Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Petrine Ministry - Yesterday and Today

On a recent visit to Lviv a bishop from Italy I met there asked me if I planned to be in Rome for the beatification of Pope Paul VI. He asked knowing my vintage, Paul VI being the Pope of my seminary days in Rome. What he probably could not have fathomed was that in long ago 1972, his was the first voice of a Roman Pontiff that this boy from the Midwest had ever heard in his life, let alone understood. Globalization, media and all have made our world and our access to the Pope something different. A 22 year old of today from the prairie might not understand a word of Italian, but he probably would recognize the sound of the voice of Pope Francis. From what they are telling us, I guess we will hear sometime next year about a new and better communications concept for the Vatican to help get that word out.

That is a difference and in the short span of my adult life, but other world-changers end up being tracked by the centuries. Yesterday, I was reading an online review of a book on the political theory of St. Robert Bellarmine (it's on my wish list in hopes the Kindle price will come down when I've read some of my other impulse purchases). The review made mention of Pope Pius IX being more influential than Pius XI for how we understand the political or diplomatic role of the Successor of St. Peter today. You're supposed to do a double-take on that one, in case you were wondering. I get what the author was driving at, I think, in so far as the loss of his army and temporal power (Papal States) to the unification drive of Garibaldi and Co. for Italy, as we all know and love it today, drove Pius IX to face a learning curve of millennial proportion, which has only been tweaked now and again since then. Fair or not, the novelty of it all might explain why Pope Benedict XV was effectively blocked in his peace efforts during WWI by powers still unaware that the Papacy, minus territory, had retooled for a role of prophecy or spiritual leadership in the world.

It is only as an adult that I have had to deal regularly with the accomplished fact distance from temporal power provides. It is that claiming of a spiritual and not political role which has been coming back to "haunt" the Papacy ever since. We note it dramatically in the charges thrown up against Pius XII, that in WWII he failed in his role of spiritual leadership against Hitler's "final solution" - his prophetic voice, as the accusation goes, having been withheld at the cost of the lives of countless Jews, or so they claim. If it were my call Pacelli would be up for beatification on 19 October as well. The prophet's existence is a suffered one, not his vaunt and rarely heeded.

Since the dynamic Pontificate of Pius XII, we have something else, namely legends of concerted effort between St. John XXIII and temporal powers to fend off armed confrontation in a nuclear age, and between St. John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to bring down the Berlin Wall. There would be a consensus then that the Papacy has indeed found a voice which reverberates on behalf of justice and peace, which is heard and attended to around the world. That, at least, is what some of my friends would claim. I keep wondering if we do not rather still find ourselves in the position of Pope Benedict XV, excluded from making a contribution to conflict resolution a century ago.

Who bears the burden for seeking justice and promoting peace in our world? All men and women of good will, obviously. The specific ministry of the Successor of St. Peter is to confirm the brethren in that common effort. Pope St. Gregory the Great kept up a tireless correspondence with the movers and shakers of his day, both secular and ecclesiastic, coaxing, cajoling, reproving, in hopes of keeping or restoring order within the Church of God and bringing the errant back to the straight path. Letters hand delivered are much more discreet than videos, sound bites and tweets, which perforce have to be out there for all to see and hear. Can such a virtual world touch my heart or call me personally to task? I guess I have more questions than answers today.

A Catholic World Report item I also read yesterday spoke negatively about our media exposure in the Church and of our sorting out issues in the public forum as something detrimental to the heart of the Petrine Ministry, which exists not to referee but to bind the Church together in love. The author cited the contraception issue which reached fever pitch in the 1960's, after St. John XXIII withdrew it from conciliar debate. The article claims that Paul VI's concession to open discussion raised false expectations which he then had to squelch with his prophetic encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, which remains yet today an incomparable font of wisdom and teaching, sadly still ignored or denied by way too many. The article goes on to predict a similar debacle for Pope Francis as a result of all the hype associated with the upcoming Synod in Rome.

