Saturday, January 31, 2015

From the Top of Mount Nebo

Today’s Office, the First Reading from Deuteronomy 32:48ff. includes the account of the death of Moses:

“The Lord spoke to Moses that same day and said to him, ‘Climb Mount Nebo, that mountain of the Abarim range, in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan which I am giving the sons of Israel as their domain. Die on the mountain you have climbed, and be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Because you broke faith with me among the sons of Israel that time at Meribath-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not display my holiness among the sons of Israel, you may see this land only from afar; you cannot enter it, this land that I am giving to the sons of Israel.’”

As we read, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land because of the incident in the desert of Zin, where he, the prophet, and Aaron, the priest, failed to display God’s holiness to the sons of Israel. From the entire text you get the impression that, great as he was in the eyes of God, Moses did not “make the cut” and ended up in Limbo, because he had not mortified himself sufficiently in accordance with God’s will.

It is only an impression on my part and one more than anything provoked in me as I look at myself, a sharer in the ministry of priest, prophet and king, which Jesus, the Holy One of God, entrusted to His Church. 

Time for an examination of conscience! Not because Limbo is an option for this priest, but because beyond Hell confinement in Purgatory for however long is an undesirable consolation prize, unworthy of all I owe to the One Who first loved me, the Christ, and to His Church.

Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, in the part reserved for the worthy reception of Holy Communion, devotes Chapter VII especially to the priest, his examination of conscience, and purpose of amendment (Kindle Locations 2854-2881). Here are the points he offers, which to my way of thinking have lost none of their relevance toward shaping a priestly heart and obedience, capable of manifesting to those entrusted to his care, the holiness of God:

“Above all things the priest of God must draw nigh, with all humility of heart and supplicating reverence, with full faith and pious desire for the honour of God, to celebrate, minister, and receive this Sacrament. Diligently examine thy conscience and with all thy might with true contrition and humble confession cleanse and purify it, so that thou mayest feel no burden, nor know anything which bringeth thee remorse and impedeth thy free approach. Have displeasure against all thy sins in general, and specially sorrow and mourn because of thy daily transgressions. And if thou have time, confess unto God in the secret of thine heart, all miseries of thine own passion.”

Here are his points for which he invites the priest to… Lament grievously and be sorry, because thou art still:
- so carnal and worldly, so unmortified from thy passions,
- so full of the motion of concupiscence,
- so unguarded in thine outward senses, so often entangled in many vain fancies, so much inclined to outward things,
- so negligent of internal;
- so ready to laughter and dissoluteness, so unready to weeping and contrition;
- so prone to ease and indulgence of the flesh, so dull to zeal and fervour;
- so curious to hear novelties and behold beauties, so loth to embrace things humble and despised; so desirous to have many things, so grudging in giving, so close in keeping;
- so inconsiderate in speaking, so reluctant to keep silence;
- so disorderly in manners, so inconsiderate in actions;
- so eager after food, so deaf towards the Word of God; so eager after rest, so slow to labour;
- so watchful after tales, so sleepy towards holy watchings; so eager for the end of them, so wandering in attention to them;
- so negligent in observing the hours of prayer, so lukewarm in celebrating, so unfruitful in communicating;
- so quickly distracted, so seldom quite collected with thyself;
- so quickly moved to anger, so ready for displeasure at others;
- so prone to judging, so severe at reproving;
- so joyful in prosperity, so weak in adversity;
- so often making many good resolutions and bringing them to so little effect.

The language of my edition might be antiquated, but the message has lost none of its application, in our day and time, to priests and bishops, young and old. The chapter ends on a frank, but truly encouraging note:

“If a man shall have done what in him lieth, and shall repent him truly, then how often soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, soever he shall draw nigh unto Me for pardon and grace, As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted, and live. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him.” (cf. Ezekiel xviii. 22, 23)

Deuteronomy says that Moses died and was buried in a ravine on Mount Nebo at 120 years of age, still vigorous and having his eye sight. He must have been clearly aware of the price he had to pay for his unmortified behavior (his impatience with the people?).

My prayer would be that The Imitation or some other aid or person would rescue us, priests and bishops, from whatever the distraction which keeps us unmortified and thus hindered in showing forth to God’s people His great holiness, His loving will for us to enter into His rest.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Apocalypse Now?

I signed up for this program which sends you a daily email such that if you remain faithful, you can read the four Gospels in the course of one year. I kind of like it, even if I find the commentary at times puzzling. Today's reading would be an example in that it anticipates the persecutions to come, as if they needed to be prophesied and were not already part of the baptismal "package", if you will. Yes, Jesus' words are prophetic, not so much in the sense of predicting something to come, but in the sense of teaching a hard and for some unexpected truth about the here and now: Matthew 10:16-25:

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."

Simply stated, to my mind the commentary title "Day 30 - The Coming Persecutions" is a misnomer or distraction. The Lord Jesus is describing the tribulations to be expected by a disciple; this is what sharing in the Cross of our Savior means.

Then again, maybe the email's approach is the right one, because we are all so into denial about the spectrum of consequences to being buried with Christ in Baptism. I cannot help but think of the stir which Cardinal George's "prophecy" about his successors in Chicago having to expect imprisonment and martyrdom. We need to understand just what all might come our way if we are faithful to the Gospel.

