Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Thousand Years is Like a Day

For Sts. Olha and Volodymyr the Catholic Calendars for Ukraine always coincide, whether Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic today in Ukraine we are on the same page. Today is thoroughly special because today with the Orthodox and with the government of Kyiv we celebrate St. Volodymyr's 1000th death anniversary. For most saints in the Catholic Calendar, and this is the case with Volodymyr, we celebrate the day of the saint's birth into eternal life, his going to God, his rest from the travail of life this side of heaven.

Central to the legacy of St. Volodymyr was his pondered choice of Baptism for his people. You'll read any amount of stuff which goes beyond his choice as a reasonable one on the path to forging a nation and talk of promoting the development of his people to those who almost crassly believe that his choice of Christianity in its Byzantine expression was a clever calculation by a man who understood clearly which way the winds of progress were blowing in long ago 988. Personally, I'll have none of it. The Church knows its business in declaring Volodymyr a saint and like unto the Apostles in terms of his founding role for faith among the people of the Rus.

We need to rewrite the history and say very clearly that Volodymyr's choice for his people is humanly speaking counter-intuitive, stemming per force from the action of grace in his own personal life, leading him first to the cleansing and life-giving waters, which he then shared as the pearl of great price with the people entrusted to his princely care. Volodymyr reflects apostolic zeal for Christ and the consummate wisdom of the Christian prince, who thoroughly eclipses Plato's philosopher king.

All I really want to say is that nothing would forbid the same to happen someplace else on the face of the earth as did back then by Volodymyr's cooperation with God's grace. Would that one or another Christian prince could be found today to strike a blow at the darkness of the so-called Enlightenment which has deprived so many of what was in every way better and truly life-giving, for both now and eternity!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Isn't it Bigger than "Canary in the Coal Mine Type" Man sort of Things?

"Granted such a world let us take the second point and see what was the distance in mere time between this early third century of which I speak and what is called the Apostolic period; that is, the generation which could still remember the origins of the Church in Jerusalem and the preaching of the Gospel in Grecian, Italian, and perhaps African cities. We are often told that changes "gradually crept in;" that "the imperceptible effect of time" did this or that. Let us see how these vague phrases stand the test of confrontation with actual dates. 

"Let us stand in the years 200-210, consider a man then advanced in years, well read and traveled, and present in those first years of the third century at the celebration of the Eucharist. There were many such men who, if they had been able to do so, would have reproved novelties and denounced perverted tradition. That none did so is a sufficient proof that the main lines of Catholic government and practice had developed unbroken and unwarped from at least his own childhood. But an old man who so witnessed the constitution of the Church and its practices as I have described them in the year 200, would correspond to that generation of old people whom we have with us today; the old people who were born in the late twenties and thirties of the nineteenth century; the old people who can just remember the English Reform Bill, and who were almost grown up during the troubles of 1848 and the establishment of the second Empire in Paris: the old people in the United States who can remember as children the election of Van Buren to the office of President: the old people whose birth was not far removed from the death of Thomas Jefferson, and who were grown men and women when gold was first discovered in California." (Belloc, Hilaire (2012-05-17). Europe and the Faith "Sine auctoritate nulla vita" (pp. 48-50). Kindle Edition.)

 I was pleased, most pleased to read Joseph Shaw's latest paper, this one on the liturgy, men and the tradition (here and here). While I cannot and will not take anything away from Joseph's analysis, I am not quite happy with simply admonishing priests concerning their duties to men and boys. No matter how right it is to say that the renewed and rather improvised Ordinary Form of the Mass tends to put off men and boys more than it might women has value, as an observation, to the extent that we realize therefore that we are obviously doing something wrong. The point is that the Catholic Church has a duty to fix its rudder, regain the moorings from which it cut itself loose a half century ago, you choose the metaphor. The point is that certain options are not ours for the taking and we need to regain our footing if we are to be faithful to Christ and proclaim His Gospel in its fullness.

Life is not about unlimited choices but rather about faithfulness to the one God, living and true, which is ultimately about the depth of a relationship. Father Raymond in his books about the founders of the Cistercian Order and about St. Bernard of Clairvaux and his family makes a point about the nexus between routine, to the point of monotony (in daily schedule, diet, etc.), and profundity in the race to overtake Christ and save our world by grace. Basics and essentials are what enable us to carry our Catholic Faith in familiar (almost unchanging) trappings to that next level. Constancy in the externals seems to be a sine qua non for the interior life in all its length, heighth and breadth.

