Sunday, March 29, 2015


For some reason, I think I profited from a rather quiet celebration of Palm Sunday. What stands out for me is the particular poignancy of the Hosanna to the Son of David by the children of the Hebrews. The reading of the Passion from the Gospel of St. Mark only further accentuated this feeling for me. Can I trace its origin back to the scene of the anointing in Bethany? Or was it the exchange on the Mount of Olives, about how striking the shepherd would shake the faith of the sheep and cause them all to disperse? Perhaps, more than circumstance, the grace of the moment was the fruit of something cumulative but yet not planned or engineered on my part, yes, truly a prompting, a gift.

I think the poignancy is sort of that: resulting from the sense of a type of interior tug of war, almost a vacillation, a pulling back and forth of my heart between attachment to Christ, the Beloved, smitten for our offences, and flight before the dread of having to share fully in this His cup, which will not pass. The children's Hosanna is neither ignorant nor distorted, but reflects the allegiance we all owe to Mary's Child, bruised, derided, cursed, defiled. Of course, the solitude of the Passion belongs to Jesus alone. Even so, we are to watch and pray, not to have our rest, but indeed to accompany Him beyond the hosannas.

My Holy Week prayer for one and all would be for the grace to watch and pray with Jesus, to draw the tug-of-war just that much closer to a definitive win for attachment to the Son of David. Hosanna! 

G.K. Chesterton: The Most Freeing Person I have ever known!

What's Wrong with the World
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) 
(2012-05-12). Kindle Edition.

"Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed."  (pp. 282-283).

Normally, I read G.K. Chesterton for pleasure, for fun. He's terribly witty and the most wholesome type of entertainment. This little book came my way free of charge on Kindle, but I would not have begrudged paying for it. It is truly a find. Not everyone is convinced that our world would be better with the kind of distributivism which Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc were so keen on promoting. Take and read this book, not for the arguments pointing to distributivism, but for its profound anthropology. Chesterton argues radical social change for the sake of the human person. You might come up with very different conclusions concerning how to better society, but you'll find no better illustration or icon representing the human family. 

Chesterton is marvelously encouraging about the possibility of bringing home the victory and making things, not only better, but right:

"We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be. And for my present purpose I specially insist on this abstract independence. If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying, "You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour. In the same way society, being a piece of human construction, can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed." (pp. 32-33).

Relativism probably has no greater enemy than Chesterton and we have a great ally to cheer us on in our struggle to restore culture, Catholic Culture, please!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No two Points on a Line

The first two articles (here) and (here), by Elliot Bougis, in a series entitled "The Modern Crisis of Authority and the Abiding Prowess of the Papacy", from the blog OnePeterFive, are worth a recommendation on my part. Take them as the author presents them and not as I am about to hijack them for my own selfish ends.

Elliot talks about the ongoing (already for some time and deepening) crisis of authority in the Church as being a result of cultivating charisma-based leadership at the expense of genuine authority. His principal worry, of course, is the Papacy. The articles have personally given me another handle for dealing with or countering a common criticism of today's priests and seminarians. Bougis also offers me points for dealing with the age old question of what good are ecclesiastical penalties without real teeth (it's the canonist in me!).

Permit me a word or two about the issue of those called to the office of priest. At regular intervals in newspapers, usually in those awful Saturday paper religion columns, you encounter articles bemoaning the fact that today's young men don't have what it takes to be the charming and capable priest managers the job description (?) requires and/or that the great men of the past (?) would seem to deserve for their successors: a preacher, liturgist, community organizer, guru, and on and on, all in a charming and preferably good-looking or at least athletic bundle. As the Saturday paper rant goes, sadly, seminaries today are filled with conservative young men, who are no fun, because they can't bring themselves to unbutton that collar and go with the flow, or some variation on that theme.

Rather than take on this fantasy description of what it takes to be a priest, many well-meaning people find themselves longing for the days, somewhere but obviously before my time, when a class of humble men existed termed sacerdos simplex or maybe "Mass priest", because all they could do was say the old Mass, not preach, not hear confessions, just or most importantly offer the Holy Sacrifice. Until now I have been taking on the newspapers, in conversations with friends, by classing their demands as unreasonable. You can't write a job description with the bar that high if you want the Church to live on. Besides, a healthy young man in his twenties ought to show a bit of conviction and come off on the inflexible side. If he's loosy-goosy he's a liability for all he touches, not just for the priesthood.