Nonetheless, I think Matthew's Gospel here in this passage is providing reality therapy for missionaries and preachers who will be rejected and even "flogged", for betrayals within one's own family. I know it comes to me hard: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."...


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shakespeare and Chant?

Over at 1Peter5 there is a piece entitled: Liturgy, Adaptation, and the Need for Context by Adam Michael Wood. The man is well versed and plays with the topic such that he would leave spinning the heads of liturgical aficionados straight across the spectrum. He brings up a lot of good questions and does so with a bright, sort of sprightly abruptness. 

Read the article and stay with him to the end. You may not agree, but I find him constructive throughout and seriously reassuring in his concluding sentences:

"If it is true, as Odo Casel observed, that modern people are unable to perform a true act of worship, then we must engage in a process that transforms people and guides them out of modernity, out of the abyss of secularism. This work includes both catechesis and community development outside the liturgy as well as careful adaptation of the liturgy itself and the elements that surround it.

"Whatever (valid) form of the liturgy you are celebrating, and in whatever language, it is not enough to simply “Say the Black, and Do the Red.” Nor is it enough to mean well and be sincere. Both literally and metaphorically, we must teach people how to sing, or else what we ask them to sing is of little consequence.

"The liturgy requires a context. We must provide it."

I think one can fairly draw the conclusion that Wood is calling for a new approach or metaphor for addressing the liturgical disarray which plagues us despite denials. Fair or not, he chooses an option which is neither a "reform of the reform" nor a "restoration as reset" for the sake of setting forth the organic development of the liturgy. 

He's written an article not the definitive monograph; he has played the devil's advocate and done so well. Such cannot be ignored, even if attention to our patrimony precisely because it is caught up into the worship we owe to God would seem to demand more respect for the Mass of all times and much more attentiveness to the discontinuity or rupture laying the Ordinary Form open to so much abuse.

The wise counsel of exposing the two forms to each other for the sake of the mutual enrichment must indeed be treasured.

 Adam Michael Wood, the blithe spirit notwithstanding, I renew my urgent plea for turning worship in the Ordinary Form to God, ad Orientem. This and more is due to Adam's un-quantifiable "Globe theatre" audience.

The Other Mendicant Friar

Today's Second Reading from the Office of the memorial for the Angelic Doctor is taken from a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest, entitled: The Cross exemplifies every virtue:

"Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
  It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.
  If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
  If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.
  If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
  If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
  If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.
  Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

For those eager to keep at least at arm's length a life of sacrifice and self-abnegation, the words of this Dominican "giant" go in one ear and out the other, bypassing the heart and conscience. Even for good people, ignorant of our Catholic roots, many haven't a clue as to where to start with such. We need an awakening, all of us, I fear. This would be my prayer intention for today.

To "hobbyhorse" for a moment, this brings me back to the urgency of recovering our Catholic culture. The passing of a dear friend of our family, last week shortly after their 69th wedding anniversary, brought back stories from my Mom about Fritz and Dad "having to pay" for sleeping in on New Year's Day and having to go to the over-filled Pontifical High Mass at noon and kneel on the stone floor in the back of the cathedral. I could laugh with Mom's generation, but younger folk need every detail of the story about young adults explained. Even then I doubt if people under 50 can really understand, as they do not even comprehend the simply beautiful interplay of choice and obligation, obviously cloaked in devotion, which brings forth laughter from 65+ years ago.

We are a very long way from the world of the mendicant friars, like Francis and Dominic, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. We talk up poverty, but these men mostly refused to ride a mule, let alone get into a carriage; they walked clear across Europe and back. Most of them didn't live to be 50, because of the deprivations which were typical of the mendicant lifestyle of their day. St. Elizabeth of Hungary or Thuringen pleaded with her confessor after having given away all which was hers for the privilege to be able to beg door to door.... in imitation of Christ. Do we really understand what these people understood by saying with fervor and determination that they wished to follow Christ in His poverty? I think not. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta and her sisters today come close and meet misunderstanding and criticism for failing in efficiency in helping the poor to escape their poverty. It is indeed another world.

Another of my favorite authors, Lorenzo Scupoli, in his classic, The Spiritual Combat, taught very clearly what our priorities should be, especially in a world other than that of the mendicants and even other than his world, so caught up in missionary zeal:

"For, although in itself the conversion of souls is dearer to God than the mortification of an irregular desire, yet it is not your duty to will and perform that which is in itself more excellent, but that which God before all else strictly desires and requires of you. For He doubtless seeks and desires of you self-conquest, and the thorough mortification of your passions, rather than that you, wilfully leaving one of them alive in you, should perform in some other direction some greater and more notable service for His sake. Now you see wherein the real perfection of a Christian lies, and that to obtain it you must enter upon a constant and sharp warfare against self..." (p. 4, Kindle Edition)

St. Thomas Aquinas rightly exhorts us to embrace the Cross like Jesus did. He teaches us what that implies. May our hearts be open and the adventure of self-conquest through obedience to the Divine Will allow Christ's Light through us to shine upon our world!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Just an Impression?

Following the Holy Father's visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, two blips went across my radar which both independently and in contrast to each other left me troubled: the rabbit thing and the video documentation of the less than respectful (sacrilegious) way the Most Holy Eucharist was passed around in the crowd at the outdoor Mass with the Pope. Many push back from both insisting that we not overreact or read too much into either. 