Indeed! "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching." [2 Tim. 4:1-2] And to my friend at Catholic World Report: don't be surprised as St. Paul predicted, when they still wander off with ears itching for something other than the truth.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It would seem people do indeed promote anarchy...

"...a Punch joke had one anarchist asking another: ‘What time is it by your bomb?’" [Hastings, Max (2013-09-24). Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (Kindle Locations 434-435). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

 These days (over the course of the last period), I have come to the conclusion that, for however mad and vile it might be as a choice in life, people do opt for anarchy and not just sad little 19 year old Bosnian assassins of one hundred years ago. The option has always been totally foreign to me and to be associated with the diabolic, but there it is. I think "Gothic" (dyed black hair and pale skin with appropriate ghoulish wardrobe) is out again as a fashion statement, but that is not what I am referring to. I am convinced that there is a choice of anarchy of the lethal kind, which is not social, but simply unhappy and death-dealing, first to others and ultimately, intended or not, to oneself. 

In our day and time, we tend to live from presumptions that involve us somehow being better than our ancestors and that especially holds true in our talk about World War I. Blame it on the petty nobles of that day clinging to their dying empires and you have it, they say. Blame it on modern weaponry destroying good old battlefield etiquette, as if such had ever existed, and maybe you have it, they say. Whatever the pettiness, whatever the miscalculations, it might be good if we just plain accepted that there were and are people in the world firmly in the grasp of the Evil One. For these, material gain is a distraction; it alone does not motivate all the rage, the self-destructiveness which they heap upon their chosen victim or target. Anarchy... the anarchist!  

As I say, it is something in life I have never been able to grasp and I suspect I am not alone in my difficulty. We see it in the struggle of expert commentators to explain Russian aggression in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and on... General vocabulary and analysis lead folks to describe not the core but the consequences of what boils down to the choice by at most a small group of people holding half a world hostage and we do so in terms of system, as if there were some kind of logic to imposing one's own nihilism on society. Our clueless-ness or unwillingness to identify as such the anarchist option is part of what is involved in our wanting to attribute belligerence to entities or whole peoples (Sparta or the ancient Assyrians revisited!). And so we use terms like: "rogue state" or "state terrorism". There is something inherently inaccurate or wrong about the expression, a contradiction in terms if you will.

Maybe all I want to say is that recourse to utopia/distopia scenarios ultimately takes us nowhere. Again, to nag, shout, almost screech it out: we have thrown off His gentle yoke to our own damnation. The fall of Adam and Eve is all too poignant in its lesson and its consequences for the life of the world. Choosing Barabbas, if you will, is no choice at all. There He stands, knocking at the door, it is urgent that we let Him in. We need to stop fumbling around and cursing the darkness and let Christ our Light come in.

Regardless of the given day's anarchist's name, there is no salvation in him, but only in the Name above every name. My Jesus mercy! We pray for our world straddling the issue and consoling itself with half measures when the devil needs to be cast out.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Zeal for Your House!

Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest,


23 September 2014, Königstein

Readings from Tuesday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 21:1-6,10-13
Deduc me, Domine, in semitam praeceptorum tuorum.
Luke 8:19-21

