Friday, May 22, 2015

Vatican Diplomacy 201

Whether my piece "Vatican Diplomacy 101" really needs setting forth is certainly debatable. It was already in the hopper when I read an article by George Weigel, entitled "What Catholics Forget About World Affairs", from the EPPC. The author points to the reasonableness of the frustration in many non-Catholic circles confronted with the general Catholic approach to world politics. I'll quote from Weigel's opening paragraph:

"For quite some time now, commentary on world politics by leading Catholic officials, here and at the Vatican, has been marked by a certain softness, occasionally bordering on the surreal, that is a continual amazement to my non-Catholic friends and colleagues in the more Realist sectors of the foreign-policy community. Their puzzlement is both warranted (in that this muddled commentary, which seems to confuse gestures and protestations of good will with real change on-the-ground in world affairs, is at odds with an older Catholic tradition of hard-headedness about political realities) and unwarranted (in that the current patterns of commentary go back at least 50 years, such that no one should be surprised by them any more)."

It would appear that the "older Catholic tradition of hard-headedness about political realities" has a noble bloodline going back to St. Augustine. What by contrast Weigel characterizes as contemporary Catholicism's "therapeutic approach" would seem to have taken on its "magisterial" attributes at the Council as a result of a paragraph in Gaudium et Spes. I think the author is being kind, in that basically this therapeutic approach has little about it which is systematic and much about it attributable to an unwillingness to cope either with war as it has been waged now for over a hundred years or with the notion of "bad guys", as opposed to us "good guys" somehow obliged to give anybody a "pass" if the lies seem convincing or are boldfaced enough. I am going to leave aside, for the sake of economy, the very important political problems George mentions and concentrate on the topic of war: read his article for more insights. 

If I might put my own spin on the thing, it would seem as though the classic and hard-headed has been jettisoned in favor of the weak-kneed, which is to say simply for lack of stomach to face the reality of all-out war or anything which even comes close, as if our ancestors were unconscious, calloused or otherwise oblivious to the suffering and loss of life which wars and other types of military campaign or aggression have inflicted upon humanity since the dawn of time.

I will not challenge George's analysis, but will offer one of my own, based in part on my reading during this year's WWI centennial anniversary. It wasn't that people, even statesmen, allowed themselves some "saber rattling" back when because it seemed harmless by comparison with "Kalashnikov rattling" or that the bomb on Hiroshima actually snapped something in the human psyche, bringing us not only to "this far and no further" but to a general collapse before the all of a sudden very real notion of all out war. No, I would say rather the very minimum and contend that perhaps simply nothing has changed and despite the naive optimism of the spin some people put on Gaudium et Spes, the apparent lack of stomach or hard-headedness does not distinguish itself from that which tumbled our world head over heels into the two big wars. Perhaps the biggest taboo broken since WWII regards our increasing willingness to embrace the symptoms of post-traumatic syndrome which have left broken so many veterans of big and less big conflicts around the globe. Part of the controversy around that American sniper movie would be just that: can you return from such duty without being profoundly scarred at the core of your being?

The Germans have an expression, "salonfähig", which I would like to apply to the topic of war and those who act belligerently. The word certainly fits for ways of speaking, but can be applied to certain types of behavior and to persons as well. It means very simply that if someone or something is not "salonfähig", it or they have no place in polite company or no admittance to the "front room" as grandma called it. I don't think she knew the word salon. By making outlaws or their ideas "salonfähig" we are not so much attempting to win them over by our polite ways as to deny the possibility they could do us harm. Even in the most egregious of cases, as with this Caliphate or ISIS business, we close our eyes to their crimes and try to make them comfortable in the "front room".

Some might accuse me of flippancy or of being cavalier on the topic, but if you ask yourself what happened to yesterday's nuclear deterrent, you might be more convinced that rationality and hard-headedness are effectively yoked to one another. Once burnt, twice shy, you might quote the old axiom, but with the millions who died in 19th Century Crimea, Europe turned around and fell upon itself in two more great conflagrations before mid 20th Century with very little or no scruple. Why should another war be unthinkable as a means of settling scores or attaining ends imperial or colonial? 

It seems to me that not much remains before  those like Hitler and Stalin who vaunt of war and rumors of war might again become "salonfähig". I guess that is what Weigel means about the therapeutic approach, surreal as it is, taking the ascendancy. It prepares the way for aggression, excuses aggression in one fashion or another and leaves space for violent conquest. Thus did Dietrich von Hildebrand (pre-WWII) find it to be as he sought to counter the influence of national socialism in the soft-headed church circles of his own day, both in Germany and in Austria. His clarion call was to try and convince that the danger was all too real and that the philosophical consequences of national socialism were not socially or otherwise redeemable, but rather diabolical. Von Hildebrand wanted Hitler, his henchman and sympathizers barred from the "front room", but much of the world around him didn't seem to grasp the concept.

