Saturday, September 13, 2014

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
‘No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.’ [John 3:13-17] 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgetting the Incarnation

No doubt Father Barron would be miffed to find me using his movie review to make a point about the present malaise in which our world finds itself, but his is the most attractive argument I've come across to date to help me make my point. Anarchy, evil is raising its ugly head these days in almost apocalyptic fashion (I am purposely understating the case) and a world which has downplayed the centrality of the Gospel message to life and culture finds itself exposed, judged, marked by the Cross of Christ or the sign of the beast.

Most people paint the Ukrainian-Russian War of 2014, the menace of the ISIS Caliphate, and the ravages elsewhere in the world left by failed states and frozen conflicts in terms of conflicting world views struggling for a win, as if there were such choices outside the realm of the truth which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ and saves the world darkened by the fall of our first parents. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Apart from coming home to God in Christ, the prodigal has long since exhausted his options. The utopia/distopia dilemma is false; it is no more than false money, a two sided coin that flip it as you will, what comes up is always a flight from God's Face and from Christ's gentle yoke.

The fundamental existential question for every man and woman on the planet is one and has no variations: Why did God make me? God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next and for all eternity. 

In these trying times, Europe, once Christian, once Catholic Europe, is being called to remember, to remember the God-Man and to come home to itself. Neither North nor South America is excluded from helping Europe come home to itself. No corner of the globe should be deprived of the light of the Gospel and of coming to know its Savior.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Battling Principalities and Powers

Once again in the last days it would seem that everyone and his "uncle" has had something to say about Ukraine and why this country should not kick against the goad. Few seem to remember that life gets complicated when basic principles are abandoned or ignored. The consequences, seen or unseen, of acquiescing to injustice committed against others are all too real.

For the community of nations, for world diplomacy, one such basic principle is summed up in the laconic but expressive Latin: PACTA SUNT SERVANDA. Independence within clearly defined borders came to Ukraine in 1991. Nothing else must be considered; the whole world which counts signed on to that back then. The general notion of what we mean by national "sovereignty" would seem to exclude any and all far-fetched or even half-plausible excuses for meddling in another's affairs, i.e. annexing another sovereign's territory (Crimea) and then proceeding in repeated  attempts over the last months to carve out a land corridor with the excuse that without it the aggression would be unsustainable over the long-term, or some such. Civil wars do happen, but less frequently when sovereign states are left to sort out their own problems.

To my mind, there are no other considerations only distractions and lies. Hence, if the community of nations fears the consequences of defending the principle, because the glaring light of the truth might expose other still hidden faults, I guess we must take the matter to a Higher Court and cast ourselves ever more insistently before the Throne of God. Perhaps, in the end it is folly to expect men to be faithful to their commitments. Perhaps it is no less folly to ignore the machinations of the Evil One's attempts to draw our world down with him into the depths of Hell.

St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our defense against the wickedness and the snares of the Devil! May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power thrust into Hell Satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls...


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Almost 10 Years Make a Difference

Mass And Modernity.
Robinson, Fr. Jonathan. 
Ignatius Press, 2005. 
Kindle Edition (2010-11-19).

"This book is about the reform of the worship of the Catholic Church undertaken after the Second Vatican Council. The fruits of that reform have often been apathy, bitterness, and triviality. It may be true that apathy, bitterness, and triviality are not the whole story, but they are indisputably prominent and help to create a situation whose gravity, it seems to me, is not sufficiently understood. The present liturgical situation matters. It matters not only for the internal or domestic health of the Church, but also for the effectiveness of her mission in the modern world." (Kindle Locations 98-101)