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
In this wonderful world of ours, I become ever more convinced (ever, as in every day more convinced) of two things: that the path to holiness is the narrow one; it is the one less traveled; and that the Kingship of Jesus Christ, His power to save, His rule does not generally inspire all that much confidence, even in people who claim to be believers. People do not readily seek the Face of God or count on the Great and Terrible Day where we will stand before Him in Judgment. Neither love nor fear seems to drive us into His outstretched arms.
These two convictions, about the nature of holiness and about God’s power over all, when taken together and chosen or appropriated with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength translate in my everyday life into real power, real freedom. Let it be said, first off, it is not easy to live free and empowered as a mother or father, brother or sister of Jesus, as an individual and as a community which “…hear(s) the word of God and act(s) on it.” It is not easy, but it is great. Sadly, most of our world not only is missing out on the challenge and opportunity, but people don’t even pay lip service to such values today.
 Why, for heaven’s sake, do we turn our backs, why do we walk away from glory? For the same reason Israel in the desert wanted to go back to the leeks and the melons, to the fleshpots of Egypt. How few are the movers and shakers of our world, who embrace the great wisdom of the Book of Proverbs! “Whoever makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.” Real power, real freedom, lasting joy comes along a quite different path.
But we all know that it is more than not lying to get ahead to which we are called by God; it is about believing and trusting in God in Jesus Christ. By design, we were made for more than we could ever ask or imagine. We are invited to so live in this life as to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
Thinking of our saint for today, Padre Pio, just last week a good young priest told me of an incident which occurred on the pilgrimage he helped organize to bring a first class relic of our saint (a vial of his blood) from San Giovanni Rotondo back to Ukraine for the Cathedral of Ivano-Frankivsk. He told me, “Excellency, we experienced a miracle!” At some point on their voyage back from Italy a woman asked them to bless her son with the relic, as the boy had never spoken from his birth. Father told me that no sooner had he drawn close with the reliquary than the boy let out a string of expletives and curse words: quite evidently the Devil had his tongue. I recounted the story to someone else, who was not quite so eager as my priest friend to admit demonic possession. With that listener, as with many other people, there was an unwillingness to recognize that sanctity lived out to the end, in this case in the life of Padre Pio, had shown itself in power and that God’s positive judgment had shown forth like lightning from end to end.
Which is harder? To obey God’s Word or to have confidence in His Rule and Power? The question is not so important as we need both. If I had a wish or a prayer for you today, for the Church throughout the world today, it would be that we might not exclude for ourselves that longing for zeal in seeking the Face of God for being holy as the Heavenly Father is Holy. May we not despair of achieving great things under His Lordship!  
Rich people pay at political fundraising events before elections to rub elbows with personalities. It is said that Padre Pio eagerly watched through the night until it was time each morning for him to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May we too be seized by such a yearning, confident that we can do nothing better than bring ourselves and our world to the feet of Christ.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.’ [John 3:13-17] 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgetting the Incarnation

No doubt Father Barron would be miffed to find me using his movie review to make a point about the present malaise in which our world finds itself, but his is the most attractive argument I've come across to date to help me make my point. Anarchy, evil is raising its ugly head these days in almost apocalyptic fashion (I am purposely understating the case) and a world which has downplayed the centrality of the Gospel message to life and culture finds itself exposed, judged, marked by the Cross of Christ or the sign of the beast.

Most people paint the Ukrainian-Russian War of 2014, the menace of the ISIS Caliphate, and the ravages elsewhere in the world left by failed states and frozen conflicts in terms of conflicting world views struggling for a win, as if there were such choices outside the realm of the truth which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ and saves the world darkened by the fall of our first parents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Apart from coming home to God in Christ, the prodigal has long since exhausted his options. The utopia/distopia dilemma is false; it is no more than false money, a two sided coin that flip it as you will, what comes up is always a flight from God's Face and from Christ's gentle yoke.

The fundamental existential question for every man and woman on the planet is one and has no variations: Why did God make me? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next and for all eternity. 

In these trying times, Europe, once Christian, once Catholic Europe, is being called to remember, to remember the God-Man and to come home to itself. Neither North nor South America is excluded from helping Europe come home to itself. No corner of the globe should be deprived of the light of the Gospel and of coming to know its Savior.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Battling Principalities and Powers

Once again in the last days it would seem that everyone and his "uncle" has had something to say about Ukraine and why this country should not kick against the goad. Few seem to remember that life gets complicated when basic principles are abandoned or ignored. The consequences, seen or unseen, of acquiescing to injustice committed against others are all too real.