What is missing too often in the tragic comedy is the debate by which we call those down a notch who would admit most any criminal to their "front room", as if the peril to our own home did not count or our children did not merit defense:"salonfähig"? Not in the least. No question, the argument is certainly about restoring the bloodline of St. Augustine within the Church; we need clarity, even if you insist on defining that as hard-headedness. Time and again, Pope Pius XI took on a world which had gone soft, pointing especially to the dangers of national socialism. He was on many accounts very much alone in taking his stand against movements and their promoters who despised the dignity of the human person, giving no place to God in Jesus Christ for the sake of the life of the world. Before his time and with ever greater frequency perhaps since his day, there have been hierarchs at various levels and in various parts of the world ready to render outlaws and criminals "salonfähig". Would that it were not so!

I was pleased by a little news item I picked up yesterday about our own conflict here in Ukraine. Too many would not honestly look at Russian aggression and the profound disrespect President Putin shows toward the people of this land. Not enough other people are ready to bar his way to the "front room" of the community of nations. St. Augustine's just war theory gets a bad rap principally because too few in our world are ready to stand on principle.

From and AP wire service bulletin: 

Merkel: No G8 with Russia 
until common values met

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a declaration about the European Union and an Eastern Partnership with former Soviet Republics at the German parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, May 21, 2015: 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that there would not be any Group of 8 meetings with Russia as long as it fails to comply with basic common values of democracy and states based on rules of law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The developments in Ukraine are the reason that we will meet in Elmau as Group of 7 and not a Group of 8. Russia, just like last year in Brussels, will not be present." 

Merkel said Russia was failing to meet any of the standards agreed by G7 countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "As is the goal for the Eastern Partnership, we see the G7 as a community of values. And that means working together for freedom, democracy, and for the rule of law. That means respecting the laws of nations and the territorial integrity of nations."

Merkel added that unless Moscow reversed course, the G8 format which Russia was expelled from would never return.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "So long as Russia does not comply with basic common values, a return to the G8 format is not imaginable for us."

Earlier this month Merkel said that Russia's "criminal' invasion and annexation of Crimea could not be ignored.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vatican Diplomacy 101

I had the distinct honour and pleasure the other day to welcome the class from Kyiv’s distinguished Diplomatic Academy to the Apostolic Nunciature in Kyiv; it was part of their program of visits to embassies here in the capital city of Ukraine. I gave them a talk on how the Holy See structures its diplomacy. I discussed the exercise or practice of the art of diplomacy in ordinary times, which should always take precedence, but added the fruit of my reflection on how diplomacy works out or should work out in troubled times such as ours here in Ukraine. There is not only a certain advantage to playing off the common description of diplomacy in peace time against that of diplomacy in times of war and domestic crisis, both of which are applicable to Ukraine, I would say that comparing the two is almost obligatory.
Needless to say, I drew on some of the material I had already shared on this blog, such as the standard, but perfectly acceptable, dictionary definition of what is commonly referred to as diplomacy:
di·plo·ma·cy \də-ˈplō-mə-sē\ : the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries. Regardless of its specific content, diplomacy is still basically acting in the name of the sending country to cultivate good relations with the receiving country or entity. If you had to rate an ambassador as good, better or best according to standard criteria, you would be voting on intangibles. Even if war should break out between two countries, it is hard to see how you could ever blame an ambassador for such an occurrence, that is, for having failed to promote good relations.
          The reasons for the involvement of the Holy See in the world of secular diplomacy all boil down to an accident of history. When the Roman Emperor moved east to Constantinople, he effectively abandoned the western part of the empire and so the Popes of Rome ended up, like it or not, filling an administrative gap for a greater or smaller territory, which was eventually reduced to what were called the Papal States. This temporal role was secondary, but not irrelevant, to establishing reasons for diplomatic exchanges between the crowned heads of Europe and His Holiness, the Vicar of Christ on earth. The origins in the Western world of bilateral diplomacy are to be found in the stable exchanges between His Holiness and Their Majesties, his beloved sons and daughters in the faith. No other Christian community has found itself in a comparable position over the course of history. Apart from the Pope’s dignity, there is simply the fact that for much of the Christian era His Holiness was also a temporal ruler.
          With the French Revolution, the gradual disappearance of monarchies or their transformation into constitutional rulers, and the evolution of nation states, notions changed and theories developed which associated the power of sending and receiving ambassadors with temporal power per se, the ties of religion took a backseat to power and position. Though not an absolute dogma or doctrine, this notion of temporal power and sovereignty being synonymous went unchallenged until Italy unified itself by force and deprived the Pope of his States. Thereafter the Roman Pontiff remained a self-imposed prisoner of the Vatican from the time of the unification of Italy until the various international treaties making up the Lateran Pact were signed in 1929. For nearly 60 years, however (1870-1929), though deprived of territory, the Pope/the Holy See continued to send nuncios and receive ambassadors.
Why then does the See of Rome continue to send and receive ambassadors even though it lost its temporal power in 1870? The Holy See and its Nuncios have remained an integral part of world diplomacy, in part at least, because diplomacy resists change and clings jealously to its customs.  What was once typical of the Holy See by reason in part of the temporal power it exercised over territory in central Italy has carried on through force of habit and the legal interpretation of the same. I guess that is what you would call precedent, resulting from the Pope’s prestige as Vicar of Christ and of his being co-opted into the feudal system.
What are the duties of diplomacy in the face of foreign aggression? As a “peacetime only” definition of diplomacy would be too restrictive, it must be conceded that crisis management is a part of what we mean by diplomacy. Before the age of rapid communications and travel, the fine art of diplomacy was principally the provenance of ambassadors; today it seems as though nothing extraordinary gets done until people of ministerial rank get into the picture and start shuttling around the globe. At one point in the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv, we had three European foreign ministers up all night with President Yanukovich and his staff: top level, seemingly, or not at all. In a sense, I suppose, it is all theatre which could not be accomplished without the ambassadors and supporting staff working behind the scenes. I think one could easily argue that traditional residential ambassadors are a key component to the whole equation, even if our work is not all that factor-able.
In summary, as essential components of secular diplomacy, in good times and in bad, I would name three pillars on which diplomacy stands: 1) respect for the natural law (basically a moral code founded on right reason); 2) a firm commitment to uphold international law; 3) the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military force, but also economic sanctions), to be exercised when all else fails to defend the common good and human rights and dignity. What is meant on a bilateral level by recourse to this third pillar of diplomacy is plain enough and multilaterally (as in the UN) the parties have to be willing to share common political stances having, if need be, a coercive effect on the outlaw, who refuses to be bound by the commonly held values of the international community or that body of customary law which governs the intercourse between nations and powers. There is then no inherent contradiction to the notion of a “peace-keeping force”.
Peace, concretized in good relations between sovereign entities, and not diplomacy as such, is the higher goal. Diplomacy cannot be considered an a priori or a sine qua non; it is a construct which has served with slight modifications over the course of centuries to foster harmony among peoples and nations by binding sovereigns or the constituted leaders of the same closer together in accountability to each other.
     Time and again here in Ukraine, people ask me for an authoritative intervention of the Holy Father which goes beyond the assurance of his prayers and his calls that people reopen the lines of communication in the present situation of conflict in eastern Ukraine. As force is not an option for the Holy See, I really believe that speaking out on principle must be a diplomatic option. That is to say, I do think the Holy See could make a valuable contribution to world order and the cause of justice by clearly taking a well-articulated stance based on principle. Reasoning, fostering clear and distinct ideas, is of the utmost importance.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Doing the Truth in Love, but doing it indeed.