Well, thanks to Bougis, I guess I have an argument beyond that of developmental psychology, which would already wish our seminaries full of straight-laced types. No woman in her right mind would want a free-wheeling type for a husband and the father of her children. Why for heaven's sake should the Church take on these guys? Not my savoir-faire but my submission to God's Law, not my charisma but my humble conformity to the Tradition, not my willfulness but my obedience to Christ and to His Church, position me best for exercising the three-fold ministry of Priest, Prophet and King. It is indeed the message of the Cross: total outpouring unto fullness. Power is strength but not necessarily a category of virtue; authority is something different and it is born from on high, drawing its strength from above. Read Bougis!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Rumble of Thunder?

This Sunday's Gospel [John 12:20-33] has always had something sort of haunting about it for me and this year I guess it presents me with a special challenge:

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them: ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him. Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours. ‘Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.’ By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

What bothers me is the judgment element in the reading, the pronouncement that now in Christ sentence is being passed on this world and that the prince of this world is to be overthrown. What do you do with that? I call it haunting, because, at least for this historical moment, I'm not and I don't think most Catholics are fully embracing this reality. It is obvious from the Lord's own words that what is intended is quite definitive, but nevertheless something different than the Last Judgment; it is something already in force, having come to pass, punctuated or underlined by what some thought was a thunder clap and others the voice of an angel. 

The words of Jesus seem to have been sparked by the announcement that there were Greeks who wanted to see Him. The efficacy of Christ's being lifted up unto victory is universal; He draws all men to Himself upon the Cross. For you and for me today, the days have passed since this particular Gospel scene, Jesus has already been lifted up on the Cross and has drawn all men to himself; the hour has passed in that He has brought it to completion. God's name has been glorified in Christ.

What is haunting about this Gospel is that it proclaims all as consummated through Christ's prophecy and the expression of the Father's will and yet much of the Church still stands there two millennia later in a back and forth aside, over whether that was thunder they heard or an angel's voice. 

Once again this year, Lent is coming swiftly to a close; we are about to embark on Passiontide; the Cross becomes our focus right through next week's Palm Sunday and Holy Week. The grain of wheat dies to yield a fruitful harvest. Jesus tells those standing around Him that His soul is troubled by the trial which stands immediately before Him, from this terrible hour of suffering and death for the sake of the life of the world.

I don't know if I can count it a joy or blessing of my life, but over my years of priesthood I cannot say that I have ever been close to anyone caught up in one of many possible forms of clerical careerism: big pastorate, monsignorate, bishop's office. I can honestly say that I've never lost sleep over the honors which have come my way in the service of the Holy See. For me and I think for most priests and bishops, the drama or lack thereof would center more on a certain resignation in the face of Christ's victory, hearing rather the thunder clap and missing the angel's voice. We lack that discovery, that recognition, that fire to be shared with others, one far surpassing Joel Osteen's glad tidings on self-improvement unto worldly satisfaction and sunshiny days.

What haunts me is the question of why this might be so. Why are we not drawn confidently to Christ lifted up on the Cross, to the wood whereby we are saved, not just in a rhetorical sense, but really saved for all that matters? A couple weeks back, people failed to get excited about the publication of a new Vatican directory on preaching. Why this seeming skepticism about the possibility of stirring people to hope? We read from the history of the Middle Ages of the repeated successes of any number of Mendicant preachers; we hear about the preaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which put Europe on the march to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity; the cause for the sanctification of St. Vincent of Lerins documents the countless baptisms, confessions and reforms of life which followed upon his preaching. For me it boils down to whether you are thinking thunder or the voice of an angel.