In the case of the rabbit thing, efforts have been made by the Vatican to assuage those feeling offended and perhaps to counter the most aggressive (German speaking?) campaigns to set something like a "catholic family quota" where after confessors are supposed to forgive most anything in the realm of birth control. Hence, I suppose the repeated appeals of the Holy Father to people to get themselves to confession. 

The outrage or "slow burn" over the Holy Father's choice of words is justified, because once again some, if not many, are taking advantage and pushing their anti-life and anti-marital chastity agenda. Unintentional or not the "barn door" was left open and unguarded. The best efforts on the part of others to witness to the fullness of Gospel life in and before marriage are being snowed by those who scorn big families and deny the role of asceticism in the life of all Christ's followers. The allusion to the classic "rabbit putdown" played right into the hands of those who have no time for self-sacrifice within a life-long marital commitment, let alone for the glorious Catholic procession of virgin martyrs which extends over all the centuries, starting with St. Agnes and continuing on through St. Maria Goretti, regularly punctuated by single-hearted little boys and young men like St. Dominic Savio, St. Charles Lwanga and his companions. An exhortation to perseverance, to holy indifference and to entrusting of our lives and the Church to Christ the King, directed toward all those who feel offended or simply nonplussed, is certainly in order.

The obvious disrespect shown to the Holy Eucharist at outdoor Masses, not only in Manila or Rio, but perhaps despite best efforts even in St. Peter's Square, has to do with attempting the impossible. Communion for so many people at once cannot be organized and organizers' attempts to go through with it end in "accidents", in disrespect, if in no other way than by rendering casual or bland/routine the encounter with the living Lord, Christ our God, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Those responsible for organizing the occasions must stop "trying" and draw the conclusion that it cannot be done without disrespect and hence should not be done. Open fields, beaches and giant public squares do not lend themselves to a devout reception of Holy Communion and higher authority should recognize this and bring others to face up to the fact as well.

I remember as a child, before the Council, that Holy Communion was not distributed at Funeral Masses with the body of the deceased present. In the parish, that meant suppressing the early morning Mass (bination was not an option) in favor of a Communion service for the daily Mass folk, as well as any mourners who wished to receive Communion on the day of burial of their loved one. I am sure there were reasons for the practice; I don't recall what they were. The important thing for me as a child and I suppose for most adults was simply that Communion was not distributed at Funeral Masses in the presence of the body of the deceased. Might I suggest, that for the sake of decorum the distribution of Holy Communion should today be omitted at all Masses where people cannot easily approach the Communion rail or altar step, understood as extensions of the altar at Mass. Apart from the extremely diseducative and often disrespectful (if not sacrilegious) Communion practice common to large gatherings in the open and in stadiums, I think I remember being told by an older generation that Holy Communion, before the Council, was not generally distributed even inside the Basilica at Papal Liturgies (more of a rarity then, of course, than now): reverence no doubt being the primary factor.

Whether an embittered "slow burn" or embarrassed silence, pastoral sensitivity would require much more from bishops and priests vis a vis the "little ones", those whose faith is weak or who lack sufficient catechesis in their lives to be able to sort things out. Why should people today be dispensed from the beautiful asceticism their parents and grandparents fought so hard to practice in marriage just because of king mattresses, central heating and air-conditioning, Iphones, Ipads, big screen TV and XBox? Pastoral sensitivity would seem to demand an honest effort at recovering the sustaining Catholic culture, which once helped people live their sacrament, whether it was Baptism, Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.

Once again, even inside church walls at Sunday Mass, I would make an appeal for putting order in the Communion procession, eliminating the hectic brought on by putting too many extraordinary ministers on such that ushers are pushing people to hurry down the aisle (keep moving!) and return to the Communion rail, which gives each person a moment to focus before Father arrives to feed them with the Bread of Angels.

If we would have mercy on the crowds as Jesus did, like He we would give ourselves tirelessly to teaching, both in and out of season. No doubt many hearts are hardened, but as many or more languish like sheep without a shepherd. St. John Paul II used to repeat to various groups that the true pope for most Catholics was the parish priest in their home parish. The nurturing task of teaching persuasively about chastity for the laity, both single and married, rests squarely on the shoulders of those at home. Beyond witness, parents have much to share with their children about the true nature of love and the ineluctable embrace of Christ's Cross which lets that love shine out in all its eloquence.


Friday, January 23, 2015

In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Chapter 14 of Peter Kwasniewski's book "Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church" bears the title: A Threefold Amnesia: Sacred Liturgy, Social Teaching, and Saint Thomas. For what it says about "social teaching", my guess is that it would be the toughest chapter for people who might class themselves or be classed as Catholic neo-conservatives. Personally, I would question the term "amnesia", seeing as how multiple generations in most parts of the world separate us from the regular practice of Divine Worship with the 1962 Roman Missal as the norm. The rupture with our past, with the (T)tradition is undeniable; to suffer amnesia you have to have been in possession of something at some point.

Similar could be said of the role of Saint Thomas Aquinas in seminary studies, which has been contested and often neglected for an even longer period; most of us were deprived of St. Thomas and have nothing to forget. But the toughie for most folks in terms of restoration or recovery would be that of what Kwasniewski describes as "social teaching", also because it flies in the face of commonly held notions about religious liberty in a multi- or a-confessional state and what ecumenism is supposed to mean for a Catholic today. Wise or unwise, I want to talk about this recovery called for by Kwasniewski right in the middle of the week of prayer for Christian unity 2015.

