Sunday, August 31, 2014

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

"When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]

I started a new book this morning; I did it with high hopes based on the promises made in a review I had read. It seemed to be right up my alley and better because of the scribe's mastery of a long list of world class intellectual giants. In point of fact, the author does take on and do a great job with recourse to a lot of the philosophical and theological heavyweights both of today and of all time. I am sure I will finish it and I may even give the book a great review myself, but today I am setting it aside, because I can't seem to get beyond the author's fondness with intellectual "flexing" and trying to measure up, this being his choice of path to secure the Church a place in the wasteland of the public square. Perhaps I am being unfair and just running with an impression. Hence, for now at least I will leave him and his book out of the discussion.

The issue is not one of any fundamental disagreement but rather one of the urgency of the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus, sending out His disciples, told them to proclaim peace to the house they entered and to move on in the face of hostility or rejection of their message. What has changed? Why should having to share in the Cross of Christ, in the rejection which led to His crucifixion outside the walls, come to us as novel? The drama seems to climax when all of a sudden we realize that our efforts or failures at proclamation have not equaled or even come close to copying those of St. Paul. If we were truly living and proclaiming Christ the reaction of the world would not be indifference.

I keep coming back to the question a young man from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Kyiv posed to me quite earnestly not all that long ago: "My superiors want to know what the Holy See can do for us in this our time of need". The problem or the embarrassment stems from the ambivalence of our witness. Indeed! What do you or I as a committed Christian, as the Church of Jesus Christ present and acting in the world, have to offer? It is not a rejection of the greeting of peace extended by the disciple in the name of the Master, but a failure of the disciple to be that unequivocal sign or representative of the Crucified One.

Let us just say that it is not a bad Sunday reflection and a good personal challenge. In the last couple days the Holy Father has spotlighted two young priests, one ministering in Gaza and the other to refugees in Iraq. Both men, obviously, have credibly spoken their "peace to this house" and entered in. What more is there that we can do? Let us pray for each other and rededicate our efforts to lift high the Cross, both in season and out.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Classic "Ratzinger" - Unbeatable and Unstoppable

Dogma and Preaching, 2nd. Ed.  
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal 
(2012-03-30). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. 

In these days of tragedy when, because of the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS and the promoters of the so-called "caliphate" throughout the Middle East, more than one author has referred back to the words of Pope Benedict XVI pronounced in Regensberg, we have been reminded that his words, which many criticized back then, effectively offered a better footing for Moslem-Christian dialogue than most irenic alternatives in competition for the lead.

Reading this book I came across an even greater (to my way of thinking) and unstoppable Ratzinger quote. I would love to see lots of "Westerners" embrace this one and consequently rediscover access to the system of Christian values which founded our universities and carried our culture in adherence to the truth which comes to us only from God in Jesus Christ. Chances are that if Christ were invited back into our lives, if the King and His Law once again took precedence in Europe, we might be able to take the steam out of Russia's locomotive and bring Ukraine's project for a better future for its people back on line. Here's the quote, which is no doubt familiar from other sources:

"Today even someone for whom the existence of God and the world of faith have become obscure should live practically quasi Deus esset—as though God really did exist. He should live as subject to the reality of the truth, which is not something we produce but is, rather, our master. Live by the standard of righteousness, which we do not merely devise but which is a power that measures us. Live mindful of our responsibility toward Love, which waits for us and loves us. Live according to the claim of the Eternal. Anyone who is alert to current developments will see that this is the only way man can be rescued. God—he alone—is man’s salvation; this unheard-of truth, which seemed to us until now to be a scarcely attainable ideal, has become the most practical formula for our present hour in history. And anyone who entrusts himself, although perhaps hesitantly at first, to this demanding and yet ineluctable As-If—to live as if God existed—will become increasingly aware of the fact that this As-If is the genuine reality. He will perceive, along with its responsibility, its redemptive power. And he will know profoundly and ineradicably why even today Christianity is still necessary as the truly Good News that redeems mankind." (Kindle Locations 6041-6050).

The book "Dogma and Preaching" itself was intended as a substantive contribution to improving Catholic preaching by improving content and the overall vision of what is at stake in the Christian life and therefore should be the object of preaching. Ask any man or woman in the pew today what gripes them about Sunday homilies and they will tell you it is the lack of content. Father's delivery may be less than flashy - that will be forgiven, but generally folks complain because Father has made no effort to prepare or he sadly has nothing to offer, because he isn't living the faith to the full and has no wellspring to draw from. I would love to see this book on the reading and discussion list for every seminary's course in homiletics. 

