Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dancing Waters!

The last days and weeks have seen an increase in significant reflections and observations in the blogoshere concerning the urgency of restoring our Roman Catholic Liturgical Tradition. One of the best summaries of this discussion appeared on the blog New Liturgical Movement: The Growing Realization of the Irreparable Failure of the Liturgical Reform by Peter Kwasniewski. I highly recommend Nicholas Postgate's article for perspective and for substance that of Fr. Thomas Kocik. Just today the LMS CHAIRMAN - THE CHAIRMAN'S BLOG started a new series in the same vein and of the author's usual high quality. To quote from St. Augustine: Take and read!

I wish, however, that Peter Kwasniewski had left it at that, but he also published a piece on Rorate Caeli: What does it mean to be a "traditional Catholic"? Aren't all Catholics traditional? To say the least, it is hard hitting. I'd like to attempt to explain why I think such articles are wasted energy in furthering the cause of promoting the restoration of the Roman Rite.

To explain the random video above and the title of the article, I guess I have to attempt to explain a cultural phenomenon which passed me by for some reason, rendering me a bit of a social outcast. The phenomenon is a popular attraction to something called "dancing waters". Wikipedia lists the topic under "musical fountains" and dates the earliest one to Transylvania in or around 1820. I remember as a child that organists even traveled with portable fountain and light basins attached somehow to the organ and gave concerts which were quite popular. As I say, I could never understand why people, like my Aunt Dorothy, were so passionate about either these or firework displays. We also had a family friend, amateur photographer, who would give slide shows of his still photos of the 4th of July... I'm sorry! While I cannot claim to have better taste aesthetically or otherwise than others, I think it safe to say that "dancing waters" was not the apex of anything in the realm of the performing arts. The attraction continues for people around the world (not just in Las Vegas) and perhaps grows! Try and posit effective resistance to it with reasonable arguments; you are lost before you start!

What do "dancing waters" have to do with Peter's impassioned defense of a sense of and adherence to tradition, especially in matters of doctrine and liturgy, as being the only truly Catholic stance? Very simply, I would say, most folk cannot sort out the difference between faithfulness to tradition and conservatism. Most people tend naturally to be conservative: they can tend rather unreflectively to do things as their parents had done them; they are creatures of habit; a conservative stance is just that. Winning someone for the Mass of the Ages is not an appeal to innate conservatism as if it could be claimed to be part of baptismal character. We're dealing with teaching and learning here. Adherence to the tradition is an intelligent choice, which may be aided by the natural inclination toward conservatism, but it is based always on the noble virtue of obedience and, most likely, on a reasoning process worthy of a human being. Faith comes through preaching as does a worthy appreciation for the tradition. Peter knows that obviously, but he's taking on a crowd (once again on the rise seemingly within the Church and hierarchy) which knows to have conservatism on their side (yes, indeed). 

Conservatism alone does not inoculate a person against a fatal attraction to "dancing waters" nor against "polka masses" or Life-Teen programs (it probably does protect against clown masses, giant puppets and liturgical dance by an Indian Jesuit in a loincloth and bracelets, with a red dot on his forehead and eye makeup). While Peter might be right on every account concerning why the so-called neoconservative position is to be rejected in favor of the tradition, he simply vilifies our closest allies as traitors to the defense of the tradition against the iconoclasts and deconstructionists who got the upper hand after the Council and seem to be attempting a comeback in these last days. How do you fight "dancing waters"? Obviously you don't. Honestly, I am not being impertinent. 

The scandal of the Ordinary Form resides in its failure to be a vehicle always and everywhere of attentive reverence in the presence of the Heavenly Court and at the foot of Calvary, one with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in His Perfect Sacrifice upon the Cross for the life of the world. While it is plain wrong and outrageous to deny that there are worthy celebrations of the Ordinary Form, this does not address the fundamental questions of 1) its radical departure in many points from the whole liturgical tradition of the Latin Church; 2) its failure to adhere both in spirit and in letter to the instructions for liturgical reform imparted by the Second Vatican Council. If you appeal to Papal authority in the promulgation of the Ordinary Form, it should not be done by putting Pope Paul VI at odds with an Ecumenical Council, which he and his successors have steadfastly upheld up until our present day. How do you fight "dancing waters"?