The proviso or caveat placed by the author would be that the three are yoked together; they are inseparable, which might be a problem for some of the less integral minds in the crowd. Kwasniewski promotes all three as interdependent, referring to them in a school context:

"In all the Catholic schools with which I have been associated, I have noticed a striking fact: a person who does not hold onto all three of these things faithfully and integrally cannot, in the end, manage to hold onto even one." (Kindle Locations 2912-2914).

The clincher, however, is his description of classic Catholic social teaching and the point made that the separation between Church and State in the words of St. Pius X is a pernicious error, the reference being to France's Law of Separation from 1905:

"Let us be frank, even if the Franks fail to be so: the sovereign Kingship of Christ over both individuals and nations, in the order of nature no less than that of grace, is denied almost everywhere since the Council, whether by being simply forgotten as one might forget about grandmother’s rocking-chair in the attic, or by being repudiated as an extravagant relic from the benighted Middle Ages. Our Lord’s Kingship is qualified and spiritualized to the point of irrelevance, as if Jesus Christ had not come to change radically our lives and our world." (Kindle Locations 2829-2833).

Who in the western world deals well with such? Who in the Catholic community today would push the principle "error has no rights" to all its logical conclusions? I am just saying... Kwasniewski is undoubtedly right that a full liturgical restoration would make us more appealing to the Orthodox world, but the social teaching part might renew the kind of American "Know Nothing" chatter which tried to frighten people during the JFK election campaign with the menace of the Pope taking up residence in the White House... I am just saying.

The WCC would be at a loss if the Catholic Church weren't not ready essentially to carry the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Why is that? Does it say anything about the formula now in use for decades? A goodly part of the Orthodox world cannot even pray together with us for unity. Perhaps Kwasniewski has something else in mind for Chapter 14. I say this firmly denouncing multi-culturalism and insisting on the primacy of truth as it comes to us from God. Again, I am just saying... If you read his book and have thoughts as to where Kwasniewski wants to go with a Catholic social model developed on the rebound from the loss of the Papal States and why he wants to yoke it to the other two truly sublime "steeds" let me know.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Hard Hitting Treatise

Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church
Kwasniewski, Peter
Angelico Press. (2015-01-03). Kindle Edition.

I never thought I'd be referring to anything as a "hard hitting analysis". The expression sounds somewhere between sensational and trite, but it actually says something very important about the Kwasniewski book. The book is truly upbeat and hopeful, despite some of the tough criticism it chooses to level in making its points. I liked it a lot because it is born of some of the bibliography on the topic of liturgical reform that the author and I share in common. Kwasniewski is very much cognizant that the question of renewing the Church involves renewing Catholic culture. I am certainly not that feisty in expressing my opinion and I think he should review his stance on a very few points. Let me first share a true gem from the book and then attempt to explain myself. From the get go, let me say, I think this book is a must read for those interested in the life of the Church. The quote!

"The traditional Latin Mass is celebrated for God, on his account, as an act of profound worship directed to Him. The new Mass, as it has been allowed to be celebrated around the world, often looks like an exercise mainly for the sake of the people—almost as if the people are the point of the Mass, and not God. Are “for God” and “for the people” necessarily in conflict? No, but only if what is truly to the people’s benefit is borne in mind; then there is no conflict. The way the liturgy should be for the people is by turning their minds and hearts toward God (versus Deum), aiding them to reach contemplative and sacramental union with God." (Kindle Locations 1070-1075)

Permit me one compliment, one criticism and then some thoughts on Papal Primacy!

The most exciting pages of Peter Kwasniewski's book were those where he is dealing with the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal as speaking more eloquently to children than does the Ordinary Form Liturgy. The author is from my perspective a very young man and hence what he states as discovery really is something for which nothing in his own life prepared him. Granted, as a pre-schooler up through kindergarten in 1955-56 I was probably more focused on the organist and grand organ back up in the choir loft in our cathedral, but my elementary school memories of another parish in northern Minnesota, my recollections as a boy of sung Solemn Mass with our three Benedictine priests serving as celebrant, deacon and subdeacon were of something into which I could thoroughly insert myself, especially as an altarboy. I even knew which Gospel went with the Low Mass for a Virgin Saint. If for no other reason, pick up the book for what he has to say about children; it very well illustrates the sense of the quote above.

Kwasniewski limits his discussion of reform of the 1962 Missal pretty much to the Lectionary, and suggests eliminating the two year cycle of readings for weekdays in Ordinary Time and restoring the Sanctoral Cycle to its fullness, while enriching Advent weekdays with readings. His argument in favor of abolishing concelebration is legitimate but heavily weighted on his monastic experiences in Europe. Albeit a limit case, he does not consider, just one example, elderly and feeble priests. Not long ago, I had a bishop present a conscience issue to me. At some point, for frailty, he had received a dispensation to celebrate private Mass while seated. I think it had been given to him years back because of an illness and for the length of the malady. His question was whether now in advanced age he needed to apply again to the Congregation in Rome (he celebrates according to the Ordinary Form). I assured him that he could in good conscience celebrate while seated. This summer, visiting the nursing facility where my brother lives, I had three elderly priests confined to wheelchairs who concelebrated with me each day. All were wheeled into chapel and reverently assisted in donning their stoles for Mass; they attentively and gratefully took their part as priests in the Holy Sacrifice. I would like the author to think again about the possible role of concelebration in certain cases for consideration in the organic development of the 1962 Missal. That would be my criticism.