For the community of nations, for world diplomacy, one such basic principle is summed up in the laconic but expressive Latin: PACTA SUNT SERVANDA. Independence within clearly defined borders came to Ukraine in 1991. Nothing else must be considered; the whole world which counts signed on to that back then. The general notion of what we mean by national "sovereignty" would seem to exclude any and all far-fetched or even half-plausible excuses for meddling in another's affairs, i.e. annexing another sovereign's territory (Crimea) and then proceeding in repeated  attempts over the last months to carve out a land corridor with the excuse that without it the aggression would be unsustainable over the long-term, or some such. Civil wars do happen, but less frequently when sovereign states are left to sort out their own problems.

To my mind, there are no other considerations only distractions and lies. Hence, if the community of nations fears the consequences of defending the principle, because the glaring light of the truth might expose other still hidden faults, I guess we must take the matter to a Higher Court and cast ourselves ever more insistently before the Throne of God. Perhaps, in the end it is folly to expect men to be faithful to their commitments. Perhaps it is no less folly to ignore the machinations of the Evil One's attempts to draw our world down with him into the depths of Hell.

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our defense against the wickedness and the snares of the Devil! May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power thrust into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls...


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Almost 10 Years Make a Difference

Mass And Modernity.
Robinson, Fr. Jonathan. 
Ignatius Press, 2005. 
Kindle Edition (2010-11-19).

"This book is about the reform of the worship of the Catholic Church undertaken after the Second Vatican Council. The fruits of that reform have often been apathy, bitterness, and triviality. It may be true that apathy, bitterness, and triviality are not the whole story, but they are indisputably prominent and help to create a situation whose gravity, it seems to me, is not sufficiently understood. The present liturgical situation matters. It matters not only for the internal or domestic health of the Church, but also for the effectiveness of her mission in the modern world." (Kindle Locations 98-101)

I added the Ignatius Press copyright year to the heading as it explains much about the author's attitude toward the usus antiquior. That being said, I think the first two parts of the book make an important contribution to the whole discussion of where we are and where we should be in matters liturgical. Novus Ordo liturgy as practiced sadly does constitute a capitulation to the non-spirit of the times, as Fr. Robinson eloquently articulates.
"Modernity itself, however, is a mind-set and not an all-encompassing environment. There is nothing, or should be nothing, in the Christian’s concern for the modern world that requires accepting this mind-set. Yet many in the Church have accepted modernity in their effort to speak to the modern world, and I argue here that not nearly enough attention has been given to trying to disentangle the complex of ideas and half-formulated convictions that constitute this mindset, which is in fact inimical to Christianity. The result of trying to adapt the liturgy to meet the perceived needs of the world from the perspective of modernity weakens, not strengthens, the Church."  (Kindle Locations 104-108).
No doubt I would do Fr. Robinson a disservice if I were to attempt to summarize the first two parts of his book. I recommend them highly even if the significance of trotting out Flannery O'Connor as his banner for Part One and Iris Murdoch for Part Two, well, it escapes me altogether. I think there is enough material without them for pronouncing the Enlightenment conspiracy against God and Catholic Faith as toxic, dead and thoroughly burialable.
Back to my observation about the 2005 copyright! I would hope that in the intervening ten years that Fr. Robinson has not stopped learning and growing. His arguments against a restoration of the Mass of the Ages have been significantly undermined by the mutual enrichment which has been going on and continues. Read Part Three, if you will, as terribly dated. Reforming the OF with EF tweaks really runs contrary to Father's principles and seems to be a desperate choice born out of his own capitulation to the "mindset". Enough solid authors out there point out that this would not be the first restoration of the liturgy, even if it must be the most radical on record. I really cannot see, from Fr. Robinson's premises, how he can justify simply reforming the reformed liturgy. Choosing a reset point and getting busy about setting forth the organic development of the liturgy is urgently required.
That being said, I like most everything Father says in favor of restoring worship ad Orientem. His thoughts on the lectionary (liturgical readings vs. lectio divina) carry significant weight and argue for a return to the 1962 lectionary.
Seeing the progress made on the path of mutual enrichment over these ten years since Fr. Robinson wrote, I would encourage men and women of good will to live in hope of soon seeing the essential restoration of the Roman Rite. At the same time I would lovingly encourage the faint-hearted and foot-draggers to get on board.
If I could quote me from my Summer School lecture in France on July 8:
"While at this point in time placing a deadline for the restoration might be unreasonable and thus putting an end to the mutual enrichment chapter, I think we should avoid the terminology “weeds and wheat growing together until the harvest”. The advances made over the last years give me reason to hope that the mutual enrichment chapter will sooner and not later bear abundant fruit.
(Another little aside on my part!) In line with more ancient models of the liturgical development of the Roman Rite within the chorus of the various rites of the Western Church, I would love to be able to convince the Holy Father and his closest collaborators to produce and implement a full Roman Ritual for St. Peter’s and the Stational Churches of the Eternal City. Adding to the printed edition of these books the necessary provisos for how these same rites might be celebrated in Latin outside of Rome, there could very well be a trickledown effect from bishops on ad Limina visit taking the books home for their cathedrals. In terms of mutual enrichment, this is one of my fervent prayers: that the Pope would promulgate for the City of Rome, for the Cappella Papale, a much more antiquior, if you will, novus ordo."