The object of conversion, of claiming Christ's victory on the Cross for ourselves, is the heart. In a sense, we walk away from a world condemned and turn our backs on the prince of this world, Satan, who has been long since and definitively cast out. The utopia of a Christendom in all its glory does not take center stage. The troubled heart of Christ in His great hour lives within our hearts. Even so, we know that what we heard wasn't just thunder. Ash Wednesday's message and command never loses a bit of its poignancy or verve: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel!" Claim your deliverance from the glorious heights of Calvary!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Seeking Agreement in Compromise

"If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ. There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant; the pirate's common-sense begins just beyond it. But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram; as abstract as any theological dogma." [Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 14-15). Kindle Edition.]

 It seems for all my life long, when the season changes, I manage to go through my fair share of cough remedies and paper handkerchiefs. It being Lent, I can wax eloquent on the contingency of this our human existence and set my heart on the world to come, where not only will every tear be wiped away, but wheezing and hacking and sniffling will be banished forever... please, God! Even so, it would be nice to be out and about, enjoying the tenuous rays of a pre-spring sunshine, filled with promise. Alas, prudence condemns one to a certain seclusion so as not to terrorize those others also highly susceptible to bronchial ailments and colds. Though not a good substitute for physical exercise and outdoor camaraderie, Chesterton is freeing and brings me a measure of light-hearted consolation, not without intellectual stimulation.

Putin's withdrawal from the public eye for over a week now has many here in Ukraine hoping for real peace and the possibility of finally getting to the work of nation building. Radical change in Moscow as that something which would grant Russians permission to back down from the cruel adventure of invasion and conquest which has obsessed them now for more than a year would be the best possible scenario for Ukraine. It certainly beats "Minsk 2" anyway, which is what came to my mind reading the little Chesterton quote about being forced to walk the plank.

If it all were not so deathly earnest or tragic, one could almost smile at those Europeans who express impatience over Ukrainian resignation in the face of the Minsk deal which was imposed upon them, as an alternative to slaughter. Why argue with a pirate? Inch out there in hopes of a Hollywood rescue? Let's just say, I hope nobody in the West feels offended if I can't feel too impressed by their efforts which seem to facilitate things for the pirate, coaxing poor Ukraine bound out onto the gang plank.

For a time, people tried to rouse the West from its lethargy with menacing words about who'll be next on the plank. It all becomes too contentious, however, and scorns certain truths and principles partly enshrined in law. Why should I have to find extraneous motivations to coax the guarantors of 1994 to live up to their obligations to defend Ukraine's sovereignty? Pacta sunt servanda! Sorry, I'm just saying.

Back to Chesterton!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Vatican Diplomacy Then and Now

Whether so couched to appeal to the issues at stake in our day and time, I found this news piece reporting on a lecture concerning a find in the Vatican Secret Archives, relative to the position taken by the Holy See on the sinking of the passenger vessel, the Lusitania, by the Germans in 1915 to be very telling concerning the operative principles governing stances taken today by the Holy See in matters of war and peace.

Our Lusitania today might not be on the high seas; it might just be Ukraine under attack from one side and abandoned by the other in somebody else's big geopolitical end game. Andrea Gagliarducci reports on a very interesting presentation made recently by the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, on "How did the Vatican respond to the sinking of the Lusitania during WWI?"

The story is based on a series of letters exchanged with Pope Benedict XV by his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, and Cardinal Francis Aiden Gasquet, of the Vatican Library. Cardinal Gasquet, who was a Benedictine born in London, was very upset that L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, was not expressing its concern in louder terms, in that the good should be sought above all and hence the Church ought always to speak the language of truth, without compromise. The counter argument from Gasparri, which won the day with Pope Benedict XV, was for prudence calculated to assure the Church's freedom of action in the cause of peace.

Say what you will or blame whomever you want, but it is hard to believe that the diffidence of the Holy See over the Lusitania tragedy gave anyone reason to seek the mediation of the Pope in the peace process of that tragic war. This diffidence continues to be thrown in the face of Pope Pius XII, as we have noted again in the last couple weeks relative to a film intended to tell the full story of all the Jewish lives the Pope is said to have saved in secret. Sadly, here we are again with the tragedy of the Ukraino-Russian conflict, which La Croix still feels licensed to declare civil war, stringing together gratuitous statements supposedly defining the official position of both Pope Francis and the Holy See. Needless to say, not only was the article news to my contacts in the Secretariat of State, but it left them in utter shock. How can someone make such claims?