Papal Primacy comes to mind in the sense that the author weighs in quite heavily on Blessed Pope Paul VI, especially for not having reined in Bugnini and the Consilium. I know we generally term the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Papacy as monarchic and absolute in authority, as opposed to the synodal model of the Byzantine Church. In reality, the Papacy is and was always no less synodal than the Byzantine model, even granting that we do refer to the Pope as the Supreme Legislator, especially in matters of liturgical law. Even so, as Kwasniewski rightly points out, much of the abuse associated with the Ordinary Form has nothing to do with positive legislation, but rather with a capitulation to the "whirlwind".

I bring this up because the challenge has become no less in these intervening years since Summorum Pontificum. It has to do generally with the times and not just with Roman Catholics. I see it here in Ukraine in conjunction with the Epiphany Water Blessing of 19 January. Not so much with Greek-Catholics, but this annual event and the associated ice baths in various rivers, streams and lakes seem to unleash something among Orthodox folk. While Catholic people might mitigate their judgment in such matters noting that it is a question of para-liturgy, in point of fact for Orthodox we have a situation not unlike that which used to reign among 1950's Catholics, and that most anything could be labelled communicatio in sacris and some of the wildness and unclad bathing on the Epiphany would be a concession to the spirit of the world and not a sign of devotion. My point being that holding the line is no easier for Orthodox than it is for us today.

Kwasniewski does well to point out liturgical abuse and does better in pointing out the full restoration of the Extraordinary Form as the best remedy; he does less well to vilify and assign blame, simply realizing the amorphous forces unleashed by the Enlightenment putting us all to the test. The urgency of liturgical restoration as a prime vehicle for propagating the Catholic Faith and saving souls seems all too evident. We need to pray for the Pope and hope he will find ways to set forth the wisdom-filled process initiated in 2007 thanks to Summorum Pontificum.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Belorussian Export or Constant Challenge

Paul Goble recently documented (here) another attempt in the Russian press to explain religiosity in Orthodox Russia using an expression generally attributed to the Belorussian Head of State, who has classed himself an "Orthodox atheist". The article insists that even before the Bolshevik revolution popular religiosity was not all that profound in Russia and perhaps the aspect of careerism among the higher clergy has generally played a more important role in delineating the public aura or persona in that Church than one is commonly led to believe. The article judges that present attempts by the regime to use Orthodox piety for political ends can only further damage the already fragile flower of popular devotion. 

I have a certain difficulty with the article. Whether in Russia or in the West, I find it hard to move so glibly from noting a very real and worrisome superficiality in matters religious to classing that poverty of spirit as atheism, albeit Orthodox atheism. The dialectic is often described as one between custom and conviction, between popular usage and profound conversion. 

Personally, I think the matter can be easily distorted at the expense of Russian Orthodoxy and, at least on the level of general conclusions based on the behavior of a social elite, be blown way out of perspective. Russia is not alone in facing a contemporary crisis of faith in the upper echelons of its society. I am thinking of a catch phrase similar to Lukashenko's which is still to be heard in certain circles of Mexican society riddled as they are with Free Masonry: "I may not believe in God, but I am thoroughly Guadalupan!" thus indicating a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which does not carry over to Church or genuine faith. We would never apply such a description to Mexicans in general, so why should we call the faith of the whole Russian population into question based on the behavior of a high profile sampling?

Really, I prefer not to speak of Belarus, Russia or Mexico, but rather of the most recent threat to culture and fundamental values coming out of a SCOTUS (US Supreme Court) communique that the high court intends to rule on the definition of marriage and presumable strike down the remaining state laws defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Apart from discussion about the courts again and again overstepping their proper constitutional role, there is a discourse on culture in the United States and its decay which needs to be confronted for the sake of truth. The February issue of First Things is rich in reflections on the topic and Rod Dreher's piece entitled Christian and Countercultural is dear to my heart.

I would encourage you to read Dreher. People who read me regularly would know that I probably am more insistent than he about the restoration of Catholic culture as a sine qua non, not for establishing some sort of utopia but for effectively taking the battle to our world's misguided distopians and standing a chance of offering the present and future generations an option to whatever skull-numbing may be out there. Dreher describes present-day American religiosity, especially among the youth, as “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) and he is no doubt right. 

George Weigel is present with an article in the same issue, entitle To See Things as They Are. Weigel is convinced that what he has described elsewhere at book length as Evangelical Catholicism is that which is necessary to take the battle to Dreher's MTD's and win that space in the public square which is rightfully ours. Weigel adds the notion of not only bringing personal witness to our individual conversion stories to our social exchanges but insists on a strategic institutional stance favoring the defense of human life and religious liberty as our two declared and non-negotiable points for countering relativism on its destructive way.

Neither man promises us a rose garden and I cannot help but think of one of the questions posed by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman in his novel "Callista, A Tale of the Third Century". Persecution, even unto martyrdom, seems to clarify the Church's witness, renew the faith of those who have all but lapsed, and take the battle to those obstinate and primitive enough to choose darkness over light. While we are taught to avoid bringing trials upon ourselves, we certainly trust that the Lord knows better what may be required of us for the sake of the life of the world.