I added the Ignatius Press copyright year to the heading as it explains much about the author's attitude toward the usus antiquior. That being said, I think the first two parts of the book make an important contribution to the whole discussion of where we are and where we should be in matters liturgical. Novus Ordo liturgy as practiced sadly does constitute a capitulation to the non-spirit of the times, as Fr. Robinson eloquently articulates.
"Modernity itself, however, is a mind-set and not an all-encompassing environment. There is nothing, or should be nothing, in the Christian’s concern for the modern world that requires accepting this mind-set. Yet many in the Church have accepted modernity in their effort to speak to the modern world, and I argue here that not nearly enough attention has been given to trying to disentangle the complex of ideas and half-formulated convictions that constitute this mindset, which is in fact inimical to Christianity. The result of trying to adapt the liturgy to meet the perceived needs of the world from the perspective of modernity weakens, not strengthens, the Church."  (Kindle Locations 104-108).
No doubt I would do Fr. Robinson a disservice if I were to attempt to summarize the first two parts of his book. I recommend them highly even if the significance of trotting out Flannery O'Connor as his banner for Part One and Iris Murdoch for Part Two, well, it escapes me altogether. I think there is enough material without them for pronouncing the Enlightenment conspiracy against God and Catholic Faith as toxic, dead and thoroughly burialable.
Back to my observation about the 2005 copyright! I would hope that in the intervening ten years that Fr. Robinson has not stopped learning and growing. His arguments against a restoration of the Mass of the Ages have been significantly undermined by the mutual enrichment which has been going on and continues. Read Part Three, if you will, as terribly dated. Reforming the OF with EF tweaks really runs contrary to Father's principles and seems to be a desperate choice born out of his own capitulation to the "mindset". Enough solid authors out there point out that this would not be the first restoration of the liturgy, even if it must be the most radical on record. I really cannot see, from Fr. Robinson's premises, how he can justify simply reforming the reformed liturgy. Choosing a reset point and getting busy about setting forth the organic development of the liturgy is urgently required.
That being said, I like most everything Father says in favor of restoring worship ad Orientem. His thoughts on the lectionary (liturgical readings vs. lectio divina) carry significant weight and argue for a return to the 1962 lectionary.
Seeing the progress made on the path of mutual enrichment over these ten years since Fr. Robinson wrote, I would encourage men and women of good will to live in hope of soon seeing the essential restoration of the Roman Rite. At the same time I would lovingly encourage the faint-hearted and foot-draggers to get on board.
If I could quote me from my Summer School lecture in France on July 8:
"While at this point in time placing a deadline for the restoration might be unreasonable and thus putting an end to the mutual enrichment chapter, I think we should avoid the terminology “weeds and wheat growing together until the harvest”. The advances made over the last years give me reason to hope that the mutual enrichment chapter will sooner and not later bear abundant fruit.
(Another little aside on my part!) In line with more ancient models of the liturgical development of the Roman Rite within the chorus of the various rites of the Western Church, I would love to be able to convince the Holy Father and his closest collaborators to produce and implement a full Roman Ritual for St. Peter’s and the Stational Churches of the Eternal City. Adding to the printed edition of these books the necessary provisos for how these same rites might be celebrated in Latin outside of Rome, there could very well be a trickledown effect from bishops on ad Limina visit taking the books home for their cathedrals. In terms of mutual enrichment, this is one of my fervent prayers: that the Pope would promulgate for the City of Rome, for the Cappella Papale, a much more antiquior, if you will, novus ordo."

One more quote from "Mass and Modernity" to close:

"At this point the supporters of the new arrangements usually introduce the idea of secularization and say that the falling off of attendance at Mass has little if anything to do with the liturgical changes but everything to do with the fact that we live in a world in which religious language and religious symbols have become largely meaningless. It follows from this, although it is not often explicitly said, that the dramatic drop in the numbers of those practicing their faith would have happened anyway.
"It is hard to refute arguments about contra-factual conditionals. That is, if someone wants to say that if the liturgical changes had not taken place, then the situation today would be the same, it is difficult to know what sort of argument could possibly lead him to change his mind." (Kindle Locations 304-310). 
In English when we sing Veni, Sancte Spiritus, we use the expression "melt the frozen, warm the chill..." Yes, we live in hope and we pray!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Way of the Cross

Circumstances and events seem to be overtaking each other in our world with a rapidity and earnestness that makes me want to cast an "anchor" out ahead to some near future point in time, in hopes of slowing things down and thereby proffering to those who seek well-pondered words of consolation and hope. I am already looking to September 14, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, for space and inspiration.
Let me explain myself! In these days I have both read and heard decisive words, beautiful words from Pope Francis, from his representative in Geneva and from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, during his visit to Romania (to choose a few examples). They offer encouragement and express genuine solidarity with the people of the Middle East and of Ukraine; in the case of Syria and Iraq, they reach out especially to the Christians of the region, and for Ukraine, they leave no doubt concerning their confidence and support for our beloved Catholic people of Ukraine, especially for our much maligned Greek Catholics.
The words, as I say, come and go too quickly, as the specter of persecution and death, amidst a flurry of false accusations from farther away, echoed by a careless press, continues to loom large, perhaps larger than life. 
Reaching out ahead to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, gaining both a measure of reflective silence and distance on current events, let me just say that the Way of the Cross is indeed our way; we glory as did St. Paul only in that saving Cross. Our joy is His in the death-dealing, yes but, triumphant Wood of the Cross!
Some have compared the ISIS murders of Christian children to a replay of Herod's wanton slaughter of the Holy Innocents. The words of the Stabat Mater come to mind: "Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, She beheld Her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent."
What to say? I guess that we can hope that the suffering, whether of being physically injured or killed, or when falsely accused, would for the victims derive solace from our compassion and renewed courage for the fight, to see victory in the very Cross which dealt death to our Savior, being wielded then by Him to conquer death once and for all.   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

"When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]

I started a new book this morning; I did it with high hopes based on the promises made in a review I had read. It seemed to be right up my alley and better because of the scribe's mastery of a long list of world class intellectual giants. In point of fact, the author does take on and do a great job with recourse to a lot of the philosophical and theological heavyweights both of today and of all time. I am sure I will finish it and I may even give the book a great review myself, but today I am setting it aside, because I can't seem to get beyond the author's fondness with intellectual "flexing" and trying to measure up, this being his choice of path to secure the Church a place in the wasteland of the public square. Perhaps I am being unfair and just running with an impression. Hence, for now at least I will leave him and his book out of the discussion.