John 17:11-19

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

‘Holy Father,
keep those you have given me true to your name,
so that they may be one like us.
While I was with them,
I kept those you had given me true to your name.
I have watched over them
and not one is lost
except the one who chose to be lost,
and this was to fulfill the scriptures.
But now I am coming to you
and while still in the world I say these things
to share my joy with them to the full.
I passed your word on to them,
and the world hated them,
because they belong to the world
no more than I belong to the world.
I am not asking you to remove them from the world,
but to protect them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth;
your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
I have sent them into the world,
and for their sake I consecrate myself
so that they too may be consecrated in truth.’

This Gospel prayer of the Lord Jesus for us who are His, whom He consecrates in the truth, comes up terribly fresh and powerful on this 7th Sunday of Easter, in the midst of our novena prayer for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon Christ's Church on Pentecost. What haunts me at this particular reading is a question about my accountability to the prayer of Jesus, how to cooperate with the grace given to keep me true to the Father's Name. How does my being at odds with the world play out? In many dimensions, some big and some small, the question does not rest easy and a definitive answer eludes us. 

I passed your word on to them,
and the world hated them,
because they belong to the world
no more than I belong to the world.

Few reasonable Catholics miss the point that we have somehow to be counter-cultural, that not just anyone can dictate values or non-values to us and to our families. The rub comes in the discernment, in charting the course to the "future" within the community of the Church. Time and again there, in the Church, the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, have lined up on different sides of these discernment issues, generally on doctrinal questions, but which are often tainted with social, political or moral ramifications. The marriage and family complex has bound itself to the life issues (abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc.) to shake the Church even more profoundly from within and distract us again and more from the will of Christ for the sake of the salvation of the world, from our calling in a society which if not at odds, then certainly is distant from the Gospel.

Clarifying the sense of this our consecration with Jesus in the truth pushes me maybe sooner than I would like to raise some of the questions or challenges for which Michael Davies laid down the gauntlet in his pamphlet, which in another post I recommended along with three others regarding the Roman Rite. I am referring to The Reign of Christ the King. TAN Books. Kindle Edition.

"On 11 December 1925 Pope Pius XI promulgated his encyclical letter Quas Primas, on the Kingship of Christ. The encyclical dealt with what the Pope described correctly as "the chief cause of the difficulties under which mankind was laboring." Pope Pius XI explained that the manifold evils in the world are due to the fact that the majority of men have thrust Jesus Christ and His holy law out of their lives; that Our Lord and His holy law have no place either in private life or in politics; and, as long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there will be no hope of lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ— Pax Christi in Regno Christi."  (Kindle Locations 30-36). 

Davies goes on in the booklet to set the stage for his message to a 1992 readership against the background of the original perception within the Church at large of the doctrine set forth by Pius XI in his encyclical. Davies quotes others to give evidence that Quas Primas never knew a day of fame in the Church. Pius XI and his teaching on the Kingship of Christ were given the cold shoulder generally by bishops throughout the world. Already in 1925, it would seem, there was little conviction concerning the universal applicability of Church teaching about the primacy of truth as inherently bound up with the person of Jesus Christ.