I beseech young parents to pray with their children, to read good books to their children, to look hard and long at the option of home-schooling. I think it is urgent for bishops and priests to restore the liturgy, urging the option of orienting worship, restoring decorum to the celebration, and seriously promoting the cause of enriching our worship by promoting the Extraordinary Form. We owe this much and more to society. The "lamp" must be dressed and returned to the lamp stand!


Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Anthropology - Ecstatic, Vertical, Submissive to God

“Contrast all this with the reverence paid to the Gospel or the sanctuary in the old rite, the magnificent prayers of the Offertory, the elaborate incensations, the Athanasian-style Preface of the Holy Trinity chanted in a solemn manner, the Roman Canon with its many signs of the cross and its reverent elevations of host and chalice— not to mention all the preparations the priest and people make: the Asperges, the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Lavabo accompanied by a psalm. Through such ceremonial actions man acknowledges the supremacy of God and his transcendent mystery, begs to be allowed to worship him, begs to be worthy to offer and to partake of the sacrifice that the Son, in his human nature, offers to the Blessed Trinity. The traditional liturgy reflects not only correct theology but correct anthropology. The anthropology embodied in the old rite, with its panoply of supporting customs and laws, is ecstatic, vertical, and submissive to God, as is dignum et iustum; that which is embodied in the new rite, due to its inculturation in the contemporary West, is rationalist, immanentist, horizontal, and dominative, submitting the sacred to a humanistic canon of “community.” The ancient Roman Rite, stately and hieratic, gives praise and homage to the Crucified Lord, thrusting the Infinite Paradox directly into the eyes and ears of the faithful who have the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it.” [Kwasniewski, Peter (2015-01-03). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Kindle Locations 400-409). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.]

I'm so glad Kindle got on the stick and made the Kwasniewski book available so quickly. Although I have barely started reading, I wanted to share a little lightning bolt which hit me while reading the same. It was the brief mention of the preeminence of the old rite for hand washing: "...the Lavabo accompanied by a psalm."  Why did it hit me you ask? Well, because of an experience on the second day of Byzantine Christmas this year in Ivano-Frankivsk: The Archbishop insisted that I preside at the Divine Liturgy, even if he still functioned as principal celebrant at my side. For this fact, I had the joy of going outside of the altar area through the Royal Doors to have my hands washed. The acolyte pours water three times while reciting in a low voice the proper prayer for the ablution. It was not so much how the gesture was performed but that it was performed with prayer. Hence, might I say, my yearning, my "anthropological" yearning for something more "ectastic, vertical and submissive to God..."

The notion of mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite is bound to lead us to focus more and better on Christ.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Maidan Rising - The Fullness of Time

  "Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
  In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside." [Mark 1:21-28]

"'Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’"  For some reason, my meditation on today's Gospel went beyond its first and foremost message concerning the sovereign authority of Jesus. 

The rather grotesque painting (placed above), often titled  "In the Fullness of Time", came to my mind and I wondered to myself just how the Pax Romana actually facilitated the spread of the Gospel. I thought about our world today as possessed, filled with unclean spirits, and even about the Church, like the synagogue at Capernaum, which can leave the demoniacs seemingly unchallenged in its midst until Christ comes to teach and cast them out. Our world would seem to be as decadent and death-dealing as that into which our Savior was born in the fullness of time. Indeed, in each and every age, we are called to His manger bed, to welcome and pay homage to the King. In each and every age we are called to respond to God's love as manifest in the Son, Who took on flesh and redeemed us by His Blood. In each and every age, some turn away from the Virgin Mother and Her Child, preferring death to life.

In the painting the angel, sheltering the Holy Family under his wings, casts a glance over his shoulder at Caesar's world, which would soon enough fall at the feet of Christ. We might ask what has changed. Is it not the same world we see around us today in the terror of Charlie Hebdo's France, Boko Haram's Nigeria and the ISIS of the Middle East, to mention just a few: a world refusing to shelter under the angel's wings with the Newborn Savior, the Son of God Most High? Is it not a world which still rejects God's authority and makes its bed with unclean spirits? What would it take to bring our world to its knees, to seek shelter under the angel's wings, at the feet of Mary and her Beloved Son? 

The other day a lovely group of carolers, university students from Lviv, came by for Christmas with singing and a thoughtfully well-prepared play (vertep as it is called in Ukrainian). Visiting afterward, they told me their next stop was Maidan, meaning of course today the memorial which remains in Institutska Street with the little wooden chapel, commemorating those who died in the "revolution of dignity" as it is called. Not long ago an ambassador asked me if the hand-painted Christmas scene which had figured so prominently on Maidan was yet to be found. I told him I didn't know if it had survived the fire-storm of those last days of February. The word "dignity" is nice, but thinking of that crib scene, thinking of all the plastic rosaries also symbolizing the struggle of those days not only here in Kyiv but elsewhere around the country as well, I wonder if we couldn't speak about a people seeking shelter under the angel's wings at the very center of our picture.

