Sunday, September 20, 2015

Time to Pack!

A week from today I will be heading to the airport on my first leg of the trip which will take me from Kyiv via Rome to Bern and my new assignment as nuncio in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. When I moved here from Port of Spain, Trinidad, I knew I had to change blogs, because ISLAND ENVOY just wouldn't do. 

DEO VOLENTE EX ANIMO turns out to have been a very good choice, an opportunity to reach back to the headliner assigned me by my Latin teacher and vice-rector in the program for our senior banquet farewell from high school seminary. Per se, I could have remained true to this secondary motto, which somehow stuck and always remained for me a challenge in my saying and doing. A change of background pictures would have sufficed.

For some odd reason, though, I found the cosmetic change insufficient and was not ready to say that my next change of blog would be my last one and hence time to take my episcopal motto PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI.

In the course of preparing my talk for the just concluded first ever assembly of both Greek and Roman Catholic religious, men and women, celebrated quite successfully in Lviv, I was drawn irresistibly to the Song of Solomon and a quote from 4:6

 Antequam aspiret dies,
et festinent umbrae,
vadam ad montem myrrhae
et ad collem turis.

 AD MONTEM MYRRHAE it will be and in a couple weeks you will find me there. I'm hoping that the sense of the title will be found in a pilgrimage to the heights of charity. I cannot say as I find the Church in need of greater in our day, but then it has ever been so.

Please pray for me as I do for you!


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Caritas Christi Urget Nos

This report published by Gregory Dipippo at New Liturgical Movement is great and especially significant for quoting the mother of the altar boys candid description of her reaction to a first experience with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite:

"The Missa Cantata was like nothing I had ever experienced in the Church. The smells and the chants made it a heavenly experience. I wondered how I would feel about the priest standing ‘ad orientem’. Would I be able to see? The answer is, no, I couldn’t really, but it only brought home that the priest is offering the sacrifice FOR us, not TO us. The focus was on God. I have and do know several pious, holy priests, but nothing they have ever done spoke to me as this position of the priest during the Latin Mass. All eyes were on God, and it wasn’t something you saw, but you could almost hear the beat of angel’s wings. Yes, it is that profound of an experience."

Some might call her over exuberant, but I have found few expressions about ad Orientem more eloquent than hers: FOR us, not TO us. 

We need to begin to heal the rupture and recover the profound sense of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. We need to start ad Orientem.

Read the article with an open mind and heart and see what you think!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

My Heart vs. Ours: Rancor vs. Reconciliation

"All this must be expressly eradicated before the face of Christ: nothing less than our immersion in the stream of His inconceivable, all-conquering love will restore our inward peace." [(Kindle Locations 4214-4215). von Hildebrand, Dietrich (2011-02-04). Transformation In Christ. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.]

One of the things I like about Dietrich von Hildebrand is the way he clarifies by making distinctions. He would merit the praise of my first boss in Vienna, Archbishop Michele Cecchini, who had said his best or highest of another when he said, "That man has clear and distinct ideas". Sadly, that kind of praise comes but rarely as muddle-headedness seems to have the upper hand in our world.

Even among thoughtful folk, it is rare to find those capable of identifying that rancor, which paralyzes (takes away freedom of action) and poisons one's self, it being a matter of the heart of the person who feels offended. Rancor impedes perhaps only from one side reconciliation between people estranged, which must perforce be ruled by justice and adherence to the truth. Sadly, all too often, one man's rancor, his poisoned heart, will and eye, blocks and banishes the other; it deprives that other of any possible approach or first step toward reconciliation. It does so from the depths of the rancorous one's loins or heart, while spouting platitudes about the preconditions for true reconciliation.

