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!