I really think that all people are doing to reform the reformed liturgy is a sine qua non for creating the atmosphere of mutual enrichment (after the mind of Pope Benedict XVI), which will enable the organic development of the Liturgy once it has been restored to its glory (nothing is lost from the good of the 3 successive editions of the Roman Missal and more recent and faithful translations). Father Kocik believes that the reset point for the restoration is 1965; my guess is that others may disagree. I don't think the scholars of the restoration have completed their work; we need a lot more reflection and analysis like that carried on by Joseph Shaw on behalf of the faithful, both clergy and laity. The rediscovery of Eucharistic Adoration has born fruit in faith and vocations all over the world; it sustains many Catholic marriages and saves families. Radical reverence, pondered reverence is a key element in this equation and today's priority for Divine Worship. "Dancing waters" belong in Vegas; our churches, our temples, our very being belongs to God. Human nature understands this and when Church authority banishes all but the sublime from the temple that same nature in its very conservatism, enlightened by a true sense and understanding of our tradition, will embrace it in obedience.

Join me in praying for leadership from bishops and priests to do all in their power through teaching, preaching and action to prepare the way of restoration. Pray that our Holy Father will begin to move beyond the genuine sobriety he personally witnesses in his celebration of the Eucharist to laying the foundations for the restoration which time and again great saints have begged of God for Mother Church. We entrust our prayers to Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Prayers for Ukraine

All great cities have their founding legends. Rome has Romulus and Remus. Kyiv has its namesake who settled on this spot, sailing here on the Dnipro with two brothers and a sister, whose names crown a little water course through the city and two of the heights on which the city is built. Seeing this monumental sculpture of the four founders silhouetted against the all consuming flames of Maidan under assault last evening was almost overpowering. Will Kyiv have to be founded anew? Will it have the resilience to quickly move on to better? In the midst of death, flames and wounding, I offer my fervent prayer that this might be so. This morning especially I offered Holy Mass for Ukraine: for the eternal rest in the embrace of our loving Lord and God for all who have died, for healing and strength for those injured, for protection from evil for this good people, for peace, reconciliation and the building up of the nation on the foundations of the noblest of human principles. May Ukraine find its way to Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind! 

Since coming to Kyiv, early on, I once visited privately the beautiful refectory church of the Monastery of St. Michael of the Golden Domes. Prayers were being chanted on that particular day at that hour. Since yesterday, that sacred space has been dedicated to saving lives and binding up wounds, a truly noble consecration in a time of need. Let this image stand for my hope for the future of Kyiv and Ukraine. That the Lord in His Mercy might hear my prayer for all of those who give of themselves so generously for the sake of those harmed by the violence which has descended upon this good people!

Judging takes place before the Throne of God; you and I must only have reason to tremble for our own sins and failing, as well as praying that others turn away from the path of sin and be spared now and ultimately on the day of final judgment. May the Lord have Mercy, spare the victims, touch the hearts of sinners and bring all a new resolve for the sake of building up Christ's Reign here and now in His beloved Ukraine!

Among the Psalms which formed part of my prayer this morning was this one, which offered me perspective in putting me within that context of struggle in which God's People live this side of Heaven. To one and all: be of good courage!