Why are certain hearts consumed by rancor? Is it not true that rancor is the downfall of not only the person so afflicted, but also of all upon whom that poisoned glance or rebuff may fall? How do you heal a heart prone to rancor? As I think about it, I am wondering if it wasn't wrong in the past, before the great changes in psychiatric law enforcement, to be repeatedly admitting to mental health facilities people consumed by anger and bitterness,  like a very rancorous woman I met as a young priest. The venom which spewed forth from her might have more readily found its antidote in a genuine and transforming encounter with the loving Christ instead of with sedatives and lock-down. How do you distinguish between the bipolar and a rancorous heart?

You'll have to excuse me for getting off on this topic because it is the first time it has dawned on me that perhaps the failure not only of certain people as individuals, but also of groups or societies to reconcile with others or be big, if you will, about making the first advance toward the other who actually may bear the greater burden of guilt, may rather involve the rancorous heart of one or the other party, but also of a people, with some of its most outspoken leaders. It is a hard case to argue. I remember when we were small, my mother would challenge a little sister of mine in the midst of a rage, shrieking, puffy-eyed and tears: "Go look at yourself in the mirror". It often worked and shamed someone who was overtired and being unreasonable to calm herself.

So! This Sunday a thank you to von Hildebrand and a prayer that not so much the hearts of the guilty, but first and foremost the hearts of the rancorous might change for the sake of the life of the world. May we be bearers of Christ's light, disarming our adversaries with His all-conquering love!


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Healthily Apocalyptic?

Over at Roman Catholic Man, Fr. Richard Heilman has an article which lays the term of "desacralization" at the door of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Father does not criticize the OF as such, but according to the maxim by their fruits you shall know them rather proceeds to contrast the EF of a serious tenor with the OF as generally quite casual, at best, in its approach to the worship of God. He gets sort of ultimate or apocalyptic if you will in quoting the passage from Luke 10:23-28, which concludes with the words of Jesus: “ this and you will live”. He closes with Fr. Z's battle cry: SAVE THE LITURGY, SAVE THE WORLD!

I just read the transcript of Peter Kwasniewski's recent lecture at Steubenville entitled “The Old Mass and the New Evangelization: Beyond the Long Winter of Rationalism” . Dr. Kwasniewski also argues from the same by their fruits you shall know them for the promotion of the EF as the surest path to recovery of our liturgical integrity and major health for the Roman Catholic Church.

No doubt my own reflections on the topic (cf. Liturgy Lectures, Intro, Part One, Part Two: here) are indeed those of no more than a dilettante, who has only his personal reading, prayer life and years of reflection on his side. Be that as it may, though arguments from "seriousness" or "beauty" certainly hold their weight and may even win the day and result in that restoration, which would be a sine qua non for healing the rupture and setting forth the organic development of the Roman Rite, I am not to be dissuaded from holding that the principal downfall of the OF is all its options, which continue to impress one with the arbitrary nature of what the "reformers" did or produced following the Second Vatican Council, whether or not at the behest of the Council Fathers themselves with the Pope.

"Beauty" really is in the eye of the beholder and, as I have seen and read elsewhere, one can question the aesthetics of those who reject the cool elegance of Jugendstil or Beuroner art or disdain even Gothic, in favor of the Baroque and Rococo. I remember rather cultured people from my youth, who had no time for our cathedral in Sioux Falls, and people today overwhelmed with emotion, who see it for the first time as restored by Duncan Stroik. Maybe it is me, but overall and for every day and every poor little regular parish, I find the argument for beauty less decisive than Fr. Heilman's appeal to "seriousness". The problem comes with shedding light on the full spectrum of Catholic life and making earnest appeal to the authority of our "little doctor", St. Therese of Lisieux, in defense of kitsch, saying "OK, here but no farther..." Seriousness becomes almost as subjective as beauty and one has to wonder whether some of the young priests who celebrate according to the EF, without experiential knowledge of what was, are serving the cause of "mutual enrichment" and hence the possibility of healing the rupture and setting forth the tradition in all its glory. [I asked an authority once about the restoration and all the kissing of hands, birettas, cruets,etc. which I absolutely cannot recall as an altarboy before the Council. It would seem such was done in Europe, but never made it beyond seminary practice in the U.S. at least not in the upper Midwest]