I accept the points in Joseph's paper and wish to harp on one of my constants. Caveat: I do not wish to take anything away from legitimate authority within the Church, but rather speak about the fortunate and unfortunate, the opportune and the inopportune. Divine worship is untouchable and we, deeply penitent, we need to restore it and face our miscalculations or imprecision of thought and analysis on certain other points touching on the Church's identity, as it was meant to be from its founding day. We need to move from present ambivalence and to return to solid ground. It could very well be that what Hilaire Belloc and many today have in mind when they say "unbroken and unwarped" is not the path the Supreme Legislator may choose to restore the liturgy, but tradition has its continuity and restoring it is more than a nod to male psychology, important as that indicator may be.

Multi-culturalism, multi-anything is not a vehicle for much. Perhaps many in the Church have been seduced by the siren song of multiplicity; perhaps they have failed to notice the chinks in that smiling facade. We owe much more than a facade to the faithful. As demanding as a liturgy in continuity with the tradition may be, an austere liturgy in its daily form and no longer as discursive and didactic as the OF on its good days, we need to pick up that thread and diversify our Gospel proclamation once again, no longer depending solely on Holy Mass, as if no other option remained to us for teaching the faith. That world sometimes in jest and sometimes derisively called one of smells and bells is where we need to be; vespers preaching, catechesis and renewed family life must do the rest. The point of saying that men and boys require more would seem to be to say that honesty requires more of us if we would truly do the work of God in worship.

So many of my favorite authors insist that a restored Catholic culture and a traditional liturgy as its crowning glory is where we must strive to be. If I rightly understand Belloc, we must become once again an institution which both in its liturgical life and in its governance would make others sit up and take notice. Persecution comes our way because we have certain pretenses and will not compromise the truth which comes to us from God as revealed in Christ.

My simple point is that in applauding Joseph Shaw's paper I want also to declare that I stand with Hilaire Belloc in insisting that liturgy and church order were not novel or unrecognizable in 200 AD with respect to 35 AD, that Constantine and company did not change much and that liturgy and church order should not be much different today either. Spirituality, genuine interiority, seems to be based on continuity with the past.

Some consider such matters debatable; I do not. And in case you are wondering, I don't have much time for abstract painting and none what so ever for atonal music.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Iconoclasm: it just doesn't stop

Over at National Review Nicholas Frankovich has written a thoughtful piece on the stripping of a church on Park Ave. in New York, beautified only five years ago. For me it is not a question of art or of taste, but simply the will of the donors. In mission territory or in the world of the Oriental Churches (maybe not 3rd World but certainly not 1st World either) if a beneficiary ignores the will of the donors, he is punished and if he is lucky gets by with repaying every last cent. As a very young man before priestly ordination, I learned of the hurt a priest can cause for tossing out two candle sticks and a chasuble, only to find out they were memorial gifts given at the funeral of an adolescent son and brother, who died in a tragic farm accident, not much prior to his arrival in that parrish. As priests we cannot so disrespect our parishioners, be their gift a true sacrifice cloaked in sorrow, as in the case of that farm family, or as with somebody-on-Park-Avenue's pocket change (if you will).

The other day, I took a guest from Canada around here in Kyiv and among the murals we saw up in the choir in the back of Saint Sophia was one of the great ecumenical council (Nicaea II - 8th Century) which resolved the question by condemning the heresy of iconoclasm. In the great fresco, the Emperor and the Empress are seated in the midst of the council fathers and all are holding sacred icons. Also part of the scene shows the Gospel book borne with the very same devotion.

It is hard to imagine less than a person possessed, who would dare to deface a restoration barely done, just because...

From the Office of Readings for St. James

"Then the other ten became angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervor and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom."

As far as the Apostle James is concerned, I must say that I really like this last paragraph from a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop. It speaks much about the stuff of which saints and martyrs are made and doesn't shy away from pointing to the example of St. James, giving the primacy to Peter, a man himself with an earlier and inglorious history, who out of fear and self-interest denied Jesus three times on the night He was betrayed by Judas who went where such go out of despair.

James, obviously, is the one who leaves not cowardice but youthful ambition completely behind and we aren't exactly told how that came to be but that certainly it did.