The issue is not one of any fundamental disagreement but rather one of the urgency of the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus, sending out His disciples, told them to proclaim peace to the house they entered and to move on in the face of hostility or rejection of their message. What has changed? Why should having to share in the Cross of Christ, in the rejection which led to His crucifixion outside the walls, come to us as novel? The drama seems to climax when all of a sudden we realize that our efforts or failures at proclamation have not equaled or even come close to copying those of St. Paul. If we were truly living and proclaiming Christ the reaction of the world would not be indifference.

I keep coming back to the question a young man from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Kyiv posed to me quite earnestly not all that long ago: "My superiors want to know what the Holy See can do for us in this our time of need". The problem or the embarrassment stems from the ambivalence of our witness. Indeed! What do you or I as a committed Christian, as the Church of Jesus Christ present and acting in the world, have to offer? It is not a rejection of the greeting of peace extended by the disciple in the name of the Master, but a failure of the disciple to be that unequivocal sign or representative of the Crucified One.

Let us just say that it is not a bad Sunday reflection and a good personal challenge. In the last couple days the Holy Father has spotlighted two young priests, one ministering in Gaza and the other to refugees in Iraq. Both men, obviously, have credibly spoken their "peace to this house" and entered in. What more is there that we can do? Let us pray for each other and rededicate our efforts to lift high the Cross, both in season and out.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Classic "Ratzinger" - Unbeatable and Unstoppable

Dogma and Preaching, 2nd. Ed.  
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal 
(2012-03-30). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. 

In these days of tragedy when, because of the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS and the promoters of the so-called "caliphate" throughout the Middle East, more than one author has referred back to the words of Pope Benedict XVI pronounced in Regensberg, we have been reminded that his words, which many criticized back then, effectively offered a better footing for Moslem-Christian dialogue than most irenic alternatives in competition for the lead.

Reading this book I came across an even greater (to my way of thinking) and unstoppable Ratzinger quote. I would love to see lots of "Westerners" embrace this one and consequently rediscover access to the system of Christian values which founded our universities and carried our culture in adherence to the truth which comes to us only from God in Jesus Christ. Chances are that if Christ were invited back into our lives, if the King and His Law once again took precedence in Europe, we might be able to take the steam out of Russia's locomotive and bring Ukraine's project for a better future for its people back on line. Here's the quote, which is no doubt familiar from other sources:

"Today even someone for whom the existence of God and the world of faith have become obscure should live practically quasi Deus esset—as though God really did exist. He should live as subject to the reality of the truth, which is not something we produce but is, rather, our master. Live by the standard of righteousness, which we do not merely devise but which is a power that measures us. Live mindful of our responsibility toward Love, which waits for us and loves us. Live according to the claim of the Eternal. Anyone who is alert to current developments will see that this is the only way man can be rescued. God—he alone—is man’s salvation; this unheard-of truth, which seemed to us until now to be a scarcely attainable ideal, has become the most practical formula for our present hour in history. And anyone who entrusts himself, although perhaps hesitantly at first, to this demanding and yet ineluctable As-If—to live as if God existed—will become increasingly aware of the fact that this As-If is the genuine reality. He will perceive, along with its responsibility, its redemptive power. And he will know profoundly and ineradicably why even today Christianity is still necessary as the truly Good News that redeems mankind." (Kindle Locations 6041-6050).

The book "Dogma and Preaching" itself was intended as a substantive contribution to improving Catholic preaching by improving content and the overall vision of what is at stake in the Christian life and therefore should be the object of preaching. Ask any man or woman in the pew today what gripes them about Sunday homilies and they will tell you it is the lack of content. Father's delivery may be less than flashy - that will be forgiven, but generally folks complain because Father has made no effort to prepare or he sadly has nothing to offer, because he isn't living the faith to the full and has no wellspring to draw from. I would love to see this book on the reading and discussion list for every seminary's course in homiletics. 

Back to my classic quote! Last evening I was caught up in a friendly exchange with an ambassador friend from the Americas, who allows himself to observe what is going on here in Ukraine as a bystander. Granted, the EU and the various G's 7, 8, 9, 20?... sort of have a monopoly on things as those perhaps better able or more obliged or interested in seeking peace for Ukraine. In any case, my friend expressed frustration over the fact that in any conflict situation around the world that would seem to demand intervention from outside (of a military sort - a peace keeping force) the UN requires a vote of the Security Council, where somebody can always be found to veto any action (usually the guilty party or one of the parties in the crisis). Must this be so? Of course not, but just find the square peg to fit in the available round hole!

In more than one of Louis de Wohl's great historical novels much of the drama centers around the machinations of the horrible little, red-headed, hawk-eyed German emperor Frederick, who with his Arab mercenaries terrorizes Italy, the Popes and beyond. The drama stems from Frederick's dark soul which knows no God. Different rules for making decisions in the Security Council are not apt to solve problems arising from hearts closed to the one truth that comes from the one only God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The As-If - quasi Deus esset - would really be an improvement.

As hopeless a case as little Frederick is, Louis de Wohl's heroes, both saints and sinners, face the challenge with faith in God. We need to do the same, while praying that more of the faithless of good will might stumble across our Ratzinger quote and begin living "as-if".