When it comes to the two great commands of love of God and neighbor, I think the words of Jesus: “ this and you will live” should indeed sound with all their apocalyptic force. But I guess you could say that the "trumpets of the Last Day" just don't sound for me when somebody says that this or that is not serious or not beautiful enough. I'd love to have a hand at Papal Liturgy for the major basilicas of Rome and the stational churches, at eliminating all the options and doing a new 1962 or pre-Holy Week reform missal for the Bishop of Rome. This time it wouldn't be the mendicant friars to carry it to the ends of the earth and prepare a new "Trent", but in our mobile society, perhaps pilgrims, impressed by what they see just might bring home a gift from the Tipografia Vaticana

Seriousness? Yes! Beauty? Well, yes! By their fruits...? Of course! But in all gentleness and humility, let us ask bishops and priests, especially seminary faculty, to stop kicking against the goad and grant space and heart for mutual enrichment! And let the trumpets sound!


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Getting Folks on the Same Page

"Our consciousness of being children of God and of being secure in His all-powerful and all-wise love must provide the central presupposition from which we view everything, be it joy or misery, be it the tangible help of God or the apparent failure of our endeavors. He whose confidence in God is genuine will, whenever his failures or his relapses threaten to discourage him, flee into the arms of God with undiminished trust, entreat God’s help with increased fervor, and combat his defects with greater vigilance than ever." [(Kindle Locations 3010-3013). von Hildebrand, Dietrich (2011-02-04). Transformation In Christ. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.]

 We are less than a month from the starting gun or bell (metaphor!) of a Synod of Bishops on the family which finds itself per force cloaked in preparations for the Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy, due to open not long thereafter. There is lots of contentious speech about in the blogosphere, whether your topic is the one, the other or both events. I'd love to avoid all of it, because it seems deconstructive generally, lots of tearing down seems to be in course. All of this spawns or seemingly gives permission for some very hateful statements by people who cannot help but be keeping Mother Church at arm's length. Alienating? I guess that kind of captures the moment and in the lives of Catholic people all up and down the hierarchical pyramid, active members of the worshiping community and all those people farther and far from the center of action.

Recently, I got wind of a very angry statement from a man I have known since he was a child. Basically and with surprising emotion, he struck out at bishops and priests who, he says, are obviously hateful people (I don't know if I am included or not), because they don't listen to all the lay people who were queried before all this and seemingly (at least from my man's perception from the media) like Pope Francis (sic) are willing to go with a majority vote of men and women on the street concerning questions like admission to Holy Communion of couples in irregular unions (divorced-remarried, etc.), plus the LGBT thing right across the board. I witnessed a woman whom I have known for a long time lash out in impatience at the Kentucky clerk who has gone to jail for failing to do her job and register same sex unions, my lady condemning the clerk, while brandishing the "who am I to judge" thing as it tends to be wielded. I wish there were more room for reasonable discussion in all of this, but that is where we are: hurting ourselves and hurting others badly.

What do you do when faced with such fury? What do you do with that big world whose life is obviously not centered on Christ, not hidden in God, because it gives no evidence of a practical and profound desire to turn to the Lord and seek for itself forgiveness and life, like the Prodigal Son in Luke's Gospel? We stand dumbfounded before the rage of the elder son and brother, and as if we were not loved by the forgiving father.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” [Luke 15:25-32]

Please get my gist: the real dilemma or tragedy is that of the elder son, in not identifying the sincere repentance of the younger brother, who thereby expresses absolute confidence in his father, something the older man does not seem to possess. My man's rage may be evidently anticlerical, but it is also fundamentally anti-God. There isn't the foggiest there of Who God is and how He has chosen to save us in Christ and work with and for us in and through His Church. The issue is not one exclusively of sinners among the bishops and priests getting it wrong and barring the way to heaven, but of lots of folks with no confidence in Divine Providence and how that plays out in my life as an individual, begotten of God and loved by Him from all eternity and forever.