Presiders over Churches need our prayers, more often than not that they might make that inexplicable and courageous comeback to the greater honor and glory of God. All's well that ends well, as the saying goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Conversion to Christianity

Waugh, Evelyn
 (2012-12-11). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

“No, I think a little better. We look back already to the time of the persecution as though it were the heroic age, but have you ever thought how awfully few martyrs there were, compared with how many there ought to have been? The Church isn’t a cult for a few heroes. It is the whole of fallen mankind redeemed. And of course just at the moment we’re getting a lot of rather shady characters rolling in, just to be on the winning side.” (Kindle Locations 1876-1879).

 In my own fashion, I am trundling along reading books which should have formed my youth and lightened decades long past. For that, perhaps, I enjoy them all the more, and cannot accept that with retirement on the horizon my days of learning have come to an end.

I've read a lot of Waugh short stories and kind of mistrust him as a trifle too lenient or sympathetic toward the dissolute living of youth. Perhaps he is just too clever for me in so treating his characters. The greatness of his art on this very point comes shining through in Helena, where he sketches a very complex or nuanced, to say the least, sanctity for the empress dowager. He's positively merciless in his depiction of Constantine.

Helena is a very different type of hagiography. Perhaps it would be better to say that it isn't hagiography at all, despite the depiction of Helena's fasting and prayer which led her to find the true Cross. 

It could be in the above quote that Waugh was describing the phenomenon of Christianity's transformation into a religion of state. I'm not so sure he doesn't have something to say about Catholics not only back then or in his day but in ours as well: "The Church isn’t a cult for a few heroes. It is the whole of fallen mankind redeemed."

The Teaching Auxiliary of L.A.

Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture
Barron, Robert
(2015-03-11). Word on Fire. Kindle Edition.

"And therefore I believe that it is the task of the coming generation of Catholic intellectuals to offer a convincing apologetic for the basic narrative of the faith." (Kindle Locations 2326-2328).

When I told a friend I was reading Bishop-elect Robert Barron's book Seeds of the Word, he told me that since I had seen so many of the YouTube videos from which the book was drawn I need not have purchased it. 

Indeed, there are very few of the chapters of the book which I had not already encountered on YouTube and which I did not remember quite well. Nonetheless, for Robert Barron fans I would say that this book serves much the same purpose as the marvelous collections of Pope Benedict's Wednesday Audience talks. They gain a life of their own when printed in sequence. The reader has a freedom the viewer does not. 

With that caveat, I highly recommend the book. Barron, even though just short of a decade younger than I am, has a very different world view precisely because he was born into things which I saw come into being. Although he may still be on my side of the "amice barrier" as they say, his is a world which gets me to sit up and take notice. It is a matter of intellectual vitality or vivacity, which for him I thank God.

Barron's world does not necessarily go down well with a more traditionalist outlook, but the joy would be in finding room for a knock down drag out or two within the house of orthodoxy. I hope all who read that phrase take it benevolently and remember the times when Mother Church in her great wisdom has refused to resolve differences between different theological schools by declaring one or the other the winner.

We hope and pray that Robert Barron will continue to use his talents to further the dialogue and ..."offer a convincing apologetic for the basic narrative of the faith."

Disposable Income: a blessing or a curse? Not. Neither.

This CWR article by Carl Olson got me thinking about whether it is right to say that of late the middle class (typical Americana talk for somebody not rich or poor) has been ignored or neglected in papal discourse. I came to the tentative conclusion that "class" vocabulary is not where we are at and since forever, when it comes, among other things, to framing moral discourse. We need to look to our duties vis-a-vis the poor in a different way. We need to be more evangelical in our approach; it would be hard to make the case for the Gospels or St. Paul having singled out a class of people as addressees for talk about coming to the aid of the needy. Even in the Acts of the Apostles it would seem that charity is bestowed at eye level or, if you will, in the midst of folk: there simply isn't a center and a periphery, nor is there an up and/or a down.