Back to my classic quote! Last evening I was caught up in a friendly exchange with an ambassador friend from the Americas, who allows himself to observe what is going on here in Ukraine as a bystander. Granted, the EU and the various G's 7, 8, 9, 20?... sort of have a monopoly on things as those perhaps better able or more obliged or interested in seeking peace for Ukraine. In any case, my friend expressed frustration over the fact that in any conflict situation around the world that would seem to demand intervention from outside (of a military sort - a peace keeping force) the UN requires a vote of the Security Council, where somebody can always be found to veto any action (usually the guilty party or one of the parties in the crisis). Must this be so? Of course not, but just find the square peg to fit in the available round hole!

In more than one of Louis de Wohl's great historical novels much of the drama centers around the machinations of the horrible little, red-headed, hawk-eyed German emperor Frederick, who with his Arab mercenaries terrorizes Italy, the Popes and beyond. The drama stems from Frederick's dark soul which knows no God. Different rules for making decisions in the Security Council are not apt to solve problems arising from hearts closed to the one truth that comes from the one only God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The As-If - quasi Deus esset - would really be an improvement.

As hopeless a case as little Frederick is, Louis de Wohl's heroes, both saints and sinners, face the challenge with faith in God. We need to do the same, while praying that more of the faithless of good will might stumble across our Ratzinger quote and begin living "as-if".


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

With the Means at our Disposal - Reform!

If you don’t normally pray the Office of Readings or didn’t take special note this morning, I would invite you to ponder attentively today’s Second Reading taken from a text of St. John Chrysostom on the temptations of the devil, which the breviary entitles:

The Five Paths Of Repentance

Shall I list the paths of repentance? There are certainly many of them, many and various, and all of them lead to heaven.
  The first path is the path of condemnation of sins. As Isaiah says, Tell your sins, and you will be acquitted. And the Psalmist adds: I said “I will bear witness against myself before the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. So you, too must condemn the sins you have committed. Condemn them, and that condemnation will excuse you in front of the Lord, since whoever condemns the sins he has committed will be slower to commit them next time. Stir up your own conscience to be your accuser – so that when you come before the judgement-seat of the Lord no-one will rise up to accuse you.
  This is the first path of repentance but the second is in no way inferior to it in excellence. It is to forget the harm done to us by our enemies, to master our anger, to forgive the sins of those who are slaves together with us. As much as we do this, so much will our own sins against the Lord be forgiven. So this is the second path to the expiation of our sins. As the Lord says, Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours.
  Would you like to know the third path of repentance? It is prayer: fervent prayer, sincere and focused prayer, prayer coming from the depths of the heart.
  If you want to know the fourth path, I will tell you it is the giving of alms. It has great power.
  And finally, if someone acts with modesty and humility, that path is no less effective as a way to deprive sin of its substance. Look at the publican, who had no good deeds to speak of. In place of good deeds he offered humility, and the huge burden of his sins fell away.
  So now I have shown you the five paths of repentance. First, condemnation of sins. Second, forgiving the sins of those near us. Third, prayer. Fourth, almsgiving. Fifth, humility.
  So do not be idle, but every day advance along all these paths at once. They are not hard paths to follow. Poverty is no excuse for not setting out on the journey. Even if you are destitute you can do all these things: put aside anger, carry humility in front of you, pray hard, condemn your sins. Poverty is no obstacle – not even to that path of penitence that demands money: that is, almsgiving. Remember the story of the widow’s mite.

  Now we have learnt the right way to heal our wounds, let us apply these remedies. Let us regain true health and confidently receive the blessings of Holy Communion. Thus we may come, filled with glory, to the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and receive its eternal joys through the grace, mercy and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Among the "Secondary Missions of the Sacred Liturgy"

Liturgy in the Life of the Church.
Lambert Beauduin OSB.
translated by Virgil Michel OSB.
3rd edition. St. Michael's Abbey Press. 2002

On the rebound, as it were, I want to repeat my thanks to Dom Alcuin Reid and Co. and for a specific aspect of this year's summer course in liturgy in the south of France (La Garde-Freinet) and namely for the 2 books suggested for reading and discussion in the " Reading course in the 20th century liturgical movement", with as its basic texts:
- Lambert Beauduin OSB, Liturgy: The Life of the Church, 1st & 2nd eds., Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1926 & 1929; 3rd ed., St Michael’s Abbey Press, Farnborough 2002.
-  Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Milestones in Catholic Theology).