Be that as it may, I will repeat my sad prediction that history will as surely condemn Pope Francis as it has condemned Pope Pius XII. The problem rests not with the famous "neutrality" of the Holy See, which from the experience of Pope Benedict XV and WWI seems at best ill advised, but with its diffidence in the face of naked aggression and hatred.

Have mercy on us, poor sinners, dear Lord!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Proud Nineveh!

"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Matt. 12:40-41)

Lent has us again preparing to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter, His victory for us sinners over sin and death. We are called to repentance, that through the merits of the Son of Man lifted high upon the Cross we might be saved from everlasting death. Our pride, our self-sufficiency has to go.

Thanks to ISIS, the prophet Jonah has become a recurring image or theme in my this year's Lenten meditation. Not that many months ago, they blew up with powerful explosives Jonah's tomb enshrined in an ancient church and mosque; this last week they bulldozed the archaeological park and museum dedicated to ancient Nineveh. Hence I am partly framing my Lent in terms of Jonah preaching repentance to the great city of Nineveh. Sadly, this time there was neither prophet nor grace period to save the great city from the specific threat of ISIS. Even more sadly, no one in the world seems ready to take Jonah's place in God's name, to try and save the Christians of that region from total destruction at the hands of this terrible scourge.

While evidence of true repentance is certainly a matter of the heart and not that quantifiable, God recognized the depth and sincerity of the repentance in sackcloth and ashes of the Ninevites and He alone, Who knows the heart, will judge the sincerity of our sorrow for sin and our readiness to change. Even so, I cannot insist on this imagery; maybe God has already pronounced judgment and our Nineveh window of opportunity has forever closed; maybe our time for repentance has long passed. I worry that the model for our world might rather be that of those little "hell holes" of Sodom and Gomorrah as opposed to proud Nineveh which, when admonished by the preaching of the prophet Jonah, did turn to the Lord in repentance.

Two indicators in particular cause me that worry of not qualifying for the mercy shown to repentant Nineveh: 1. The seeming helplessness of the Western world to counter violent aggression from without (witness Ukraine abandoned by an otherwise occupied or preoccupied West); 2. From within the Catholic Church itself, a blase' refusal on the part of the hierarchy, in particular, to face and challenge dulled consciences, to reform lives, practices and structures.

It could very well be that the issue of countering aggression to save society from tribulation falls outside the norm or imagery of Jonah. Maybe too St. Joan of Arc and St. John of Capistrano, or St. Bernard of Clairvaux for that matter, or St. Louis were anomalies, but I think not. Sanctity is not pacifist or accommodating in the face of genuine evil, as it goes about enslaving and destroying. Good forest management is a matter of husbandry. Great forest fires come about through our neglect and put us at peril. A certain amount of controlled burn-off is intended or needed to prevent the great conflagration. Early in my time in Trinidad, news stories in the paper about grand old mango trees falling on houses, causing damage and injury, caused me to ask questions and then to react by removing an orchid-laden old tree hunched over my house and which was overdue to take its leave from this world. Repent? Hear the word of the Lord! In this case, establish the premises and the priorities of a life under the kingship of Christ and simply fight back. If we continue to live accommodating evil, what we have sown in the field of the flesh will sooner or later reap the whirlwind.

Perhaps I am pressing it a bit with my first indicator, but the godlessness of present-day society, its pride, condemns it as surely as was Nineveh doomed if it had not turned to God in response to the preaching of Jonah. God demanded and received through the preaching of Jonah the repentance of a whole society from greatest to least. There is a general tendency to dismiss such as apocalyptic, when in point of fact it is kerygmatic, it is foundational: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'” [Mark 1:14-15] Society cannot live and prosper other than with and under God.