"When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong." (Acts 3:3-7)

A penniless Peter and John move to the aid of a beggar and redirect his whole life. The scene involves no transfer of money or goods but a superlatively human exchange which leads a man to strength in Christ.
The other week in Krakow, Poland I encountered a very different type of begging poor (not unlike Rome) from the people I see on the streets of Kyiv. One insightful friend who knows Krakow much better than I do (this was my first visit) explained that as the city is a tourist mecca begging is organized and aggressive, whereas in Kyiv, also because of the war in Ukraine, the influx of tourists the city once knew is no more; there's no big money, if you will, to be gained by seeking an alms. Here for the most part on the street you meet regular folk and generally they, the regular, being of modest means. Hence, you witness the typical behavior of Kyiv's beggars as discrete; they tend to kneel, sit or stoop by the side of the road with head bowed, with hand or paper cup extended in supplication: even in a city of three million, begging is not a confrontation of the stranger but an anxious almost embarrassed plea to a neighbor.

When I was a boy, people throughout the Midwest generally did not lock their houses. There were no TV's or stereos or phones or laptops or anything to be stolen; most folks had vegetable gardens with tomatoes, radishes, perhaps carrots and cucumbers. The greatest risk you ran on a scorching hot summer day, parking your car downtown in a small community, leaving the windows open, would be that on your return you would find that someone had gifted you with a bag of freshly picked cucumbers from their garden, more than they could eat and in the face of everyone else's abundance and lack of cash, not to be sold for no matter how little. In the culture, if you didn't have your own garden, it was a pleasant gift for the table. Abundance, such as it was, was being shared within the community.

My first thought in proposing a more evangelical approach to charity than the responsibility devolving upon the upper or more fortunate classes of society was the idea of talking about disposable income or goods (like cucumbers in season). Even here however, while on right grounds from a humanitarian point of view, I don't think we've entered into the essence of the encounter between Peter and John and the beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Miracle of healing aside, Peter and John communicated saving good news in and through the Name of Jesus, which is above every other name. Certainly, my excess (that extra shirt in the closet, if you will) belongs to those who have none, but I need to learn to give like Peter and John. That is anything but "social gospel".

Olson titles his article: "The hyperbolic and exhausting papacy of Francis" and he appeals to the authority of Elisabeth Scaglia's fatigue... Let me be a child and long to repeat the act of Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate, to speak the Holy Name with power and conviction, fully expecting something greater and better than my miserable coin to happen. But let me do it at eye level and out of love for my neighbor!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Heroic Virtue

A friend posted an email to the NYR Daily from 21 December 2009 by the noted author and historian, Timothy Snyder, which closed as follows:

"But what if evil were plural in 1941? And what if patriotism is not about perfecting the past, but about making imperfect choices about the future?"

Snyder's piece has lost none of its relevance and I'd like to transpose his question about what distinguishes brothers Andriy and Kliment Sheptytsky, when it comes to judging them as being righteous among the nations in the eyes of Yad Vashem, to address the question of what saints are made of. I do this quite serenely in that the Church has now declared Andriy venerable.

In a sense, I suppose all the tribulation about declaring the heroic virtues of this giant of a man should not surprise us. We have the cases of several Roman Pontiffs of late, who have been at the center of similar controversies and each for different reasons: Bl. Pius IX, Ven. Pius XII, Bl. Paul VI. For the sake of perspective, I would like to take them together with Metropolitan Sheptytsky and abstract from the particular issues which may have placed their veneration in question for some or for many.

For me the matter at hand deals with the Church's never-ending quest for surety when declaring someone a friend of God. From the earliest days of the Church up until the present, we have gladly given recognition to martyrs as friends of God, to those who have identified most perfectly with Christ in His suffering and death upon the Cross. I remember learning as a child that the first non-martyr to be officially canonized by the Church was St. Martin of Tours, on whose feast day I was ordained a bishop. Naturally, before Martin others were considered saints though not martyrs, surrounded by devotion and popularly supplicated for their intercession on behalf of those of us still below. Even so, it is important to underline that it cost the Church centuries to step out in faith and declare virgins, confessors, pastors and doctors of the Church saints in the absence of testimony to their martyrdom.

Interestingly enough, beatification does not follow immediately on attestation of heroic virtue as is the case for martyrs. It requires a miracle through the intercession of the one declared venerable. 

