Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Elijah on Mount Horeb

Humanae Vitae
Paul VI, Pope
 (2011-02-16). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

"Consequently, if one does not want to see the mission of generating life exposed to the arbitrary decisions of men, one must of necessity recognize certain absolute limits to the possibility of a human being’s dominion over his or her body and its functions, limits that no one, whether a private individual or someone invested with authority has any right to exceed. And such limits cannot be determined except by the respect owed to the integrity of the human organism and its functions, according to the principles recalled above and according to the correct understanding of the “principle of totality”, explained by our predecessor, Pius XII." (Kindle Locations 204-209)

I must confess that I had a bit of an attack of melancholy when I learned that Blessed Paul VI was not getting an altar upstairs in St. Peter's Basilica. For some reason I presumed an altar for him somewhere, which would then become a focus for respect life devotion and pilgrimage on the Vatican Hill. At any rate, this disappointment moved me on Sunday to pick up and read his great 1968 encyclical again and let it once again work its magic in my soul. 

This short pamphlet is mighty. My first reading at age 18 was disturbed by all the static emanating from the rebellious world around me. At 28, I had the good fortune of attending a seminar and listening to a series of tapes by a Catholic philosopher, a married laymen, eager to share the conversion which the encyclical had worked in his life, eager to confess his sins and omissions in living out his marital vocation with its mission of generating life.

Subsequent decades have always granted new insights and greater courage in defense of marriage and family and allowed me sadly to witness the prophecies therein contained fulfilled and human life, matrimony and family degraded by contraception and the mentality which has opened the floodgates of state interference into the noble mission which is the essence and the crown of Christian matrimony. The decades go by and the quiet whisper of Humanae vitae is still to be heard, not unlike that faint sound which the prophet Elijah experienced on Mount Horeb, calling him back to his prophetic destiny for the sake of the life of the world.

Altar or no, I wish to entrust the precious gift of human life, its generation and defense, to the faithful prophet, who amidst the fright and turmoil of his day, shared with us what he had heard all alone on the mountain of God, Horeb. Blessed Paul VI, pray for us!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting the Word out

Today would have started better if I had been on retreat without access to the various means of social communication. As it is, via Facebook, Twitter and my two "Readers", I am sharing the pain of lots of folks burdened by the lies and impositions of others. You might say that in a less virtual world maybe one or two at the most of these people could have shared with me something of what was upon them and I could have communicated back effectively registering my understanding, solidarity and full confidence in the Lord of All. Instead, well, I use Skype to dump on another friend, who pulls out his best emoticons to cheer me up. Nice world we live in!

Truth to be told, not even the human exchange or closeness of Gethsemane was all that consoling (see the Passion Account of Matthew's Gospel):

"Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

Let us just say that it all seems to be part of it, although I would pray that the Lord would grant deliverance and show us His merciful kindness! Through the intercession (of a Saturday) of His Most Blessed Mother!

Maria, breit den Mantel aus,
mach Schirm und Schild für uns daraus;
lass uns darunter sicher stehn,
bis alle Stürm vorüber gehn.
Patronin voller Güte,
uns allezeit behüte.

Dein Mantel ist sehr weit und breit,
er deckt die ganze Christenheit,
er deckt die weite, breite Welt,
ist aller Zuflucht und Gezelt.
Patronin voller Güte,
uns allezeit behüte!

Maria, hilf der Christenheit,
zeig deine Hilf uns allezeit;
mit deiner Gnade bei uns bleib,
bewahre uns an Seel und Leib!
Patronin voller Güte,
uns allezeit behüte!

O Mutter der Barmherzigkeit,
den Mantel über uns ausbreit;
uns all darunter wohl bewahr,
zu jeder Zeit in aller Gefahr.
Patronin voller Güte,
uns allezeit behüte.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good News to be Shared

I am personally profoundly grateful to Cardinal Dolan for having the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic on his radio program. It is well worth a listen (here).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fruits of the Synod

Remaining in the Truth of Christ: 
Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church.
edited by Robert Dodaro, OSA
2014. Kindle Edition.