Psalm 55
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication. 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught 3 by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me. 4 My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. 6 And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; 8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.” 9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it; 11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace. 12 It is not enemies who taunt me— I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me— I could hide from them. 13 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, 14 with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng. 15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts. 16 But I call upon God, and the LORD will save me. 17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice. 18 He will redeem me unharmed from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. 19 God, who is enthroned from of old, will hear, and will humble them—  because they do not change, and do not fear God. 20 My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me 21 with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords. 22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. 23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you. [NRSV Catholic Edition Bible. Harper Bibles (2011-11-15). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. (pp. 518-519).]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Subsidiarity Begins at Home

Lots of reminiscing has been going on about Pope Benedict's abdication/retirement a year ago. Much of it is bathed in or shot through with emotion, mostly positive and characterized by gratitude for all he did during his papacy. Even if the thing is mixed with a little rage, it is still acceptable and comprehensible. Personally, the hardest part for me is the media-driven rhetoric which began at that time attributing to the cardinals of the Church a firm determination to change things with a new pope, i.e. "reform the Roman Curia". This resolve scandalized lots of people around the Catholic world who had never been all that exposed to the anti-Roman bug. Maybe this explains why at the time of the Second Vatican Council the rhetoric shied away from the word reform in favor of speaking about renewal. Maybe if a year ago the cardinals had applied the expression "the curia is in urgent need of aggiornamento", we could have avoided some of this past year's ugliness or judgmentalness.

At any rate, this is where we find ourselves, guilty as charged, sort of condemned without a trial. The word reform has known better days. What to do? I really don't know, but the measures taken so far seemingly to satisfy the cardinals' zeal for the Kingdom as interpreted by the media are not much less perplexing. My guess would be that this explains some of the anger directed at Pope Francis, which people vent through articles and blog posts on the internet. Will this too pass?

According to the maxim "Fools rush in where angels dare not tread", I guess I want to take issue with one or another of the blog posts I have come across; they confront me with challenges I cannot or foolishly will not ignore; there are more, but I will take two which were "inspired" by the Univision summary survey of the pre-synodal inquiry on family related issues, Catholic morality, if you wish. Respect for the author is how I would justify venturing into a critique of this one entitled "In thunder, lightning or rain?" on The Sensible Bond. Obiously, the author of the blog, "Ches", is not alone in his assessment of the Univision survey. To quote another article which appeared on SLATE:

“On gay marriage, respondents backed the church. Support for same-sex marriage outnumbered opposition in only two countries: the U.S. and Spain. Everywhere else, opposition outnumbered support. In Argentina and Brazil, the margin was very tight. In France, it was clearer: 51 to 43 percent.  In Italy, it was quite clear: 66 to 30 percent. In Uganda and the Congo, the opposition figure was nearly 100 percent. Two-thirds of the entire 12-nation sample opposed same-sex marriage.

That doesn’t mean the Vatican can rest easy. The pollsters found that overall, young Catholics were more likely than older Catholics to favor gay marriage, by about 18 percentage points. Unless that gap disappears as young Catholics age, the church will face stress over this issue. On contraception, the stress is already severe. Seventy-eight percent of the 12-nation sample endorsed contraception. In all three South American countries, the support level exceeded 90 percent. Only one country, Uganda, showed a majority in sync with the church’s position.

In theory, being pope, rather than president, means you don’t have to consult polls. In practice, however, a church hierarchy that’s out of touch with its grass roots is in trouble. If your followers don’t agree with you, they aren’t really followers. On issues of family morality, the Vatican has a problem. But the problem isn’t just that Catholics don’t agree with the pope. The problem is that Catholics don’t agree with Catholics.”  [The Pope’s Catholic Problem By William Saletan, on SLATE]

The challenge for me comes from what appears to be a will on the part of Ches, in particular, to tip the scales from the reasonable but unruly exclamation "We've got a problem!" to that of "Francis, you've got a problem!" With this approach one ends up putting distance between oneself and the Holy Father and ultimately doing no more than rattling some other Catholics' "cages". More than likely, your average Catholic who tries to live morally is apt to be provoked into reacting with the typical response, "Not fair! He's only one man!" There's a certain wisdom in this even if we are speaking about the Vicar of Christ.