One more quote from "Mass and Modernity" to close:

"At this point the supporters of the new arrangements usually introduce the idea of secularization and say that the falling off of attendance at Mass has little if anything to do with the liturgical changes but everything to do with the fact that we live in a world in which religious language and religious symbols have become largely meaningless. It follows from this, although it is not often explicitly said, that the dramatic drop in the numbers of those practicing their faith would have happened anyway.
"It is hard to refute arguments about contra-factual conditionals. That is, if someone wants to say that if the liturgical changes had not taken place, then the situation today would be the same, it is difficult to know what sort of argument could possibly lead him to change his mind." (Kindle Locations 304-310). 
In English when we sing Veni, Sancte Spiritus, we use the expression "melt the frozen, warm the chill..." Yes, we live in hope and we pray!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Way of the Cross

Circumstances and events seem to be overtaking each other in our world with a rapidity and earnestness that makes me want to cast an "anchor" out ahead to some near future point in time, in hopes of slowing things down and thereby proffering to those who seek well-pondered words of consolation and hope. I am already looking to September 14, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, for space and inspiration.
Let me explain myself! In these days I have both read and heard decisive words, beautiful words from Pope Francis, from his representative in Geneva and from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, during his visit to Romania (to choose a few examples). They offer encouragement and express genuine solidarity with the people of the Middle East and of Ukraine; in the case of Syria and Iraq, they reach out especially to the Christians of the region, and for Ukraine, they leave no doubt concerning their confidence and support for our beloved Catholic people of Ukraine, especially for our much maligned Greek Catholics.
The words, as I say, come and go too quickly, as the specter of persecution and death, amidst a flurry of false accusations from farther away, echoed by a careless press, continues to loom large, perhaps larger than life. 
Reaching out ahead to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, gaining both a measure of reflective silence and distance on current events, let me just say that the Way of the Cross is indeed our way; we glory as did St. Paul only in that saving Cross. Our joy is His in the death-dealing, yes but, triumphant Wood of the Cross!
Some have compared the ISIS murders of Christian children to a replay of Herod's wanton slaughter of the Holy Innocents. The words of the Stabat Mater come to mind: "Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, She beheld Her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent."
What to say? I guess that we can hope that the suffering, whether of being physically injured or killed, or when falsely accused, would for the victims derive solace from our compassion and renewed courage for the fight, to see victory in the very Cross which dealt death to our Savior, being wielded then by Him to conquer death once and for all.