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.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About Stay-at-home Moms

Today seems to be one of those days for taking refuge in G.K. Chesterton. I just finished an essay entitled: "Turning Inside Out. Fancies vs. Fads, 1923" (Chesterton, G.K. (2011-10-20). In Defense of Sanity (p. 159). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.). To my way of thinking, its 90+ years gives this reflection a certain freshness and perhaps keeps my contemporaries from feeling offended as they fancy female careerism in the 21st Century. As fun and mocking as Chesterton can be, he makes his point with heart, soul, mind and strength. In the case of this particular essay, that being: for a gillion reasons no mission can top that of the stay-at-home-mom for importance on behalf of the life of both the individual and therefore of society, of our world. 

He concludes the essay as follows:

"But this is only one of many instances of the same truth: that what is called public life is not larger than private life, but smaller. What we call public life is a fragmentary affair of sections and seasons and impressions; it is only in private life that dwells the fullness of our life bodily." (p. 168). 

Forgive me if I resist the temptation to quote some of the great lines he has in this essay and launch into a very brief reflection on home schooling and some of its equivalents, I am thinking of manifestations such as the "soccer mom". I wish to make the point, that even our most valiant have lost the point of just being for the sake of another. If blame were to be assigned, I would need someone else to help me point to the extra-curricular revolution which took place somewhere between 1970 and 1974. Maybe it had something to do with the expanded fare offered on TV, but in any case, I mean that thing, person or things, persons, which contributed among other things to doing away with the supper hour and long before the microwave oven came on the scene.

My Mother used to reminisce about a particular occasion when only she and I (Dad was also down sick) in our ten person household were spared a very virulent stomach flu. She spoke gratefully of the valiant assistance her oldest son provided in this great trial. My only recollection was of the bed sheets we had put down in the hallway to our one and only bathroom. Maybe it was then, but at some point in adolescence I can remember pondering Mom's self-sacrifice and around the clock with whiny babies and on and on (the stomach flu plague was perhaps an epic moment in an ongoing saga). She was herself very modest, paying a compliment to the only lady in the neighborhood at that time who knew how to drive a car, saying that she really admired her, as she could not imagine the added burden of chauffeuring. 

Frequently, among home schooling or soccer moms you hear the explanation for their commitment to be in reaction to the failures of regular schools and school sport programs; these moms somehow label their efforts as a necessary choice by way of supplement or compensation, when not counter-cultural. The whole truth it seems to me has more to do with how God created things good and envisioned not only male-female complementarity, but the nurturing which is supposed to go on within the walls of the "little Church" which is the home. 

I wish we could reclaim the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, who let the schools run their negligent and chaotic course, insisting rather on the noble calling of the wife and mother, and with far more profundity than the old quote: "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world" (from a poem by William Ross Wallace that praises motherhood as the preeminent force for change in the world. The poem was first published in 1865 under the title "What Rules the World" - Wikipedia).

My prayer is that the Mater et Magister, our Church will find ways to call women and men back from the brink to exercise their noble calling on behalf of the next generation.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Optimism and Why Not? Full Speed Ahead!

The Tyranny of Liberalism: 
Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command
Kalb, James
(2014-04-29). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.

"THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT THE TYRANNY OF LIBERALISM: WHAT IT IS, HOW IT comes about, what its implications are, and what to do about it." (Kindle Locations 24-25). 

Believe it or not, the author remains faithful to his purpose throughout this book, which is thoroughly upbeat and is far from pedantic. I recommend it. The book is very readable.

That said, I have a question which the book really didn't answer for me: Has Kalb indeed posited the conditions for the triumph of traditionalism over liberalism and how does he see this triumph coming about? What makes the traditionalist Kalb's formula for the restoration of culture better than a neoconservative recipe for turning our world around? Be it noted that Kalb is quite dismissive of neoconservatism and its possibilities for effectively countering liberalism:

"For some, neoconservatism has served as an initial step out of liberalism. On the whole, however, it has functioned more as a way of lining up conservative impulses in the service of the established public order. It has confused the loyalties it tries to promote by subordinating them to liberal goals and by sapping resistance to the direction of events. It follows simple conservatism in recognizing no ultimate authority other than social practice, and in the end it concedes every issue to whatever positive beliefs have become dominant. Neoconservatives have been ready to follow the development of liberalism wherever it might go, distancing themselves from the center of ideological power as it moves to the left only to the degree needed to establish their position as necessary participants in the mainstream political discussion. That approach to politics can claim the virtue of immediate practicality, but it is often difficult to distinguish from careerism." (Kindle Locations 2597-2603). 

I guess I will have to ask my neocon friends to explain themselves.