The Sensible Bond really weighs in on the Pope's failures in leadership and therefore plays the resulting big-time-scandal card. I cannot say that Ches' approach is not fair, but I guess I have a hard time imagining St. Catherine of Siena teaching an ecclesiology which boils down to "The buck stops at Domus Sanctae Marthae". Jesus charged St. Peter and his successors in the Petrine Ministry with "strengthening the brethren". St. Catherine managed to get up close and personal and make some very specific demands on the Pope in exile at Avignon; we might not be able to get that close, but beyond praying for him or being stymied by his approach to the office of pope, I think we owe him our filial counsel. My question, if I could ask him directly, would be: "Holy Father, how do you see the Petrine Ministry? I am sorry but it just isn't clear how you exercise that ministry for the sake of the life of the world today."

Too many of us spend too much time casting down this Pope, as was the case with his successors going back for a couple generations, casting him down from the pedestal to which we have assigned him. I suppose in the pecking order of things both Ches and I should just quietly work at earning our bread and leave such attempts to the one or ones chosen by the Holy Spirit to give the Holy Father, not a nudge from his pedestal, but perhaps an arm around the shoulder on a leveled playing field. Truth to be told, I think the responsibility lies with the College of Cardinals, as they are somewhat responsible for the whole media binge discrediting the Pope's closest collaborators and to an extent not just conditioning its ability to act, but I fear at times hogtying the whole operation. The kind of reform needed is something other than a witch hunt. The cardinals or some cardinal, hopefully, can make it better.

In the next days Pope Francis will have his council of eight cardinals in Rome, he'll have most of the College in Rome for a consistory, and preparatory meetings for the extraordinary Synod for the fall of 2014 will be held. Join me in beseeching God to touch the heart and give the words to whichever one of those prelates come to Rome whom the Heavenly Father might choose, to speak to the heart of the Holy Father and give him the strength he needs for confirming the brethren. Give him the strength to console and grant hope to Ches and to tens of thousands of Catholics like him, that they not despair, that the battle against the gates of hell has been engaged, and that the victory is ours in the Only Begotten Son of God.

The widespread ignorance of the catechism, the moral confusion and laxity which stand today in frightening contrast to the good order and faithfulness of earlier generations of Catholics now passed on to their eternal reward cannot be reclaimed by fiat from on high. In our own countries, in our own dioceses, in our own parishes and communities, in our own homes and in our own lives, we each of us like St. Augustine have to respond in all humility and simplicity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (St. Augustine heard a voice saying take and read. Take and read your catechism! Take and read your Bible!). Subsidiarity begins at home. The work is ours to do and we can do no less than pray for the Successor of St. Peter, that he be for our day and time that rock, that anchor with whose help we stand secure. Nevertheless, the struggle is more ours than his.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Yes, Against Principalities and Powers of Darkness!

One of my Monday morning things is looking forward to see what Andrea Gagliarducci has to discuss in his weekly post on his blog MONDAY VATICAN. Today the post was entitled "From Benedict to Francis. One year after, the same problems". If I can express myself so, the last paragraph is the corker and leaves me dissatisfied as I think the author is trying to compare apples and pears. There are lots of reasons why the negative reaction to the famous Regensburg discourse and the subsequent evidence of a fruitful intellectual dialogue with Muslim counterparts cannot be compared to the child protection debacle and UN attacks against Catholic faith and teaching. Gagliarducci writes:

"One year after Benedict XVI’s resignation, pedophilia, gender theory, and above all shortcomings in Holy See communications remain front and center issues to contend with. Despite the hiring of several advisers on communications, the Church is still reacting to the big issues of the day, instead of being ahead introducing them in their right light.  This is the reason why the Church can be caught off guard in the debate. This was the case in 2006, when Benedict XVI delivered his famous lecture at Regensburg. From that starting point, Benedict XVI was able to start an unprecedented dialogue with Islam. It is now Pope Francis’ turn to build bridges of reason with a world always ready to attack the Church."