It would be wrong to speak about justice and retribution, but I cannot refrain from saying that too many in our world have not understood ultimately where victory lies, too many have scorned the manger bed and the shelter of the angel's wings. Too many have embraced outward show, Caesar's pomp, his decadence and death-dealing decay. Ukraine can teach itself, Ukraine can teach our world about right choices, about ultimate victory in His Mother's arms. Maidan is rising!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Struggling for Perspective - Holy Communion

"2. Thou commandest that I draw near to Thee with firm confidence, if I would have part with Thee, and that I receive the food of immortality, if I desire to obtain eternal life and glory. Come unto Me, sayest Thou, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Oh, sweet and lovely word in the ear of the sinner, that Thou, O Lord my God, dost invite the poor and needy to the Communion of Thy most holy body and blood. But who am I, O Lord, that I should presume to approach unto Thee? Behold the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee, and yet Thou sayest, Come ye all unto Me. 

3. What meaneth this most gracious condescension, this most lovely invitation? How shall I dare to come, who know no good thing of myself, whence I might be able to presume? How shall I bring Thee within my house, seeing that I so often have sinned in Thy most loving sight? Angels and Archangels stand in awe of Thee, the Saints and just men fear Thee, and Thou sayest, Come unto Me! Except Thou, Lord, hadst said it, who should believe it true? And except Thou hadst commanded, who should attempt to draw near?" [Kempis, Thomas A.; The Collected Works of Thomas A Kempis (2007-11-17). The Imitation of Christ (Optimized for Kindle) (Kindle Locations 2658-2667). Kindle Edition.

Why do we not find it mind-boggling that people clamor for admission to Holy Communion as if life preparation were not needed to draw so close to the living God? I'm beginning to fear more each day that the virtue of faith is a terribly rare commodity in our world today. We really need to go back to singing Dies Irae at funerals and fasting at least three hours with a good Confession when preparing to receive Holy Communion on our knees. The fear of the Lord is born of love for the One Who first loved us and was lifted up upon the Cross for our salvation. Life is a preparation for Liturgy and Liturgy is an encounter with Him Who alone is holy and just.

St. Charles Borromeo was indeed one of the great reformer bishops of the Council of Trent. First and foremost he helped his priests of Milan to reform their lives, to recollect and to be beacons for others. He taught and he lovingly led his people on the path of Catholic Reform. We have an urgency today for reform grounded in sound teaching.

For all of my adult life, I have been witness to people in places high and low who have sought to undermine the Tradition; they did it out of willfulness with scarcely a thought for the One Who is higher than the angels. Too much has been vulgarized and for too long. Yes, it is indeed so for lack of faith.

I think, to use a figure from St. Charles, it is time to close the stove to protect that last ember of faith and devotion before the contrary winds of a relativist society snuff out what still burns though faintly within our hearts. We need to become beggars before God, confident in His will to draw us to Himself.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Restoring Catholic Culture - The Quest

It has been a while, but I finally happened upon an article which I am excited enough about to risk a comment. It touches an issue dear to my heart, which most people in authority in the Church in the US seem unwilling to face. You can find the article and read it for yourself over at OnePeterFive; it is not very long. The author seems to draw the conclusion that we, the Catholic Church in the US, are no longer producing as we did in the past and we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work to find a solution to the problem of defections from the life of the Church. The author goes beyond the rather bland and often repeated comment that the single largest religious body in the United States is made up of former Catholics. He goes beyond it and addresses more than the general sentiment of resignation which this statement tends to inspire.

As the notion of political incorrectness seems too dated, I guess I would have to say that most people who talk about us, as Catholic Church in the US, having a problem and of people, especially priests being in denial about the gravity of the situation, well, to use my long dead, party-hearty auntie's expression, they are worse than wet blankets. We are not allowed, it would seem, to say that what we have been doing for the last half century obviously isn't working. School and parish closures, failing vocations, and more won't allow us to say we're on our way to extinction in the US, as people tend to say about the Church in most countries of Western Europe suffering the same societal irrelevance.

"Putting all these numbers together, we find that less than 10% of baptized Catholics in this country both attend Mass on Sundays and go to Confession at least once a year. In other words, less than 1 in 10 baptized Catholics actually follow the two most measurable precepts of the Church, which all Catholics are obliged to follow."

It sounds as bad as Belgium or Holland to me. One in ten, the article says, goes to Mass on Sundays (what about Holy Days of obligation?) and confesses once a year. Why does this not seem to make an impact on our priests and bishops?

"So how should Catholics respond in the face of these daunting numbers? Unfortunately, three improper responses to this crisis have emerged in the past few decades. They are denial, despair, and desertion... What is the way forward? If denial, despair and desertion are not the proper Catholic response, how should Catholics react to the calamity of less than 10% of all baptized Catholics actually practicing their faith? In a word, determination."

To my mind the author describes the situation we face quite accurately but does not really answer his own question by urging us to determination. Maybe he thinks he has done enough to try to challenge folks to take a closer look. I don't know. At any rate, there are and have been for the longest time good people out there with suggestions, with ideas as to where to start. My own sympathies lie with those who insist on working for a restoration of Catholic culture. We have a fundamental problem, a foundational problem; it is not just a failure on the efficiency scale or in the area of communication skills: it is not simply a question of better marriage prep courses or friendlier greeters at the door of church on Sunday. Performance liturgy, a la mega church (facit "crystal cathedral" Orange County remake), is not the answer either. We need to aim much higher or dig deeper.