In terms of the second indicator, I have the impression that at least since last October we, within the Catholic Church, are witnessing and even caught up in a great tug-of-war. With a certain fury, it would seem that the iconoclasm of the '60's and '70's of the last century is making a return, attempting to throw us back into the ambiguity of times which drove the weak of heart out of the fray and away from a Church which neither shepherded nor cared for them. Maybe it is neo-pagan relativism in society pressing home its claims, but I fear rather that hardened hearts within, many in high places, are resisting God's call to Jonah to go and preach at His bidding for the sake of the salvation of that proud city. The storm has caught up with Jonah in his flight from the face of God. We pray he may soon be cast overboard and from the depths, through his own prayer and repentance, be restored to his prophetic mission by God, in His love for His stiff-necked people. 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'

May we be spared! May the preaching of Jonah resound within the proud city and may people change for the sake of their own salvation and for the sake of the life of the world!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Memory and Ecumenism

"So maybe there is hope after all for the Orthodox and Catholics too, but until hearts and minds are changed, none of our other ecumenical efforts will amount to anything of substance for the unity of the Churches of God. Let us not doubt for one minute that this has repercussions for humanity that go far beyond the question of Christian unity. One thing the 20th century, and especially the Holocaust, has taught us is that there is no such thing as ideological neutrality. One is part of the solution or part of the problem, an instrument of peace and love or an ideologue of division and hatred."

Something must have possessed Father Michael Winn, of Royal Doors, to reprint and offer as a pdf file the 21st Kelly Lecture, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Canada, 1 December 2000, by the Very Rev. Archimandrite Robert F. Taft, S.J., then Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, entitled: "Anamnesis not Amnesia – The Healing of Memories and the Problem of Uniatism". My best guess would be that given the events of the past year and repeated harangues in very public fora by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeev of the Russian Orthodox Church, dementis from Moscow denying that an encounter between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill could possibly be in the works, and now after months of rumors about the possibility of a visit by the Cardinal Secretary of State to Moscow, the communique concerning his state visit to Belarus... very simply stated, relations at least with the Russian Orthodox could be considered to be rocky, to say the least, and what Fr. Taft said nearly fifteen years ago should be once again read and reviewed.

Father Taft goes to the heart of the matter when he affirms that dialogue, as a step sine qua non toward reconciliation as the only noble goal for ecumenism, must address past offenses to be laid at the doorstep of all parties concerned, as no one is without sin:

"But the past must also be dealt with, for the past is the real problem blocking any future progress. That is why of late Pope John Paul II has repeatedly called for “the healing or purification of memory” as a way of dealing with that past. From my point of view as an historian, that will require each side to confront our common past with historical objectivity and truth, own up to our responsibilities, seek forgiveness, and then turn the page and move on to a hopefully better future."

As I have shared with many friends here in Ukraine since my arrival and immersion in the reality of Catholicism as it is lived out here, what Pope St. John Paul II was trying to teach by his call for “the healing or purification of memory” had essentially remained a book closed with seven seals for me. I found incomprehensible the possibility of a corporate memory, poisoned by a bitterness or rancor toward the other and passing from generation to generation. I am talking about something vile and very different than being acquainted with all the tribulation imposed upon him by others, which still failed to stifle the great bard, Taras Shevchenko. Not all painful memories are necessarily wounds in need of healing; sometimes they can actually edify or encourage a person or a nation.

I think the difference between such edifying, though painful, memories of the collective consciousness of a people, or even in the life of an individual, and bad memories, exuding a poison still ready to kill or wipe the other in his seventh generation from the face of the earth, is perhaps more "amnesia" than Father Taft would like to believe. I think that "anamnesis" is selective and perforce limited or choosy this side of Heaven. Once past the "Royal Doors" in the glory of the Kingdom, perfection and fullness of time will subsume everything, but here we must choose our memories and forget or bury the rest without scruple.

It should come as no surprise that on this point I have gotten into some very heated arguments (on their side) with "old" Europeans, mostly much younger than I in years, who refuse to forget what by rights they cannot remember because it is not a part of their story or perhaps even of their parents' story. Like the neurotic, they cannot see such rancor as a part of their problem, a self-imposed affliction.

Not that long ago, my sister three years my junior asked me if with my better memory I could give her a year or a context for a family tragedy of my parents' generation, which she proceeded to name by its name, explicitly. I made my best guess as to the year and explained to her that back then (60 years ago almost) silence shrouded the event for reasons involving both fear and profound respect for people older and younger, like myself, who were involved. This side of Heaven, certain memories should die with the present generation, as there is little about them to inspire a hymn of praise.