As a classic pamphleteer, Davies seeks to rouse his readers to embrace a course of action that would put them at odds with not only public opinion as dictated by promoters of the secularist agenda but also with a clueless Catholic hierarchy ambivalent about what is required of them and of the faithful entrusted to their care, if they would be truly faithful, that is to the truth which comes to us from God alone. 

There is a general and naive sort of optimism, which has been abroad in the world for generations and which is steadily gaining ground, about the presumed benefits of "living at peace" with those around us who are outside the circle of Catholic faith. The "living at peace" somehow has become yoked with self-denigration. Needless to say, this cannot be, nor should it continue to be the case where such a sad state of affairs has already taken root.

I know there was a time when pamphleteering went on and managed to hold its own in the marketplace of ideas. I think that the social media probably occupy that space today, as a somewhere open to informing and moving people, offering them insights which can be mind changing and perforce also life changing, please, God, and for the good. Granted, even with records of pamphlet sales, we still have no guarantee they were actually read, let alone understood or taken to heart, and even less so where pushing the "Like" button has no legal consequences and carries no guarantee that the given mouse click is more than an involuntary finger twitch.

We fervently pray that the Gospel prayer of Christ will find its application in our lives and that we might be stirred to place God's law above man's and far above the sort of social tyranny, which aborts, euthanizes, mutilates, and divorces practically without batting an eye.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Michael Davies - Four Booklets not to miss

Davies, Michael 
     - A Short History of the Roman Mass. 
     - Liturgical Shipwreck: 28 Years of the New Mass.
     - The Catholic Sanctuary: And The Second Vatican Council
     - The Reign of Christ the King.
          TAN Books. Kindle Edition.(2015-02-15). 

Just the other day I somehow picked up that these four booklets of Michael Davies had been published on Kindle. For my compatriots eager for the restoration of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church there is little here to be considered novel or eye-opening. Davies merits being classed a bulwark of right thinking and tradition. He says many things better than others do and ranks a respectable teacher, especially when it comes to history. This is what makes valuable his A Short History of the Roman Mass. An illustrative quote:

"It is from this Gallicanized Roman Sacramentary that the finalized Roman Missal was eventually compiled. By the 11th century, and at the latest the 12th century, this Gallicanized Roman Rite had supplanted all the pure Gallican Rites in the West, with the exception of the survival of the Mozarabic Rite at Toledo and a Romanized version of the Ambrosian Rite in Milan. The principle that "rite follows patriarchate" had finally prevailed in the West as well as the East." (Kindle Locations 247-250). 

Compare all that you might have read about the Pew Research findings about the drop in the number of practicing Catholics 2007-14 with his succinct description from 20 years ago in Liturgical Shipwreck: 28 Years of the New Mass:

"In the U.S.A. attendance has declined from 71% in 1963 to 25% in 1993, a decline of 65%. If we consider this decline in terms of souls rather than bare statistics, it means that 24,000,000 fewer Catholics in the U.S. attend Mass now than was the case before the Council. During that period there has been a huge increase in the Catholic population of the United States, and so the picture is far worse than appears to be the case from these bare statistics." (Kindle Locations 313-317).

With his pamphlet The Reign of Christ the King Davies makes a helpful contribution to discussion about the Church's place in the marketplace of ideas, for the sake of the life of the world. I want to do a separate blogpost on a rather sobering notion he discusses there and hope the von Hildebrand book he quotes so often will soon be "Kindled":

"Among the two or three that should definitely be owned by every Catholic who loves his faith is The Devastated Vineyard by Dietrich von Hildebrand. In this book the author lamented the terrible decline of humanity, which is nearing the point of actual dehumanization. He stated that it is the superhuman task of the holy Church to save humanity, or at least her own children, from this downfall." (Kindle Locations 296-298). 

The Catholic Sanctuary: And The Second Vatican Council may be the one of the four pamphlets which lines up the closest with my own thinking in terms of the urgency of a liturgical restoration. The discursive is not proper to Divine Worship and Davies illustrates quite rightly the enormity of the new wave of iconoclasm in the last half century or so, which has stripped so many once beautiful churches and left us with any number of vulgar new constructions as well:

"Throughout the centuries the Catholic people have spared no effort and no expense to build sanctuaries which provided a worthy setting for the awesome Sacrifice, sanctuaries which provided a foretaste of the true Holy of Holies, Heaven itself. In the Eastern Churches the faithful are not even permitted to witness the most solemn moment of the liturgy as it takes place behind the ikonostasis. However, in the past three decades tens of thousands of exquisite Catholic sanctuaries have been destroyed — in obedience, it is claimed, to the requirements of the Second Vatican Council." (Kindle Locations 53-58).

A couple years ago I was put off by the bluntness of the title to the one pamphlet in which the word is of "shipwreck". It could just be that with Klaus Gamber (another one still waiting to be "Kindled") Davies love for the Church helped him to speak out clearly. In any case, you'll be doing yourself a favor by adding his perspective to your own.

For the squeamish or faint of heart out there, let me renew assurances that I stand firmly with Pope Benedict's counsel of pursuing the path of mutual enrichment between the two forms of the one rite. The violence which swept so much away in the late 1960's and 1970's cannot be repeated. The principle that "rite follows patriarchate" must once again prevail in the West. May the Holy Father find the heart to restore the Rite at Rome and thereby lead the way to re-grounding the organic development of our Liturgy!