At any rate, it is hard to see whence the traditionalist will draw the wherewithal and the direction for his mission and how he will carry it through. Maybe I missed a chapter. His Chapter Nine on Faith and Authority does not seem to have that as its purpose.

The present sense of disarray which we are experiencing in the Catholic Church in the run-up to the October Synod of Bishops for me is perhaps most telling in terms of the dimensions of the problem. Perhaps St. Augustine needs to be quoted more often where he insists that there never were good old days. As bankrupt as Liberalism is, I'm wondering if any other scheme or recipe can be assured the ultimate triumph over such sin and division this side of heaven. Tyranny needs to be fought and the Kingship of Christ needs to be proclaimed.

I like Kalb's neat categories, but other than concurring with his judgment that the kind of liberalism which runs roughshod over our world today is nothing but a curse, the vote is still out on whether I need to cut my ties with neoconservatives in favor of an all-out "Gospel without compromise" traditionalist approach. Stay tuned?



Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ukraine: Global Bone of Contention - Apple of Discord

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19: 37-40)

I spent my Friday evening on YouTube with another Timothy Snyder lecture, another great one also because it synthesizes his historical observations on what is at stake in the ongoing crisis which finds its focal point here in Ukraine. Perhaps because Snyder is a historian and not a political commentator, he does not seem to want to prognosticate about an imminent and game-changing downfall of Russia; he remains of the idea that Russia's obsession with the notion that bigger is better will continue to be played out no matter what. Part of Snyder's thesis concerning the conflict between Russia and Ukraine rests on a shared vision of the importance of Europe but with opposite conclusions concerning its implications for their respective countries: Ukraine drawn toward the EU and Russia repulsed by the very thought of it, if you will.

Needless to say, it would be presumptuous of me to try and challenge the view of a man who knows more about the last 200 years of the history of the European continent and the atrocities of Stalin's Great Terror and Hitler's Holocaust than most anybody. Nonetheless, living and working here in Kyiv now for four years, sharing much with many ordinary and great people, and having done my best to study the so-called "revolution of dignity" which found its focal point here on Maidan and continues steadfast in its devotion to its martyrs and confessors, I find the notion both forced and patronizing that Ukraine's longings and its energy come out of some almost chemical suspension like a precipitate reducible to a longing to be part of recent history's third "great idea" for Western Civilization, the European Union.

Let's just blame it on the Enlightenment and move on! The EU was not and never will be enough for my friends and acquaintances here in Ukraine. People here did not make the sacrifices they did, take the risks with life and limb which they took for some European dream. As valuable as is the insight that civil society is or can be an agent working over and against oligarchy and corruption for the sake of justice and peace, articulated through the establishment of the rule of law, there is a greater and individual component in play in this world which is Ukraine. The truth about man, created in the image and likeness of God, cannot be so easily stifled, even in the hearts of people officially deprived of knowledge of the living God under generations of sovietism and materialism. There is within many people, great and small, the profound awareness that they are endowed by God with dignity and hence with certain inalienable rights. This is not utopian, it is imminent and goes before and far beyond building any sort of metropolis. The makeshift barricades and fortifications of Maidan were this for me: an essential stance over and against the powers at work to deprive man of his nature coming forth from God.

In the question and answer session after his lecture, Snyder is asked what the US or Europe can do for Ukraine and whether defensive weapons to fight off Russian aggression might help bring this all to a quicker and happier conclusion. It may be unfair of me to judge the professor's response as noncommittal; perhaps he is remaining faithful to his thesis that Russia and Ukraine are clashing over opposing reactions to a common view of Europe. Granted: a battle field victory no matter how decisive would not be enough; corruption must be rooted out of this country. I don't think a day goes by when I don't read something about someone's frustration with the Ukrainian government's foot-dragging on genuine reforms. Let's blame that on Enlightenment mindsets as well. We need to think our way out not only of corruption but out of the tyranny of liberalism, which holds not just Europe but most of our world in thrall.

I guess I'm wishing and praying for Ukraine, for Russia, for our world a saving and transforming encounter with our meek and humble Savior, that all might sing His praises before the stones cry out the truth about God and the world.


Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From today's Office of Readings:

"Dwelling in the loftiest citadel of virtue, like a sea of divine grace or an unfathomable source of love that has everywhere overflowed its banks, she poured forth her bountiful waters on trusting and thirsting souls. Able to preserve both flesh and spirit from death she bestowed health-giving salve on bodies and souls. Has anyone ever come away from her troubled or saddened or ignorant of the heavenly mysteries? Who has not returned to everyday life gladdened and joyful because his request had been granted by the Mother of God?
She is a bride, so gentle and affectionate, and the mother of the only true bridegroom. In her abundant goodness she has channeled the spring of reason’s garden, the well of living and life-giving waters that pour forth in a rushing stream from divine Lebanon and flow down from Mount Zion until they surround the shores of every far-flung nation. With divine assistance she has redirected these waters and made them into streams of peace and pools of grace. Therefore, when the Virgin of virgins was led forth by God and her Son, the King of kings, amid the company of exulting angels and rejoicing archangels, with the heavens ringing with praise, the prophecy of the psalmist was fulfilled, in which he said to the Lord: At your right hand stands the queen, clothed in gold of Ophir."

From a homily by St. Amadeus of Lausanne, bishop

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Fresh Look at an Old Debate

The Old Mass And The New
Aillet, Marc
(2010-09-03)  Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

“I am convinced that the crisis we are going through in the Church today is largely based on the disintegration of the liturgy, which is even sometimes conceived in such a way —etsi Deus non daretur—that its intention is no longer at all to make it known that God exists, that he speaks to us and that he listens to us.” (pp. 45-46).

On a periodic check of books on my Amazon wish list, to see whether in the meantime they have come out on Kindle and at a lower price, I came across this little book from 2007 (Kindle 2010). I am very glad I did. Bishop Marc Aillet is a faithful son of the French community of St. Martin, which promotes the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, celebrated in Latin and accompanied by Gregorian Chant. He is anything but a zealot about promoting the Extraordinary Form. Basically in this book, he writes in praise of Pope Benedict XVI and his wisdom, as demonstrated by Summorum Pontificum. The Bishop writes it for average folk, who want something short (minus notes and bibliography: 112 pages, including the motu proprio in English and the Holy Father's accompanying letter to bishops). I highly recommend the book even for the initiated on the topic.

The thing I liked best about his excursus was his take on "active participation" and how the concept has become skewed by popular sociology and psychology. Even so, I find the present state of Roman Rite Liturgy much more worrisome than what I pick up in the book. Granted, he can appeal to the motu proprio and claim we are in the same ballpark with these two missals, but in point of fact, we are not and that is the problem with the missal of Paul VI and why it cannot serve as a basis for the needed reset of the liturgical movement on the foundations of the tradition. As genial as his idea is that the hermeneutic of rupture can be identified in the hearts and minds of the reformers, the rupture also touches the substance and requires more than an attitude change.

I understand that restoring our liturgy in the face of the enduring resistance (often irrational) of those whose life story is coterminous with the half century of the Novus Ordo is a monumental challenge, but that is all the more reason for embracing the wisdom of Benedict XVI when it comes to promoting the mutual enrichment of the two forms. If priests and future priests were to discover our rich liturgical patrimony, I feel confident they would become our best allies in leading us as a Church to genuine Divine Worship.

My four years here in Ukraine have offered me a rich and beautiful acquaintance with Byzantine Liturgy. This experience is a great help as it has put me in living contact with, among other things: a liturgical calendar that thrives without "ordinary time", an essential lectionary of just epistles and gospels familiar to people, offertory and communion treasures to spark the imagination and devotion, and of course, worship which is thoroughly oriented. 

I want the Extraordinary Form to play a bigger role in my life, as soon as my circumstances permit. I finally have a bit more time these days for study and I have been working on familiarizing myself with the Extraordinary Form texts and memorizing them. Old eyes and bifocals, I am finally getting serious about memorizing the celebrant's prayers, which I absolutely cannot seem to read on the altar cards. If only there were a beautiful big print pontifical for us half blind!  

No doubt some would consider me less than tactless, but we really need to branch out of the present situation which offers especially our young people only meager fare.


Monday, August 17, 2015

True and Strong, Finding Rescue in Him

"May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:11-14)

The other day I got a message from someone who signed himself in Latin, after the manner of St. Augustine, as the "restless heart". Whether inadvertently or through auto-correct his message put me off as it came out the "iniquitous heart". Fortunately I didn't cancel immediately and received his nice message. In a sense, even the word "restless" correctly spelled is ambiguous as we are restless only until we rest in the Lord. You could say that everything depends upon our ultimate referent, namely Christ. Restless or in danger of being lost, that is where we are without the Lord Jesus.

One of the odd-ball mantras repeated by some of the more relevant of my priest contemporaries was a lament against psalm praying, declaring David's, Israel's and the Church's song prayer as all of a sudden irrelevant and burdensome. These days I find those psalms which lament the oppression by wicked rulers to be strikingly to the point. My heart is restless, waiting to pass beyond the iniquitous, the usurpers of power, and to pass into the hands and under the dominion of the Righteous One.