John Senior explains as well as anyone what a restoration of Catholic culture would require, starting with reading classic books to children and getting them familiar with a whole vocabulary and world view that their parents have missed out on. Promoting the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as a means hopefully of enriching Ordinary Form worship and moving us in liturgy beyond a didactic model to genuine worship of the Living God is no small part of the Catholic experience. I have had notes from priests and bishops who went for the ad Orientem experience of the Novus Ordo during Advent and Christmas this year and who testify to their joy at being able to withdraw from the spotlight and focus together with their people on Christ, the Dawn from on high Who comes to visit us.

Blog entries can't really exhaust such important topics. I thank OnePeterFive for eloquently posing a question about a serious problem most involved in parish ministry seem to want to deny. If I could add to the discussion it would be in terms of insisting upon restoration and recovery of Catholic culture. "Venturing where no one has gone before" might be a thrilling slogan for Star Trek fans, but in the real Christian life we find our future in the past, in the One Who is, Who was and Who is to come.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Club - Study and Discussion Material

Introduction to the Spiritual Life
Bouyer, Louis
(2013-10-28). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition. 

"Contemplation understood in this way is, in truth, germinally present in the most elementary act of Christian faith. And we might say that this seed develops to the degree to which faith conforms us to itself by obedience. This is why progress in prayer, causing the contemplative aspect more and more to predominate, is not so much as might appear to a superficial view the product of psychological concentration and simplification. Far more is it a progress in conforming life, and the whole inner being from which it precedes, to faith. The more the objects of our faith, or rather its great central and total object, the mystery of Christ in us, incorporates itself in our existence, from which our most profound consciousness is inseparable— or even better, the more this mystery likens us to itself— the more does faith, without losing anything of its mystery, cease to be obscure for us." (Kindle Locations 1595-1601)

Over the years, I would have to say this is one of the few books that I have read which I would really like to see taken up by groups to be read and discussed together chapter by chapter. It does not depart from the norm in its description of the spiritual life, but there are some chapters which just say things better than I can ever remember reading them. The chapter on prayer is mighty and the clarity of expression concerning monasticism and the other vocations in the Church is terribly enriching.

Some who have been reading my reviews right along would know that I firmly believe that a monastic revival within the Church would be cornerstone to any serious effort to restore Catholic culture. Bouyer's concerns lie elsewhere in this book, but he makes the case for the primacy of monasticism and comes out clearly for a non-delusional description of the vocation to matrimony. Such clarity on the spiritual life for all in the Church could go a long way to heading off pandemonium in the synod hall come next October.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Memory as Gift to Others - in Truth

Memoirs of a Happy Failure.
von Hildebrand, Alice; Crosby, John Henry.
Saint Benedict Press. Kindle Edition. (2014-11-09)

"God in His Wisdom does not show us the whole way we have to travel. How many of us would turn back, if we only knew what was awaiting us. I thank Him for not having revealed to me how arduous my task would be: to hold high the flag in defense of the objectivity of truth in a fortress of relativism." (Kindle Locations 105-107)

Too many famous people have already endorsed this great book, paying high honor to the marvelous lady whose life is herein recounted. Alice von Hildebrand makes us a gift of her memoirs and I only wish to pass it on to any and everybody. The book is an incomparable witness to truth as life-giving. We cannot have enough dread of the ills which afflict our times, first and foremost of the horror of relativism. Alice has always championed truth and done so with grace. I don't know if we can set out in life to nurture others, whether our own off-spring or students in the classroom. I do know that such a calling comes from God and is caught up into His life; it is what true greatness is all about. Philosophers and doctors of the Church are nurturers; so are mothers; so is Alice.

 In some ways "Memoirs of a Happy Failure" served to illustrate a point made in another book I am reading these days (first published in 1960):

"The most serious error we could make here would be to imagine that there might be some ways of Christian life in which the cross would be present and even overwhelming, and others in which it would have little or no place. If we were to believe a certain school of thought— which has more and more adherents today, it would seem— while God sets apart certain persons to come to him by way of a negative, crucifying asceticism, He allows the great majority, on the contrary, to join him by way of a positive asceticism of self-development. . . . Such a supposition is based on a complete misunderstanding of what was explained in the previous chapter: that creation itself, inasmuch as it is fallen, makes the cross inevitable, and that the cross, in Christ, becomes salvation, the only possible salvation of creation. There cannot, then, be any “creative” vocations as opposed to “redemptive” ones. Every vocation is at the same time a vocation to the cross and a vocation to the resurrection, to the restoration of what God created good in the beginning and which must become so once again at the end. The cross must, therefore, be present equally in every form the Christian life can take. But there are many different ways in which the cross may be brought in." [Bouyer, Louis (2013-10-28). Introduction to the Spiritual Life (Kindle Locations 3021-3030). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.]

So much of the controversy of 2014, it would seem, turns around this point: that a share in the redemptive suffering of the Cross does not touch everyone in the same way or with the same painful intensity. It is as if Christ's words "get behind me, Satan!", Peter's wish to diminish Christ's Cross or withdraw it all together, as if those words had never been spoken and the successors of the Apostles could withdraw or unload burdens from people's shoulders as seemingly too heavy or extreme. 2015 will find us all storming Heaven for our shepherds, that they hear the reprimand of the Lord Jesus and understand that it is He Himself out of love Who proffers a share in His Cross to all who have been baptized into His death.

Indefectibility is Christ's sure promise to His Church and our challenge to stand with Him at the foot of the Cross to resist the onslaught of hell's minions.