Lots of priests and bishops out there are still dismissing our hopes for a restoration and with a certain belligerence even balking at reparation for past harm through a generous adherence to the principles of Summorum pontificum. Above all the attitude of official seminary programs toward the Extraordinary Form must turn positive.

Very few of the liturgical "perpetrators" from fifty years ago are left alive, but irrational attempts are still made by their disciples to excuse the excesses of those years. In lots of other areas of Church life we find people ready to dialogue and seek understanding; may it be so here as well.


Friday, May 15, 2015

"But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head"

"ALWAYS choose toil, and love to be without the consolations of particular friendships and favours, which do not bring any profit with them to the soul; and rejoice to be ever subject to, and dependent on the will of others. Let every thing be a means of leading you to God, and let nothing detain you on the way. This should be your consolation, that every thing is bitter to you, and God your only repose." [The Spiritual Combat (Lorenzo Scupoli). Highlight Loc. 2486-89] 

I've been mulling over this quote from Lorenzo Scupoli for a while. Besides taking it as a whole, I can break it down into seven parts and make each one speak to me. Scupoli's Spiritual Combat, if you will remember, was as dear a book companion to St. Francis de Sales or Bl. John Henry Card. Newman as was Thomas a Kempis' Imitatio. Both books are treasures for me as well. Let me offer a starter thought for each of the seven breaks in the paragraph which I have made and the reader can make his or her personal applications to one or all the parts or to the text as a whole, as I have mine and which will remain my own.

"ALWAYS choose toil,  I suppose he means toil as opposed to rest or leisure. For most folks work is a kind of compulsion, but I don't think that is what Lorenzo is choosing. The choice of toil would be opting to live as most folks do or did in the world: without disposable income, not far from hand to mouth, but with dignity. Overfed, overcompensated, and a few more overs, as I am and as most of us are in the clerical state, I think we have to choose toil or it never comes to us and we condemn ourselves thereby to have here and now rather than with the Lord our dwelling and our consolation. 

and love to be without the consolations of particular friendships and favours, which do not bring any profit with them to the soul; Putting aside creature comforts in terms of our quest for leisure, one of the greatest complaints in our day is that of loneliness; people seek maybe friendship, but certainly companionship or camaraderie. St. Francis of Assisi was more of Scupoli's mind and advice when he spoke about perfect happiness being grounded in total deprivation of what might amount not only to basic sustenance, but also to human respect, to the extreme, if you will, of being rejected even by those, like his Franciscan brethren, who owed all they were to him. Having friends and being favored, as any number of us are, sort of makes this exhortation something of a novelty to try and imagine, especially since it is so foreign to the inclination of our disordered will. We need to be moving on toward the Kingdom, without lingering or looking back. A start would be simply to free ourselves of pining for such or clinging to whomever in the hopes of knowing some interpersonal warmth.

and rejoice to be ever subject to, and dependent on the will of others. Most of us men tend to champ at the bit, to long for being our own boss. Just this morning, I happened on an article which encouraged successful, entrepreneurial people to put their fitness programs above all else, even above the office routine of their work day. Again, the leisure of self determination seems to be a path different from that indicated by the great spiritual master. Moreover, I wonder if there is any way to escape "servitude" other than subsistence farming on your very own land; most of us live in society dependent upon the will of others. Scupoli would have us make the best of our common lot.

Let every thing be a means of leading you to God, I think the author has something different in mind than some of the apologies I have heard over the years for indulging oneself as a respite from hectic. It is not far from the intent or explanation of this brief exhortation to let your whole life be a prayer. I think Scupoli has in mind personal tragedies, various types of setback, and even oppression as occasions for coming to God as opposed to spinning out of control. I remember on a hospital visit, forty years ago as a transitional deacon, being at a loss as to what to say to a woman who was despairing of life after a completely successful gallbladder surgery, because she wouldn't accept the post-op pain routinely associated with that surgery back then. Crosses big and small need to be embraced and to help us lift our eyes to the heights. 

and let nothing detain you on the way. Life, true life, has to have a trajectory and an urgency about it. Purposefulness is something we talk about, but which never, at least not all together, takes hold in our lives. Ascetic practices, of course, are a clear statement to this end. By denying ourselves so many things and occasions we have gone half way. The other half is clearly expressing in word and deed that there is where I want to go. Shortly after being assigned to Ukraine, I gave an interview which has come back, praise God, to haunt me time and again. What is your goal for yourself here in Ukraine was the question posed by the young interviewer and I think I rightly answered, that it was my purpose here as anywhere to become a saint. For some odd reason, others who read the published interview did not expect that from me and found ways to show me their approval. Their compliments have been my challenge to pick up and move: let nothing detain you, says Lorenzo.