The great metropolitan, whose prayers and sacrifices in this life were decisive for the building up of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as we know it today and who, no doubt, has never ceased to pray for his Church from his place before the Heavenly Throne, has not so much received a present in his jubilee year as have we. We move on with new confidence and hopefully learn from the witness of his life, now certainly defined as heroic in virtue.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Telling News Headlines

"Detroit-area Catholic leaders urge gay marriage supporters to skip Communion"

This headline got me wondering about what people think and where they are at in the Church today (at least what those who write headlines might be thinking). Specifically, where does the expression "skip Communion" come from? Is that as in "I think I should go to confession (e.g. as I missed Mass last Sunday through my own fault) before I go to Communion again"? Hence, I better skip Communion.... To say it otherwise, I can't quite imagine my dear friend Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit saying that if you support gay marriage, it would be best if you just skipped Communion. The whole thing is somehow off; it does not ring true. There's nothing of the Godhead in this choice of language.

The notion of "skipping Communion" is, yes, too flippant for one thing, but for the rest, the headline gives the impression of a break in routine. We skip class, we skip taking a vitamin, we skip a meal, but there is something course about the idea of "skipping Communion" as if we were talking about something quite ordinary. In advocating the homosexual lifestyle as something neutral for Catholic faith, you are advocating something which is gravely wrong, even if you do not so indulge yourself. You are giving scandal by denying time-honored and true teaching. The notion that you should just skip Communion on that account, well sorry, but it does not work for me. You can string together countless shrugged shoulders and clueless grins, but, please, don't put Holy Communion in the category of things you, well, sort of skip. 

Perhaps this is indicative of the real gravity of the rupture which followed the post-conciliar liturgical reform: reception of the Lord Our Savior, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, becomes not something from which I abstain, being aware of having committed grave sin and hence being totally unworthy, but rather it is something I may be well advised to skip. Sad! How far can one get from the reverence involved for one and all in St. Jerome's last Communion before his death, as pictured above.

In his writings, St. Louis de Montfort describes the deliberateness with which one prepares to receive Christ in Holy Communion; what he says about the devotion one should strive for is quite foreign to today's parish everyday and I make that observation with regret. 

A friend on Facebook the other day was asking advice on how he could recover months of archival notes, which he had accidentally cancelled from his notebook computer. Once recovered, he duly rejoiced to have the fruits of his labor back in his possession. By analogy, we need to reflect upon the pearl of great price and the anything but routine nature of processing up to receive our Divine Master in Holy Communion.

We need to recover life's passion, life as centered in the Holy Eucharist. 

Part of the Protestant Reformation in England involved stripping and destroying the altars in the churches, but it also included destroying the joyful noise of the hand bells rung at the consecration and during processions with the Blessed Sacrament. The senses were dulled in the 16th Century, as to a certain extent have been ours today. My plea to headline writers would be not to short change teaching by banalizing it with a just skip it. I know the authorities in Detroit had more to say and teach about the worthy reception of Communion.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Taking God into our own Hands - Through Whose Looking-glass

The Stripping of the Altars
Duffy, Eamon
(2005-05-28). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

"The blustering scurrilities of Bale or Becon did not seem to the Marian authorities the best model for establishing truth and stabilizing the religious life of the people, for such “pernicious and hurtful devices” could only engender “hatred among the people and discord among the same”. Satire and burlesque are commonly the weapons of those who seek to assail the established order, wedges hammered into the wall to create or exploit a breach. This was how the bishops perceived the position of Protestant controversialists, striving by fair means or foul to shake the religious convictions of centuries. It was the Protestants who needed to make an impression, and who sought to deploy the belly-laugh and the jeer to make their points. The bishops believed that what they needed to do was not to contribute to, but to quieten the babble of alehouse debate. Their objective was to re-establish the order and beauty of Catholic worship and the regular participation of the people in the sacraments, and to underpin it by a regular and solidly grounded pattern of parochial instruction, which would repair the damage of the schism. 