Although my scarce five days there did not permit participation in the reading course, I could reread Guardini before attending the summer school and picked up the little Beauduin book while there and started reading. Just today I could finish it after my holiday interruption. The French original came out exactly a century ago and strikes me as brighter and fresher than most anything one can pick up and read today. Both books serve to debunk many of the legends surrounding the 20th century liturgical movement, putting today's reader in direct contact and in not much more than pamphlet format (easy reads, both of them) with some of the best material to be read on one of that movement's principal goals, faithful to a priority established by Pope St. Pius X for the restoration of the Liturgy, one repeated by his successors to the cathedra of St. Peter and also enshrined in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, and namely, active participation in the liturgy.

Sadly, Beauduin's book still isn't available on Kindle (Guardini is!), so you may have to order it somewhere or take a trip to the south of France to get hold of it, but I would highly encourage the extra effort if not the trip.

I will leave the reader to discover the book's Part One: The Restoration of the Sacred Liturgy. Because of some of my other reading this summer, permit me a few words on Part Two: The Secondary Missions of the Sacred Liturgy, or better on two of them as listed by Fr. Beauduin: Chapter VII: The Liturgy and Prayer; Chapter VIII: The Liturgy and Preaching.

For the latter topic, let me share his definition of preaching from p. 81:

1. The teaching of Christian doctrine to the faithful by a consecrated minister in virtue of the hierarchical power, which he possesses over them either in his own right or by delegation, is called preaching. It is essentially the exercise of a spiritual power. The preacher has the right to instruct the faithful; the latter have the duty to learn from his word. 

Let it suffice to say that ignorance of this long-standing definition or denial of this tradition-anchored concept has cost us dearly in many ways more than I will take the time to recount in this blog post. Elsewhere in the book, Beauduin points out some of the evils which Pope St. Pius X sought to remedy through liturgical restoration: individualism, abandonment of prayer, deviations of piety, the secular spirit and lack of hierarchical life. This last one is linked in no small fashion to ignorance of the proper nature of preaching; it says much about the abuses which have crept into Liturgy and stubbornly perdure a hundred years after Beauduin published his book: lay preaching at Sunday Mass and the misguided notion that a certain fluency and a theology or philosophy diploma alone are license enough to preach and put "Father" in the front or back pew as he may prefer. Restoring to Church life the fullness of Catholic culture and teaching may be a daunting task, but it is still one which deserves our whole-hearted engagement. Renewed recognition of hierarchical authority in the Church and its role, as expressed in and through the Liturgy, seems to go without saying.

To shift to Chapter VII for a moment, Beauduin clearly enunciates much of what the tradition teaches about meditation and contemplation in the life of the baptized, referring (and rightly so I believe) to mental prayer simply as prayer. He quotes from Dom Festugiere, Essai du synthese:

"There are very pious men who do not draw any spiritual nourishment from this Liturgy, to which the precept of the Church constrains them, and they exclusively seek elsewhere for the food of their souls. The attitude may even become part of a veritable system of spirituality, adopted with deliberation and in all good faith. The divorce between 'social' prayer and 'individual' prayer is pronounced without appeal. The spiritual life is cut in two by a rigid separation. Evidently such a dualism places the religious experience of the persons succumbing to it in conditions that are quite different from those which a state of homogeneous spirituality would have produced." (pp. 73-74)

To my way of thinking, what Beauduin explained in reference to the Mass of the Ages ends up in our day being a major downfall of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, at least as it is celebrated today. Too often as it is carried through in an almost exclusively discursive fashion, giving the didactic an absolute priority, not only does Festugiere's "social"-"individual" dichotomy remain in play, but the Liturgy becomes less identifiable as prayer, in the classic, Catholic sense of the term. 