This should be your consolation, that every thing is bitter to you, There is the common sense pagan, who may even be a very upright Catholic, who bristles at such an expression and classes it as some kind of theological or moral excess; that all should be bitter must certainly be an error presumes he or she. Not everyone in the world thinks that way. In my reading lessons in Ukrainian class, my teacher showed a great sympathy for figures who were wanderers, itinerants, simply errant, without house or family to call their own. The word мандри in any of its various forms seems to attract and inspire a certain literary or cultured class of folk. Neither the word in its proper use, nor they, nor Scupoli seems to have the vagabond in mind, but rather someone detached for the sake of values classifiable as of the spirit. The notion is obviously bittersweet in Ukrainian literature and culture; for Scupoli it is not so much a lot imposed as it is a choice with our trajectory to God taking precedence.

and God your only repose." I picked the photo of the monk because it is not clear if his life is that of a cenobite or an anchorite. Undoubtedly, both the member of the monastic community and the hermit are called to find their only repose in God Himself. What about the rest of us? What about me? Here's where I add the little "smiley face" and then close.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beyond Form to Substance

"At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’ After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides." [from today's first reading from Acts]

'We would like to hear you talk about this again.’ St. Paul's experience in Athens from the Acts of the Apostles, of trying to enter into dialogue with Greeks in the marketplace of ideas, the Aereopagus, bore little fruit by comparison with his other proclamations of the good news. Paul was a constant; the listeners seem to have been the variable. Here in Athens, we can say that hearts were closed to Paul and to Christ, Whom Paul proclaimed risen and victorious over sin and death. The proclamation is not what it is intended to be if it doesn't touch hearts and change lives.

Maybe that is why I am hesitant about the pragmatic approach, as outlined in a blogpost of 1Peter5 reacting to the latest study on the drop in the number of mainline Protestants and of Catholics in the U.S.  The author would have us look at the modus operandi of those whose numbers are up, that is, to compare success formulas. Part of the solution, he says, is that we are not serious enough; we need to roll up our sleeves, throw out the felt banners (sic) and get serious (here):

"Until we take our Faith seriously, no one else will either, and many will realize it is better to just leave instead of waste their time with people who, for all intent and purposes, appear to be just going through the motions. This applies across the board: liturgically, doctrinally, and socially. Once Catholics decide that the Faith of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Athanasius, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Therese of Avila and Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a Faith worth living – and a Faith worth dying for – then perhaps it will again become the attractive force it has been for centuries."

The crowd on the Areopagus took Paul seriously enough, as he was most serious in his approach, but just a couple of them took his words to heart and followed. We need to give of ourselves wholly to Christ in faithfulness to His Church, but a certain openness on the part of the listener, perhaps the bigger part in this mysterious freedom equation of call and response in cooperation with God's grace, is key. We cannot make ourselves irresistible. 

Years back, I asked an older and wiser bishop friend if the trend of Catholics to gravitate toward "mega churches" worried him. He said not at all, because most those who went were Catholic in name only and desperately in need of evangelization and catechesis. He said that from his observation many of these phenomena were revolving doors, offering to not few the pre-catechesis they needed to open their hearts to the Gospel and to the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church.

Cor ad cor loquitur. Where does heart to heart take place? Why did even the Twelve have its Judas?

No, if we need to get serious, if we need to clean up our act, well that is fine. I still think we should give more space to supplication. I'm sure Paul prayed a lot, maybe he even fasted before going to the Areopagus. We need to do the same and then still not be surprised when people, yes, even of our own household turn their backs on us and not necessarily go over to the competition, but just go away, with or without a justification.

St. Charles Borromeo encouraged or admonished his priests at Milan to batten down the hatches. We need to do the same, but the only serious thing to do is to place our lives entirely in God's Hands. And to Jesus through Mary!


Ad Dexteram Patris

"Dearly beloved, through all this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in view, to teach his own people and impress upon their eyes and their hearts that the Lord Jesus Christ had risen, risen as truly as he had been born and had suffered and died.
  Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.
  Truly it was great and unspeakable, that cause of their joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude the Nature of mankind went up: up above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass above the angels’ ranks and to rise beyond the archangels’ heights, and to have its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, it should be associated on the throne with his glory, to whose Nature it was united in the Son."

St. Leo the Great

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Look who's hemorrhaging!

I have come to the conclusion that statistics are good for nothing. No matter how simple you make the thing, people do not seem to be interested or maybe cannot see just how they have a stake in something laid out like that with statistical evidence.

Why are over six people abandoning the Catholic Church for every one who is joining? Or has it ever been so and one should not make so much of it?  St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) was supposedly preaching to Catholic audiences, but the witnesses talk about those countless who learned their basic prayers, Sign of the Cross, Our Father, Hail Mary, as a result of being motivated by hearing him. 

We have lots to bring to Mary on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. There's lots of converting we should pray for at home as well. That countless also in our day might come to faith in her beloved Son, the Redeemer of the World!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rescuing the Holy Innocents

Christendom Awake: 
On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture
Aidan Nichols.
Kindle Edition. First Print Edition 1999.

"More than this, the wider social, economic and educational setting whereby what I have termed in the title of this chapter 'a society of households' underpinned the natural family has itself melted away. Certain social trends, in other words, must themselves be diverted, subverted, if a renaissance of the family - as distinct from a renewal of thinking about the family - is not to be stillborn." (Kindle Locations 1222-1224). 