"Postmodernity has hurled a mortal dare at the family, because it has designed to substantially modify the relational character of matrimony upon which the family is founded. The Church has only one response that is adequate to this challenge: to announce the gospel of matrimony." (Kindle Locations 1912-1914)

If nothing else comes out of the 2014 Synod, I am happy with Fr. Robert Dodaro's extraordinary editorial effort in bringing together great Catholic teaching on the part of truly worthy and approved, living Catholic authors on the nature and indissolubility of Christian matrimony. The book is worth it for his introductory highlights alone. The appended texts from recent magisterium are also a great reference well worth having close at hand.

This book should be part of every priest's hand library and ought to be enough to get any young man through a good portion of his seminary studies. I would not hesitate to recommend it to non specialists and regular lay folk as well.

The above quote comes from Chapter 7: "Sacramental Ontology and the Indissolubility of Marriage" by Carlo Cardinal Caffarra. No less a treat for me personally, as a canonist living in Kyiv, was Chapter 4: "Separation, Divorce, Dissolution of the Bond, and Remarriage: Theological and Practical Approaches of the Orthodox Churches" by Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, S.J. If I had to pick another favorite, which brought perspective to some of the general notions I had from seminary of the history of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the notion of indissolubility, it would have to be Chapter 5: "Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage: From the Middle Ages to the Council of Trent" by Walter Cardinal Brandmüller.

As I say, I plan to go back to this book and not only for the wealth it provides on the Sacrament of Matrimony, but also on the important topic of our ecumenical approach to the Orthodox.

Penny Loafers Without Socks

In an otherwise lovely, little, preachy video on what it takes to be a church musician, I got sidetracked by the lip service paid to a supposed evil of the Church in our times, referred to as "clericalism". It reminded me of a casual fashion statement which held sway for a long time, especially in summer or in warmer climes, among preppy types and even among a middle-aged social elite (I bet it was the word "elitist" from the video which set me off!). If you don't know what penny loafers are, ask your mother or grandmother! The style was to wear them when dressed casually without socks and oddly enough the practice was never branded as smelly or unhygienic. Now, my father could never have worn penny loafers without socks on an evening out to the golf club for supper with Mom for two reasons: a) you had to have a slim build to fit the model, and more importantly, b) he did not belong to the professional class which could permit itself such a dress down, even if the missus had spent long hours picking trousers, knit shirt and sport coat at some exclusive men's shop.

Anybody who would brand penny loafers without socks as elitist would be laughed out of the house; it was no more and no less than a "guy thing" which persisted for years despite good sense and even comfort (maybe slim guys of a professional social category don't get sweaty feet?). 

Enough! On to "clericalism"! When I was a seminarian in Rome the non plus ultra of clerical dress was the black clerical suit, with white shirt, French cuffs and gaudy cuff links, and something we Americans referred to with the French name "gilet". It was a high button down the front vest with built in Roman collar: very elegant! Personally, I was never tempted to have myself fit for one because of the economic straits of my student days in the eternal city (Imagine that the Italian Lire was gaining in worth against the Dollar for most my four years there!). Lanky, long arms more or less took me out of the running for French cuffs as well. Sic transit gloria mundi! At any rate, of a cut that could not afford such vanities, I branded them clericalism and vowed never to indulge in such even when I could afford them (the excesses of youth!). 

Older and wiser, although still without a gilet for reasons of a neck which has gotten thicker over the years, I would have to say that such matters of dress are as much an indication of clericalism as penny loafers without socks bespeak some sort of elitist agenda. Approved authors to the contrary, I am beginning to suspect that clericalism as such does not exist at all, but is rather a construct imposed by anti-clericalists on a category because of the sins of the few. I do not say that there are not clerics who seek privilege for themselves, but I would like rather to see the sin on the side of anti-clericalism, tarring and feathering all my brothers with the same bucket and brush.

Maybe it is best just to ignore me this Sunday morning. At any rate, I remember Roman anti-clericalism for the 1970's quite well. It was something which spat upon every poor little priest in his cassock and "saturno" who attempted to run the gauntlet of center city. Perhaps it explains why the younger Italian clergy traded black for blue or grey so as to blend in with the city's bus and taxi drivers? Anti-clericalism drove the clergy out of the public eye and succeeded in fostering the indifference which reigns in most quarters of the Eternal City today.