You can set up all the parallels you want between the two, but Pope Benedict's challenge to Muslims in good faith has little to do with good PR and dependence on the media. How can you get the jump on the consequences of the so-called Enlightenment and its now centuries old war on the true God and Christianity? Sadly, in this whole gender business the UN serves masters on the "dark side", who will stop at nothing in their attacks against the "Lord and His Anointed" (Psalm 2). No media strategy is going to charm a class of people hell-bent on spreading death. The big guns in the UN pay their dues to push abortion and euthanasia, all the while denying the Creator and His plan for all created things.

Sorry, Andrea, but you missed it this morning. No media strategy but only prayer will cast out these devils. It's time to shake their dust from our feet and proclaim the message elsewhere.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Maidan, "Butterfly Circus" or The Crusades?

There is a sense in which I would like people outside of Ukraine to have a better appreciation for a people I have come to respect deeply, yes, to love in what will soon be two and a half years of my life in Kyiv and environs. Your average foreign correspondent, posted even long years to some neighboring capital city, doesn't understand: Ukrainians are unique and so is this country. Add to this the run-of-the-mill journalists who can't be bothered to look attentively, to listen and reflect before writing their sensational articles, and you have a recipe for disinformation about people here. It is not a hopeless scenario. By way of note, I can confidently say that of late, more and more Poles are coming to understand that the general strikes, which served their country's process of liberation so well, don't fit here, but Maidan does and bears fruit.

In an attempt to explain to outsiders, especially from the West, the phenomenon Maidan here in Ukraine, I'm torn between falling back on a lovely short film "Butterfly Circus" for interpretive keys to explain Maidan's whys and hows or go with risking it all and declaring for my part that Maidan from one point of view is the biggest thing to hit Europe since the Crusades (read: exercise in hyperbole?). Important in either or any case is recognizing the complexity of it all, which indeed reflects life as we find it and denies the serious historian or honest commentator his stripes before he ever begins to spin his tale. Facile dismissals are unconscionable in the face of the earnest which Maidan stands for!

Let it be said, that the circus scenario is easier for everyone involved, less judgmental, and it headlines fairly well: "Millions of Ukrainians leave the "side show" to join the Butterfly Circus". The bottom line being that folks have made the not easy but monumental choice in favor of personal integrity lived out in a civil society worthy of their personal investment. How do you argue the verity of this choice so described? You don't. You simply go for a stroll through Maidan like so many from all over the world have and you come up with a positive witness like this one from a real Muscovite, entitled in English translation "Ukraine Is Indeed Divided – into Lumpen and People with a Sense of Dignity" by Andrey Okara, political analyst, here. Andrey is very high on what he has seen and heard; he proposes Maidan as a model social contract for the 21st Century.

Easy as it is, the running off to join the circus image plays out badly, especially if in the next days, weeks or months the "bad guys" tear the "Butterfly Circus" limb from limb, cancelling it physically from the face of the earth. Opting for the "Butterfly Circus" is more than wishing a happy ending, but still you cannot stretch it from a short to a feature film and Maidan is not a short subject; it is big screen! In the "Butterfly Circus" the components are missing for the tragic denouement, which cannot be excluded from the script of Maidan. Even so, I'd recommend this vision and a walk through Maidan; I know from people of various ages and walks of life that the experience is consoling, inspiring and for many life changing. Maidan is gift; Maidan is a challenge to be accepted as grace or rejected to your own peril.

The next best thing to the Crusades? Really? Being a Catholic boy from the upper Midwest of the States, I did not imbibe from the cradle that rancor which comes welling up if you hale from the Byzantine heritage not only Christian, but Jewish and Muslim as well. You were taught from early on that the Crusades were a barbarian invasion, claiming countless lives and dispersing people brutally, undermining your cities and once great cultures. Say "Ukraine" and on a different scale you can rake up similar emotions of rancor from peoples taught by their elders to disdain neighbors judged forever condemned for the "sins" of ingratitude and treachery committed by their parents and grandparents. Say "Ukraine" or say "Crusades", for either there is a world which still rages against the thought.