May many more bishops and priests be moved to examine how they celebrate the OF and come to amend their ways in conformity with the rubrics and a genuine spirit of prayer! Let the Liturgy more effectively nourish the people's meditation and contemplation of God's Face!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Grappling with Freedom and Truth

Truth And Tolerance.
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (2009-11-24) 
Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

"It has thus become fairly clear that freedom is linked to a yardstick, the yardstick of reality—to truth. Freedom to destroy one-self or to destroy others is not freedom but a diabolical parody. The freedom of man is a shared freedom, freedom in a coexistence of other freedoms, which are mutually limiting and thus mutually supportive: freedom must be measured according to what I am, what we are—otherwise it abolishes itself. Now, however, we come to a substantial correction to the superficial present-day picture of freedom that has hitherto been largely dominant: If the freedom of man can only continue to exist within an ordered coexistence of freedoms, then this means that order—law—is, not the concept contrary to that of freedom, but its condition, indeed, a constitutive element of freedom itself. Law is not the obstacle to freedom; rather, it constitutes freedom. The absence of law is the absence of freedom."  (Kindle Locations 2891-2897)

I picked up this book and read it this summer, seeking insight into the embarrassed silence of many in the West, which has contributed to the whole tragedy of ISIS and the menace to Christianity everywhere from this so-called caliphate in the Middle East. As always, in this collection of essays our dear Pope emeritus does not disappoint; he teaches clearly. The gem quote above is one of my favorites from the book, but as a whole, especially in dealing with the consequences of the Enlightenment as failure today, I may want to read this book again soon to better mine its treasures. Beyond finding here once again witness to the gentle but secure approach of the Ratzinger of a lifetime, which staunchly defends law as constitutive of freedom, my reading has led me to become even more convinced that tolerance of error in others should not, must not diminish Catholic Truth. Indeed, error has no rights. Truth, the yardstick of reality, is not to be attained without faith, cannot be in the world without the knowledge of God, Creator and Savior of the world, which comes to us revealed to the full by God's Incarnate Love. "Going it alone", muddling through in a world without God, is not an option.

I doubt if anyone would be much surprised if I found application here also to my world, to the dilemma posed by the present crisis in Ukraine as well. There have been times since last November, but most especially since the flight of former President Yanukovych and attempts through violence and terror by him and his clan with Russian support to establish a base of operations in the south and east of the country, when it must seem to many Ukrainians that half the world refuses to speak the truth in the midst of fighting and maneuvering which never ceases to claim the lives of combatants and innocent bystanders. We don't create for ourselves a reality or claim one for ourselves on the market of ideas; we have a yardstick to measure what is real, truth.

Truth is not truth if it is modified by anything other than the definite article. There is no truth except the truth, that which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ.

"Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” John 18:36-38

"Barabbas", if you will, is not a choice; choosing him over Jesus is an act of despair, a denial of the hope which God gave to the world in Christ the Lord.

The yardstick of reality: Where do I find assurance of the good will of the other, if not in the possibility of measuring, yes, judging his words and deeds against that yardstick? Sincerity might be feigned, but the truth cannot.

No doubt, we will have to await the Day of Judgment for the absolute triumph of the truth, when sheep will be separated from goats. Please God, that we, that I not be found lacking in that measure on the Great and Terrible Day!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Spirituality Revisited

The Fulfillment of All Desire:  A Guidebook to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints. 
Martin, Ralph (2006-07-01). 
Emmaus Road Publishing. Kindle Edition.

"Part of Catherine's special mission as a Doctor in the Church is to teach the biblical worldview that is found in the Scripture, augmented by the particular insights that the Father gives her for this purpose. But all the Doctors of the Church that we are considering share this worldview, in all its essentials. All of them write in light of the seriousness of the situation of the human race apart from Christ, the reality of heaven and hell, and the urgent necessity to order one's life as much as possible to the following of Jesus— right now. As Bernard bluntly puts it: 

Lord Jesus , whoever refuses to live for you is clearly worthy of death, and is in fact dead already. Whoever does not know you is a fool. And whoever wants to become something without you, without doubt that man is considered nothing and is just that. . . . You have made all things for yourself, O God, and whoever wants to live for himself and not for you, in all that he does, is nothing. “Fear God, and keep his commandments,” it is said, “for this is the whole duty of man (Eccles. 12: 13).” (p. 61)

Ralph Martin never disappoints. This title was one of the highlights of my summer reading. It is the fruit of his years of studying and lecturing. The book binds the great Western mystics, especially Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, Therese of Lisieux, to Sacred Scripture in contemporary fashion; it offers some very special challenges and a good measure of hope to lay people in their quest for a deep prayer life.

Some of those who read me faithfully might be aware that with the exception of Francis de Sales, I struggle with this category of saints and find it hard not to class them obscure. Let us just say that I am most grateful to have had the possibility of standing on Ralph Martin's shoulders to get a better look! Thank you, Ralph! Readers, give this one a try! You will be handsomely rewarded.