This preference for the beauty of holiness over the cut and thrust of debate was not, in any straightforward way, a rejection of the value of scripture-reading or preaching, though there were those, like Gardiner, who were gloomy about the likely impact of either. As we shall see, the Marian church sought to ensure regular parochial preaching and followed Cranmer's precedent in preparing a set of homilies to be used by “insufficient” preachers. Though the Bibles as well as Erasmus's paraphrases were collected up from the churches during the Marian visitations, Bible-reading or the possession of Bibles was never condemned by the regime. Protestant versions of the Bible were suspect, not English Bibles as such. (Cardinal Reginald) Pole, as a member of the evangelically minded Spirituali of Cardinal Contarini's circle, had a deep sense of the value of scriptural preaching and expounded the Bible daily to his own household. A new English translation of the New Testament was one of the projects agreed and begun at Pole's legatine synod at the end of 1555. But he abhorred religious argument and the spirit of self-sufficiency which he believed indiscriminate Bible-reading by lay people was likely to encourage. Better for the people to absorb the faith through the liturgy, to find in attentive and receptive participation in the ceremonies and sacraments of the Church the grace and instruction on which to found the Christian life. This was the true Catholic way, the spirit of the parvuli, the “little ones” of Christ, for whom penitence, not knowledge, was the true and only way to salvation. The object of preaching and teaching was not to impart knowledge, but to cause the people to lament their sins, seek the healing of the sacraments, and amend their lives." (Kindle Locations 12833-12854).

This scholarly book documents Catholic parish life in pre-Reformation England, distinguishes between the Henrican and Edwardian reforms, the Marian restoration, which preceded the last sessions of the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation, and the devastation of the Elizabethan reform. While it is certainly not beach reading for summer, it is more than accessible for most readers and does not demand a special preparation so much as it presumes genuine love for the Church and the Papacy, and a desire to love to the point of healthy envy a Catholic world very different from our own.

The most unsettling thing about the book is the sense of déjà vu with which it filled me, thinking about the iconoclasm and willfulness of the last fifty years of my experience, not unlike the excesses of 16th Century Tudor England. Henry VIII may have stubbornly pushed away from Rome in order to marry again, but financing an excessive lifestyle at court, paying debts incurred by the Tudors and just plain greed led to a systematic despoiling of churches and parishes, carrying off precious metals and stones, recycling for secular use textiles which had adorned altars and statues, then smashing the images and whitewashing the temples, and silencing their bells and song. Greed and pride brought down a beautiful edifice of penance, prayer and petition, firmly binding together the Church Militant, Suffering and Triumphant.

"In this emphasis on the positive value of ceremony and sacrament, Pole and his colleagues, so often accused of lacking a grip of the realities of mid-Tudor England, were certainly more closely in touch with the feelings of the laity at large than were the reformers. Resentment and rejection of ritual change had lain close to the heart of both the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Western Rebellion, but it was not only in the dark corners of the land that men and women felt that the repudiation of time-honoured ceremonies was symptomatic of more profound and more drastic discontinuities. Procession, pax, holy bread, and holy water were the formal expressions of the identity of the parish, and the rituals in which pecking-order and precedence were manifested or negotiated. Repudiation of or abstention from such rituals might be a manifestation of the repudiation of neighbourly charity and the unity of the community. Ceremonies which, to the reformers, were unchristian or idolatrous, were somewhere near the centre of things in the religious and communal instincts of the people." (Kindle Locations 12876-12883). 

Queen Mary's reform was a rational thing which sought to do what was best. During the reigns of Henry and Edward so many priests had been lost to the service of the altar that she and her emissaries did well to insist upon the restoration of the one high altar in each church, but this paucity of priests precluded the restoration of the side altars and chapels, which had played such a key role in the devotion of the people. This week, a visit for me to the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland, and an innocent question from a young person about how liturgy as we know it could be possible therein, brought home to me once again the shocking reality of the rupture which has destroyed our organic continuity with the past. The life of faith buzzes around those side altars and chapels, even if I doubt that even there Masses can be guaranteed at each one every morning. Maybe from long before the 2nd Vatican Council that iconoclastic spirit brooding in certain circles and wanting to rationalize worship, seemingly for the sake of real development, makes the reparation of harm done seem an insurmountable challenge. For now, I guess, we find ourselves not unlike those who sought the Marian restoration, partial and rational as it was.   

 For that I return to the wisdom of Pope Benedict's wisdom in urging the mutual enrichment of the two forms of one rite as the path toward, first, even imagining, and then carrying out the restoration which far from being an exercise in nostalgia or archaeology, would touch hearts and bring life, integral life back to our parishes. 


Flailing, but not without hope

Not long ago, I watched a video made by two hikers who freed a young hawk from a bull snake's strangulation hold. No doubt the naturists in the crowd might protest this human interference which deprived the bull snake of his part in the food chain, but I want to focus if I may on the stage whispers in the video, wondering if the hawk had already suffocated or if his wing had been broken in the snake's grip.