My plea would be not to confuse the vanities of fashion, whether gilet or sockless penny loafers, with the quest for privilege and the abuse of power. I think the sin to be condemned is rather anti-clericalism. I say it boldly, not owning a gilet or a white shirt with French cuffs. Sorry to friends and fans, but any cuff-links gifted over the years are lost somewhere in the bottom of a dresser drawer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

In the Name of Renewal and Organic Development

Recovery of the Sacred: Reforming The Reformed Liturgy
Hitchcock, James
2nd edition.  Kindle Edition.

For a book first published in 1974, even then, Hitchcock basically got it right in describing the pitfalls of post-conciliar liturgical change. In the preface to the 1995 edition he sums things up well in one sentence:

"The aim of post-conciliar liturgical change, whether or not fully conscious, has been to make liturgy quite obviously a human creation, a mere extension of the self." (Kindle Locations 56-57)

Simply expressed, a great wrong was done to Divine Worship in making it something less than that, something less than sublime, something less than sacred. What happened after the council, perhaps on the basis of conciliar premises, was for all practical purposes a series of acts of aggression against the source and summit of Christian life "...whether or not fully conscious".  

Now ten years later, I'd like to be able to sit with the author and explain to him and for all the reasons he stated in 1974 why today it is patently clear that the reformed liturgy cannot be reformed, the liturgy must be restored because "...a human creation, a mere extension of the self" cannot be simply rendered sacred.

This little book is a spine-chilling, almost not to be believed, record of the atrocities committed after the council in the name of reform. He recounts much sadness, which should simply be buried and forgotten. I suspect the reader would be better advised to pick from the new literature which indicates how much has really been achieved, especially since 2007 and Summorum Pontificum.

Much of what I read insists without rancor on the saving benefits for the Christian life which a recovery or restoration of the liturgy would have. Certainly, better catechesis and care for the life of the family, outreach to the poor and emarginated go with all that, but we need desperately to restore the temple. We hope and pray for leadership from the hierarchy for the sake of the flock entrusted to their care.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What is "Graduality"?

I have to admit I was a bit shocked by the refusal of Cardinal Marx to answer a simple question from the Catholic News Service about where we are going in this synodal search for pastoral solutions to problems which seem to challenge fundamental Church teaching not only on marriage and family, but on the nature of the human person.

If a person's life moves at 180 degrees from God's trajectory and plan for coming to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the life to come, I can't quite figure out what is anything  "gradual" about that.

What is gradual about the rather common refusal to submit to the tribunal of the Sacrament of Penance and the repeated denial by many over the last 50 years, to accept the sound teaching that mortal sins are describable and confessable by kind, number and circumstance? There is no "graduality" if I am not seeking to respond to the call to conversion. Who are and how have dissenters been "gradually" coming to grips with the Papal teaching of Humanae vitae, showing itself ever more wise since 1968? Has the contraceptive mentality become any less anchored over the course of these decades and how many generations of late adolescents and young adults have been sacrificed to expediency or a stiff-necked cynicism which denies the cultivation of virtue its place in the life of youth? Who is leading them and where "gradually"?

In ordinary parlance, if I say I intend to humor someone, well, I do so with no illusion of winning that person over. Don't get me wrong! I find the resort to public lashings by so-called Cossacks among the anti-Ukrainian forces in the east of this country as something utterly bizzare, but teaching truth and precept, exhorting to do good and avoid evil is nowhere done with the lash in our Catholic world. It would seem rather to be our duty after the manner of Christ to insist, with every kind of teaching and never lose patience. To call a spade a spade, if you will...

Some rate at 40 years the story of neglect of proper catechesis within the Catholic Church. However many decades or generations it might be, "graduality" would lead us to be as candid with our interlocutors as Jesus was with the woman at the well. Her conversion was inspired by the God-Man who read her heart and opened her eyes to the truth of the Gospel.

 In speaking thus, as far as family and marriage go, I have not addressed the tragedy of domestic violence, issues related to drug abuse, alcoholism and mental illness. I am confident the Synodal Fathers will find ways to face these matters with renewed pastoral urgency. My difficulty is with "graduality", which does not address these problems in the least and bars the pathway to God by calling no one to pick up after a fall and get back on the pathway which leads to God.