Finally finished! I have been nursing this book along for quite some time. It is more demanding than standard airplane or car ride fare and as such, I guess it got assigned to moments when I felt up to the challenge. The other thing about the book, as it is a collection of essays or presentations given on various occasions, one can without hesitation compare it to a long session outdoors on a spring day, with alternating sun and cloud, the occasional stiff breeze. The book has character but the rating varies from chapter to chapter. I think the chapter which rendered me the most pensive was the one on the tragedy of abortion in contemporary society, Chapter XI Rescuing the Holy Innocents. Given that Peguy is not exactly a household term or an author on the must read list from any major magazine or journal, I guess someone else will have to give thought to how to share a truly worthy pedagogy, as reformulated by Nichols, for opening hearts to the unborn child and giving these countless martyred souls their proper place in the constellation of Church life and the general culture for the sake of the life of the world.

Another very interesting segment of the book deals with ecumenism and pronounces it a bust-as-practiced for all involved. I would take issue with his scenario for a possible union/communion with Orthodoxy, where he calls too much for structural changes in the Roman Curia. Despite his positive words for Oriental Catholics, Father Nichols misses the point in seeing them for what they must be already, namely Churches in communion with Rome. The Conciliar "road map" for giving them their due, still far from realized, points the direction to overcoming the particularist/nationalist mindset which keeps all too many Orthodox at arm's length from us and stifles their own evangelical dynamism. From my experience here in Ukraine, speaking optimistically, I would say that the era of the Eastern Churches in the Catholic Church has hardly begun.

Were I to recommend the book, I guess I would recommend it to the same people who read John Senior and others and who seek to recover culture for Catholicism. The author writes from a deliberately English point of view, which I feel unqualified to judge one way or another. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Loosing Contradiction on the World - Quirky Canonicity

Including its question and answer session, this video is a whole hour and 18 minutes, but I don't regret taking the time for a historian who better than most seems to know what is going on here in this part of the world. VE Day deserved my time for a reflection to help me further clarify my own ideas on what is at stake with the war here in Ukraine. I have heard Snyder before on his judgment that the most successful part of the strategy of the Putin regime is its propaganda, which seems to be harming Europe and the West more than the great suffering its war machine is inflicting upon the people of Ukraine. Lies are at the heart of Putin's strategy or as Snyder alternately refers to the tactic: "loosing contradiction on the world".

Snyder makes the point that the Russian people, unless they have lost a son or close relative in the fighting here, have no other source of information about the war in Ukraine but Russian TV propaganda. I am beginning to believe that the same is true of the Russian Orthodox Church. They too seem taken in by the distortions meant to distract from Russia's egregious violations of international law. Again and again in the last week we have statements from Patriarch Kirill, then parroted and amplified by Italian news sources, all to the effect that the Pope is on Russia's side in this fight.... Sad! When the Pope has called for respect for international law, he has called for respect of borders and the sovereignty of Ukraine, violated by the annexation of Crimea and violated again and again by pumping men and arms into the Donbas.

Maybe the contradiction will become evident when the war crimes case is tried before the international court of justice in The Hague. Meantime, maybe people should give more credence to the victims of torture, to the Christians who have died at the hands of the Russian Orthodox Army (here).

Loosing contradiction on the world: I guess you have to have a poker face if you want to do it and get by.

Monday, May 4, 2015

with the eyes of your heart enlightened

"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power." [Eph. 1,17-19]

It is indeed good to remind ourselves time and again of the reason for our hope!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hagiography doesn't get much better than this!

Three Religious Rebels
The Forefathers of the Trappists 
M. Raymond
IVE PRESS. Kindle Edition. (2013-08-02).

My stumbling upon this dear book I count not only as fortunate but as a pure grace. I think at my age, I can safely say that I do not have the call to the monastic life, let alone to the strict observance of the Trappists, who owe their origin to these three holy founders of the Cistercian Order. Even so, without maudlin or exaggeration, this book gave me as much of an answer as I could possibly want to what is possible when men and women give themselves over totally to God in the consecrated life. Most encouraging in this year dedicated to the consecrated life in the Church!

Read it, please, and decide for yourself if it is a book for old men or young idealists. Just don't tell me you didn't like it or didn't gain profit for your own soul from reading it. I won't hear of it, as I honestly had a hard time putting the book down.

Father Raymond does a super job not only on his three major characters, the founders, but also on some of the minor characters. He sets his story in most difficult times for the Catholic Church and the Papacy; he hazards as much of an explanation of the miracle of Citeaux as anyone would dare. As I say, read it for yourself.

The book itself was written seventy years ago, but strikes me as if its 2012 copyright in the print edition might actually be its first edition. The book is neither quaint nor antiquated. 

One of the points discussed any number of times in the book was whether these saints were attempting to turn back the clock by six centuries and recapture St. Benedict of Nursia. True to its Benedictine matrix, much is made not only of the roles of poverty, silence and manual labor for monks, but a goodly part of it is a reflection of the limits or dimensions of the obligation the monastic community has to choir, to the singing night and day of the Divine Office.

People who know my blogging will not be surprised that I focus on what is said of devotion to the Eucharist and the profound praise reserved for the silent Low Mass of the individual priest monks. Many of those who entertain doubts about the urgency of the task of moving with conviction toward a restoration of the Roman Rite as sine qua non for regaining the possibility of the organic development of a living liturgy should let this book speak to you as well.