My stage whisper utters something of my worries about our faith in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and concerning the Church's constant and inerrant teaching about the transubstantiation. The "reformers" of the past who distanced themselves from the body Catholic and those of our present day (from within the sheep fold) continually resort to sacrilege as a means of dulling the faith or depriving God's people not only of faith in but of the Most Blessed Sacrament Itself. The latest violation documented for us by the world press has been the distribution of Holy Communion out of baggies (paper or plastic, you choose) at a mega-mass in Latin America (here ). 

Faith in Christ, truly present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and in the hearts not only of God's little ones, is not so robust as to survive constant trivializing. We take more care in wrapping the dumbest present brought to the home of somebody hosting a dinner party. Distribution of Holy Communion just cannot be done without harm in such big crowds and somebody is called to defend the faith from its being lost entirely to banality.

What is at stake here is much more than theater. Theater as such goes both ways, whether as depicted in the colored etching of a Papal Corpus Christi Procession from a bygone era or from the photos in the link above. As pastoral initiative, however theatrical, I will choose the procession any day. Prior to the reform of fifty years ago, the Holy Sacrifice had its proper context and outdoor processions even with the Blessed Sacrament were the exception (viz. Corpus Domini); the distribution of Communion outdoors except at a Mass before battle, in the form of Viaticum for the soldiers, was unheard of. Maybe it is time again to confine the celebration of the Eucharist to the protective four walls of the temple and resort to processions, whether with the Sacrament, with blessed palm branches, candles or crosses, as the means of edifying the larger gatherings outdoors.

I rather suspect that the young hawk was getting his just desserts for swooping down on the bull snake, sunning himself and minding his own business, when a feathered meal gave him a peck he could not ignore. Were it not for the hikers, the hawk would have met his end in short notice. May the Lord as He passes by look with mercy upon us and intervene to spare us from the grasp of banality, no matter when or where. Fear and trembling is more than good theater; it is our salvation.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Redemption As Inclusive

Today's start of the visit of the Holy Father to countries on his home continent of South America has brought a resurgence of news and blog commentary about traveling to, reaching out to or in someway giving priority to "the peripheries".

The theme or notion is indeed catchy or so it seems. I noticed at home in the U.S. on vacation that some elderly priests I know, especially if they happen to have an anti-European bias, really like the concept and see it as a sort of affirmative action program directed toward empowering or at least drawing closer to those who are alienated or perceived to be deprived of a full voice in the life of the Catholic Church. What never gets enunciated in the process, however, is just what we have to offer to those who are far off. Through no fault of the Holy Father's, what comes across is an aimlessness about this reaching out to others.

For whatever reason, people seem to miss the heart of this "social gospel"; they fail to see themselves in this encounter as Christ-bearers. Sadly, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that part of the spectrum of opinion makers which is left-leaning to heterodox tend to push the periphery theme at the expense of other dimensions of the Pope's message to the Church and the world. They do Pope Francis a disservice and leave us short-changed if not worse, at a time when valuelessness or relativism seem to be menacingly on the march, trampling all in their way to wherever they might deny to be headed. The beautiful Christmas antiphon which I link above in the subtitle sings and says it all fully and tenderly. Our universe must be configured or reconfigured around Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Father.

As timely a message as reaching out to the peripheries is, there is much more to be heard from Pope Francis and it does not seem to get the attention it deserves. Relativism and the tragic spirit of the age must be contradicted or confronted, yes, challenged. Sadly, we seem to have forgotten that aimlessness or indifference constitutes not a broadening but a narrowing of our horizons and as such a hindrance. Values need to be affirmed and the focus must be upon the Lord Jesus, living and reigning in His Church. We need to get back to the basics. St. Paul worked constantly to draw the Gentiles to whom he was sent out of this impasse:

"We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return— I speak as to children— open wide your hearts also." [2 Cor. 6:11-13]

Real love and life are won by those who run after Christ in the fragrance of His garments. The age must be confronted in its opposition to the only begotten Son of God: quare fremuerunt gentes... It must be done with the same grace as the beautiful antiphon is sung.

We hope and pray for the countries to be visited, for South America in general, and for all the world. May hearts open wide and the King of Glory, the Beloved Son, enter in and take possession of our hearts!