The Interior Life

Soul of the Apostolate. 
Chautard, Dom Jean-Baptiste (1977-06-01).
TAN Books. Kindle Edition. 

"The mortal life of Our Lord was nothing else but a continual manifestation of this inexhaustible liberality. The Gospel shows us the Redeemer scattering along His way the treasures of love of a Heart eager to draw all men to truth and to life. This apostolic flame has been passed on by Jesus to His Church, which is the gift of His love, which diffuses His life, manifests His truth, and shines with the splendor of His sanctity." (p. 5)

This 1946 title is a veritable classic, which formed part of the library of most priests with 60 years of ministry under their belts. Except for the above quote, it can be hard reading because it comes out of a world and a vocabulary unfamiliar to most folks. Nonetheless, it makes an important point that would be worth the while of lots of pastoral agents of today to learn. The soul of the apostolate is the interior life, the ongoing and tenacious quest for sanctity, for union with Christ. 

Apart from insisting that the personal sanctity of the priest is the key to spiritual fruitfulness, Chautard spends time debunking the claim that the success of the then popular Catholic Action Movement rested on gimmicks. He in effect restores the heart to St. John Bosco's oratory movement: more than soccer, Foosball, marching bands and clean movies, he insists that promoting the few young men and boys capable of interiority, giving them spiritual direction through weekly confession, that there is no other way to spread the Gospel.

I read the book on my retreat this summer and recommend it highly. It is a Catholic alternative to much of what is presently in favor among those zealous folk who are truly seeking the spread of the Kingdom. I really think that it presents some of the key elements for the recovery and promotion of the faith among the younger generation. It is far more concrete about the requirements of a genuine priestly spirituality, yes also for our day, than most of what you will find on the market.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dirty Thirties

It is great being home on vacation! Apart from renewing old friendships, making new ones and seeing how much the younger nieces and nephews have grown since last year, it truly becomes a time of reminiscing and retracing roots. Although my parents were young children in the hard times of the 1930's here in the Upper Midwest of the US, putting me a full generation away from the ecological disaster which was the Dustbowl, invariably reminiscing touches indirectly on the period by recalling family which fled west from that cataclysm in hopes of finding the wherewithal to survive. Most everyone has a shirttail relation in California, Washington or Oregon.

In many cases those economic refugees, because of the proximity in time to parents and grandparents who had settled on the prairie having turned their backs on tough times in the Old Country,  hadn't really been on this treeless land all that long. You might say they were just continuing a journey in stages, not unlike Israel's 40 years of wandering in the desert. Established ourselves, we can hardly relate to the fragility of human existence, which made our grandparents especially so terribly frugal.

I bring this up simply as an aid to my own understanding of why so much of the tragedy of both the Middle East and of Ukraine just passes right over people's heads today. A young journalist friend in particular comes to mind. He seemed indeed puzzled when in a recent interview I gave to Vatican Radio, I spoke of as life threatening for the minority Catholic Church in Ukraine the destabilization provoked by Russian aggression. Not only he perhaps fails to grasp the menace. Shooting down a passenger plane to make a point goes far beyond saber rattling. Lots of older people I know would comprehend immediately, as far as family goes, the implications of such a menace for life and family, and hence for the Church. While wishing no one the tenuous existence of the 30's, I feel stymied by the incomprehension of those who have never been or even felt endangered. In the Dustbowl days some headed west, while others remained on the land, but everyone suffered.

In medicine, you can have a doctor who is a great surgeon and another who is a great diognostician. If you cannot have your cake and eat it too, I guess I would prefer the diagnostician. For Ukraine with the renewed buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, the worst case scenario news articles are legion. They are easily dismissed, but the suffering in the war zone, the displaced population, the dead cannot so be dismissed. Destabilization: how many young parents are agonizing over whether they should press their children to "go west", perhaps before it is too late.

I stand by my assertion that at present the Catholic Church has been put at risk by an outside aggressor, who seems to care little for the families of that land. The great mystery of Divine Providence forbids us to lose hope, confident as we are of the love Whose Face we have seen in Christ, but it is sort of like King David choosing his punishment for the sin of having counted the people. He chose not to be delivered up to his enemies. Please, pray with me that Ukraine be spared from the hands of men as well. Joseph was able to understand that his brothers' selling him into slavery in Egypt was to be the ransome of his people. May the Name of The Lord be praised!