If I claimed to have a remedy for the situation, I guess any number of people would shout me down. But the remedy is in finding ourselves indeed lost and then getting about heading for home. The remedy is in the return, in the confession of being prodigal and returning without conditions. The remedy is in pronouncing judgment upon myself, turning around and heading home to the Father's mercy.

From the earliest days of the Church, right up until the Protestant Reformation in many parts of Europe, there were those who as public or notorious sinners sought the way back to inclusion in the assembly of the faithful by public penance and petition for prayers from those who had not so strayed. Whether through genuine contrition or social pressure, they found their place within the community of the Church by embracing their exclusion from Divine Worship, while standing or kneeling outdoors in the elements each Sunday, or by taking their place in the back of church, deprived not of prayers but certainly of access to Holy Communion. They, too, were anything but ostracized from the faith community. Maybe that discipline is too brutal for today; maybe times have changed. Parishes may not be cohesive enough to allow for something like that nowadays, but reincorporation into the family does not come from denying the fault or taking the Father for granted. Maybe the Father has to let some go; may He has to explain that mercy reaches out not to cover over but to be requited by sincere penance.

Other members of a family suffer much when someone violates the fabric of family life. What is missing too often today is the recognition both on the part of the sinner and of the community of the gravity of the sin. The elder son's tepidity could not comprehend the significance of his younger brother's repentance. We desperately need true sorrow for sin, born of real confidence in the Father's love, shining forth from the Church, the Body of Christ.

What we celebrate within the Church is the same as what the Father celebrated with the return of his errant son: we celebrate genuine, life-transforming repentance born out of confidence in God's love and in His power to save from everlasting death in and through the ministry of His Church. I wish to say to my man, to my lady and to so many more: "Come to the feast!" Come home as did the Prodigal Son! Accept the lowest place in your Father's House, because you have sinned, we have sinned, and He is full of gentleness and compassion.

The forgiving Father came out from the banquet, from the music and dancing, to invite the elder son to come in. He half apologizes in response to the rebuke of his son. In freedom, the Father could do no more; He couldn't very well do more for the big brother. We keep praying for that older son who somehow feels slighted because of his own refusal to surrender totally to love. We keep praying that hearts hardened by sin might melt and glow in the love of Christ our Savior. Enough confidence to surrender and accept the lowest place, in hopes of being called up higher at least on Judgment Day, is sorely lacking to us in this day and time.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

From the Watchtower with Gregory the Great

Year after year, I can come back to the second reading assigned for the Office of his memorial and draw inspiration for my own life as a bishop from Pope St. Gregory the Great:

"‘Son of man, I have appointed you as watchman to the house of Israel.’ Note that Ezekiel, whom the Lord sent to preach his word, is described as a watchman. Now a watchman always takes up his position on the heights so that he can see from a distance whatever approaches. Likewise whoever is appointed watchman to a people should live a life on the heights so that he can help them by taking a wide survey.
These words are hard to utter, for when I speak it is myself that I am reproaching. I do not preach as I should nor does my life follow the principles I preach so inadequately...
Who am I — what kind of watchman am I? I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it. It is for love of him that I do not spare myself in preaching him." [from a sermon of St Gregory the Great]

The penultimate sentence thunders through for me this year and I hope it would for all who have and share in the preaching office: And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it.

I like the English expression: "to see life whole". What could be better! Happy Feast of the Great Gregory!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Praying for Rain

EPPC reports, from 26 August 2015, a rather upbeat article from George Weigel, entitled Catacomb Time?  George does some very important things in the article which deserve attention and reflection. While the "wind" could change at any moment, I guess I am of the opinion that liberalism is in the process of pressing home its "advantage" and in short order all those who are nominal Catholics or lukewarm will deny knowing us out of fear of persecution by the "beasties" of political correctness. Whether in that sense we are destined to become a pusillus grex, a little flock of modest means, is anybody's guess.