Central and Eastern Europe is a long and painful litany of accounts of despotic rulers, who for their own reasons either exterminated or displaced whole populations in the quest for domination over a territory; Stalin was, of course, the world's worst, but he had countless accomplices both big and small. From my years in Germany, I remember Cardinal Joachim Meisner  as the unique example of a Heimatvertriebene, driven out of Silesia as a child, who could remember all and celebrate all: anamnesis. Others would have been better off to bury their pain in their hearts or turn it over to God for healing rather than passing it on now perhaps to the fourth generation. Their children and grandchildren have no right to be pained by such.

Without exaggeration, I look to my own mother as an example for me of the kind of "anamnetic amnesiac" who is a light-bearer for the world. The memories she chose to share from her childhood were not laundered, they were pure. Stories of a new dress for dolly at Christmas, of fishing for bullheads with her dad at the mill pond, of following big brother down into an empty cistern only to have the tease pull the ladder up and leave her alone behind, and on and on. Were there painful memories? Were there hurts from the past? No doubt there were, but she did not release them full-blown, fetid and dark into the world of her children. Would that such Christianity would again take the upper hand, that the only type of anamnesis possible this side of fullness, namely a partial one would prevail. Appointments and pills should not be forgotten, but much else should, so as to allow space in the hearts and heads of finite creatures for doxology. 

In the midst of troubled times here in Ukraine, I have been asked more frequently by responsible Greek-Catholics, especially by clergy, what they can do to foster ecumenical rapprochement with the Orthodox. From conviction I respond that it is their duty to be the best Greek-Catholics possible, not only in terms of liturgy and charity, but in every aspect of their family life and in passing on the Gospel to their children. With all due respect to Father Taft and to Pope St. John Paul II, I think I'll try to find a shorthand exhortation for one and all to become "anamnetic amnesiacs" and pray for the same for our Orthodox brothers and sisters here and farther abroad.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Joseph's Dream?

Today's first reading at Mass from Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28 provided me a kind of distraction:

"Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.
  His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
  They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. ‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’
  But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their violence. ‘We must not take his life’ he said. ‘Shed no blood,’ said Reuben to them ‘throw him into this well in the wilderness, but do not lay violent hands on him’ – intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his coat, the coat with long sleeves that he was wearing, and catching hold of him they threw him into the well, an empty well with no water in it. They then sat down to eat.
  Looking up they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking down into Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.’ His brothers agreed.
  Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces, and these men took Joseph to Egypt."

I think I am beginning to succumb to this insistence on the part of some that Ukraine accept this adjective "fratricidal" in talking about the war Russia is waging against Ukraine. Thanks to Genesis and my distraction, however, I am looking at the fratricidal part from the perspective of Jacob's twelve sons. For me, Joseph is a reminder of Ukraine, favored for no particular merit of his own by a doting father who did not love his other sons all that much less, and the rest of them being not just Russia, but nations all around, not so much begrudging Joseph his dreams but each and all taking umbrage at Ukraine's revolution of dignity.

Perhaps there is no real teaching in such daytime revelry, but I see Ukraine as Joseph stripped by his brothers and dumped in a dry cistern, as his brothers discuss the fate of an unloved sibling. Joseph, sold into slavery? Will that be his fate? Or will the complicity of the eleven send him down to the nether world, with the blood of their brother on the hands of not just one but all?

From Genesis, we have some picture of what it was about Joseph which irritated his brothers. No doubt Joseph was not without fault in the whole family mix. Nonetheless, we can only hope and pray that the brothers will come to their senses and free him from the bottom of the pit, not to be sold into slavery but for freedom.

The godlessness of the brothers in their hatred of Joseph and their plans to dispose of him was all too evident from the pages of Genesis. God's justice ultimately prevailed bringing joy to Jacob and salvation from famine to all the extended family, as well as a greater world not counted as or counting themselves brothers.

We hope and pray that our Joseph today will be given by God a chance at stewardship and the opportunity to fill and then open his granaries for the sake of the hungry of our world.

Please, God! Stay the brothers' hands! Spare Joseph for the sake of your people!