media! You'll find me reacting neither with a "yes!" nor a "no!", but with a certain perplexity.

As a young priest of 28 years of age, I can remember being pleased/rejoicing about the seeming coup worked early on in the Pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who seemed to succeed in breaking through the glass ceiling, which had imposed a press and media embargo upon the ministry and action of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, certainly following his publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968. Decades later, we can say that getting the message out is not as simple as winning for oneself a favorable press. You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that Pope Francis' so-called "honeymoon" with the press serves either his message or the Gospel better than the press which Pope Benedict XVI enjoyed.

Pope St. Gregory the Great classed the teenager St. Benedict of Nursia as wise beyond his years when he simply walked away from schooling and the corruption of Rome to seek the Lord in penance and seclusion, first in the wilderness of Subiaco. Gregory understood clearly that a Pope didn't have that luxury, but he never lost from view his awareness of what is prime.

Do the divisions, the contrasts, the clenched fists as portrayed by mainstream media exist among us Catholics? If so, we need to repent. If not, how can we get the truth out? Should we be wishing for a better and maybe bigger communication "machine" to fight back and blow the opposition away? Bad thought! Better confess it and move on! We know from the Gospel that Jesus Himself was misrepresented by is opponents; the servant can expect nothing other than what was dished out to the Master.

Granted, we cannot withdraw as indeed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not withdraw from the fray but carried His Cross unto victory. Sharing in His mission, completing what is lacking for the sake of the life of the word, means taking on culture and claiming it for Christ:

"It is because, however, the Catholic Church cannot be a sect, simply enjoying the integrity of its worship, doctrine and behaviour within the walls of a fortified city, but ever seeks to mediate in a universal way the Christ who would 'make all things new', that she cannot be content with the life of even flourishing parishes, monasteries, Church societies, but has to strive to permeate and re-form culture, and the circumambient world of thought and institutions in which men and women live." [Aidan Nichols. Christendom Awake: On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture (Kindle Locations 139-142). Kindle Edition.]

 Rod Dreher, whom I don't always quite understand, put out a nice piece about the lay people choosing to build their homes and raise their families in the shadow of classic St. Benedict; I'll mention Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma as one esample he commented upon. There are lots of little cells like that around the US and elsewhere in the world. We pray that the children so raised will embrace what their parents fought for to gift them. I don't think that big political moves change the world any more than the media can. Ultimately, both have their part in serving something nobler, if they choose, but the world is transformed one sinner at a time: one by one in the confessional, if you will. Some of my more savvy friends and acquaintances reject the distributivism of  G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, scoffing at the idea that you can organize the world around political units so small as an English county or just by giving folks the possibility of self-determination through ownership either of the means of production in some sort of industrial scheme or through planting and growing their own. 

As a follow-up to a reading lesson with my Ukrainian teacher, I looked on YouTube at the first 15 minutes of one of the classic films of all time: Zemlya Earth, from 1930, by Dovzhenko. I shouldn't watch such as it only increases my nostalgia for something I only know through the childhood memories of my mother: subsistence farming. Hardship and deprivation, even death, are mightily counterbalanced by immediacy and the contemplation of creation, God's creation. 

Can we tame "progress": political, technical, communicational? I don't know. St. Benedict walked away from a world corrupt and drew hearts to him and to God. St. Monica prayed her son, St. Augustine out of worldliness and error; God moved him for teaching and guiding our world yet today for more than a millennium and a half. I don't want a snow tank to blow away my enemies, competitors or those who simply ignore me, for whatever reason, with a certain disdain. Join me in wishing, wanting or praying that the Infant King will reign exclusively in our hearts this Christmas. That before Him, even fleeing to Egypt, the idols would fall and that He would enter into His sanctuary, our hearts, by our free choice and His might!


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