One of the things which puzzled me in my years stationed in Germany 1996-2004 was the gargantuan size of all the German dioceses except for one. I can remember thinking a lot about whether making more dioceses wouldn't improve pastoral care, finally coming to the conclusion that, sort of like Egypt, the system worked for both the fat and the lean years. I am sure this was not the sense of the Ratzinger quote at the heart of the Weigel article.

My own reflection, a bit differently, was more attuned to the challenges facing Catholicism in Ukraine today and for some reason reminded me of a much enjoyed book which I read years ago thanks to the recommendation of a kind parishioner and friend. I may just read it again and so have made it mine with one click (terrible!). The linkage I made was between Ukraine and Archbishop Lamy's Santa Fe. To think that in 1884, the archbishop went begging funds for the construction of his poor cathedral in rich Mexico:

"WITH SALPOINTE, HIS COADJUTOR, to share his duties, and to be ready to succeed him if sudden need arose, Lamy was lighter in spirit and more energetic than he had been for some time. His main local concern now was to see the cathedral completed. It stood covered, services were regularly held there, but the towers rose slowly, the sanctuary was still the old tapering, coffin-headed, adobe enclosure which he had found in 1851; and funds were slow to come. 
He worked every possibility to bring in more; but it was still an astonishment, given his recent serious illnesses, when he left Santa Fe in 21 July 1884, for another trip of many months in Mexico, to raise money by donation, loan, and the little fees which would come to him in giving confirmations. The prospect of a long journey and hard work in the great land of which his diocese was a physical extension seemed to bring him zest and a return of strength." [Horgan, Paul (2012-05-01). Lamy of Santa Fe (p. 435). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.] 

I had never quite thought of the Church here in Ukraine in terms of late 19th Century New Mexico,  which is to say that youth, vitality, promise, faith, ... don't necessarily allay poverty and provide for the monuments in brick and mortar, and for their decoration, which might in turn hover over this brood like a dove and foster further growth. The debate here is a rather forthright one about how best to invest the means at our disposal for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel. That is what makes initiatives like the pastoral assembly of the Greek-Catholic Church just concluded in Ivano-Frankivsk so very important. They talked about what constitutes a vibrant parish and what that can mean for the life of the Church. In a world of appearances, focusing on the essential is terribly important.

Talking about appearances, the indications that the liberal press has finally opted to abandon Pope Francis seem to be increasing; in the last couple of days there have been some very unkind remarks, especially in the Italian press, about decreasing numbers at Wednesday Audiences with the Pope in St. Peter's Square. We knew it had to come and well, just like not having enough money to complete a building project, it does not necessarily mean the end of the world. My personal hope is that without the constant chatter of a secular and secularizing liberal press we might find the space necessary to enable the faith again at the grass roots level, where it really counts. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Wednesday's in Rome there were fewer traffic problems and St. Peter's Square lost the air of a stage set ever in the remaking.

In this part of the world, Potemkin villages (Merriam-Webster: an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition) are and long have been the order of the day. It is part of what makes for unrest in a given neighborhood when the sign goes up about a new church coming soon to a vacant lot where everybody and his friend used to walk the dog. The alternative is not a social gospel regime, which ultimately and at length does no better job of feeding what fails and healing what ails a society. Paul Horgen goes to great lengths to insist that as best he knew how, Archbishop Lamy wanted something with fullness for the flock entrusted to his care.

I wish and pray especially for Ukraine, but most insistently for the Catholic Church throughout the world, that fullness of Gospel which says, "Lord, it is good that we are here!" but then draws conclusions both profound and unbounded, instructed by God, Who speaks to His people from the midst of the cloud and directs their eyes to the vision of His Beloved, Only-Begotten Son.