The Cistercian Order was God's gift to save the Church from all kinds of evils, but especially from the lack of faith which found the ideal seedbed in the feudal system. Sadly, faith is also lacking today and the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy would leave many priests at a loss to identify with these lovely words attributed by Father Raymond to St. Stephen Harding: 

"I can tell you that I never feel so small, so utterly unworthy, so crushingly humiliated as I do when I, Stephen Harding, a sinful man, hold God in my hands. Why, Peter, every time I reflect on the power God has given me, I blush as deep as my soul. No, my friend, to be conscious of being God’s instrument does not make a rational man complacent; it makes him confused and deeply, deeply humble.'” [Kindle Highlight Loc. 9372-91]

Very simply, we have to take arms against the abuses which hold the Ordinary Form hostage; the arbitrary must give way to a new God-centeredness. This book offers much food for thought about the clear sense of restoration as something quite other than archaeologizing. The orientation mentioned in this next quote is both cosmic and profound:

"You spoke of being ‘God-orientated.’ Well, that’s the secret of Citeaux. Even your church is facing due east! You’ve got your face to the sun. And if you’ll allow me to play on words, you’ve got your face to the Son of God. I see now why Cistercians are so little self-conscious and so utterly unconscious of the world. They are entirely Christ-conscious, totally God-conscious; that’s the reason." [Kindle Highlight Loc. 11804-7]

Legend has it that Our Lady espoused St. Robert of Molesme, the first of the three founders, already in his mother's womb. The predilection the Mother of God had for the Cistercians is no more than an indication of her great love for all in the Church and of her longing that we be washed and saved in the Blood of her dear Lamb. Could a Cistercian or a Trappist revival be in the cards for the Church today? We need only ask for generous hearts to return with valour the love showered upon them and upon our world unceasingly by God through Mary and all the Angels and Saints.


From Sacred Canons to Hope and Back

I had one of those privileged experiences 1-2 May, the dedication of a new church this time in Kherson, not far from either of the two fronts of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

I try to spare my poor arthritic knees long trips like this: seven hours twice in a row, of one day over, one day back by car from Kyiv to Kherson for the dedication of the new parish church of St. Volodymyr, now the largest in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Exarchate of Odessa. The picture is of the procession with the relics of the holy martyrs, which were then sealed into the church's stone altar.

This was not my first experience of a church dedication; over my years in Ukraine, I took part in the dedication of the new cathedrals in Kolomyia and in Kyiv, as well as of a big new parish church in Ivano-Frankivsk. Such occasions speak of accomplishment and of hope for the future. I would say that hope, strong and beautiful, probably resonates above all else from this latest celebration. The liturgy formed the centerpiece, if you will, of a spring meditation there in Kherson, but also all along the road, rain and shine: great expanses of dark green winter wheat, other fields bright yellow and promising of vegetable oil, fallow land in abundance and the black of newly plowed soil, across a landscape flatter and seemingly more limitless, if that is possible, than the Midwest of the United States.

Besides gazing out the window and daydreaming, I did manage to read one very good book about the holy founders of the Cistercian Order and moved along quite a bit with another book which may seem a bit incongruous to the scene I have sketched above: The Seven Ecumenical Councils (Henry R Percival). The author is a bit flippant English, but the work lists the seven councils and their canons, explaining why each of these early councils is held to be ecumenical by the Christian world and for all time. He gives authoritative interpretations for historical sources, background material of interest and in most cases glosses which get beyond the bare bones of the laconic canons themselves as is the case with this Canon XII from Antioch in Syria.

"If any presbyter or deacon deposed by his own bishop, or any bishop deposed by a synod, shall dare to trouble the ears of the Emperor, when it is his duty to submit his case to a greater synod of bishops, and to refer to more bishops the things which he thinks right, and to abide by the examination and decision made by them; if, despising these, he shall trouble the Emperor, he shall be entitled to no pardon, neither shall he have an opportunity of defense, nor any hope of future restoration." [Kindle Highlight Loc. 4862-67]

This particular text and many others like it have moved me to a deeper appreciation of the Byzantine world and the way that it too struggled against what ended up being a centuries long conflict in the Western Church over the curse of lay investiture. Canon XII says more and that more got me thinking about the new drive on here in Ukraine for the establishment of one local orthodox Church in the tradition of the ancient Byzantine See of Kyiv founded from Constantinople more than a millennium ago. As much as we have to thank St. Volodymyr for his cooperation with God's grace so as to bring about the Baptism of the people of the Rus over a millennium ago, the Church, even for Constantinople and certainly for Kyiv for whatever meaning can be drawn from the notion of symphonia, remains Church under God in Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The princes must know their place in the temple of the Lord and the bishops and clergy must know that their only court of appeal beyond the Synod, or in our case the Apostolic See, would be on bent knee before the Heavenly Throne.

Although fasting and penance may not be appropriate to the glorious Easter Season, I hope and pray that our Orthodox brothers and sisters are pleading before the Heavenly Throne for the grace of the Holy Spirit for the upcoming deliberations of their bishops in search of reconciliation among the various bodies within Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which still find themselves very much divided. Humanly speaking, the savvy may clearly understand that the historical reasons for the present divisions, which have rent the seamless garment of Christ, are rooted in sin and human failure. Even so, the Fathers of Antioch and many more teach that recourse to the strong arm of the "Emperor" would also be a crime.