 How do you judge from outside the worth of Maidan? How do you judge the Crusades? Peter the Hermit's ragtag procession across Europe is to be seen as a manifestation of popular sentiment, not among the oligarchs of the day but among the folk of town and country. Personally, I find the enduring treatment of the saints of the Crusades most telling. Three of them are bigger than life: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Louis, King of France, and St. Francis of Assisi. Despite all he gave the Church in terms of teaching, that part of the world I have classified as loosely Byzantine condemns him for having preached the Crusades at the Popes' behest: his unforgivable sin, if you will. Explain for me if you will the logic of granting St. Louis a "home free card" even though he assumed the Crusader's cross and took up his sword to fight and kill, or at least direct the killing in battle. What except divine favor and protection distinguishes ragtag St. Francis in the sultan's camp from Peter the Hermit's unfortunate companions, massacred despite their fervent zeal to renew all in Christ?

Ukraine and Maidan fall under similar and harsh judgments from some outside. These so-called experts or analysts will never convince me that their whims about praising or condemning go beyond "history's" caprice in closing an eye to the sword in St. Louis' hand or trying to write off St. Bernard as an oddball.

As in the case of the Crusades, I guess I want to say that for many round about sitting on the fence and half observing events here in Ukraine, well, one man's victory will be judged by them in their journals another's tragedy. For all their reporting, they will have come no closer to knowing Ukraine or, in cases where it applies, setting aside prejudices come to them second or third hand from an older generation's rancor or refusal to let this people live.

On second thought, perhaps the "Butterfly Circus" is indeed the interpretive key for granting the Crusades their proper read. Perhaps the proverbial stroll through Maidan is the best policy. I would make only one request of the outside world: please, pray for peace in Ukraine and a people's right to self-determination!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Like a Consuming Fire

I've noticed a number of friends on facebook picking up on a post by a guy named Dame Luthas with the title "19 Hard Things You Need to Do to be Successful". Don't mind me, but I couldn't find any more there than I do in the sure fire weight loss recipes which abound on the internet. I guess in a sense I admire sure fire people who don't put a price-tag on their advice, because they are obviously sincere... Putting all my cards on the table, if you will, let it be clear that for me neither success, nor muscle gain or weight loss are what happen to be on my mind this morning. I'm thinking rather about the mystery of the Presentation in the Temple, today's feast, which I celebrated yesterday in a special gathering of consecrated men and women at Ukraine's national Marian Sanctuary of Berdychiv.

Whenever I celebrate this day which also focuses on the consecrated life, whenever I meet with a group of religious, the issue of vocations promotion, of the growth of their communities always comes in play as something I feel bound to at least touch upon if not discuss attentively in my contacts, homilies and discussions with them. Yesterday, I told them they had the same role as the Blessed Mother: to hold the Baby Jesus tight and close to their hearts and carry Him to a waiting world, just as Mary carried Him to the Temple. We would like the vocation numbers to help with the harvest, but ultimately our examples of success, if you will, are the great saints who imitated Mary, like St. Francis of Assisi, whose impact upon his world was like unto that of a consuming fire. Embracing the Infant, devoting time and attention to Him, is like carrying a candle, but let there be no doubt that this is the action which saves souls! It is thus that the world is sanctified!

What I am trying to say to myself by this is that nothing surpasses the importance of following Mary's lead in her devotion to the Infant King. Making points, winning arguments, crossing the finish line first, being accorded deference and respect by other, who even seem to listen to the Gospel message, all pales by comparison with the transforming and consuming fire unleashed when you or I lose ourselves in the embrace of the Heavenly Bridegroom. Filling and expanding monasteries and convents is not the goal as such but rather the witness or consequence when that consuming fire touches other human hearts.

We pray for good vocations to the consecrated life; we pray that many, many young men and women would find happiness in embracing the counsels of the Gospel: poverty, chastity and obedience. We pray that Baby Jesus would get more quality time from us than any scheme, no matter how well-intentioned, for success, muscle gain or weight loss.